Ten Tips for Flying with Babies and Toddlers

While there have definitely been some advantages to moving out West (hello 70 degrees in February!), there is one distinct disadvantage: we are 2000 miles away from our parents and most of our family. We’ve flown back and forth from California to Chicago several times a year since we moved. And once Henry was born, we knew we would be continuing that. Well, before we knew it, Henry had been on a whopping 21 flight legs by the time he was 22 months old. Crazy? Eh, probably. Worth it. Yes.

We started flying with him when he was only two months old and have flown every few months since then. The first flight I ever took him on was one where I didn’t have my husband, so it was extra fun figuring out flying with a baby alone. Let’s just say if you ever see a mom by herself struggling to collapse the stroller with one hand and hold her baby with the other, HELP HER. Each flight has gotten easier and easier; even though flying with a baby is not necessarily a picnic, it doesn’t have to be stressful. We’ve learned a lot over the last few years, and we wanted to share our top ten tips with YOU! We’ve even included a diaper bag checklist based on age at the bottom!

  1. Get there early! When you first get to the airport, you HAVE to go to the full-service counter because you’ll have to show your child’s birth certificate to the agent (if you have your child down as a lap child) when you check your bags and get your tickets. Then there’s TSA, gate checking your stroller and/or carseat, and merely moving through an airport with an extra person and his or her things.
  2. Be prepared for TSA. Truth be told, getting through security is probably the most stressful part of being at the airport. But knowing how to arrange your things to get through makes it much easier. Here’s how we do it:
    1. Put all bags on the x-ray ramp.
    2. Take all shoes and coats off and put those through.
    3. If your baby is in a carseat, take him/her out and put the car seat on the x-ray ramp UPSIDE DOWN (a requirement).
    4. If you have a stroller that collapses small enough, collapse it and put it through the x-ray machine (also a requirement if it fits).
    5. If your stroller doesn’t collapse small enough, roll it right next to the machine that you walk through. A TSA agent will bring it through and wipe it down with one of those chemical-detection pads.
    6. Now it’s finally time for you to walk through! Once you’re through, put the baby back in the stroller and get your things.
  3. Check as many bags as possible. Obviously you’ll need a diaper bag and probably another small bag, but check all other bags if possible. If you’re flying Southwest, this won’t be a problem. Other airlines will charge, but I highly recommend checking if possible. It will make the entire process of getting through the airport much less stressful.
  4. COMMUNICATE with the gate agents and flight attendants! I cannot stress this one enough. Be polite, kind, and informative. If you are flying with a lap child, tell the flight attendants as soon as you get on the plane. There are times when the flight attendants have to match the number of tickets checked with the number of people on the plane. I have been on several flights where parents lie or omit that their child is a lap child and the plane ends up being delayed because the child is sitting in a seat. If you are upfront with the flight attendants from the beginning, they will do anything they can to help you. We’ve gotten extra snacks for Henry, preemptive water with lids and straws, and the flight attendants will even hold him while I go to the bathroom if I need to. Seriously, being kind is always a good idea; but on a plane, it’s imperative.
  5. Bring a baby carrier. I use one 100% of the time getting on the plane when I travel alone. And when Henry was under one year old, I would use it on the plane to help get him to fall asleep and then I’d be able to have my hands free. We used the k’tan for plane trips, which I loved. It doesn’t take up very much space and it’s easy to put on if you’re by yourself.
  6. Pack extra clothes for your child AND FOR YOU. This is especially important when your child is under one. Most parents bring a change of clothes for their children no matter where they go, which just makes sense. But you also never know what is going to end up on your own clothes. Spit-up, food, anything really. I travel with an extra pair of leggings and a shirt whenever I fly. I’ve had to use them on occasion, and it’s worth the extra space taken up in my bag.
  7. Always bring a stroller. Sometimes we don’t even have Henry in it; we simply use it as a cart for our stuff. Either way, it’s always nice to have. Just make sure to get a gate-check tag when you get to your gate.
  8. Bring a mountain of sanitizing wipes and use them frequently. Planes are gross. There’s no real way around that. So bring those sanitizing wipes and wipe down the entire seat area. I’m talking every part of your seat, seat belt, back of the seat in front of you, tray tables, everything. Babies touch everything and put everything in their mouths, so it’s just safer to have the area cleaned.
  9. Prepare for delays. Bring enough diapers for each hour of travel plus an extra six. Flights can be delayed, babies can have blowouts, and life can just get messy. Also make sure you have enough snacks, formula, etc. for extra time. It’s just one of those things where if you have it, you won’t use it; and if you don’t have it, you’ll need it.
  10. Stay calm! Your children feed off of your signals. If you’re calm, they’re more likely to stay calm throughout the travel experience.

Giving children the opportunity to travel is truly a pleasure. I look forward to traveling more with Henry this year, and I hope that these tips help you on your next adventure! Happy travels!

And scroll down for a bonus tip!

BONUS TIP: Always have a pacifier, bottle, or snack available for the descent and landing. I talked with a pilot of one of our earlier flights and he said that babies don’t have trouble with the ascent, but the descent is tough on their ears. Anything to keep their little mouths chewing or sucking will help immensely!

+ view the comments

  1. Meryl says:

    Ill be flying with my 5month old in a week. I love this blog post and how you narrow it down. I just one question. We will be flying with southwest how is the boarding process and where will best the best to sit? Thanks! 😉

    • Kathleen Curto says:

      Thanks so much, Meryl! Southwest is what we fly the most, so I’m really familiar with it. Since you’re traveling with a child under six years old, you can board with “Family Boarding” which boards in between A and B groups. So when you check in online the day before, you don’t have to worry about doing it at the perfect second. If you do end up with an A boarding pass, board with them. Otherwise you’ll line up along the side while A is boarding and then you’ll board after them. As far as where is best to sit, that depends on your personal preference. But the back half of the plane usually has most of the families in it, so we tend to try and sit close to the middle of the plane behind the exit rows. Just don’t sit in the row right in FRONT of the exit rows because you can’t put your seat back at all, and if you have a lap child it’s nice to be able to put your seat back especially if the person in front of you does the same. I hope you have a great trip! If you have any other questions, feel free to ask!

  2. Bernd says:

    This is really useful, thanks.

  3. Irving says:

    Thanks to the great guide

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Hi, I'm  Kathleen.

As a wedding and family photographer with over a decade of experience, I bring my signature timeless, documentary style and classic, soulful aesthetic to modern love stories for couples and families from around the world. 

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