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The Ultimate Planning Guide to Flying with a Baby

Baby bottle feeding on a plane

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For all the bleary-eyed parents and parents-to-be out there researching tropical holidays in the wee hours of the morning or dreaming of their thrice-postponed family vacation, this article is for you. I’ve assembled a list of parent-tested tips from both travel experts and parents who have taken their babies into the air and not only survived…but thrived. This is the ultimate planning guide for flying with a baby. 

As the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine are being distributed in the U.S., parents around the world are eager to return to normal family life, including taking a real vacation. 

Families who have delayed vacations for months may now be considering a more epic adventure than their typical road trip to the beach or even a domestic flight, requiring months of pre-planning. I know my family is!

It’s important to keep in mind that the CDC is strongly encouraging all Americans to postpone travel this holiday season and stay home, but I understand there will be circumstances where flying with an infant or small children is necessary, and you’ll need these tips when we’re all vaccinated and ready to explore again! 

Regardless of your destination or even the time that you decide to fly, it’s always smart to review the CDC’s travel page to ensure you’re armed with the latest healthy travel information to make flying with a baby as safe as possible.

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Tips for Creating Your Own Traveling with Baby Checklist 

Every trip is going to have it’s own unique set of challenges for you as a new parent, and not every tip in this article will apply to your particular plans and preferences. 

I’ve divided this article into bite-sized chunks with quick descriptions to allow you to skip over any sections that don’t apply so you can squeeze in that luxurious ten minute shower before the baby wakes up.

1. Start Planning Early 

Babies keep you busy, so outsourcing as much of the planning as possible is key. Parents are notoriously bad at asking for help, but you don’t even need to bother your friends and family for this travel hack. 

As soon as you know your approximate destination, set up several price alerts for your preferred flights such as Google Flights and Skyscanner. Let those sweet algorithms do the work for you. 

To help inspire your trip, take a few minutes to find and follow some widely-used traveling with kids hashtags on your favorite social media websites such as #sanfranciscokids or #londonfamily. 

By clicking on social media hashtags like these, I’ve stumbled upon interesting shops, unforgettable tours, and incredible food without doing any research at all!

2. Timing Your Flight

There is a lot of advice out there on timing your flight around your child’s nap schedule, but honestly, you have no control over when your plane leaves the ground or when your child naps.

Let that go. Travel with children requires as much flexibility as you can muster.

Flights get delayed or rescheduled all the time. We often book flights in the early morning because that’s when everyone is well-rested, agreeable, and fed. Many parents swear by mid-morning and others love an overnight flight. 

Regardless of when you fly, a nonstop or direct flight is almost always the best choice when flying with a baby unless you’ve got a long international itinerary.

Napping baby on a plane
Scheduling a nap for baby could be futile. It’s best to be flexible if you can.

3. Booking Flights for Flying with an Infant on Lap

A lap infant, or “infant-in-arms,” is limited to children under the age of two years who can theoretically sit on their parent’s lap during the entire flight. 

A lap infant is free on flights within the U.S., but the American Academy of Pediatrics advises that the safest way for a baby to fly is secured in an FAA Approved Car Seat requiring either a paid child ticket or some gambling as to whether you will have an open seat next to you. 

Side note: at the time of the publication of this article, there is one airline that will be blocking off middle seats through March of 2021, making them a great choice for infant-in-arms tickets.

On international flights with lap children, you will still need to pay the taxes and fees for a regularly priced adult ticket as well as a percentage (~10%) of the total fare. 

Lap infant tickets do not include a luggage allowance, but you can always add strollers and car seats to your checked bags for free, and many (but not all) airlines will also allow you to carry on a diaper bag at no charge. 

To book this type of ticket, book all adult tickets first. Make sure to avoid exit rows or seats immediately in front or behind exit rows. 

After that, you can call the airline’s customer service hotline to add your infant to the itinerary.

Each airline has their own policy on the minimum age to fly, so make sure to inquire about that as well as any specific documents you’ll need to bring to the gate the day of your flight.

4. Schedule a House Cleaning

Okay, so you’ve booked your tickets, and you’re ready to start the great adventure of flying with a baby. What’s next besides packing? Outsourcing is next, my friend!

The days before a big travel day is a great time to schedule a cleaning of your home. Coming home to a clean house after a long trip flying with a baby is a godsend, trust me. 

Plus, it will help you feel more focused, organized, and in control going into the trip. 

If you can’t splurge on a service, don’t be afraid to reach out to a family member or friend for help. Loved ones will often jump at the chance to help a family with a baby.

5. Practice Self Care for Moms

Taking your precious but unpredictable baby through a long air travel day is not only stressful, it’s exhausting. 

You may not be able to control how much sleep you are getting or how much time you have for self care, but you can eliminate any extraneous worries the week of your flight. 

Practice saying “no” to personal projects, appointments, or requests at work. Ask your friends to bring a meal, get some takeout, or purchase prepared meals in the days leading up to your flight. If you have any grandparents in your quarantine bubble, have them come hold the baby while you pack.

Additional Tips to Prepare for Flying with a Baby

We all know that there are SO many things to think about even when you go to the grocery store with your child. Planning to take a flight can be next-level anxiety inducing! Here are the extra things we’ve thought through so you don’t have to.

1. Keep Your Baby in the Loop

The first year of your baby’s life is a blur of feedings, diaper changes, and wrangling pants onto wiggly legs. Those moments are the perfect time to connect with your child and bring them in the know about what’s about to happen to them. 

As you change their nappy, walk them through their upcoming journey from the train to the airport to the plane and wherever else using the five senses. 

  • What will they see, hear, taste, feel, and smell? 
  • Where does their favorite stuffie go when it disappears down the conveyor belt at security? 
  • What is that loud noise coming from the engine? 

Perhaps it sounds crazy to review your schedule with your four month old baby, but you’d be surprised what babies understand and intuit.

This also gives you an opportunity to think about the whole experience ahead of time to identify any pain points and plan ahead.

Flying with a baby
Talk about flying with your baby. You’ll be amazed at how much it will help normalize the experience for both of you.

2. Test Out In-flight Medications

If you plan to use a medication to help your child sleep on a plane, talk to your doctor first. 

Many pediatricians don’t recommend repeated doses of medications like Benadryl, and if you have gotten approval from your pediatrician to use medications for the flight, it’s best to try a dose at home first. 

You don’t want to find out at 35,000 feet that a medication like Benadryl has the same effect on your child as a triple espresso. Remember, you want the flight attendants to be your friends.

3. Schedule Vaccinations A Month or More Before The Trip

You’ll want to make sure that your child is up to date on their immunizations and receives other necessary vaccines based on your travel destinations. 

It’s a little known fact that vaccines can take several weeks to start protecting your baby once they’ve gotten the shot, so going to the doctor the day before your flight will not give the vaccine enough time to do its thing. 

Please keep in mind that the upcoming COVID-19 vaccines are not yet recommended for infants or children, and it’s possible that the vaccine may never be considered safe for those under 1 year. 

The good news is that most infants and children tend to have milder illness (if they have symptoms at all) from COVID-19.

4. Start Shifting Baby’s Sleep to the New Time Zone

If you’re traveling across time zones, it might help to start shifting your baby’s sleep schedule to the new time zone. 

For older babies who have more of a sleep routine or set bedtime, begin moving bedtime 15 minutes closer to the time zone of your travel destination each day leading up to your flight. 

Only take this as far as is tolerable for you and your child. This strategy tends to work best when you can make your child’s bedtime later in the evening rather than earlier as babies (and adults and kids) tend to rebel at having to go to bed when the sun is shining.

5. Take Their Favorite Toys Out of Rotation

This is a strategy I recommend for managing toys at home, but it’s also incredibly handy for travel. 

Infants love novel experiences, and by tucking away some of their favorite toys and books for a week or two prior to your flight, you’ve made them brand new again. 

When your baby is getting antsy on the flight, whip out one of those trusty favorites and buy yourself (a little) more quiet time.

Baby doing activities on a plane
Babies love novelty, so try putting away a few things they love a few weeks before traveling and then pulling them out on the plane.

Packing for the Flight with your FAA Approved Car Seat and Other Travel Essentials

Packing for an infant for the first time is like taking a test in a subject you’ve never studied.

They have way too much stuff to remember, and you have no idea what’s really worth packing and what’s just a bunch of crap you’ll end up lugging through a busy airport

A quick web search will provide you with extensive sample packing lists including obvious items like extra diapers and changes of clothes. I use these lists occasionally, but more often than not I realize I’ve already thought of the basics on my own. 

Instead of providing another one of those basic lists here, I want to highlight some key things to bring, as well as share some of my personal go-to products and services.

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1. Baby’s Birth Certificate or Passport

It’s important that your baby has some form of identification available to provide the airlines should they request it. This is a baby travel essential

We decided to apply for our son’s passport when he was around 5 months old. COVID-willing, we will fill it up with stamps from amazing places that he can look back on when he’s older. 

2. A Lightweight Travel Crib

I recommend the Guava Lotus. This is an easy to fold, lightweight travel crib that doesn’t take a degree in physics to put back into its carrying case. 

A zippered opening on the side of the crib allows easy access for comforting your baby and is perfect for mothers in postpartum recovery. It can even be used for side-lying nursing.

3. A Black-out Tent

The Slumberpod has been a game changer for our fussy baby who required ultimate darkness and maximum coziness before he’d even think about falling asleep. 

It’s essentially a small black-out tent that fits over most travel cribs. There is a convenient pocket inside for inserting a baby monitor. It is quick to set up and packs down to the size of a large book. 

We’ve used this with wild success in my office at work, in hotels, or when we’ve stayed with family. We even had one friend camp out in their living room with it during a power outage.

4. An FAA Approved Car Seat

If you’ve booked a seat for your infant or are hoping to have an open seat next to you for your lap child, you’ll want to make sure that your infant is sitting in an FAA-approved car seat. 

Most airlines will not allow you to install any other type of seat on their aircraft. For convenience, quality, and style, you cannot beat the FAA-approved Doona, a child safety seat that converts to a comfortable stroller at the push of a button. 

The Cosco Scenera NEXT is a budget-friendly option that we use as a spare car seat when we’re not traveling.

5. Consider Baby Wearing

The airport can be a stimulating experience for your baby, and baby wearing is a great alternative to a stroller for helping your child feel safe and secure. 

TSA will generally allow a child to remain in their carrier through security, though you may be pulled aside for some secondary screening.

It took lots of practice and gentle coaxing to get our newborn son to enjoy his baby carrier, but some babies love being worn from day one.

If you’re just learning about baby wearing a newborn, it can be helpful to join a local baby wearing support group on Facebook.

father holding newborn baby with baby wearing wrap

6. Bring a Sound Machine

We love the Rohm Sound Machine – a portable palm-sized white noise machine that never seems to die. It says six hour of charge, but it might as well be infinity.

7. Pack Comfy Clothes for YOU

The first time I traveled with my newborn to attend a work conference, I had not put on a bit of makeup or donned anything other than yoga pants in months. 

I found a Sonnet James “playsuit” on sale, and it was a godsend. 

These playsuits:

a) are comfortable to the point of almost being pajamas,

b) smooth out a postpartum tummy for anyone worried about putting on real pants again, and

c) balance the sophistication of a two piece suit with the breezy weekend feeling of putting on your partner’s dress shirt.

8. Use BabyQuip

BabyQuip is a baby gear rental company that we LOVE. Our founder, Katy, has used them multiple times in multiple locales, and swears by their rental deliveries. So do I!

If you want to travel light but still enjoy the convenience of having your favorite stroller, highchair, baby gym, etc. on your vacation, have them delivered to your rental or Airbnb with BabyQuip!

Navigating the Airport with Your Baby

The moment has finally arrived…you’re packed and ready to go. What about navigating the airport with an infant-in-arms?

This can be one of the most challenging parts of the whole flying with a baby thing, but we’re here for you. 

Flying with a Baby: TSA Rules for Breast Milk and Formula

If you’re breastfeeding, you probably have a lot of questions, and that’s totally understandable.

We’ve done the research for you, though, so here we go:

  • Transporting breast milk and formula. Per TSA procedures, you are absolutely allowed to bring reasonable amounts of liquid formula or breast milk greater than 3.4 fluid ounces through security. It’s important to separate them from your other liquids and to inform your TSA agent that you’re transporting formula or breast milk. 
  • Pumping at the airport. There is a distressing lack of comprehensive apps for helping mothers find safe lactation spaces, so it’s best to check the amenities page for each airport you’ll be visiting. Some airlines will allow mothers to carry on a bag for pumping equipment, but alas, that is another item you’ll have to research with your particular airline. Mamava, a manufacturer of private stand-alone lactation pods, has a map of pod locations in major airports across the country.

Make a Plan for Meals during COVID-19 Restrictions

If you’re nursing, you know that skipping meals is a bad idea; in fact, you need EXTRA calories when breastfeeding

We highly recommend bringing your own food for you and your baby during COVID-19. Many restaurants and lounges are closed, offer limited menus, and have their employees working limited hours. 

And if your baby is eating baby food and/or solids, you may not be able to find a safe and healthy option.

Many airlines have also halted meal services due to COVID-19 restrictions, opting to provide individually packaged snacks instead that may be high in sodium, sugar, or pose a choking hazard. 

Make sure you’ve got a plan B for both YOURS and baby’s meal times throughout your itinerary. You’ll want to bring a little more formula, breast milk, and solids than you normally need to account for any flight delays, which can add several hours to your travel time.  

Flying with a Baby: On the Plane and in the Air

You’ve made it onto the plane with your little one, and you are getting ready to take off. You’ve got a window seat, too! Congrats! You’re in the home stretch.

Here are some tips to see you through the rest of your flight straight to the finish line:

1. Handling Germs on the Plane

Despite the extra precautions taken by airlines these days, it’s still good practice to wipe down any commonly touched surfaces with a disinfecting wipe.

This includes armrests, buttons or switches, tray tables, and window shades.

Pay extra attention to cleaning areas where you’d naturally find fingerprints. Make sure the surfaces are nice and wet with disinfectant using fresh wipes, and allow the surfaces to air dry completely.

2. Bottle or Breast for Take Off and Landing

Everyone knows that one of the challenges of flying with a baby is that they tend to lose it during takeoff and landing. This is because changes in the air pressure within the cabin during take off and landing can cause ear pain for infants.

Sucking on a bottle or pacifier or nursing is the best way to help babies relieve the sudden build up of pressure.

As with adults, these changes in pressure can cause temporary hearing loss and discomfort.

Breastfeeding baby on a plane
Babies’ sensitive ears can hurt while taking off and landing. Try breast or bottle feeding to help soothe them.

3. Keep Babies (and adults!) Entertained with “Sky Rules”

As Margaret Ables on the podcast What Fresh Hell explains, “sky rules” is an anything goes approach to keeping your family happy during flight. Basically, Toss out your limits on screen time and junk food.

Is watching 45 minutes of CoComelon your baby’s jam?

Does he want to open a new toy every 30 minutes?

Does she want to eat an entire pack of yogurt melts or play with your Instagram filters?

Do you need a bloody mary or two cans of Coca-Cola?

Sounds good. It’s sky rules!

4. Don’t Skimp on the Snacks!

If you’ve got a baby who is enjoying solids, take what you think you might need and double it.

Delays happen, meals get skipped, and babies (and mommies) get cranky when their tummy is rumbling.

Any solid food item can be taken through security, so teething wafers, diced fruits such as mango or peach, soft baked bars, or even homemade baked mini muffins are all good options. 

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5. Find Your Nap Zen

On this crazy day of travel with your infant, whenever and wherever your child naps is a blessing.

Babies are pretty flexible, and they’ll spring back to their normal schedules in no time. As long as they are with you, they’ve got everything they need for a safe and happy trip.

Have you flown with your little one and enjoyed the experience? Let us know your number one tip for flying with a baby!

When I first told my mom the title of this blog, she looked at me incredulously and said, “Why undefining? Why not redefining?”

“Because motherhood is a role that’s been defined for far too many centuries,” I say. “And often not even by mothers themselves. It’s been prescribed and defined and changed and redefined so much that I don’t understand how anyone can feel authentic in their experience of it anymore. Not to co-opt another movement that’s happening right now, but time’s up. It’s time to learn to do this authentically, not according to prescription. For years, I’ve studied the history and theory of how motherhood has been defined, prescribed, turned into an institution with a set of rules. And I’m sick of it. It’s time to put that knowledge into action.”

“It’s perfect,” she replied.

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