Flying with a baby and/or toddler

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

We have successfully taken multiple flights (solo parent, both parents, international..) with our son who is now 18 months old and have learned a LOT. Did my best to operationalize this and share below! Buckle in - it's a long one, I tried to include the things that I needed to understand before getting on a plane!

Below you'll find:
  1. Ticket options for babies/toddlers
  2. Documentation for flying with babies
  3. What to bring to the airport
  4. Flying with baby: the process from start to finish

What are my ticket options for flying with a baby?

There are a 2 options for babies under 2, there are pros and cons to both and you should do what works best for your family:
  1. Travel as a lap infant: There is an option to add your baby as a lap child to your ticket when purchasing. An important note if you're traveling with more than 1 lap child is that each row on the plane has one additional oxygen mask (i.e. if the row is three across, there are 4 oxygen masks), so you and your companion will need to split up seats.
  2. Separate ticket: This is costlier but is how we have opted to travel with our son because we can bring his carseat and he knows what to expect/how to behave in his carseat. Also, hi have you met my anxiety - this feels safer to my anxiety haha.

What Documentation do I need to travel with a baby?

We always travel with a copy of his birth certificate just in case but have never been asked for it. The only time we have been asked for his ID was his passport when traveling internationally.

We followed these instructions for his passport and it was actually very straightforward and easy. 

What do I need to bring to the airport when flying with a baby?

Here is what we bring for the flights:

Carseat stuff
  • Travel carseat: for kids up to 40 lbs, this is super lightweight (like less than 10 lbs) and incredibly easy to install in cars and airplanes (I can do it in 30 seconds). Here's an installation tutorial for nervous preppers like me. We bring the carseat on the plane but if you opt to check the carseat (free to check or can gate check), people love these carseat backpacks.
  • Carseat Strap: We use this to strap the carseat to the rolling carry-on so it's easy to cart around the airport. When I travel solo, I check all bags and just carry the carseat while pushing the stroller, but keep this in the diaper bag for when I get my luggage.
Navigating the airport:
  • Travel Stroller: We both like this stroller for how lightweight and compact it is, one-handed steering and one-handed folding, maneuverability, the extended sunshade, the footrest, and my husband is 6'1 and doesn't kick it when walking. This one fits in the overhead bin, but if your's doesn't you can gate check it.
  • A baby wearing option: I preferred to wear my son through security before he could walk. However I ALWAYS brought the stroller because of reasons mentioned above.
Food and bottles:
*There are no limits to bottles and formula you can carry on, however I always allow extra time because sometimes they test the milk at security.
  • Bottles (babies): I always bring enough for 3-4 extra bottles because delays. I like the Kiinde system because you only need one bottle contraption + nipples and the bags are really easy to travel with. I pack the milk bags in an insulated bag and get ice from the restaurants inside the gate to make sure the milk stays cold. I always keep one handy for takeoff and one for landing because it helps their ears with the pressure.
  • Travel dish soap (babies and toddlers): In case I need to wash bottle parts or anything in the airport bathroom.
  • More snacks than you think (toddlers)
  • Sippy Straw cup (toddlers): fill it up once you're in the gate and don't forget to keep the straw open during takeoff -- otherwise the pressure builds up and when you open it you get a nice shower (speaking from personal experience)
*I always find the family bathrooms at the airport, and the planes have changing tables too (just ask the flight attendant which bathroom to use)
  • Diapers: I size up one for the plane ride just to be safe. 
  • Wipes
  • Diaper cream
  • Pouch to keep all the diaper stuff in so it's easy to grab
  • Change of clothes for baby and parent (just in case)
  • We dress him in easy clothes for changing (zipper onesie or pants and shirt)
Toys for the plane:
  • Books: when he was smaller I just brought a few of his favorite peek-a-boo books (Llama Llama Hide and Seek was read 10x per flight). Otherwise he loved playing with the barf bags, safety guide, and magazines on the flight.
  • Pacifiers: good for relieving ear pressure
  • Sucky spinny things
  • Magnetic tiles 
  • Sensory toys
  • Water color books
  • Over ears headphones and tablet (if it's your thing!)
Everything the baby needs on the plane goes into pouches in my backpack. I keep a toy pouch, snack pouch, and diaper supply pouch. Makes everything very easy to find.

Flying with a baby: the process from start to finish

1. The Drop-off: 
If possible, get dropped off at the curb. You will feel like a packmule and that is normal. 

2. Checking bags
  • When traveling together we check one bag and carry on one rolling bag and each have a back pack. When solo I check everything except the stroller, carseat, and my backpack.
  • If a pack and play is not available at our destination we check this.
3. Security
  • If you have TSA precheck and/or CLEAR your kids can come through with you (I use both). Some airports have family lanes that are expedited lines. 
  • If you're concerned about anyone you're traveling with getting through security because of disabilities, sensory issues, anxiety, mobility issues, etc you can use TSA Cares
  • Before he could walk, I strapped him onto me before the security line and folded up his stroller right at the line. Once he could walk I stroller him all the way to the security line, fold his stroller at the last possible minute, and walk through security with him.
  • Remember to empty sippy cups/water bottles before you get to the line
4. Before boarding the plane
  • Purchase any snacks or drinks needed
  • Fill up sippy cups and get enough water for any formula bottles
  • Check diaper in the family restroom
  • Get energy out!! A lot of airports have play areas, or just let them run around

5. Boarding the plane with a baby or toddler
  • There is early boarding for families with kids. When possible one of us boards with that group to get everything situated and the carseat installed, and someone stays behind with the kid and boards with the last group to minimize his time on the plane.
  • Gate check the stroller if needed
  • If you have any issues installing the carseat flight attendants can help!
  • I pull out my three pods and put them in the seat in front of me and open the sippy cup straws so the pressure doesn't cause a fountain after takeoff.
6. The flight
  • Lower expectations. Survival is the goal. They might sleep and they might not - do what you have to.
  • Pull out one toy or book at a time throughout the flight (NOT all of them at once)
  • Use bottles, sippy cups, or pacis during takeoff and landing to reduce pressure
  • Flight attendants have been really 
7. Deplaning
  • I leave baby strapped in his carseat while I get my stuff together/get organized
  • Once everything is set up and ready for me to grab I unstrap the baby and either strap him to me or let him stand up, unbuckle the carseat, and just make a run for it. It's chaotic and it's fine. 

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