Tips for Traveling with a Lap Infant: What I Learned on 28 Flights
By Maddie Porter | March 28, 2020 | Flights from Home
Flying with a baby can be one of the most daunting obstacles you will face as new parents. As if navigating the stress of airports, security, layovers, and delays isn’t trying enough — you are now doing it all with a very tiny human (and all of the extra baggage that comes along with them) that you are entirely responsible for. But no pressure, right?!
Through much trial and error traveling with my little one (28 times in her short 18 months of life) I’ve created my own now-seamless routine, and I want to share the most useful tips that have made our travels so much easier.
FLY DURING NAP TIME
Though it may not always be feasible, selecting your flight based on your baby’s sleep schedule gives you a better shot at a smoother flight experience! If you can’t get a flight during nap time, the next best option is to select a flight time coinciding with the time of day your baby is usually happiest!
This one probably goes without saying, but whenever you have the option, choose the nonstop flight. Eliminating the layover will eliminate stress.
TAKE CHEAP NEW TOYS
Rather than taking their favorite toys, consider buying a few cheap toys and teething rings on Amazon (or from the dollar store) that you wouldn’t mind losing, because odds are, you’ll lose them. Introducing *new* toys on the flight will keep your little one entertained because, well, they’re new — and that’s exciting! Thus, eliminating any possibility of the tragic loss of any favorite items.
PACK EXTRA OUTFITS FOR BOTH OF YOU
It goes without saying that you should always have a change of clothes on hand for your little one. Personally, I always pack an extra outfit for each of us in the bottom of the diaper bag (usually just some leggings and a t-shirt for me — to save space). Tiny humans have no control over their little bodies, and because you are sharing such a small space, anything on them is likely to get on you, too.
DOUBLE CHECK A PACKING CHECKLIST
Lots of times as parents we are so hyper-focused on making sure we remember every little thing to pack for our little ones, we forget the essentials for ourselves. Before heading to the airport I always double check a generic packing checklist to make sure I’m not missing anything for me. Even though I don’t usually need everything on their list, it always reminds me of anything I’m missing.
GATE CHECK YOUR CAR SEAT + STROLLER
Controversial in the world of traveling parents but let me tell you why I recommend gate checking these items over checking them at the ticket counter when you get to the airport. Not only will keeping them with you make navigating the airport with all of your other belongings easier, it also means fewer opportunities for your car seat + stroller to be mishandled and broken.
If you’re able to, I recommend investing in a car seat/stroller combo. Being able to lock your car seat into your stroller eliminates the stress of juggling both a car seat and stroller along with all your other things through the airport! Bonus tip: look for a stroller with a basket underneath for an easy place to throw your diaper bag! You can then gate check your car seat + stroller (for free) to pick them up planeside at your destination.
Taking a copy of your little one’s birth certificate isn’t typically required by airlines, and it’s not a hard and fast rule, but TSA can require you to have it. Just print a copy to fold up and keep in your wallet or diaper bag — you’ll never know when you might need it, and you don’t want to be stuck without it.
TAKING BREASTMILK THROUGH SECURITY
The good news is that yes, you can! Just make sure to take it out of your diaper bag and put it in its own bin. TSA workers may ask you to take the lid(s) off for testing, this is completely normal! The process requires them to wipe the outside of the bottles as well as hold the testing strip over the open bottle — no contact with the actual liquid.
TAKING WATER + FORMULA THROUGH SECURITY
If you formula feed, take a hydro-flask (or similar) full of hot water with you to keep your water warm as long as possible. You can take it through security, and they will test it the exact same way they test bottles of breastmilk. Identify your water and formula for TSA workers by placing them in a separate bin from your other belongings — this will shorten your time in security because they won’t need to dig through your diaper bag!
WHAT TO TAKE OUT OF YOUR DIAPER BAG BEFORE SECURITY
Make sure to remove your wipes + any baby food from your diaper bag before sending it through the scanner. If it applies to you, you can put them in the same bin as your breastmilk or water + formula. It’s a lot easier for you to do it — otherwise, TSA workers will pull everything out of your diaper bag leaving it a mess for you to repack.
DIAPER CHANGE BEFORE BOARDING
15-20 minutes before boarding, run to the family restroom for a diaper change. Trying to change a diaper in an airplane bathroom is nearly impossible — pure chaos. Just trust me on this one. Keep in mind international (or long-haul) flights usually have slightly larger restrooms that make this easier.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF PRE-BOARDING
Each airline does things a little differently, but I have yet to travel on an airline that doesn’t offer pre-boarding for families with young children. Pre-boarding will give you the extra time you need to get settled with a little one without worrying about holding up other passengers behind you.
Specific to Southwest (or any airline with open seating), here’s another reason to take advantage of pre-boarding: there will usually still be plenty of open rows, so seat yourself and your spouse/SO in the aisle and the window. Why? Because if someone boarding after you only has the option to sit in a middle seat, odds are they will not choose the middle seat in the row with the baby, so you’re left with the extra seat and space to spread out!
WINDOW OR AISLE?
When traveling alone, or when you don’t have the open seating option mentioned above, I always opt for an aisle seat. You can get up as many times as you want without bothering the person next to you. I sat in a window seat the first few times I traveled alone with my little one, and for the most part it was fine, except when I needed to get up. Who would have known how hard it could be to navigate from the window seat over two whole humans, between tray tables, drinks, and laptops, fumbling with a baby in one arm and a diaper bag in the other? Take the aisle seat.
GETTING READY FOR TAKEOFF
Before takeoff, make sure you have teethers, binkies, toys, and snacks at the top of your bag to make them easily accessible throughout the flight — digging through a diaper bag with a baby on your lap is not easy to do!
BOTTLE OR BINKY DURING TAKEOFF + LANDING
I can’t emphasize this one enough! Giving your little one a bottle or binky (or nursing) during takeoff and landing will help pop their ears to relieve the pressure of the elevation change and usually avoids any pain or irritation.
THE AIRPLANE RESTROOM IS YOUR FRIEND
I never imagined I’d say that, ever, but here I am. Though airplane bathrooms aren’t ideal for diaper changing, when your little one is fussy and you’re not able to soothe them, it’s the perfect place for you. It’s the only space where they can be as loud as they want without bothering anyone. Just make sure to bring disinfectant wipes to wipe down the changing table + sink first!
Sometimes it’s inevitable, no matter how well your little travels, at some point they are going to cry. I always have earplugs on hand to offer to those around me for those times she is completely inconsolable. It completely changes the mood from people being frustrated and annoyed because they realize you care, and you’re doing the best you can.
No, really, bring treats. You likely won’t forget to bring food for your tiny human cargo, so don’t forget to bring your own snacks either! God knows you don’t want to stop for snacks after going through security (and you’ll go without before making an extra stop). Just do yourself the favor of packing them ahead of time!
Finally, relax. Your little one can sense your stress and they will mirror it right back to you — in the form of fusses and cries. Just be as prepared as you can be using the tips above, and remember above all else, just breathe through it!