Preparing for your baby’s first flight is daunting and nerve wracking. I remember it well. My son was born in India where we lived as expats. As you can imagine, the grandparents were chomping at the bit to see him. India not being the easiest country to pop into meant that we had to do a lot of traveling to introduce our new little one to our loved ones. We travelled so much in the first few years that we obtained platinum status! Below are some of the questions we hear most often and our lessons learned along the way.
Top Questions Answered For Baby’s First Flight
When is the best time to fly?
This is something that worries many new parents. What time of day should we fly with our baby? In our experience it didn’t really matter through the first 6 months. Small babies are usually happy to be held while they sleep and if you are lucky to get an extra seat next to you they are often as happy snoozing in a car seat. After that age, if possible we tried to avoid flights that occurred during the bedtime routine time (unless it was a long international flight). Babies 6 months to 18 months can be very particular about how they sleep – in a car seat or a flat surface. This meant for us it was better to be on the ground during bedtime. As every child is so different, you will have to judge your baby’s habits and your preferences.
Overall, unless you know your child’s behavior on flights, I suggest avoiding red-eye flights. The best case scenario is you and your child get a few hours of sleep and start a new day half-way cranky. The worst case scenario is neither of you sleep a wink and neither do your fellow passengers! You can imagine how that next day looks!
Should I buy a seat for baby’s first flight?
This often comes down to finances for most people. My preference is to not buy an extra seat until you have to, but that’s me being budget conscious. For most of my son’s flights before 24 months (over 30+ flights), we were lucky enough to either get an extra seat next to us or be on a short enough flight that it didn’t matter. For me, I felt most comfortable with my son sleeping in his carrier attached to me for the first few months and powered through the few 9 hr flights with him bouncing on my lap. If you are not too constrained by money and would feel more comfortable knowing you have that extra seat for your child, then buy it.
If you are flying internationally, you can request a bulkhead seat. These are the seats behind a partition where a baby bassinet can be attached. These come with their own pros and cons. For long-haul flights these are useful if your child is not a light sleeper and does not need it dark. These seats give you extra space, but it can also be annoying to have to remove the baby every time the fasten seat belt sign is turned on.
After a few flights in the bulkhead seats, we opted to try our luck with regular seats and found it was actually better for us. The bulkhead is usually either next to the flight attendants station or bathrooms so it’s noisy and busy for much of the flight. Additionally in older planes the TV screens are sometimes located directly above the bassinet.
For us, we prefer to sit in regular seats and hope to get an empty seat to place our child. It’s definitely a gamble, but we have had good luck on international flights with reserving one aisle seat and one window seat, leaving the one between us empty. Most often the seat will remain empty and if not, the person usually tries to move on their own!
Car Seats, Strollers & More
Should I take the carseat? Stroller? Carrier? These are questions everyone always asks. My recommendation depends on how old your child is, where you are going and what you will be doing. The quickest and easiest answer is if your child is still in an infant car seat, then take it. If you are able to snap your infant seat into a stroller, then take them both without question. They are easy enough to travel with and can be useful in most places.
If you are traveling within the US and will be in a vehicle at all with a child under 1, take your infant car seat. Even if you do not buy an extra seat for your baby, take your infant car seat on the plane. It will fit in the overhead compartment (definitely for international flights, not 100% on domestic flights) and if you are lucky no one will want to sit next to you and you will have an empty seat to strap your baby into. My most peaceful journeys were where I was able to do this – I got to eat in peace, watch movies and sleep!
If you have already transitioned into the convertible car seat, I recommend only taking it on trips where you will be in a vehicle, in countries where it is required. It is easier to deal with a car seat that you know than struggle with a different one in a foreign country. If you are doing a road trip across South America, then take it, but if you are going to New York for a weekend, it is perfectly legal to take your child in a taxi without a carseat (and much easier too).
If you are going to a country that does not require a car seat by law and you will not be driving yourself, then I usually recommend not taking it. They are bulky and heavy and often in developing countries taxi’s will not even have seat belts to secure it in.
Check the local laws, but for developing countries it’s almost never required. Yes it would be safer for your child, but it is usually not easy traveling around these destinations to begin with and to add in a bulky large child seat, it makes the journey quite cumbersome. For safe alternatives, check out the Safe Traffic System Travel Vest (affiliate link).
Tip: If you plan to check in your convertible car seat, we highly recommend a Backpack Car Seat Travel Bag to help protect your seat (and as useful added storage space).
Depending on your child’s age and needs, a stroller is usually a good bet. Even if the only place you use it is at the airport, it will come in handy. The only time I have taken a stroller and not needed it was when visiting family in Oklahoma where sidewalks are few and far between!
Tip: If you plan on gate checking your stroller, contrary to most recommendations, I do not recommend a stroller bag. It does protect the stroller, but it also is an added stress at the end of the walkway trying to get it packaged up quickly with a long line of people waiting behind you and same thing at your destination trying to get it out of the bag.
These are lifesavers. It doesn’t matter what type, but yes, take it! I hear that many security checkpoints will let you wear your baby through which helps a ton! We loved the Ergo and used it all over the world.
What if my baby cries?
Every parent worries about their baby being the one who cries uncontrollably during a flight. It happens and sometimes there is just nothing you can do. Remember to nurse or feed (or give a pacifier) during take off and landing to help with your little one’s ears.
If your child does cry uncontrollably, try to stay calm and not focus on anyone else. Comfort your child as best you can and know that the flight is not forever. If your baby is asleep during take off or landing, do not wake them up. If they are asleep, the pressure will not usually affect their ears.
The baby’s first flight is always stressful, but if you plan in advance and carry the essentials you will do great. You might feel like you are carrying everything including your kitchen sink, but babies actually do not need much to entertain them and are reasonably happy as long as they are with their parents, have clean diapers and food to eat. For more on what to carry on the plane, check our post on carry-on essentials. For older babies/toddlers, check out fun electronic free activities to keep them occupied.
Mostly, try to enjoy the journey and remember it doesn’t last forever. You can do this!!
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