Flying with a baby is daunting for most parents. Preparing and packing carry-on essentials is one of the most important aspects for your baby’s first flight. In my son’s first 2 years of life we traveled from India to Ireland to the US and back racking up platinum status with Delta!
After so many flights and layovers across the world, we learned a ton about flying with a baby and want to share it all with you. Our top tips on flying with a baby focus on what you need to carry on with you and how to pass the time!
I like to call our carry-on bag, our go bag. You might have another carry on, but the one you keep close is the go bag which will have your child’s necessary items for the flights and/or travel along the way.
Tips for Flying with a Baby: Carry-on Essentials
Pack a Change of Clothes for You & the Baby
For some reason flying with a baby means lots of poop accidents. Explosive poop accidents. I learned this one the hard way. Make sure you not only have several changes of clothes for your baby, but at least one change of clothes for yourself as well. Luckily baby clothes pack small, so it’s easy to carry several on with you.
In addition to the emergency supply of clothes, we also always recommend taking clothes for both warm and cold airplanes. Most plane rides tend to be quite chilly, but we have had several flights that were warm, requiring me to put my baby in short sleeves.
Additionally, for overnight flights, make sure to have sleepers, sleep suits and lovies.
Bring Lots of Snacks When Flying with a Baby
Traveling with a baby before they are eating solids is a much simpler time. During this period all you need to worry about is bringing enough food (milk, formula or baby food) for the duration of the flight with extra for unexpected delays. You never know when you will be delayed at airports. Outside of the US you cannot count on being able to buy formula easily, so this becomes even more important. Also, do not rely on milk or food to be provided for your baby even on international flights.
For the babies who have moved onto solids, loads of snacks are essential. The squeezable packets of baby food are travel lifesavers. Dry snacks and individual snack bags are also great. Our growing baby loved puffs, teething biscuits, crackers, and rice cakes. These all traveled easily and kept fresh.
In addition to snacks, if your baby drinks water, milk or juice bring what you will need for the flight. Once our son moved on to cows milk we would take the Horizon single packets of milk because they did not need to be refrigerated to stay fresh. Remember that you can carry on as much food and liquids as required for your baby. However, be prepared for TSA to test the liquids or conduct a full body pat down just as an extra precaution.
Tip: To help yourself through security, pack all foods and liquids in one easy to remove bag.
Bring Lots of Baby Supplies
Burp Cloths, swaddle blankets, wipes and a changing pad are absolutely essential for flights. You can use these for a multitude of purposes. We also recommend you bring a large ziplock bag or a wet bag in case of any vomiting or poo situations! If you are nursing, a nursing cover is useful in conservative areas of the world and to help block out distractions for your baby on busy flights. If your baby takes a pacifier, take several in case some get lost underneath seats.
For Overnight Flights Bring Bedtime Accessories
If you follow any specific routine for nap or bedtimes, take all of these supplies required for this. Our son was swaddled at a young age and then wore a sleep sheet for years. These were his signal that it was time to sleep, so it was imperative that we had these supplies. Pajamas, books, loveys and special blankets are essential for babies to feel comfortable even on flights.
Bring all of these sleeping aid accessories even if you don’t have a bassinet or place for your child to sleep. As a baby they will sleep on you almost as easily as in a bed, as long as they have all the cues they need to know that it is sleeping time.
Lots & Lots of Diapers
Pack a diaper for every 1-2 hours of the flight and then add in a few extra for unexpected delays. Baby’s tend to go through diapers like crazy on flights. Toddlers like to visit the bathrooms often for something to do. Either way, you will not want to be caught out with no diapers. Don’t forget the bum bum cream too. This comes in handy even for cold cheeks, chapped lips and dry skin during flights. Also as mentioned above, wipes and a changing pad are a must as most bathrooms much room and you might find yourself changing a diaper on the floor! Gasp. I know. But it has happened to us more than once!
Bring Distraction Items But Not the Whole Playroom
For babies under a year old, very few items are needed for entertainment. Babies are happy to explore all of the items on the airplane. The cup with your meal, the cutlery, the headphones, windows, etc. Add in a few rattles, baby books and you are good to go.
For children a bit older, but still not very mobile, a useful tactic is to wrap small toys either new or old ones and dole them out slowly over the flight. It gives the kids something to look forward to and something to do. Dollar store toys are great for this. For more ideas, see our post on electronic free travel activities for flights.
Have more questions? Read Preparing for your baby’s first flight for more information. And remember, the more you travel with your baby, the better traveler they will become. Our son flew on 22 flights his first year. He continues to love travel and flying, which we attribute to him being so used to it.
Car Seat, Stroller & Carriers When Flying with a Baby
Not sure if you should bring a car seat on the plane, a stroller to the gate or just a carrier? You can read more on our post about preparing for your baby’s first flight, but in general we recommend to do what feels comfortable to you.
When my son was small, we had a snap and go stroller with his car seat. Since they were connected and small, we could easily take the carseat on the flight and put it in the overhead bin if we did not purchase a seat for our son. If we did have an extra seat or purchased one, we would strap him in his car seat next to us and call it a win! The stroller folded up small, so often the flight attendants would put it in a storage closet near 1st class. Don’t count on it, but it is sometimes an option to avoid checking it at the plane.
As for a carrier – we always recommend bringing at least one carrier. It makes it much easier to move through the airport with your baby while they are sleeping, helps keep touchy hands off and keeps the baby calm.
There are so many questions floating through your mind as you prepare to fly with a baby. Here are some of the ones I hear often and wanted to share answers with you about.
Direct or Layover Flights?
For small babies, I suggest going direct as much as you can. A baby will sleep more easily on a flight than toddlers or older children. In our case flying between India and the US, we would either create a layover for a few days since each flight was 12 hours long or have a layover in Europe for a few hours.
For toddlers and older kids, you can determine what is best for your family. My recommendation is usually to go direct as often as possible, taking connecting flights only when they make sense for timing. With connections you always run the risk of lost baggage and delays which are never great with kids.
Check Bags and Accessories or Carry-on?
Like I mentioned previously, when my son was a baby we often took everything on (besides our checked luggage) – car seat and snap and go stroller. Once he moved out of the infant car seat, we would typically check his car seat at the check in counter inside of a padded backpack bag. Then we would take his stroller to the gate where it would be gate checked.
If you also travel with a baby bed, you can check that for free as well during check in. For many families, having a baby bed is essential, so make sure to check with your airline to confirm that you can check a stroller and bed for free.
When flying with a baby I was often on my own, so I would check my main luggage and bring only the ‘go bag’ and other carry on essentials for the flight.
Buy a Seat or go Lap Only?
If you can afford to purchase another seat, it is always recommended even though in the US children under 2 fly free as lap children. US domestic flights are often packed and the seats offer very little wiggle room. If you want to be comfortable when flying with a baby, definitely considering buying a seat.
For international flights, the seats are much wider and offer more space. In our early years of flying with a baby, we were often lucky to have an empty seat next to us (or someone would move when they saw a baby!), so we never purchased extra seats.
My go to rule of thumb is to purchase a seat on US flights longer than 3 hours and wing it for the short flights and international flights.
Do you have other questions about flying with a baby? Comment below and I will get back to you asap!
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