Traveling with an infant can seem overwhelming if you have never done it before. However, it doesn’t have to be miserable. I recently traveled to China with my 9 month old. The trip included 6 different flights and 5 different cities within one month – and I survived! My motto is: prepare for the worst but hope for the best! I did a lot of research before boarding a plane with my 9 month old. Even cancelled flights and a 15-hour flight across the ocean was doable because I was prepared. So, I wanted to share what I learned with those of you about to embark on your first airplane with an infant.
Booking your Flight
Understand the rules, restrictions, and booking procedures for the airline with which you are flying in regards to lap infants. For example, some will require you to call and book the lap infant over the phone, while others may require a small fee for a lap infant even if a ticket is not required.
- Generally, a child under 2 can travel without a ticket if they will sit on the lap of an accompanying adult. This is referred to as a lap infant.
- If you book an actual seat for the infant, an approved car seat may be required depending on the age of the child and the airline.
- If the airline required you to book the lap infant ahead of time, be sure to bring a copy of the paperwork that says they are booked with you. This will help the check in process go much smoother and quicker.
- You may be required to show a birth certificate to prove the child’s age.
- If it’s a long flight, such as an international flight, and you can swing it financially, book an extra seat for the infant. You will appreciate the extra room especially if the infant can sit up on their own. However, we found with both of our long flights that people seated next to us were more than willing to move to an empty seat, if available. So, it may not be necessary, but it’s never guaranteed and many international flights are typically full.
- Most airlines offer bassinets for younger infants. Typically, a 0-4 month old would be most comfortable. Our 9 month old technically fit the length and weight for the bassinet but there was no way she would have slept in it. She wouldn’t even play in it because it was so narrow and squished. Again, booking procedures for the bassinets vary by airline. Some allow you to call ahead and reserve, others are first come first serve, some even require that you purchase a more expensive ticket because the bassinets are only available in the bulkhead rows. On some airlines, those rows are considered a premium location and may cost more.
- When possible, book a bulkhead row for the extra space. Adults traveling with lap infants cannot sit in the Emergency Exit so the bulkhead is the best bet for some extra room.
- If bulkhead is not available, try something toward the back close to the flight attendants, they will take great care of you!
- If you are nursing, a window seat offers a bit more privacy than an aisle and you can lean on the window if needed.
What to Pack
- Stroller and car seat: You can gate check a stroller and a car seat, and some airlines will also allow extra carry-ons for the baby. Always check with the airline but in our experience so far they are very accommodating to travelers with infants. The stroller comes in handy in the airports during layovers and when you are trying to grab bags at baggage claim. You will need to remove the child from the stroller when you pass through security.
- Carrier: We go everywhere with our Lillebaby. When boarding the plane, it was VERY helpful to have our hands free to find spots for the carry-on bags and get situated. You cannot wear the infant during takeoff and landing but during the flight it should be fine. That is how our daughter slept almost the whole way home from China. You will also need to take the baby out of the carrier while going through security.
- Change of clothes for you and baby: I always pack an extra outfit in case luggage is lost anyway; travel with a baby and you definitely up your chances of needing a change of clothes.
- Food and snack for baby: TSA currently allows as much formula, milk, and baby food as needed. Just make sure you let them know when you go through security. It also helps to have it all packed together in one smaller bag so they can easily check the food as you go through security. I have found that some TSA workers are familiar with the rule and some aren’t. It wouldn’t hurt to print up the webpage with the specifics on it. You can find the current info here.
- Travel bed: I highly recommend a travel bed that your child can sleep in on long trips, especially if you will be in different places during the trip. This gives them some familiarity which means they are more likely to sleep well! I did a TON of research and settled on this Delta Travel Bed. It was the BEST CHOICE for us! It is more affordable than many of the other name brands available right now. Plus, it is just the right size to count as a carry on and it fits in the overhead bins perfectly. Weighing in at ten to eleven pounds, it’s very convenient and easy for travel. (I am not getting any compensation from Delta…I just LOVE this travel bed and highly recommend it!)
- Toys: Many people told me to pack lots of new toys for my 9 month old to pass the time on the long flight. We didn’t end up doing that, instead we bought a few new books (she loves books), and we put a few Disney movies on the iPad. She never even needed the iPad and it was a while until we broke out the books. There is so much going on for a little one to watch and explore. Just looking out the window or watching the flight attendants serve drinks was entertaining for her. She also slept more than I expected. So, do whatever you think your child will enjoy. Ours hasn’t watched TV yet, so the TV only kept her attention in very small spurts. It was snacks, books, and the other people on the plane that kept her happy. We also got her up and walked up and down the aisle every hour or so which was great for all of us.
- Paci/Bottle: Don’t forget pacis, bottles, and/or sippy cups. Sucking helps keep their ears from being bothered by the change in pressure during takeoff and landing. Nursing helps too! If your child suffers from ear infections or allergies, talk to your pediatrician and get a checkup before you leave. Existing congestion can make it very uncomfortable even while sucking on a paci or bottle when the cabin pressure changes.
- Extra diapers, wipes and a changing mat: Even though some planes have a changing table in the bathroom, it’s easier to just change the diaper at your seat. And a small cover for the airplane seat or for your lap comes in handy for sure.
- Small Bag: Pack a small bag to keep at your feet with some food, diapers/wipes, paci, bottles, books, and toys. Keep the things you are less likely to need such as change of clothes, medications, etc. in a separate bag stowed up above. You will need some things close by and within reach but you will also need some leg room.
- Sleep gear: If it’s a long flight and you would like your baby to sleep as much as possible, consider packing pajamas and anything needed for your normal bedtime routine such as books, lotion, teething tablets (when teething) etc.
- Get plenty of sleep before you travel. I didn’t expect my 9 month old to sleep much on the plane, which meant I also wouldn’t sleep. She surprised me and slept very well, and often, on the plane. However, I did not. So rest up ahead of time as much as possible and be sure to drink water to stay hydrated.
- Get to the airport early. I used to ignore the recommendations to be at the airport so early, but with an infant you really need to give yourself the extra time! There is often some extra paperwork during the check in process and security takes longer with an infant (remember all the formula, food, strollers, beds, etc. that must be checked at security).
- Board the plane early if allowed. I used to think I would never want to board a plane early because “who wants to sit longer on the plane?” But traveling with an infant has changed my way of thinking. It’s wonderful to board early! You can easily find your seat and make sure all your carry-ons are stowed close to you.
- Ask for help. Try to befriend the flight attendants as soon as you board. Friendliness goes a long way. Introduce them to your baby. Ask any questions you have and ask for help when needed. Our flight attendants where very attentive and even brought us snacks and water at odd times since our daughter was often sleeping during the scheduled times (which meant we couldn’t move very well or put the tray down to hold a drink or snack).
- RELAX – if you are at ease, your baby and the other passengers will be as well. I honestly anticipated encountering people who were unhappy to travel with a baby but the opposite was true. I went into the situation as relaxed and prepared as possible and everyone we encountered was helpful and/or sympathetic to traveling with an infant. If you have a baby, you know they pick up on your mood easily. So, if you are stressed and worried, they will be too. Remember that your baby is most likely happy as long as they are fed, clean, and with you – they will probably do a lot better than you think.
It may seem like a lot of info, but you know your baby best. Be informed and prepared and then relax and enjoy your journey. I have some sweet memories on the plane with our 9-month old enjoying her first plane ride. In all fairness, I have probably already blocked out the frustrating parts. Rest assured though, it will all be worth it. Don’t let the packing and prep time keep you from enjoying travel with your baby. Get out there and enjoy family time together!
My name is Aleshia Sokoloski and I am a Travel Agent with Travel with the Magic. I’d love to help you plan your next Disney or Universal vacation (theme parks cruises, and adventures by Disney included). My services are free when you book with me and include itinerary tips/planning, discount monitoring and more!
Aleshia Sokoloski, Travel Planner affiliated with Travel with the Magic
Specializing in Universal Resorts and Disney Vacations including Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Adventures by Disney, and Disney Cruise Line.