Dreading your baby’s first flight? I get it. I’m an adventurer at heart, a problem solver by nature, an independent I can do anything type of person, yet when faced with the dilemma of airline travel with my baby, all I want to do is run in to a cozy dark corner and opt out of life.
As if airline travel weren’t dehumanizing enough, now you want me to add an explosive ball of wild energy that has no ability to use rational thinking skills or time their bowel movements to be AFTER we land? And yet… I still convinced myself to get on an airplane with my tiny human 17 times before he turned 2.
I’ve done 18 hour travel days and lived to tell the tale. Is it hard sometimes? Yes. Does it have to be impossible? No.
Seventeen flights later, I’ve learned about what works and what doesn’t work. If it’s your baby’s first flight and you’re looking for more resources on how to survive airline travel with your baby, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve compiled my best tips on how to survive baby’s first flight. I’ve divided it into what to pack in your airplane survival bag and actionable tips you can implement on your next flight.
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WHAT TO PACK FOR BABY’S FIRST FLIGHT
As much as I hate to admit it, what you pack for baby’s first flight is one of the most important ways to reduce stress when traveling with a baby. I pride myself on packing light on all my trips. I did three weeks in Bali with a single piece of carry on luggage. I traveled through Europe for five weeks with only a backpack. Traveling light is my jam. Sadly, that style of traveling is not something I have the privilege of doing now that I have a child. Having a baby requires stuff, and while I want to push back against it, there are key things that you will need to bring with you. I have included what I believe are the bare minimum things so you can fly easefully with your baby.
Here’s a quick Baby’s First Flight checklist for you:
- Change of Clothes
- Comfort Blankets
- Food, Formula, Snacks
- Wipes, Antibacterial Wipes
- Wet Bags or Plastic Bags
- Essential Oil Spray
- iPad, Kindle, Entertainment Apps
- Noise Machine App or Soft Headphones
1. A Change of Clothes
Bring an extra set of clothes for a blow out or other super fun bodily fluid situations that are bound to happen. Also don’t forget some clothes for you if you end up a casualty in your babies complete and total body freedom. At the least a replacement shirt for you.
2. Comfort Blankets
You’ll want to pack one or two small swaddles or blankets. It’s best to pack one that’s small and machine washable so you can easily wash off all those fun airplane cooties. I like to pack two, so one can be used as a blanket, nursing cover, or to cover the car seat to keep it dark if he happens to fall asleep on the plane or in the stroller. The second blanket is one I don’t care as much about and feel comfortable using on the ground of the airport if I want to lay my baby down for a moment or want to do a quick diaper change.
If you’re like me, and a minimalist by nature, I double up my blanket scarf that I always travel with on airplanes. It can be an extra blanket, nursing cover, blackout shade, and all-around awesome resource for my baby.
Traveling to the beach with your baby? Check out our list of the ultimate beach essentials for a toddler.
3. So Many Snacks
It’s best to bring enough snacks for the zombie appocalypse. No really, bring so many snacks. The worst thing in the world is to be in a dark cramped smelly place with no snacks to alleviate your cranky babe. You can NEVER rely on the airline to have food or that you’ll have time to get snacks at the airport. Stuff happens. Traffic makes you late to the airport or the airline runs out of food (it’s happened to us twice). You want to be sure there’s food for not only your babe, but for yourself as well. That’s right, you matter too.
If you unexpectedly have no food with you and you’re worried that there won’t be any food on the plane, which is a real concern if you are located at the back of the plane, find the nicest looking flight attendant who you think might be a parent (they’ll get it). Bring your very cute baby with you and nicely explain your situation and tell her you’re sitting in the back and want to make sure something is left for you to buy. If she’s a mom herself, she’ll get it and most likely put aside a sandwich or something. Take advantage of pre-boarding perks and ask them then.
Also, per TSA rules, breast milk, formula, and baby/toddler food like puree pouches are allowed to be over the 3.4 oz carry on rule. Bring as much as you need! You can read the official TSA guidelines here.
4. Diapers and Wipes
Pretty self explantory, but there’s always a diaper to change and something to wipe. We’re not a germ avoidant family, but when it comes to airplanes, we do give a few swipes of the seat and tray beforehand with an antibacterial wipe. The fact is, airplanes are dirty places so given their young immune system it’s not a bad idea to be a little extra cautious. We also wipe up our seats after we land as a courtesy to the next traveler. Chances are that your baby drooled and left all kinds of fun reminders of themselves, so I think it’s a nice thing to do.
You’ll want to bring enough diapers for a full day. Unexpected delays happen all too often. You’re hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.
5. Extra Bags
You’re going to want extra disposable bags for trash and soiled clothing that inevitably collects while you’re sitting on the plane. I like to have one for soiled clothing and one for trash like dirty diapers and wipes. Anything can work from ziplock bags to plastic grocery store bags. If you’re an eco friendly gal like me and prefer to not use single use plastic you can use these machine washable reusable bags instead.
6. Essential Oil Spray
Sometimes your baby is a gross stinky mess. As their parent you love them regardless. The rest of the people on the plane have no biological compulsion towards that level of irrational thinking. For those times you can’t change your baby because of turbulence or long lines a lightly scented oil spray goes a long way. I would recommend never using anything perfumed (hello perfume allergies!) but opt for a subtle hand sanitizer essential oil spray like this.
7. Brand New Toys
Babies love anything new. Bringing favorite toys from home just won’t suffice in the environment of an airplane where everything is stimulating and new. Whenever I was preparing for a flight I would head over to the dollar store and buy a handful of new things I thought my babe would particularly enjoy. The aim is to buy cheap simple toys that you don’t mind tossing out or potentially losing on the plane. You can also gift wrap each individual toy which adds an extra layer of fun and distraction for them.
During the flight, I would follow his lead and whenever he seemed about ready to have a fuss or start to bang incessantly on the back of someone’s seat, I would bring out a new toy to help entertain him all over again…for five hours.
8. Device Entertainment
While most babies are too young to be pulled into the lures of the iPad, older babies and toddlers can enjoy some of the entertainment that it can provide. Whether it’s listening to kid’s music, a storytelling podcast, or age appropriate shows, the iPad can give you a little break.
We enjoy the Homer App for its huge library of books that are read aloud to them. You can try a free trial here.
There’s so much fear around giving kids an iPad (understandably so!) but sometimes we do what we have to do to survive airline travel. It’s okay.
9. Noise Machine App or Headphones
Some babies can sleep through anything, but our son always did better with a little bit of white noise to cancel out all the inevitable announcements and sounds of the airplane. We prefer to use a White Noise app on our phone rather than pack an additional item. Most white noise apps offer gentle sounds that will blend in with the airplane white noise and won’t disrupt other passengers.
You can also use headphones made for babies and young children to further mask sounds. They are not only super cute, but a great way to have them be lulled to sleep with soft music in the background.
TIPS FOR BABY’S FIRST FLIGHT
Now that you’re prepared to pack your travel survival bag it’s time to get your head in the game and employ our best tips and hacks for airplane travel with a baby.
1. The Middle Seat Hack
This is a tip that only works if you are traveling in a group of three. Like most families traveling domestically with a baby, you’re no doubt taking advantage of your baby being free to fly on your lap, until they are two years old. It’s an amazing perk, but depending on the temperament of your child, it can be exhausting holding them on your lap for long haul flights. Our little one was never content to just be held. He always needed to be moving and using his body to explore. Because of that, we always employed the middle seat hack.
When booking flights, we always booked our seats as a window and aisle, hoping that the middle seat would remain clear and you end up with a whole row to yourself. Some people believe that it’s a useless hack since airplanes are so packed now, but it has worked for us several times. And really, what do you have to lose by trying?
The key is to book flights that aren’t as busy and to book your seats closer to the back. Think about it, if you’re forced to choose a middle seat, are you going to sit in the back or the front? When booking flights, I always look at several flight options and check out the seating maps to see how much is available. I have to weigh the pros and cons, but if it’s a long haul flight I will often choose something that has better seat options even if it means a slightly longer flight.
The middle seat hack is especially useful if you are traveling with an older baby who is now mobile. Carrying a six month old on your lap who, by and large, can’t move is one thing. Carrying a one and a half year old wild child looking to partay is a whole other ball game. Honestly, if you can afford it or have airline points to spare, buy the extra seat for them.
If you try this airplane hack and it doesn’t work, you simply need to ask the person in the middle seat if they’ll swap you for your seat. I’ve never had a problem with this, as any half sane person would rather have an aisle or window seat than sit sandwiched between a baby and two people.
2. Nursing During Takeoff or Landing
This is a tried and true tip that is twofold in it’s effectiveness. Nursing or bottle feeding not only serves to alleviate the pressure on their sensitive ears, but it also helps them to fall asleep which is really all we want them to do on an airplane, amiright? Since babies don’t know yet how to swallow or yawn to clear their ears, nursing or being bottle fed is the most effective way to be sure their ears aren’t suffering from the air pressure. Not every baby is sensitive to this, but nursing during take off was the best way for me to ensure he wasn’t uncomfortable and was the most optimum time for him to fall asleep.
3. Gate Check your Stroller and Carseat
For most US airlines, you can check your car seat, stroller, and carseat base for free. It is considered a safety device so airlines are more accommodating with those needs. We always packed our car seat base in a box and would check it when we arrived at the airport. For our stroller and infant car seat we preferred to gate check it so we could easily maneuver our babe around the airport. There’s a lot of back and forth over whether you should bring your car seat on the airplane with you or not. In my opinion, the decision to bring a car seat on a plane should be solely based upon the unique behavior and disposition of your child, because the choice to bring one or not is going to be different for everyone.
For us, it was always better to bring our car seat on the plane as it was the ONLY way he would sleep on the plane. That being said, this only works if you have paid for them to have their own seat. We never paid for an extra seat, but we did employ the above middle seat hack and would check at the ticket counter before boarding to see if the seat was still available and explain why we were inquiring. They would often tell us to check back in right before boarding. If it was available we would bring it on and if it wasn’t we would drop it off at the gate before boarding the plane. If your baby sleeps easily on you and you don’t mind holding them, then it’s probably best you not bring your car seat onto the plane and check it when you arrive. They are cumbersome and not exactly easy to schlep around, but for us it was always worth the hassle if he would sleep for an hour or two.
Be sure to check that your car seat is airline approved. On your car seat, usually on the side, there should be a sticker that states that the car seat is FAA compliant. Otherwise, your car seat will not be allowed on the plane.
Lastly, if you’re going to check your stroller and car seat we strongly advise you to buy a cover for your stroller and car seat. We tried to go cheap and cover it up with a black trash bag and every time they would rip it off. Covering it up ensures it stays clean and free of all kinds of dirty stuff you don’t even want to think about that lives in the bottom of the plane. It’s also a great way to keep some kind of layer of protection from careless airline employees who HEAVE your belongings onto the conveyer belt. Why airline people? Why? Here’s a great guide to choosing the best gate check bag for your stroller.
4. Dress Them in Comfortable Clothing
This may seem like an obvious tip, but we have definitely made the mistake of dressing our baby in clothing that was too warm. You want breathable natural fiber clothing that is easy to take on and off, think zippers and not intricate tiny buttons. While I tend to be freezing on airplanes, most babies run hot so it’s best to let blankets rather than clothing take care of any temperature issues.
5. Pack and Leave Early
If you’re one of those people who believes they will have time in the morning, you need to adopt the pragmatic point of view and leave extra early. The goal is to arrive relaxed with time to spare, not to arrive frazzled, stressed, and ready to kill the TSA agent. That never works out. I remember arriving dreadfully late to our flight and the prim and proper ticketing agent in her Mary Poppins “practically-perfect-in-every-way” voice telling me, “You know you should really give yourself more time to get to the airport.” MURDEROUS RAGE. Do you know what it takes to put pants on a baby?! Instead, I said “Thank you, that’s great advice.” She had my airline tickets, I wasn’t about to piss her off.
But really, you should pack early and give yourself more time to get to the airport.
6. Time Your Flights
When choosing which flights to take, put some consideration into timing and what works best for everyone’s rhythms and sleeping times. If you have a baby who sleeps easily then by all means book a red eye and have them sleep on the plane at night. For us, that would have been an awful choice.
Our son thrived with routine, so I would always try to book flights that loosely coincided with his nap times. The turbulence of take off was like being back in the womb and he would fall asleep instantly (with a little help from simultaneous nursing).
Of course, airline schedules don’t always perfectly coincide with a nap schedule, so flexibility is key here. I tend to think late morning to early afternoon flights are the best. Ultimately, you’ll want to think about choosing flights that allow for everyone to be in their best mood, which typically means well fed, and well rested.
7. Proof of Age
Most of the airlines we flew with didn’t require proof of our child being under two, but there are a few who do. So, make sure you have something that proves their birthdate, like a picture of a birth certificate or an insurance ID. We learned this the hard way when we flew with Southwest and I didn’t have any proof of him being under two. I mean, besides the fact that he had no teeth and couldn’t walk. Weirdly enough, she accepted my Facebook post that announced his birth.
8. Airplane Cups
When all else fails… airplane cups. Say the iPad dies on you unexpectedly and all the toys you brought have unexpectedly been eaten by a rogue service lizard, then my last ditch effort to keep him occupied is to collect plastic cups and straws from the flight attendants. Depending on their age and coordination, you could let them play with pouring water from one cup to the next or just plain old stacking them. I would say that hack has earned me 30 minutes of play time.
9. Don’t worry. Be Happy.
Making the most out of being stuck on the tarmac for two hours!
When traveling you have to adopt and cultivate an attitude of going with the flow. Things will go wrong. It’s Murphy’s Law that flights will get delayed, babies will have epic proportions of diarrhea, bags will get lost. To the best of your ability, you have to let it go and chalk it up to the realities of airline travel.
The more stressed you get, the more stressed your baby will get. They take their cues from you and if you want a relaxed baby, you’ll have to channel your own inner knowing that any hurdles you come up against are indeed temporary and you can choose to be miserable or you can choose to make the best out of a tough situation. We’ve experienced it all.. being stuck on a tarmac for two hours with our cranky over tired infant who cried the ENTIRE time we were stuck there. Lots of angry glares. We’ve sat through four hour delays waiting for the moment our baby would turn into a demon because he didn’t nap. We’ve also experienced easy breezy flights where he slept in his car seat for two hours. It’s important to carefully plan beforehand and then give it all up once you’re there.
10. Please Don’t Apologize
I’ve noticed there is a trend now to apologize for daring to bring your baby on a plane. I hear of suggestions that say to hand out earplugs or goodie bags as a way to soften the blow of bringing your baby. Thanks George Clooney! While, there’s nothing wrong with doing that and if it makes you feel better, then of course do it, but please don’t feel pressure to do that. You bought your ticket and you have every right to be there. The majority of people I have interacted with on planes have been kind and understanding of my baby, and the ones who don’t… I ignore.
Honestly, the people who behave the worst on airplanes aren’t the babies… so let’s stop giving them the bad wrap. I’m looking at you person who think it’s okay to cut your toe nails mid flight.
I love sharing tips with people, but at the end of the day, all the tips you receive have to be funneled through the unique disposition of your own child. What works for one, won’t work for another. When you become a parent, you quickly learn that there is no one size fits all method when it comes to your kids. God, wouldn’t it be great if there were though?
Have you braved airline travel with a baby? Have any juicy tips for baby’s first flight? I would love to hear them!
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