Tips for Taking a Baby on a Plane

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It’s officially June, which makes it officially travel season. Train Guy and I love to travel and we try to go out and see the world as much as possible. And we certainly weren’t going to let something like having a baby slow us down. Mouse is a great traveler and has been to many exciting destinations including all the way to Europe before his first birthday. In total, Mouse has been on six different (one-way) plane trips, and we’re going on another one in a couple of weeks. I was completely paranoid about traveling before we did it, but with a little bit of pre-planning, the planes turned out to be one of the easiest parts of our trips (jetlag was the worst).  Here are a few travel tips for taking your baby on a plane:

Mouse is chillin' on his way to Europe

  • Get Baby his own seat. Infants under 2 can travel for free as a lap baby, but that’s not the safest way to go, and if your squirmy wormy won’t sit on a lap, the plane ride will be agonizing. We always buy Mouse his own seat and bring his car seat onboard for him to sit in it. That also gives us his luggage and carryon allowance, which is very handy. I’ve also heard of people buying the window and aisle seats in a row of 3 and hoping the middle stays empty. If it doesn’t, people are always happy to switch a middle for an aisle or window.
  • Board first. Many airlines no longer allow pre-boarding. Be sure to ask at the gate (not at the ticket counter), even if you’ve already been told no. If they still say no, ask if you can board with the first boarding group, or the first coach boarding group, regardless of what your tickets say–especially if you have a car seat to install. If they still say no, then hang out at the front of the line and be prepared to hop into action. When your boarding group is called, stay very close to the stanchions and make sure you’re first in line.
  • Check your stroller and car seat at the gate, not the luggage area. Yes, it’s a hassle to haul them through the airport, but checking at the gate is as close as you can get to a guarantee that you’re going to get it back later, and also lessens the opportunity for wear and tear (although they still get beat up). When you arrive at the gate, immediately get a gate check ticket for your stroller and your car seat if you’re not carrying it onboard. That way you won’t have to scramble at the plane door at the last minute. Just fold up the stroller and board. If you’re checking your car seat, you want to make sure it gets banged up as little as possible. Sometimes the regular luggage handling can equal the forces of an accident on the seat. Make sure to inspect the seat carefully before you use it. Our car seat is a Sunshine Kids Radian 80, which folds and has a shoulder strap for carrying (love it!) but you can also get wheels to attach to your seat in the airport.
  • Wear the baby out before getting on the plane. A sleeping baby is a happy baby on a plane. Try to burn off as much baby energy as you can before getting onboard. We had a very difficult time with Mouse as a crawler because there isn’t room for a baby to crawl on a plane and he got so antsy. Crawl/walk them around like crazy before getting on the plane to maximize the chances of your little angel falling peacefully to sleep during the flight.
  • Bring baby headphones if you think your child will keep them on. Baby/child headphones are volume controlled and are sized for small heads. This is handy if your child sleeps to music like ours, or if they want to watch a DVD or play an electronic game (for older kids).
  • Pack 2-3 overnight diapers plus a small pack of wipes in a ziploc bag. This is your quick diaper change kit. Pack this at the top of your carryon, and when you get on the plane, immediately put this bag in the seat pocket in front of you. When you have to get up to change a diaper, just grab the ziploc bag and go. No need to get out the big diaper bag and try to rifle through it when you’re in the bathroom–make a mini diaper kit and be done with it. The extra absorbancy of overnight diapers give you that extra piece of security on a plane.
  • Drinks for takeoff and landing. The best way to help baby’s ears pop is by drinking during cabin pressurization. By law, you can bring any amount of formula or expressed breast milk, or milk or juice for a baby onboard the plane (through security) as long as it’s declared and scanned. You can also bring jarred baby food and other baby items. Pack a big ziploc with whatever drink you want for takeoff and landing and place that on top of your carryon (next to your mini diaper kit). When you go through security, place that bag in a plastic bin to be examined. When you get on the plane, put that whole bag in the seat pocket in front of you right by the diapers. That way you won’t have to dig for anything when you need it.
  • Unfortunately this sleeping thing lasted for all of 15 minutes

    Wait for liftoff with the drinks. The only time things have gone wrong for me with plane pressurization was when I jumped the gun on the bottle. Sometimes you sit on the runway for a loooooooooong time before taking off and if you gave the bottle too soon, you’re screwed. I keep the drink out of Mouse’s view (otherwise he flips if he sees it but can’t have it) and when we start to take off, I wait until I can feel the wheels leave the ground. Pressurization takes about 10-15 minutes so this guarantees that the drink won’t be gone before you need it.

  • Pack plastic trash bags in your carryon. Wad up a few plastic grocery sacks to use as trash bags on the plane. As above, take out at least one as soon as you sit down and put it in the seat pocket in front of you (with your diaper change kit and drink kit). That way you won’t have to wait for the flight attendant to collect the trash if you want to put your table up or down or get rid of a cup or have any trash to throw away. This is so convenient I do it when I’m traveling by myself too!
  • Pack plenty of snacks. You’re a mom–I don’t have to tell you that! Pack snacks that are not allowed at home, that are tried and true, or are new and exciting.
  • Look for the symbol of a baby being changed on the bathroom door. Planes often have only one stall with a changing table so make sure that’s the one you’re in line for.
  • Bring a lightweight, large blanket or sheet. You’ll see why in a second.
  • Entertain the baby during the flight. If you’re lucky and have timed things correctly, your baby will sleep on the flight. If you’re me, that never happens. Instead, keep things interesting for the baby. Physical exercise is great if you can get him or her to walk up and down the aisles. Sometimes a change of scenery helps tremendously. Use that lightweight blanket on the floor to create a safe space at your feet for baby to sit and play if you have room (the bulkhead seats are perfect for this). Some people bring safety pins to make a tent with a blanket for sleeping (Mouse never went for this). Get new toys the baby has never seen before, such as Happy Meal toys or dollar store toys, just for this trip. Wrap toys in wrapping paper for that extra few minutes of excitement (plus you have your trash bag for pieces later). Attach toys to a binky leash or other string to keep from having to pick them up a gazillion times. Institute a “one toy at a time” rule–put something away before getting something else out. Take advantage of in-flight entertainment with your baby headphones or just the images for baby to watch if you have your own screen.
  • Recommended toys: For the under 2 crowd, I recommend these toys. Play keys, always fun, nice to chew. Small board books for reading and for baby “browsing.” Play silk or other square of fabric, perfect for peek-a-boo, impromptu dressup, etc. Stacking cups are the ultimate travel toy. I keep mine in a small fabric pouch–they’re perfect for stacking, for taking in and out, for building like blocks, for banging together, for counting, etc. Seriously people, stacking cups are WHERE IT’S AT in the land of travel toys. Stickers, band-aids, or a roll of masking tape makes for fun sticking and unsticking on clothes, feet, fingers, etc. Finger puppets or small hand puppets are always fun. If you have a portable DVD player you can try that. Small cars or things on wheels to roll on the floor and up and down unsuspecting tummies. Anything new and exciting you think your baby might like. The idea is to keep things novel and exciting.

Planes really aren’t as intimidating as they seem. At the very least, whatever happens, it will be over soon. Don’t be intimidated–you can do it! Happy traveling!

The Scrivener

Also check out the Librarian’s companion piece on taking a toddler on a plane. Read details about our exclusive GIVEAWAY here.

Works-For-Me Wednesday

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17 Responses

  1. thanks for the great tips!

  2. We traveled with Jude all the time when he was a baby – long trips back and forth from CA to NY. And these are all excellent tips. I’d also stress the importance of trying to schedule the flight around nap times (though airline delays always screw with you) and investing in that portable DVD player as soon as they’re old enough. I hated the idea of the kid sitting and watching tv for 5 hours straight, but truly, it’s just one day, and it makes the entire trip so much more pleasant for EVERYONE.

    • We found that Mouse just wanted to bat at and open and shut the DVD player. Our last plane trip was at 11 months and he couldn’t have cared less about the Yo Gabba Gabba DVD we brought (among others–what’s wrong with Finding Nemo, kid???). We’re going to Chicago in a couple of weeks and I was planning on leaving it behind, but I think I’ll give it a trial run at home to see how it goes now that he’s a little more interested in tv (for no particular reason, uh, yeah, that’s it). Thanks for the testimony!

  3. Brilliant – I am bookmarking this for future reference. Stella is such a creature of habit that she is not a very good traveler, even on short road trips. You can only distract a kid with puffs for so long…

  4. I am flying to Orlando in July for a family wedding and did not purchase a ticket for my 16 month old, trying to save money. I am really nervous about how the trip is going to go and am wishing now we had purchased him a ticket. Glad to read all of your tips and will definately be using them for our trip.

    • Angie, get to the airport early and when you get to the ticket counter ask if the flight is full. If it’s not full, ask to be re-seated next to an empty seat or if you’re traveling with your hubby, in a row of 3 with the empty seat in the middle. If you get lucky, that seat will remain empty and it will be yours. If they tell you that the flight isn’t full at the ticket counter but won’t re-seat you, go to the gate and be the first in line at the gate counter and ask again. Be as sweet as possible–lots of smiles :). You never know and it never hurts to ask. Other people know this trick also, so you want to try to be the first.

      Also, at the ticket counter ask the same thing for your return trip: three seats with the middle empty. Even if that middle seat gets filled, that person will switch with you or your husband for the aisle or window because no sane person is going to choose to stay in between two people with a baby!

      Flights to Orlando are notoriously loaded with families and kids going to Disneyworld, so if your little one does get fussy, you won’t be the only one :). Even if everything goes wrong (and it won’t), just keep repeating to yourself “this will be over soon. this will be over soon.” 😀

      Also, I’ve heard that Orlando flights DO NOT allow pre-boarding with small children/babies, so make sure that when you get to the gate, have you or your husband IMMEDIATELY get in line or stand at the stanchions regardless of your boarding group. You can always let other people go in front of you if you’re not first, but you can’t shove your way to the front if you’re stuck in back. You can switch off entertaining the baby but you definitely want to hold that place in front.

      Good luck, and have a great trip!

  5. I took Amanda to Germany at 15 months and we bought her a seat and used her carseat. It really wasn’t a bad trip. I let her walk in the airport and I followed her with her stroller to wear her out when we had a layover. We had a guy gripe on our first leg about having to sit by the crying baby. I turned around in my seat and told him to chill out and give me a minute. He was old enough to not cry if he got scared but my child wasn’t. I also told him he was making me nervous and that wasn’t helping. After that I got Amanda calmed down and she went to sleep. Poor guy behind me got intentionally held up when the plane landed because people were stopping to tell me what a good Mom I was and how pretty my daughter is.

  6. I remember when you first posted these suggestions and I kept them in mind as my family took a cross-country vacation. Thanks! We didn’t get a seat for the baby because we also had a 2-year-old, and it was easier to have an “entire” row of three to ourselves. New and exciting things (including kiddie headphones) were great to have, plus security let us take a Kleen Kanteen of water and a 4oz. bottle of hand sanitizer through when we declared it along with the the baby food. (The hand sanitizer was a mistake — I had forgotten that it was in the stroller pocket, and just put it with the baby food in hope that I wouldn’t have to lose it.)

  7. I love this post! There’s so much good information here.

    Some background info: we moved to Germany in January 2009 when our daughter was almost nine months old, although she made her first international trip between the United States and Germany at 11 weeks old. I think we’ve made five round international trips with her now. In case anyone is wondering, even babies as young as that need their own passport.

    A tip I’d like to add, especially relevant for international travel, is to consider traveling mid-week if you can. For one thing, plane fares can be less expensive, depending on the time of year. I’ve found that by traveling mid-week, the plane is less likely to be full and that the flight personnel are more able to give you and your family extra space for dealing with a young child.

    Most of the time, flight attendants have been helpful and understanding, especially when it has just been my daughter and me. I’ve had a few flight attendants who have been more unhelpful than helpful, but by and large, the flight crew has gone above and beyond the call of duty to help me as a parent flying overseas with a young child.

    I’ve struggled most with getting my toddler-aged daughter to stay in her seat, with the seat belt on, during takeoff and landing. Usually I end up putting her in my lap. One thing you can do is ask the flight attendants for an infant seat belt to attach to your lap belt, if this is going to an issue for you like it is with my daughter. That way, your child can at least be belted in and you can comfort your child more easily during that part of the flight, instead of trying to get your child to sit in his or her own seat, properly buckled in. And fortunately, that’s usually just a half hour or so between taxiing and takeoff/landing.

    I find that international travel is especially challenging if you have to take more than one flight (i.e., a separate leg either before or after the international, overseas part). Let’s face it, adults are tired and cranky by that point, so of course a child will be, too. I do find that it takes a lot of energy and patience on my part to travel overseas with my daughter on a long flight. I think that if a parent has realistic expectations about how much work it *can* be before traveling, then it will be hopefully be more manageable.

    I also find that as my daughter reaches new developmental stages, the rules of traveling change! It’s an ever-evolving process, and I’m sure the next kiddo on the way will have some different needs and preferences when it comes to traveling overseas.

    My favorite way to entertain my daughter so far is to play games with her, like the finger puppets/hand puppets that were mentioned; but also tickling games, peek-a-boo, naming/pointing to parts of the body and activities like that. We also find that a portable DVD player is handy for watching favorite cartoons for long stretches of time; likewise, my iPod touch is a great way to entertain. For example, my daughter loves to look at her baby pictures on my iPod and this can also be a nice way to pass the time.

  8. Good tips, Sciv. I would also add that if at all possible, get the bulkhead row. We took Rocky on a cross country flight when he was a baby and the extra floor space was a true luxury. I was still nursing and this alone knocked him out for a while.

  9. what a serendipidous article (I am not even going to see if I spelled that right…too lazy…)

    Kaito and I are flying to TX for a family wedding tomorrow night! Great tips 🙂

  10. […] few posts in mind to make over the next few days. In the meantime, many of you may be interested in this post, entitled “Tips for Taking a Baby on a Plane”. There are so many good ideas here, and […]

  11. Thank you so much for re-posting this link — I’m not sure how I missed it the first time! Incredibly helpful (and the comments are helpful too — thanks everyone).

  12. […] is a follow-up to the Scrivener’s blog about traveling with a baby. Check out some air travel books from the […]

  13. […] is a follow-up to the Scrivener’s blog about traveling with a baby. Check out some air travel books from the […]

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