Baby Travel – Flying and Airports 101, A How-To Guide for a Successful Airplane Trip with Baby

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Baby Travel Tips in the Airplane

waiting for take off

Getting settled and waiting for take off

Most airlines will invite families to board first. Take advantage of pre-boarding for families. Having extra time for baby to explore and touch before having to be strapped in is sometimes helpful. Other moms prefer to send one parent ahead to set up and then having baby be the last to board. If you’re leaving your stroller at the gate, on most US domestic flights, you can take it all the way to the door of the plane. Fold up the stroller and leave it on the side. On international flights, check with the flight stewardess (not the ground crew) at the gate to confirm what the procedure is on the other end.

I like to give all the surfaces that baby is likely to touch and suck on a good wipe with sanitizing wipes. So many kids fall ill from being in the airplane and airlines do not do a good job of sanitizing between flights. If you need water for baby’s bottle, this is a good time to ask for it. If your baby needs expressed milk in a bottle to be warmed up, I have found the fastest way to warm a bottle is to soak it in hot water inside a thermos jar. Ask the flight stewardess for some hot water before things get too busy. Starbucks and other airport restaurants and cafes are usually pretty helpful in providing hot water as well.

It’s also good to introduce your baby to your neighbors and show them how cute your baby is when he’s happy. A quick game of peek-a-boo will usually win you at least a couple minutes of crying later in the flight and potentially a helpful hand. If you have extra bonuses like free alcoholic drinks from your frequent flier provider, pass around a few to apologize in advance for any baby meltdowns.

baby eating on plane

Take Off

I never noticed how long it takes to taxi to the runway until I had a baby and was trying to time the start of a feeding to the take off. Given all the delays with airlines these days, be ready to wait 30 minutes before you even take-off. You want to distract baby for a long as possible so that you only start to nurse as you are taking off. This really helps to neutralize the air pressure that can be intensely painful for a small ear canal. If you’re baby’s totally losing it from hunger, try doing a half feed to hold him over, and finish it off during the take-off. If it doesn’t work, you can try giving baby some Tylenol, so I always have that handy. As my kids started eating finger foods, I started putting a bag of a dry snack hidden in my seat pocket that I whip out as soon as we start to take off.  It helps kids to sit still, but it also keeps them swallowing. I also make sure they have something drink.

If you don’t have a car seat that you can strap baby into, you will be asked to hold your child. On some airlines, the flight stewardess will bring you a seat belt that attaches to your seat belt and then goes around baby’s waist. Most domestic airlines don’t bother. During turbulence, they will ask you to put that on baby as well. You can’t substitute a sling for the baby seat belt or holding a baby in your lap. I’ve tried to plead the case for it when I had a sleeping baby in the sling, but alas I had to cave to the smiling but firm flight stewardess.


Entertaining baby

So, if baby doesn’t sleep from the hum of the engine and nursing, what can you do to entertain your child on the flight? Taking little strolls up and down the plane is a best fall back. Babies love to see all the interesting objects and faces. However, a bottle of water can also entertain a baby for 10-15 minutes at a time, so can a clean puke bag with a few objects in it. Playing peek-a-boo with friendly passengers is also always lots of fun.

Read about Travel Toy Recommendations for Babies and Toddlers

But do be careful to not let baby pull the hair of passengers in front of you, or kick the chair in front. We’ve all sat in front of a child pushing our seat all flight long and it’s positively miserable. If your child is crying, try going to the bathroom for a few minutes or stand by the galley. Sometimes a simple change of scenery can provide just the right amount of distraction to wipe those tears away.

Diaper Changes

Depending on the size of your airplane, there will be at least one bathroom with a changing table but I honestly don’t know how often these tables are cleaned. Again, bring along a changing pad and sanitizing wipes with you. As tempting as it is to change a wet diaper at your seat, other passengers and the airline stewardesses won’t be too happy about it. Believe me, this is something I learned the hard way. Don’t even think about changing a poopy diaper at your seat. Luckily, most of the smaller planes are for shorter distances, so if you can change the diaper beforehand, you should be ok. However, be mentally prepared to change a diaper on the fly on the toilet seat or sink if a special package arrives in a diaper near you.

If you run out of diapers for some reason, the flight attendants usually have some in their emergency supplies. Always make sure to have an extra change of clothes for baby. Read some of these explosive poop stories and you’ll be convinced. A Ziploc bag is also handy if you need seal up soiled clothes.

Mommy needs to go potty too

When I’ve flown on my own with my baby, it is awkward when you need to go to the bathroom. If baby is awake, I usually try to wait. You can always ask the flight attendants if they’d be willing to hold your baby for a few minutes while you use the restroom. However, some US carriers have a policy that flight attendants cannot hold babies for a passenger for liability reasons. On international flights, there are always one or two flight attendants who are dying for an opportunity to play with your child for a few minutes.

If baby is sleeping, I’ve never run into any issues leaving a sleeping baby in a car seat and getting up to use the bathroom for a few minutes. If baby is not in a car seat, don’t just leave baby on the seat even when fast asleep because if there were to be sudden turbulence, baby will be thrown to the floor. Instead, enlist the help of your friendly neighbors or flight attendant.

baby food on plane

Feeding solids on the plane

Rather than worrying about what purees to pack for baby, if you have a relatively short flight, just bring some finger foods for baby – crackers, cheerios, cooked carrots, bananas, and cheese seem to work really well. On longer flights, bring foods that mash easily or a few jars of baby food. If you don’t have a car seat or someone to act as baby’s highchair, sit baby on your lap facing away from you. Place the jar of baby food as far out baby’s reach as possible. If baby starts to play with the food, stop feeding until baby’s really hungry. A hungry baby is much more focused and less messy when eating.

Getting baby to sleep

If I’ve learned anything in all my flights with baby, it is that babies can go on surprisingly little sleep when they are in a new and exciting environment. Don’t count on baby sleeping just because it’s time to sleep. Instead of following strictly to your normal schedule, it is better to just observe signs that baby is sleepy (rubbing of eyes, yawning, starting to get squirmy and cranky), then do what you need to soothe baby to sleep. If you are using a sling, walk around or sway baby to sleep. This is one instance where you should feel free to break all the rules. The airplane is not place to let baby cry to sleep. This does not mean that a little whimpering when settling down is not acceptable as most passengers can tolerate a little fussing from a baby. But do as much as you can to soothe baby to sleep so that you don’t end up having to deal with full blown crying. If baby has a car seat, try to create a dark environment using duct tape and a blanket to encourage baby to sleep for longer sleeping

Preparing for landing
The captain announces that he is preparing for landing and your heart leaps for joy….it’s almost over. Take the time to pack up your bags and make sure that anything that dropped on the ground is back in your bag. Locate baby’s lovie and make sure it’s safe and sound. If you will be clearing customs on landing, clear your bag of food items that might be troublesome at customs. If baby is sleeping, good for you! I haven’t found it all that more beneficial to wake baby up for a feeding. Especially small babies might just be too sleepy to drink. Somehow, if they can sleep through the landing, their ears seem to do just fine.

Have a layover or transfer? Don’t miss the last of our tips.

About the author

LiLing Pang is Co-founder and CEO of Trekaroo . She is a mom to two boys and a girl and recently traveled through Central America. Together with her husband, Brennan Pang, they hatched the idea of Trekaroo one summer day along the California coast while searching for the best kid-friendly tide pool near La Jolla with their curious 2 and a half year old.