A while back, I wrote about how to fly with a toddler. Since then, I have received requests for a post on how to fly with an infant, as these are two very different experiences. The first flight I ever took with my son was when he was just 3 months old and it was all the way from Phoenix to Boston! Let’s talk about some of the steps I took to ensure a painless adventure…
How to Fly with an Infant
Booking Your Flight
You have two options when you decide to fly with an infant. You can choose to have them on your lap, or purchase an additional seat. Most domestic U.S. airlines (if not all) allow you to fly with an infant on your lap for free, so this is often the preferred option. Of course, purchasing an extra seat allows you to bring an airline approved car seat, which is the safest option, but many parents simply cannot afford the additional cost (myself included!)
If you are not flying with another adult I highly recommend purchasing an additional seat for your infant, particularly for a long flight. This will allow you to take a break from holding your little one and, if you’re lucky, they will sleep in the car seat for a good chunk of the flight.
Contact the Airline
If you decide to go the route of traveling with your child on your lap, you will need to let the airline know after you have booked your flight. I actually recommend calling them first just to make sure there isn’t anything special you need to do when booking. When you do call, this is also a good time to ask about any airline specific policies regarding additional carry-ons for your baby, special boarding procedures, etc. I will cover some of these topics, but it is always best to check with your specific airline as well.
Flying with a toddler? Check out my post on How to Fly with a Toddler
When you are packing, you will want to think ahead about your travel circumstances. Will you be flying alone with your little one? Sure, you will have them in a stroller up until you board the plane, but are you going to be able to hold an infant and shove a heavy suitcase into the overhead bin? If you won’t have help from another adult, consider checking your luggage and only bringing the diaper bag on the plane.
The standard carry-on allowance for most U.S. domestic flights is one large carry-on and one personal item per seat. That means that, should you choose to get an additional seat for your little one, you would be allowed those items for your baby as well. However, if you choose to hold your baby during the flight, rather than purchasing the additional seat, you will only permitted one extra item, a diaper bag. There are not typically specific guidelines for the size of the diaper bag, but it’s safe to assume that if you bring an entire suitcase and try to pull it off as a diaper bag they will likely make you check it. Again, think about how many hands you have. Just because you are allowed to bring multiple bags on as carry-on, doesn’t mean it will be the best option for you.
Milk and Formula
While the typical liquid allowance for flights is one quart sized bag of liquids that are no more than 3.4 ounces each, when you fly with an infant you are permitted to bring additional liquids. Milk or formula are permitted provided they still fit within your carry-on allowance. Additionally, you will need to keep them in their own separate bag or container so that you can remove them at the security checkpoint. These items will be screened separately.
When you arrive at the security checkpoint, you will need to inform the TSA agent that you are carrying additional liquids for your baby. The quantity you are allowed is not specifically stated, but generally you will want to only bring what is needed for the time at the airport and the flight itself (with a little extra in case of delays). Once you arrive at your destination, you can buy more milk or formula or pump as needed.
Before You Go
Most airlines allow for online check in 24 hours before your flight. In some cases, the earlier you check in, the earlier you are able to board your flight. You may be provided with the luxury of boarding early due to the fact that you are flying with an infant, but this is not always the case. If you are able to check in online, I highly recommend doing so as soon as possible.
When you check in online, you will be able to print your boarding passes. I recommend printing two copies for each person. One copy can stay with you and the other can be placed in an easily accessible place in your luggage as a backup. Additionally, many airlines have apps that allow you to save a digital boarding pass. I love to use this method, but I always print physical boarding passes as well.
A note about online check-in
When I flew with my son recently, I was not able to check in online. Apparently, this was because they had noted that I was bringing a lap child on the ticket. If you are not able to check in online, simply plan to arrive to the airport a little earlier, just in case.
As you are leaving…
There are a few things you should do before you walk out the door to head to the airport, the first of which is to check your flight status. You wouldn’t want to arrive at the airport, baby in tow, only to find out that your flight is cancelled. Many airlines allow you to sign up for flight status updates via email or text message as well.
You will also want to make sure that you are leaving with more time than you think you need. Most airlines recommend arriving two hours early, but I recommend allowing even more time when planning to fly with an infant. We all know that everything takes longer when you have a baby. Allowing yourself that extra time will reduce the chances of being rushed and stressed. Sure, you may have to spend a little more downtime at the airport, but you will be in a much better mental state.
If you are traveling around the holidays, give yourself even more time. Those security checkpoint lines can get pretty long around Christmas and even some of the less significant holidays throughout the year.
Right before you leave the house, make sure you have your most important items. I like to make a list ahead of time so that I can quickly run through it just before walking out the door. My list usually includes the following:
- IDs for all adults
- Some form of ID for little ones (Birth Certificate, Social Security Card, etc.)
- Boarding passes
- Baby necessities for feeding, changing, and sleeping
- Phone and charger
- Any other documents needed (transportation to and from airport, rental car info, parking info, etc.)
Being on a parent-led schedule made our flight SO much easier! Find out Why I Chose a Parent-Led Schedule.
Arriving at the Airport
When you first arrive at the airport, you will want to check any bags you won’t be carrying on. When you do this, they will issue you a new boarding pass. If you already printed one, just tuck it away in your luggage and use the new one.
If you are not checking a bag, but you were unable to check in online in advance, you will want to head on up to the ticket counter and get your boarding pass. I don’t recommend using a kiosk in this situation. If you were not able to check in online it’s likely because they need to do something special on their end, which means the kiosk won’t work either. Save yourself the hassle and just go straight to the counter.
Head to Security
The next step will be to head to the TSA security checkpoint line. Take a moment before you hop in line to get situated. They may ask to see your boarding pass at the beginning of the line so you’ll want to have it out along with your ID.
Before you get up to the front of the security checkpoint line, be prepared. Remove your shoes or have them untied and ready for removal. (Better yet, wear slip on shoes!). If you have shoes on your baby, you don’t need to remove them. Remove all liquids and tablets or laptops. Take off your coat and remove any belts or metal items. If you have your baby in a stroller or car seat, you will need to run these items through security, so you’ll want to take your little one out.
Accept the Chaos
I’ve always been one of those travelers who was overly prepared. I took pride in being able to get through security in no time and did everything in my power to not inconvenience the other travelers around me in line. That being said, even with my experience and honed in skills acquired pre-baby, I struggled to get through security quickly. The more prepared you are the better, but accept the fact that you may still be scrambling to get everything situated quickly. If you need to let someone go in front of you, just do it.
When you get up to the conveyor belt, grab some bins and put in your shoes, coat, laptop, and liquids. You’ll also put your luggage on the conveyor belt along with the stroller and/or car seat if they will fit. If they won’t fit, just talk to the TSA agent. They are usually pretty understanding of parents, particularly if it looks like you’re trying your best. Don’t forget to tell the agent if you have any special items, like milk or formula.
If you followed my advice and arrived early, then you’ll probably make it through security with more time than you know what to do with. Before you look around for a way to kill some time, head over to the gate. Make sure you know where it is and check your flight status just to make sure everything is on track. Then, you can find a place to eat or shop around for a bit while you wait. Take some time to feed your little one, get in a diaper change and take a breather. You’ve made it past the first hurdle.
At the counter
When you are settled in at the gate, stop by the counter to let someone know that you are traveling with an infant. Now would be the time to ask if you are allowed to board early or if there is anything else you need to know. If you have a stroller or car seat that need to be checked at the gate (which is free), they may want to go ahead and tag it for you in advance to save time during the boarding process. Additionally, you can ask if the flight has any open seats. Occasionally, if the flight is somewhat empty, you might just get an extra seat for baby for free!
Strollers and Car Seats
Strollers and car seats that are checked at the gate are left at the gate just before you board. These are put under the plane and then brought back up for you to retrieve when you arrive at your destination. Most stroller and car seat sizes are accepted, but you may want to call in advance if you have a particularly bulky item.
Don’t act entitled
Keep in mind that the airline employees are no stranger to special requests. Don’t act as though you are entitled to anything. Simply ask them if there is anything that they can recommend to make things go more smoothly and graciously accept any tips or advantages that they provide. If they are short with you, it’s safe to assume that they have had a lot of grumpy customers that day. Just be pleasant. If you don’t get the response you want upfront, your positive attitude might just help you out later on.
On the Plane
Phew! You made it on the plane. Now for the real adventure! It’s time to keep your little one happy and quiet for hours on end. If you’re lucky, your baby will sleep for the majority of the flight. Flying with my son as an infant was significantly easier than flying with him as a toddler. But not all babies do well on planes. Here are a few tips to ensure the smoothest ride possible…
- Make sure baby’s needs are met
- Keep your little one well fed, changed and comfortable. A fussy baby only gets fussier when they are uncomfortable. Sure, changing a baby’s diaper in an airplane bathroom is no fun, but it also provides a change of scenery and a potentially happier baby. Don’t hesitate. If you’re little one needs changing, just get it over with. And if there’s any chance your little one is hungry, give it a shot. They might just pass out when they finish their meal!
- Offer a breast or bottle at take off and landing
- If you can get your baby to eat during take of and landing, the swallowing may help with the pain of popping ears. Not to mention, breastfeeding is calming anyway, so it may be beneficial in general. If you are comfortable breastfeeding on the plane, I highly recommend it. I truly believe that it had a significant impact on my son’s temperament on the flight. I just brought a decent cover and sat in a window seat.
Use your baby carrier for naps
- I absolutely loved baby wearing when my little man was still small enough for it. He would fall asleep on me, happy as can be, and I could still function! This is a great option on a flight. You can still have a snack or play on your cell phone will your little one sleeps peacefully.
- When permitted, walk up and down the aisle with your little one. When my son was little, walking was the only way to calm him when he was really upset. It provides a change of scenery and the motion is calming. It may be a little frustrating depending on your flight circumstances. On my most recent flight with my son, we were on an extremely full flight and we were near the bathroom. In other words, the isle was filled with people constantly. But, if you are able to walk a bit, or even just stand and sway in the isle near your seat, it may help.
Accept the possibility of a rough trip
- There is a chance that your little one will scream for at least a portion of the flight. Accept this. People might give you dirty looks. But, screw ’em! As long as you are doing your best to calm you little one, what more can they ask? Parents need to be able to fly too! Don’t let the frustration of others get to you too much. I have always hated inconveniencing others, but motherhood has changed that for me. I know that I’m doing my best and my top priority is my baby’s happiness, not theirs.
And there you have it! Are you ready for baby’s first flight??
Do YOU have any tips for traveling with an infant? What did you do that worked? Let me know in the comments below!
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