Even when you are a frequent traveler, adding a baby to the mix changes the game. Though it may seem daunting at first, traveling with your little one is worth it and totally doable! The key is preparation. As your baby grows, you’ll need fewer things (or at least, you’ll be more comfortable bringing less), but for now it’s probably best to know that you’re hands will be a bit more full than you’re used to.
We traveled on planes with our son when he was 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, and 12 months. Each age was a completely different experience, but we came away with some tips on how to get through flights and travel while keeping your infant happy and calm! We also narrowed down the essentials as far as gear and other baby items.
Know that each baby is different so your baby may be at a slightly different stage or have slightly different needs. The below notes are just based on our experience. You know your baby best so adjust accordingly!
WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN FLYING WITH YOUR…
At 3 months, our baby was a dream to fly with to Arizona. He slept most of the time, lulled into naps by the natural white noise of the plane. When he wasn’t sleeping, he was content to look around at the interesting lights, shadows, and people on the plane. I think the only time he cried was when he pooped as we were landing on one of the flights and we obviously couldn’t change his diaper until we got off the plane.
We’d heard that some babies have trouble clearing their ears on takeoff and landing and cry from the pain. We weren’t sure if our son’s ears would be bothered so, just in case, I nursed him as we took off and landed. We also had a pacifier for the same reason. He seemed to be just fine! Make sure you bring a nursing cover (if you’re like me and want to cover up) or prepare a bottle for the plane. If your baby takes a pacifier, bring a few!
As far as toys, our baby wasn’t yet into much, but a few small cuddly items held his interest like his huggie bear (link is something similar) and moose. He also really loved these foot rattles so we brought them on the trip to help entertain him.
(Read about our week-long trip to Dove Mountain, AZ with our 3-month-old)
Flying with a 6-month-old was a bit trickier than with a 3-month-old. This was exacerbated by some turbulence we experienced. At 6 months, our son loved being walked up and down the aisle to look at and smile at people, but we weren’t able to move around much due to turbulence. We were also in the back row, which wasn’t ideal because there was no one behind us for him to check out. At 6 months, our baby wasn’t into napping in our arms unless absolutely exhausted so we did a lot of entertaining!
At this age, our son had recently gotten his first teeth, so the biggest necessity was something for teething! He was obsessed with these keys at 6 months and was also still into his moose. He was beginning to get into this music toy, but wasn’t yet pressing the button himself so we played it for him.
This age also added in a new element of fun: food! Our son was eating pureed baby food so we had to pack containers of food, spoons, and bibs. Feeding time definitely helped pass time on the flights, but of course made things a bit messier. I was still nursing but he also took supplemental formula at two of his daily feedings. We brought these 2 oz “top-off” bottles which were fantastic for travel and so easy! We tried to feed him on takeoff and landing to avoid any potential ear issues. If your baby takes a pacifier (ours didn’t by this age), that can help too.
Note that whatever baby food or formula you bring on the plane has to go separately through security so I found it helpful to put 2 days’ worth (in case of flight issues) of food and supplemental bottles in a large ziploc to easily and quickly set aside for TSA.
(Read about our weekend trip to Washington, DC with our 6-month-old)
Flying with a 9-month-old was fun because our little guy is social and adorable (not that I’m biased), but brought another new set of challenges. At 9 months, our little guy was crawling, pulling up, and cruising, so sitting still on a plane for hours was not exactly his idea of fun. Also at this age, he pretty much refused to nap in our arms, preferring to lay down and stretch out in his crib. He napped a grand total of 30 minutes on each travel day. Even though he wasn’t adhering to our usual schedule, we went with it and things worked out fine! I think there was so much to see that he remained a happy camper despite his lack of daytime sleep.
Even though he couldn’t be as mobile as he wanted, we managed to keep our little guy entertained throughout two flights and a layover. For toys, the best things were touch and lift-the-flap books. I’m pretty sure we read Where’s Spot? at least 50 times. He loved turning the pages and lifting the flap to see what was behind it. He also really loved his Baby Einstein music player at this age and would press the button repeatedly. Fortunately for the sake of those around us, you couldn’t hear the music because the plane was so loud, but he still enjoyed the lights.
Other than books and toys, we were surprised that some of the items that most entertained him were already on the plane. He loved crunching my water bottle and a can of water. He crinkled a pretzel bag for several minutes. He enjoyed looking around at the many babies around us. One perk of Southwest’s cattle call boarding system is that families with babies and young children board together and likely will end up sitting nearby. Our son is a very social little dude and enjoyed “making friends” with other kids!
At 9 months, we had recently started finger foods. This made flying at meal times a bit more complicated. On the other hand, eating occupied him for quite some time on each occasion. We’d feed him his pureed baby food and give him puffs and mum-mum crackers to snack on. He also still nursed and took supplemental bottles so much of the flights were taken up with meals in various forms. Because our baby was on an established schedule at this age, takeoff and landing didn’t necessarily coincide with his eating times, but he fortunately didn’t seem to have any trouble with his ears. If your baby takes a pacifier (ours didn’t by this age), that can help too.
(Read about our long weekend trip to Maine with our 9-month old)
We took our longest flight and first international flight with our son just a couple of days after he turned one. As you may already have guessed, this was again an entirely new experience! At one, he was super active and wanted to explore everything. The toughest part was trying to keep him from doing what he really wanted, which was crawl down the aisle. Similar to our experience at 9 months, our son would not nap on the plane. He did manage a short stroller nap while walking the airport during the layover, but with full days of travel, he was a bit delirious at the end of the day.
Both of our travel days consisted of a 2-2.5 hour flight and a 4 hour flight. For comfort (both ourselves and our neighbors), we booked Main Cabin Extra bulkhead seats on American for extra floor space for our son and his things. This proved to be a great decision as he was able to sit on the floor and play with toys. On one of the 4 hour flights, we even lucked out by having a row to ourselves. It was such a blessing to have more room for him to play and cruise around between my husband and me.
When it comes to how to entertain a one-year-old on a flight, I have one word: SNACKS. Toys and books were helpful for brief chunks of time, but he was happy to munch away on snacks whenever possible. I’m generally a supporter of 3 meals and 1-2 snacks for kids, but we decided that on long travel days, the rules are out the window and you do what you have to do to get through the flight in one piece! We brought pouches, cheerios, baby granola bars, and yogurt melts. At the airport, we purchased more substantial food like sandwiches for meal times. I was no longer nursing, so we also had bottles for milk and a sippy cup for water or milk. I found that flight attendants and coffee shops are more than happy to give you a cup of water when you’re asking for a baby!
Our son enjoyed reading his favorite lift-the-flap books and playing with his stacking cups and Baby Einstein music player, but he was equally content with items found on the plane. He was entertained by stacking and banging together a few plastic cups and folding and tearing up a magazine from the seat back pocket. Whatever works!
There’s no way around it unless you happen to be visiting someone that has everything you need – you’re going to be toting extra gear in addition to your tiny human. It can be confusing to figure out what you actually need when flying with a baby so I’ve boiled down the basics.
- CAR SEAT: This is a must, unless as I said, you are visiting someone who has a car seat for you. If you aren’t, you are obviously going to need a car seat if you plan on getting in a car at all on your trip, whether you are driving or taking an uber. There is plenty of literature about whether and when you can use it on a plane, but assuming you are going to check your car seat and have your child sit on your lap, you’ll want some sort of bag or carrier for the car seat. We like this one as it’s a backpack and one less thing to drag or take up space in your hands.
- CARRIER: Another must, especially if you regularly wear your baby. It is so much easier to go through security, board a plane, and get your luggage situated when you have two hands free. If you’re baby is used to and likes being worn, it is a great source of comfort in a new environment. The carrier (we use the Ergo 360) was essential early on as our baby slept soundly in the carrier while we traveled. As he got older, it was nice for keeping our hands free. The only complication is the FAA regulation that requires the baby to be out of the carrier on takeoff and landing (I can’t actually find anything that specifies this on the FAA website, but we were instructed of the rule by every flight attendant on every flight; this page summarizes it). Without fail, our son would wake up when we took him out of the carrier which was particularly annoying during night flights.
- STROLLER: This is a toss-up, depending on where you are going and what age your child is. We brought but definitely did not need our stroller in Arizona at 3 months. We mostly used our Ergo carrier. At 6 months in Washington, DC, a stroller was very useful, but our hotel had strollers available for use so we did not have to bring ours. At 9 months in Maine, we didn’t need our stroller since we were mainly at a house, but it was a handy tool to have in the airport to walk the terminals during our layovers. Our son really enjoyed looking at and waving to people. At 12 months, it was definitely necessary as our son was heavy and we were doing a lot of walking in Canada and Washington. It was also a key item to get through the airport and allowed him to nap on a layover. I would say skip the stroller with a young baby depending on where you are going, but definitely bring one for an older baby! You’ll likely have to gate check even an umbrella stroller, so you may want to consider a protective bag like this one to keep your stroller clean and intact.
- TRAVEL CRIB: Skip unless one is not available or you have a special situation. It’s very likely that if you are staying in a hotel, there will be a travel crib available for your use. Even if you are staying with a friend or home rental, you may be able to borrow one. If this is the case, I’d say don’t bring it. While strollers and car seats can be checked for free, a travel crib is subject to baggage fees. It’s also one more thing to carry! So unless your baby specifically needs his or her crib, I’d bring a sheet from home and borrow a travel crib. On all of our trips except the first, we borrowed a travel crib. The only reason we brought our own on to Arizona was that our son needed to sleep in an inclined bassinet at 3 months.
DIAPER BAG ESSENTIALS
Don’t forget to pack:
- Baby’s birth certificate (or at least a copy) for certain airlines
- Portable changing pad so your baby doesn’t have to touch the public changing table
- More than enough diapers for the day
- Baby wipes
- Plastic bags/ziplocs for messy diapers or dirty clothes
- Antibacterial wipes for the plane (no shame about being a germaphobe!)
- Bib/burp cloth (I like these that serve both purposes)
- A couple of extra sets of clothes
- Socks in case the plane is cold
- Nursing cover (if you’re like me and want some privacy for yourself and baby)
- Snacks/food as necessary
- A few favorite books and toys
As a side note, I use our diaper bag as my carry-on too. We love the diaper bag we use – it has pockets and space for everything and even has an insulated bottle pocket. There’s no time for reading anymore since I have a baby to entertain, so I just throw a small wristlet with my essential cards, chapstick, hair tie, headphones, and phone into the diaper bag. No extra bag means one less thing to carry!
There are numerous resources about traveling with babies out there, but here is a short list we found helpful when planning travel.
- FAA guide to traveling with children
- New York Times guide to traveling with children
- Tips for flying with a baby at The Bump
- HaveBabyWillTravel blog (I consulted this site many times when deciding what travel-friendly baby gear items to add to our registry)
- Travel and Leisure tips for flying with a baby
And finally, I’ll leave you with this great article on why travel is great for young kids. I know there will be many “mom and dad only” trips, but it’s great to keep in mind how rewarding traveling with kids can be despite the extra time or preparation required! I hope my guide to flying with a baby is helpful! If you have any great tips for traveling with kids, please leave them in the comments below! As always, thanks for reading.