10 Things Every Parent Should Know About Flying With Infants and Toddlers

Written by Erin Gilday

We have flown several times a year since my oldest was three months old. Through trial and error I have learned a few things, 10 to be exact.

#1 Arrive early. Two hours might sound like a lot, but with ever-increasing security it’s a good idea to allow yourself extra time to get to your gate, especially when toting along a kid or two (or three). Many airports have play places in the terminals near the gates for kids to let out some extra energy before the flight. And if needed, you can ask for a “gate pass” for an un-ticketed friend or family member to go through security with you and help you to the gate.

#2 Explain when booking your flight that you are traveling with an infant/small and you must be seated together. Then re-check your seat assignment when checking in. Don’t wait and see if you can “fix” the seats at the gate, because there is a good chance you will end up standing in the aisle holding your baby, having to play “let’s make a deal” to get people to change seats, annoying the passengers who are already looking at you funny because they are afraid your child will scream the entire flight.

#3 If you purchased a ticket for your infant, I recommend taking a car seat on the plane because it’s nice to have somewhere to set little ones down when they fall asleep and it makes it easier for mom to use the restroom without having to stress about a stranger holding them. Be sure to tell the agent when booking your flight and checking in at the counter because car seats must be next to the window and cannot be on an emergency exit aisle.

#4 Do not sit on a bulkhead row. Having the extra foot room and no passengers in front may be tempting, but with no seats in front you, there’s no storage, and everything you will need for baby will have to be put in the overhead compartments and cannot be accessed during take-off or landing.

#5 Bring an umbrella stroller. They are cheap; even if you only use it for one trip, they are well worth the $12 (or less if you pick one up at a thrift or consignment store). Being able to hang a few bags on the handles for the walk to the gate is a huge relief; at some of the larger airports the walk can take close to 20 minutes. Plus, umbrella strollers are easy to fold up when going through security. Once at the gate, talk to agent about gate-checking your stroller. You’ll receive a tag with a tear off claim check. Then when you walk down the jetway, just before boarding, fold your stroller and leave it to the side. When you get to your destination, it will be waiting for you just as you deplane.

#6 Pre-board. Airlines offer pre-boarding for those flying with infants and children under five years to give the parents extra time to get settled and get things put away. Do not be shy; if you hear pre-boarding for wheel-chair passengers and unaccompanied children step up in line then or if the agents do forget pre-boarding altogether walk around to the front of the line and say, “I am traveling with children under five; I need to pre-board. I believe you forgot to announce it.”

#7 Use a backpack (much easier to navigate down the narrow aisle of the plane than with a shoulder bag)

#8 Things to pack in your carry-on

  • books
  • fresh snacks (be sure to avoid sugary snacks for sensitive children)
  • empty sippy cup and/or pacifier (drinks/juice can be purchased once you get through security). The sucking can help with ear pressure during take-off and landing.
  • small blanket and stuffed animal (very comforting to have familiar items, plus you never know what kind of germs are on the airline blankets/pillows)
  • more diapers/wipes than you think you will need (in case there is a delay or unexpected lay-over)
  • a few large Zip-loc bags (no need to gross out the rest of the plane with a stinky diaper, also can be used to store soiled clothing)
  • a change of clothes per child and maybe a shirt for yourself (some kids may become air-sick and you don’t want to have to sit on a six-hour flight smelling like spit-up),
  • coloring books and crayons for older toddlers (avoid toys that make noise; what sounds reasonable at home may be way too loud on a crowded airplane)

#9 Be sure to check your airline’s website before leaving for any updated security measures. Rules have recently changed, restricting liquids that can pass through security. Also, be sure to check your baby’s diaper bag, many infant care sets include nail clippers/scissors and those are not allowed.

#10 My mother always told me “you get more bees with honey,” which is true and I always ask nicely. However, I’ve also learned that sometimes “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” and when traveling with your child/infant sometimes you have to speak up to get the help you need. If you don’t get help even after speaking up, do not hesitate to call or write the airline and tell them about the obstacles you faced. With big businesses making accommodations every day for parents with small children, airlines should be no exception. Some airlines are better than others at making those accommodations. From my personal experience and stories from other flying parents, the “discount airlines” are the very best (Jet Blue is my number one pick). Try asking around to friends and family who have flown with small children for recommendations.

Happy travels!

28 Responses to “10 Things Every Parent Should Know About Flying With Infants and Toddlers”

  • Sophia says:

    Yes! We have been on 12 trips with our 10 month old so can vouch for a lot of these trips! We use a backpack diaper bag because we can chuck it on our backs whilst still holding baby! We also took a lollipop on board (yes yes I know) but it was a lifesaver when she didn’t want her milk on the landing and she was screaming her head off from ear ache! We kinda always say ….. you know it is gonna be hard, so toughen up and just get it done!! :)

  • Allysa says:

    so I have an 11 month old who I’m about to take on a red eye from Chicago to Paris. Up until about a month ago he used to easily pass out right at take off and I could lay him down on the seat and he’d sleep comfortably for at least a few hours. However, a few weeks ago I took him on a 3 hour flight and he’s no longer comfortable laying across a seat. I tried strapping him to me with a baby carrier and he didn’t like that either. The only thing that worked was holding him, which I couldn’t do for longer than an hour. With this long flight looming, I’m wondering if anyone has suggestions on how I can make him comfortable to sleep through the night on this flight.

  • Hayley says:

    Great post with some excellent advice. As an avid traveler and mum-to-be it’s great that there are so many posts like this out there! :) A friend of mine recently wrote a guest post for me about her experiences when traveling to California from the UK that I think you and your readers would like! http://lifeasabutterfly.com/travelling-with-a-toddler-in-tow-california-dreaming/

  • Kathryn Kathryn says:

    Susan. Glad you found the article helpful. I think a lot depends on the airline, some are better than others but usually, they are very good with passengers who have children. I hope you have someone to meet you in UK, that can be the difficult part. I am sure you know that it is difficult to bring animals into the UK because there is a longish quarantine period so you should inquire about that well before you travel. It may be best to leave the cat with a good friend who will look after it until you return. I do hope you will keep looking at our site and the helpful articles when you have the time. May I wish you a very happy and peaceful stay in UK. Blessings, Kathryn

  • Kudzai Martin Mandizha says:

    Thank you for the article,it has a lot of great and valid tips. Our infant is now 15 months old,and this week he goes on his 5th flight and 4th long haul. The short one was Manchester to Malaga.

    In that respect,I have gained valuable experience. I have always found a satchel much easier than a trolley bag. I can put it on my back while he is his buggie or while I strap him on my tummy.
    Another thing I found useful is selecting seats with more leg room as you will definitely need this.

    Sitting not too far from the toilet does help,and making sure you do not feed your baby or infant food that is likely to upset their tummy or you will be spending your whole flight changing diapers.

    When your baby/infant goes to sleep,do likewise and take the much needed rest. You will need it,especially if you do the long haul flights like I do.

    This will be my first flight since he started walking,and I definitely know that he is going to want to walk up and down the aisle being amused at all the smaller babies he sees. I am relishing the experience. I love challenges.

    Happy flying to all mums and dads who fly with their babies and or infants.

  • Shaina says:

    I just came back from a trip to Europe with my 8 months old baby. It wasn’t too bad and I managed to put him to sleep for most of the 16 hour flight. The most important item was the nursing pillow imo. I wrote an flying with an infant about my experience.

  • Kate says:

    Ellen, great point.
    Sandra, it would probably make sense to call your airline and ask them about their cabin baggage rules.

  • Sandra says:

    Hello , can you please help me with information. Can we carry a electric kettle in a cabin baggage? , so I want to use it in airport for warm water for baby food n formula.
    Thank you
    san

  • Ellen Davis says:

    Hello,
    Thanks for this write up. Interestingly, there are quite a number of things we cant plan for on a trip. When travelling to remote places, you need all the info you can get.

  • Aldo says:

    Grace W., thank you for your vote of confidence for the article and the website. They tend to be very informative.

    If you would like to chat with someone one on one, click the Talk to a mentor button at the top right of this page. They will be happy to discuss your thoughts on any issue.

  • Grace W. says:

    This is a great post, thanks! I recently took my daughter with me, she’s about a year old. She got scared inside the plane and sat on me instead on her seat. Good thing the stewardess allowed it, my daughter really was hugging me. Although on the way back, she got braver and behaved to sit on her seat.

  • MJ says:

    ALWAYS take zip lock bags for you soiled diapers and dispose of them later. Do this anywhere you go out of your home not just on an airplane. No one wants your smelly dirty bowel movements and urine on their waste baskets. Why would anyone want to expose the flight attendants and other passenger to bowel movements and urine???

  • Angel says:

    Its such a good informative post when parents flying with their infants.its important to know that when you are booking tell that seat together because he/she your infant and with family give seat together also.

  • Kathryn Kathryn says:

    Hi Mary, Like the article sys, it’s always good to check because each airline or even country, has different rules. However, my family is having a big reunion and people are coming from all over and going to S Africa where one of our daughter lives. She wrote and told all those planning to come with small children that they MUST have an original birth certificate. This is because there have been awful cases of people trafficking children to other countries and they are never seen again. So a birth certificate should be fine. Sometimes when a parent travels alone with a child, you have to have a letter from the other parent to say that (s)he gives permission so as to not allow illegal abduction.
    I hope this puts your mind at rest and you and your child have a good trip. Mary, you will find lots of useful tips on all sorts of things on this website so please do keep looking and God bless you.

  • Mary says:

    I want to go for holiday when i check to kets to buy for me and my son he’s months they asked for id and he doesn’t have any id except birth certificate will that be enough ? We just going to 2 hours flight?

  • Shelley says:

    thanks for the information.

  • Chris Landwerlen says:

    Katia….we pray jesus highest blessings upon the work he has called you and you and your team to do. blessings!

  • Shelley says:

    Lord i pray that all who travel with children will rely on You for guidance and comfort when they travel on a plane. In Jesus Mightyname amen

  • Kalen says:

    Surely you would put a stinky diaper in the trash rather than keeping it with you in a ziplock bag, wouldn’t you?

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    HI Melissa, you will need to make arrangements with the respective airports about your husband and mom to assist you past the security gates. As far as what is easiest, we have always found checking a car seat and using an umbrella stroller that can be taken right to the plane was the easiest. When we travelled child seats were not permitted on planes but you can check with your airline to find out what they recommend.

  • Melissa says:

    I am traveling with an 8mth old (infant in arms) a 2 year old and a 5 year old. Can my husband get a gate pass to help me to the gate? and can my mom get a gate pass to meet me at the other end? Also we are going back and forth on bringing a carseat on the plane (free arms issue) or bringing an infant carrier (which attaches to stroller) and checking it at the door we need one extra seat at our destination. I do not travel much and have never traveled alone with my kiddos – what do you think will be easiest??

  • Claire Colvin Claire Colvin says:

    Hi Claudia, Baggage allowance varies wildly from airline to airline. Most do allow extra items when you’re travelling with an infant but different carriers allow different things. If you go to the website of the airline you’re flying with they should be able to tell you what you can take. Also be sure to look at the security limitations. Sometimes you’re not allowed to take liquids on to the airplane.

  • claudia says:

    hi ,I need to know how many bags and thinks can I carry when take a long flight with a baby girl 4 months old from Australia to colombia? thank you very much for any answer

  • Amanda says:

    As helpful as this was I wanted to know if you have any advice for a long period of traveling. My husband’s in the army and we’re flying home in Feb. We have a dog and a 9 month old, our total travel time will be just shy of 48 hours including a 10 hour layover, 12 hour flight and a 12 hour layover. We’re taking 5 flights from korea to louisiana and I’m taking the last 2 solo with baby and dog. Please HELP!

  • jpetes says:

    Alice,

    I really don’t know about the regulations for British Airways but from what I’ve seen, often carseats and strollers are put in the cargo hold before you board the plane. I’m not sure if the system you speak of is a regular carseat so your best option would be going back to customer service at BA. If the British Airways website is unclear you could try calling their customer service line. Sometimes it’s hard to find information on the web and talking to a person could help sort out your questions.

  • Alice says:

    We’ll be travelling with our 2 and a half month old girl next Saturday with British Airways. I want to understand if we can use the carseat/travel system pushcair in the airport until the gate and fold the base as umbrella at the aircraft. The carseat can either come with us but I think we should have booked an extra seat otherwise can go with the base in cargo area. Can someone confirm this, please? The BA website talks about buggies and carseats but not these new Travel Modular Systems, which most of us have nowadays. Thanks, Alice

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    I have been on both sides of this issue, a traveler with an infant and a traveler sitting next to a mom with an infant. I always found the most difficult time was the getting settled in seats, waiting for the take-off and then the take-off. If we could get through that part without a lot of fussing the rest of the trip would be much smoother. It helped to plan to have some distractions available for the waiting periods. Our kids were a little overwhelmed by all the people moving around so we had some quiet toys that got their attention. We also made sure they were plenty thirsty for take-off so that they would be furiously drinking from the sippy cup as we moved through the pressure changes.

    Anybody else have tips that worked well for them?

  • Laura says:

    Thanks so much for this article! It’s very useful. I will be traveling 16 hours with my 9 months old and change 3 planes. He hasn’t been on a flight before so i am very stressed out on what to do and not to do. This has shed some light on some aspects of traveling with infants. Thanks again.

Leave a Reply