12 Tips for Flying With a Baby

May 29, 2024 | 0 comments

When our son turned one year old, we knew the perfect theme for his birthday party – an airplane adventure! By his first birthday, he had been on 41 flights and traveled over 60,000 miles. We didn’t plan it this way, but each of our four children became frequent fliers at a young age. 

We’ve had the privilege of having four children born in Brazil. However, each one of our babies needed specialized surgery and medical treatments in the States. In order to avoid disrupting our ministry on the field more than necessary while also caring for our children’s medical needs, I made several trips between the two countries. Although I had made a lot of trips over the years with my babies, I was surprised, when I stopped to count them, that I had flown over 100 flights with a baby on my lap. My 100th flight definitely went smoother than my first one. Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way.

1. Check required documents

As far in advance as you can, check which documents you will need for traveling with a baby.  This could include a passport, birth certificate, and even a vaccination card. Some countries require special paperwork if the baby is traveling with only one parent. Verifying these items ahead of time can save a big headache at the airport.

2. Verify your reservation

Children under two-years-old can fly as a lap child, but not all travel websites allow for this option when booking a flight online. Call the airline to add the baby to your ticket and verify that your baby is linked to your reservation (has the same record locator number). I have had this happen several times when a lap child has been added and ticketed on a U.S. airline, but has not been linked to my reservation. The problem arises when departing from a partner airline outside the U.S. (or whatever country you’re flying in and out of) and the baby’s information doesn’t always get transferred correctly.

Without having the baby linked to the parent’s ticket, the partner airline may be unable to process a boarding pass for an unattached lap child in their system. After nearly missing a flight over this, I’ve learned that it’s worth it to spend hours on the phone with the travel agency or airline beforehand to make sure the baby’s information has been transferred correctly to the partner airlines before I travel.

If you are flying internationally, even if you didn’t pay for a seat for your baby, your lap child may still be entitled to a free checked bag.  Check your airline’s fine print!

3. Pick a night flight

If you have a long international flight, consider choosing a night flight over one during the day. The lights are usually turned off, there are less distractions, and the atmosphere is more conducive for the baby to fall asleep. You might even get a few minutes of shuteye yourself! 

4. Score a better seat

Even if you have already checked online or called ahead, ask at check-in or at the gate if there is a better seat for you and your baby. For infants under 6 months, ask if there is a bassinet available. Many times, even without paying for an upgrade, the agent at the airport can change your seat to one with an empty seat next to it or move you to a better section. A happier baby makes for a happier flight. Depending on the flight, there may not be anything available, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. 

5. Be preemptive 

It is so important to be proactive when traveling with an unpredictable infant. You don’t want to worry about the baby’s immediate needs while passing through security, getting on and off the plane, or going through immigration and customs. The more well-fed and clean the baby is before these checkpoints, the better. 

Feed the baby before the baby is hungry. Nothing can make you feel more self-conscious than your baby’s hunger cries piercing a silent airplane and trying to feed the baby while squished up against, and stared at by, a stranger. Even if the baby is on a strict feeding schedule, feed the baby whenever you get a chance. 

Change the baby’s diaper often, even if it’s not full. Double diaper if necessary. Always hit the nearest restroom and change the baby’s diaper right before and immediately after a flight. Having a blowout or a leaky diaper when the fasten seatbelt sign is on makes for an awkward situation – trust me. 

6. Plan ahead for the boarding process

Boarding and debarking the airplane can be one of the most challenging parts of traveling with a baby. When traveling with a child, you may bring a stroller for free. Not only is it nice to have a stroller at your destination, but it can also ease the long walks through the airport. If you do bring a stroller, get it tagged at check-in, bring it to the gate, leave it at the end of the jetway, and pick it up once you get off the plane. Something to consider with a stroller is the need to collapse it at the end of the gateway while also holding a baby. A light to medium-weight stroller which you can push and fold-up with one hand works well. 

I personally find baby carriers challenging to use in the tight confines onboard, but some people really love them. With young children, you may have the option to board early. It makes for a calmer experience to get situated before everyone else comes onboard. At the end of the flight, it will take the ground crew a while to bring up the strollers to the end of the jetway, so don’t be afraid to be the last one off the plane. Take your time gathering your items and your baby at your own pace.  

7. Ask for help

You may be able to manage things by yourself, but I’ve found that it makes for a more pleasant experience to ask for help. Most times, people are happy to be asked. Ask for help going through security, boarding the plane, and getting your suitcases. The flight attendants will even hold your baby if you need to use the restroom on the plane. Traveling with an infant is hard already, don’t make it any harder on yourself!

8. Pack extra and keep it close to you

It’s uncanny how many times my babies have spit up on themselves and us on the way to the airport and how many times they have had a blowout just as we have been boarding the plane. Take a couple extra changes of clothes in your diaper bag for the baby… And for yourself. As my friend once said, “I knew that when I had a baby, I would have more laundry, I just didn’t realize it would also be my own!” 

The temperature on the flight can fluctuate from oven to igloo within minutes, so don’t forget extra layers for the baby.

It takes some acrobatics to bend down with a baby on your lap, to reach your bag and find by touch alone that one special pacifier. Consider packing a smaller, easy to grab bag inside a larger diaper bag that includes some essentials such as a diaper, wipes, a pacifier, and an extra onesie.

9. Think about baby’s health

Protect the baby’s ears during take off and landing by having him or her suck on a pacifier or bottle. Avoid medications like Benadryl which can actually keep your baby awake rather than helping them sleep. Wipe down surfaces if you are able. Consider attaching pacifiers and toys with clips to the baby’s clothes to avoid them hitting the floor, collecting germs, or falling out of reach. 

10. Don’t stress out if the baby cries

Babies cry, that’s what they do. If and when your baby cries while on the flight, it’s more likely that your fellow passengers will feel sorry for you than be annoyed by your baby’s crying. The calmer you are, the more comforted the baby will feel. Do your best, but remember that some things are just out of your control. Even if the baby cries the entire flight, remember that there is an end and you will get off the plane at some point.

  1. Schedule some rest

If you are traveling internationally, coordinate with someone you trust to watch the baby for a few hours once you arrive so that you can recover from your trip. You probably won’t get much sleep while traveling, so having some time once you arrive to shower, take a nap, and catch your breath can do wonders!

12. Make a memory

Ask the flight attendants if they have any wing pins for kids. Ask if you can take a picture with the pilot or in the cockpit. Don’t forget to document your trip with photos. Post to social media and let others travel with you through prayer. 

Traveling with a baby can be challenging, but it is also a special experience. Even though flying is out of your daily routine, you know your baby and how best to care for him or her – trust yourself. Amongst the logistics, remember to take a moment to enjoy the journey and the precious one-on-one time with your baby.

What are your experiences and tips for traveling with a baby?

Tip 13 for Mom and Dad . . . debrief this trip!

Not all time off the field is created equal. This packet is designed for those shorter times off the field that can easily slip through the cracks because you might tell yourself, “My trip wasn’t that long! No need to debrief.” But these shorter trips need processing just as much as longer ones do (and maybe even more!).

This packet is divided into two sections for before and after you go: Preparing for Your Short Trip and Processing Your Short Trip. Get the packet here.

Kelli Anderson

Daughter of the King, Wife, Mother of Four, Cross-Cultural Worker, Teller of God's Story, and Cake Decorator




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