Flying with an infant might sound daunting, but with a little extra planning (and a lot of patience), it can be so rewarding. Traveling with children allows you to share new experiences together, see the world anew through their eyes, and make lasting memories with your family.
I didn’t want having kids to be the reason I stopped traveling. From the time she was born to her first birthday, my daughter had flown six times. Her first trip at four months old was an international trip from Boston to Iceland. We took her with us on a ski trip out west to Big Sky, Montana, and toted her along to visit family and friends in California, Florida, South Carolina, and Milwaukee.
Yes, we all have the fear of having THAT crying child on the plane. But I’m here to answer all your questions about how to make your journey as smooth and enjoyable as possible. Discover my tried and true tips for flying with an infant, from newborn to one year old.
When Can You Fly with a Baby
When is it safe to fly with an infant? There are many important factors to consider, and there’s no one size fits all answer. So if you’re planning to fly with baby on board, always check with both your pediatrician and the airline first. Some airlines require an infant to be at least two days old, others at least two weeks old. And you won’t be able to travel internationally until you’ve received a passport for your baby. Most doctors recommend you wait until your baby’s immune system is more developed, usually at least one month old, or at least until they’ve had some of their first vaccines.
We took our daughter on her first flight when she was four months old, an international red eye from Boston to Reykjavík for a friend’s wedding. We found it to be one of the easiest ages to fly with her. She was old enough to have a strong immune system, but young enough that she was still sleeping a lot. Plus, she wasn’t mobile yet. It wasn’t until later that we found ourselves pacing up and down the airplane aisle hunched over an eager eleven month old who had just learned to walk.
Packing Checklist for Flying with an Infant
Wondering what to pack when traveling with a baby? Honestly, deciding what not to bring is half the battle. It’s easy to overpack, when even leaving the house to go to the grocery store with kids requires a trunk load of gear. But there’s plenty you can leave at home and make do without. Don’t lug a bottle warmer and sterilizer with you, hot water works just as well. An app on your phone can sub for a white noise machine if you absolutely need it. And I promise your child will survive without his favorite bouncer or Boppy seat. Always check with your hotel or rental to see if they offer items like a crib, and look into local places where you can rent strollers and car seats.
When deciding what to bring with you, be smart and stick to the essentials. Below is my go-to packing checklist when flying with an infant.
- FAA-Approved Carseat: When flying with an infant, it’s best to buy an extra seat and use a FAA-approved car seat. Not only is this the safest option, but it’s also the easiest for everyone. I love my UPPAbaby Mesa Infant Car Seat because it keeps baby safe and snug during the flight and easily pops into my Vista stroller frame while navigating the airport.
- Baby Carrier: If you aren’t able to bring a car seat with you on the plane, baby wearing is a great alternative to get through the airport while keeping your hands free and your baby safe and snug. This Infantino Carrier has a convertible 4-in-1 design, which means you can wear baby facing in or out from 8-32 pounds.
- Stroller: If you’re bringing a car seat either to take on the plane or for the rental car, then it’s wise to bring a compatible stroller frame. The UPPAbaby Vista Stroller is compatible with the FAA-approved Mesa Infant Car Seat and is easy to collapse for travel. If not, bring a smaller umbrella stroller like the ultra-lightweight gb Pockit Travel Stroller.
- Stroller Bag: Baby gear is expensive. The last thing you want is for it to get damaged in transit. The UPPAbaby Travel Bag is custom fit for the Uppababy car seat and stroller (but works with other brands too) and has wheels to make lugging it down the jet bridge easier. Pro trip: stuff any extra space with diapers, clothes, etc!
- Travel Crib: If the destination you’re staying at doesn’t have a crib or pack and play for you to use, you’ll have to bring something with you. The Guava Lotus Convertible Travel Crib can be used as a crib or bassinet. It weighs only 15 pounds and packs nicely into a compact case that you can carry as either a duffel or a backpack, with a handy exterior pocket to store a crib sheet. This too you can stuff with extra diapers for maximum space savings.
- Proper Identification: If you’re flying internationally, you’ll need a passport for your baby whether they’re traveling as a lap infant or in their own seat. If you’re traveling domestically within the United States, you do not need an ID for children under the age of 18. However, the airline may ask for a lap infant’s proof of age with a copy of a birth certificate, medical records, or passport.
- Breast Pump: When I traveled without my baby, I had to lug my Spectra S2 pump with me, but it’s bulky and requires a power source. If you can afford it (or if your insurance covers it), opt for a lightweight, rechargeable model like the Unimom Minuet instead. Of course, you could always go with a manual breast pump like the Haakaa, but I was never able to make those work well for me. Don’t forget compact breastmilk bags for storing extra supply. And always pack your pump in your carry on no matter how short your flight is. Most airlines will consider it a medical device and won’t count it as a separate bag.
- Nursing Cover: Most airports have readily available private spaces for nursing. But you’ll often be in a situation when traveling with an infant where you’ll have to nurse in public. A nursing cover provides extra privacy and comfort for you and your baby. This Yoofoss Nursing Cover also works as a car seat cover, light blanket, or scarf and comes in a ton of cute patterns and colors.
- Cooler: If you’re exclusively pumping or if you’re traveling without your baby and want to bring back some supply, be sure to pack a cooler to keep breastmilk fresh in transit. This BABEYER BreastMilk Cooler Bag comes with an ice pack that hugs the curves of the bottles for a perfect fit.
- Breastmilk/formula/food: Always pack your baby’s food supply in your carry on and bring at least a day’s extra in case your return flight gets delayed or rescheduled. Don’t worry about getting it through airport security. Breastmilk, formula, and baby food gets a pass from the usual TSA restrictions for liquids.
- Travel High Chair: The Inglesina Fast Table Chair is easily one of my favorite baby purchases ever. It’s the perfect solution for airport lounges or restaurants without high chairs available. It hooks on to most tabletops, collapses for easy storage, and the cover comes off for cleaning.
- Diaper Bag: A good diaper bag is an essential for flying with an infant. I love the Skip Hop Diaper Bag Backpack. It’s stylish, unisex, keeps your hands free, and includes a small insulated pouch for bottles and a portable changing pad.
- Changing Pad: If it doesn’t already come with one, you’ll want to make sure to stash a Portable Changing Pad in your diaper bag. It’s great for protecting baby from dirty airport or plane bathrooms, and for makeshift changing spots, like the empty seat next to you.
- Doggie Poo Bags: I know this one sounds crazy, but it’s such a great travel hack! Throw a roll of doggie poo bags in your diaper bag to use as compact garbage bags on the go. They’re great for wrapping up dirty diapers until you have a good place to throw them out.
- Extra Set of Clothes: Always make sure you have at least one extra outfit for baby in your diaper bag. Pack something that’s easy to change, like a zipper sleep and play. It’s not a bad idea to stick an extra outfit for yourself in there as well for the inevitable spit up or food mess.
- Sanitizing Wipes: In addition to diaper wipes, sanitizing wipes are great not only for wiping your hands after changing, but also to wipe down tray tables, changing tables, and dropped bottles and pacifiers. These Munchkin Arm & Hammer Pacifier Wipes are a safe and natural solution for cleaning surfaces that baby’s curious hands (and mouth) love to explore.
- Toys: Don’t pack a ton of toys. Stick with one new and one familiar favorite (and make sure they don’t make noise – your seat mates will thank you). This Sassy Fishy Fascination Station 2-in-1 Suction Cup High Chair Toy sticks to the tray and provides hours of entertainment. A soft book like this Lamaze Peek-a-Boo Forest Book is fun and interactive. And the Skip Hop Bandana Buddies clip on to the car seat, stroller, or diaper bag and doubles as a teether.
- Pacifiers: Keep your infant’s favorite pacifier handy and secure with an Ali + Oli Pacifier Holder Case and Pacifier Clip. And this Baby Banana Toothbrush doubles as a teething toy and a toothbrush to keep baby’s gums happy and healthy.
What to Expect at the Airport with an Infant
allow extra time
Everything takes longer when flying with an infant. Even for a domestic flight, make sure you arrive at the airport at least two hours before your flight. You’ll want the extra time to check bags, get through security, gate check strollers or car seats, and board early. And it’s always a good idea to visit the restroom for a final diaper change before boarding.
bring proper identification
TSA does not require children under the age of 18 to provide identification when traveling domestically within the United States with a companion. However, the airline may ask for proof of age when traveling with a lap infant. Print or electronic copies of medical records, birth certificate, or passport will suffice.
You will need a passport for your baby if you’re traveling internationally, whether they are traveling as a lap infant or in their own seat. Make sure to start the application process well before your trip. We applied for our daughter’s passport days after she was born and just barely received it in time for our trip to Iceland four months later.
Gate check strollers and car seats
If you plan on bringing your stroller and car seat anyway, I find it helpful to keep these with you all the way until you step on the plane, especially if your car seat attaches to your stroller. It’s a handy way to keep baby safe and contained, plus the extra space can be used for storing and transporting luggage. Most airlines will gate check your stroller and car seat for free. Just be sure to visit the gate agent ahead of time so they can give you a tag, and be sure to ask where it can be retrieved at your final destination: the jetway or baggage claim. It can also be a good idea to invest in a padded travel bag to protect your gear in transit.
Prepare for Airport Security
Knowing what to expect when going through airport security with an infant can significantly reduce stress. Breastmilk, formula, and liquid baby food are all allowed over the 100ml 3-1-1 rule. Frozen ice packs used in your cooler bag are also allowed under this exemption. However, have them easily accessible in one place so you can take them out and notify the TSA officer that they are for your baby. I’ve never had it happen, but you may be asked to open the container and provide a small sample for testing. Also be prepared to take your baby out of the stroller or carrier to carry them through the metal detector. If your stroller is too big to fold up and fit through the baggage scanner, it may require additional screening. Review all the TSA guidelines on traveling with children ahead of time here.
Bonus: having TSA pre-check makes the entire process so much smoother. Not having to take off your shoes, belt, jacket or take electronics and liquids out of your bag is just one less thing to worry about!
expect the unexpected
It’s annoying to get delayed when traveling alone; it can be disastrous when flying with an infant. Be prepared and always pack extra food or formula, diapers, change of clothes, and any essential medication in your carry on in case of delays. We once spent an entire day in an airport with our ten month old before a six hour cross-country flight due to a cancellation… not fun.
Stretch your legs
I never thought I would be one of those parents at the airport play areas. That is until I had a squirmy one year old who just learned to walk and therefore was physically incapable of being carried anymore. If you can get over your germophobia, it’s a good idea to let your little one burn off extra energy before the flight. If not, spread a blanket on the floor for them to stretch out a bit. And if all else fails, most kids will be endlessly entertained by watching the planes out the airport window.
Tips for Onboard the Flight with an Infant
Choose the right route
When traveling with an infant, you might be tempted to break up a long journey with layovers. But I’m in favor flying direct whenever possible. I find it easier to get it over with. Plus there are less chances for things to go wrong, like flight delays, missed connections, or forgetting a favorite lovey while rushing to make a layover.
Also try to book flights during baby’s sleep windows. Taking an international red eye with a four month old might sound like a risky move, but it was honestly the easiest flight with our daughter! She slept the whole time.
splurge for extra space
Do you buy an extra ticket for your baby or do you travel with a lap infant? Most major airlines allow kids under 2 to fly for free on an adult’s lap. However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) don’t recommend it. It’s safest for baby to travel in a separate seat with a rear-facing compatible car seat or safety restraint designed for air travel.
In my experience, it’s worth it to pay extra for a seat for your baby, especially for longer flights. If you’re flying overnight or during nap time, being able to bring a car seat makes all the difference in both baby and you getting some much-needed rest. Plus you can have your hands free during the flight, enjoy extra space to spread out, and not be on top of a neighbor with a wiggly (or crying) infant. If an extra seat isn’t affordable or available, even seats with extra legroom can be helpful for managing extra baby gear.
ask for an extra seat
Didn’t splurge on an extra seat ahead of time and are flying with a lap infant? Ask the gate agent when you arrive if there are extra seats available on your flight. In a three row plane that isn’t likely to sell out, you could try booking the window and aisle seat for you and your partner. The middle seat is less likely to get booked. If it does, that person will happily swap for the better aisle or window so that your family can sit together. This has worked for me half the time.
Book the right seat
Your needs are different when flying with an infant. While typically an undesirable location, a seat in the back near the bathroom or galley makes sense for frequent trips to change a diaper or soothe a baby. If traveling with a lap infant, an aisle seat allows you to quickly get up and down and to the bathroom without disturbing your seat mate. If traveling with a car seat, federal regulation requires that you book a window seat so it doesn’t block your egress. Children are not allowed in exit rows, and often a car seat or restraint device won’t work with business or first class seats, so check with your airline on any specific requirements.
Feed during takeoff and landing
It’s commonly thought that the sucking motion help little one’s ears deal with the change in cabin pressure. At the very least, feeding during takeoff and landing will keep them calm and occupied. If your baby’s not hungry, try offering a pacifier or teething toy instead.
How to Nurse, Pump or Feed your Baby when Flying
Keeping baby healthy and fed while traveling is your number concern. However, any break from the routine can be overwhelming for both baby and mom. I’ve traveled when breastfeeding, pumping, after switching my daughter to formula, and once she was on solids, so I’ve seen it all. Here are my tips for feeding your baby while on the go.
Traveling while breastfeeding can seem like an overwhelming task, especially finding the privacy to nurse your baby. Most airports have readily available private spaces for nursing. You can check your airport’s website ahead of time to locate mother’s rooms, family restrooms, or private lactations spaces like Mamava pods. But you’ll often be in a situation when traveling where you’ll have to nurse in public. A nursing top or cover, like this Yoofoss Nursing Cover, provides extra privacy and comfort for you and your baby no matter where you nurse. Breastfeeding while baby wearing can also be a great solution. Make sure to practice at home beforehand to get the hang of it. But remember, you have a legal right to breastfeed in public no matter where you are in the U.S.
Once onboard the flight, try feeding during take off and landing. This will help baby’s ears adjust to changing air pressure, ease any discomfort, and keep them calm and occupied.
Here’s what to know if you plan on pumping while traveling, whether you pump exclusively or are flying without baby. Make sure to pack everything you need: your pump and parts (a portable pump like the Unimom Minuet is a lifesaver if you can swing it), breastmilk bags for storing supply, cleaning wipes, and a cooler like this BABEYER BreastMilk Cooler Bag to keep it fresh in transit. Don’t forget a power adaptor if you’re traveling internationally. And always carry on your pump and supplies no matter how short your flight is, in case of lost luggage. Breast pumps counts as a medical device and do not count as a seperate carry on.
Rest assured when going through airport security that breastmilk is allowed over the 100ml 3-1-1 rule. TSA also allows frozen ice packs in your cooler bag under this exemption. Check if the airports you’re flying through offer private lactations spaces like Mamava pods. If not, most airports will have mother’s rooms or private family restrooms you can use. Try to pump just before boarding your plane and right after disembarking if timing allows. If staying in a hotel, call ahead and request a refrigerator in your room to store your pumped breast milk.
If you’d rather not deal with the hassle of transporting your own breastmilk, look into a service like Milk Stork. The extra cost can be worth it to have it shipped safely and conveniently. This is an especially useful option if you need to get your supply back home to baby while away for a longer stretch.
When traveling with baby formula, I find powders easier to pack. If you prefer to travel with liquid, the same TSA exemption applies as with breastmilk. Over 100ml of liquid formula, as well as frozen ice packs used in your cooler bag, are allowed. Always bring double of what you would normally need. You never know when your flight is going to be delayed or canceled. If you need to warm up a bottle on board the plane, ask the flight attendants for a cup of hot water.
Once your baby is eating solids, traveling becomes a little less stressful (if not a whole lot messier). Again, liquid baby food is allowed over the 100ml 3-1-1 rule, so you can pack some easy on-the-go snacks. Pouches, like GoGo squeez Applesauce pouches, are super convenient for travel and minimize mess. I also love packing this Bentgo Kids bento-style lunch box full of snacks for easy eating on the plane. A silicone bib like this Ava + Oliver one, is easy to wipe clean or rinse out in the bathroom. You can always pick up baby friendly foods, like yogurt and fruit, at airport convenience stores. And don’t forget to buy milk at the airport before boarding as most planes won’t serve milk on board.
Tips for Once You’ve Arrived at your Destination
choose a hotel or an airbnb
Do your research ahead of time to choose whether a hotel or Airbnb is best for you and your baby. An Airbnb often gives you access to conveniences like a full kitchen, washer/dryer, plus extra privacy and space to stretch. It can be a great option for traveling with kids, especially for extended trips. On the other hand, some hotels offer additional amenities like cribs, housekeeping, and babysitting services,
Ask for a crib or pack and play ahead of time
Many hotels and Airbnbs have cribs or pack and plays available for guest use. Always check before you arrive to request or reserve one. Not having to bring one with you majorly saves on packing space!
Do a safety check of the room
You don’t need to completely baby proof your rental home or hotel room. But it is smart to do a scan for potential hazards as soon as you arrive. If you don’t, you can guarantee your baby will find them first! Keep an eye out for open balconies or stairs, lamp or window shade cords, outlets, etc.
Locate the local doctor or hospital
It’s always smart to know where the closest medical facility is in case of emergency. Make sure you have a copy of your infant’s medical records easily accessible as well.
Don’t overplan your day
I hate to break it to you. Traveling with an infant is not going to be the same as traveling as a post grad. Gone are the days when you could land from a red eye, head straight to a museum tour, book an impromptu wine tasting, then stop by the hostel to drop off bags before heading back out to meet friends for dinner. Don’t be overly ambitious when planning your trip. You’ll want to leave time in you itinerary for naps, feeding, meltdowns, etc. Aim for at least one structured activity and then some relaxing down time.
Eat dinner early
Welcome to the 5 o’clock dinner club! Eating dinner early with kids makes sense for so many reasons. You’ll want to leave plenty of time to eat out before baby’s bedtime. Plus the restaurant will be less crowded, making it easier to navigate special menu requests or tantrums. Look on the bright side – it’s easier to get a reservation!
Look into local babysitters, daycares, or nanny services
This is the biggest secret to enjoying your vacation! Check to see if your hotel or resort offers on site babysitting or can provide local recommendations. My personal favorite – some ski resorts have seasonal, on-mountain daycares that start at 6 weeks old. You can drop your infant off and head right out to the slopes. This is especially convenient if you also have older children in ski school.
go with the flow
No matter how prepared you are, it’s almost guaranteed that something will go wrong when traveling with an infant. Flights will get delayed or canceled. Diaper changes will get messy. Tantrums will be had. Reservations will get missed. Travel and time zone changes are likely to throw baby’s schedule. So take a deep breath and accept that only so much is within your control. You’re doing your best. And when you look back on your vacation memories, you’re not going to remember the meltdowns. (Or at least they’ll be great stories to embarrass your kid with later in life). But you will remember the amazing new experiences had, destinations explored, and memories made together with your family.
Save these tips for flying with an infant
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