I’ve often get emails, chats, and comments asking me a variety of travel related questions. “Travel Unravel” is a series where I tried to answer these questions in a quick and concise manner with the help of readers in the comments.
Friend and reader Rachel asked me via my Facebook page: I’m going on my first flight with my infant, any tips for traveling with babies?
Start by not buying an extra ticket, kids under 2 almost always fly for free or a small charge provided you carry them in your lap. Call the airline to let them know beforehand but remember that you won’t get an extra (charge-free) piece of luggage for your little one. You will however be able to bring a large diaper bag which won’t count as a carry on. If you’re bringing a stroller ask the airline representative at the gate for a “Gate Check Tag”, so they’ll take your stroller at the gate, stow it, and have it ready for you when you get off the plane.
Once you get on the plane, asking a flight attendant (firmly) for a seat for your baby, especially if the plane isn’t fully booked – it usually works.
Finally, children under the age of two have much more sensitive inner ears that adults. Expect crying during the first and last 30 minutes of a flight and even longer if your plane ends up circling the airport a few times before landing.
Rachel, those are the ‘technical’ answers, but I don’t have the personal experience to give you many insider tips – I’ve never traveled with an infant, but there are plenty of foXnoMad readers who have.
So, I’d like to defer to all of the traveling mommies, daddies, and family members who have flown with infants – what personal tips do you have for Rachel?
Hi Rachel — I have traveled many times with an infant, so here’s my personal experience…
It is true that their little ears can be affected by changes in cabin pressure — if you are breastfeeding, it helps to nurse your baby if you can during takeoff and landing — that will help his/her ears. I assume giving him/her something to suck on such as a pacifier would help too, altho I always went the nursing route and never had to deal with excessive crying.
If you are lap-carrying, make sure to bring your child’s birth certificate — even when it was obvious that my baby was under the age of 2, some snooty airline reps would invariably insist that I had to have a birth certificate on hand as proof. Fortunately, we were able to talk ourselves out of it, but my 2cents is that it’s just best to bring it.
It was definitely good advice above to have the stroller/car seat tagged so you can bring it straight to the door of the plane. They will store it underneath, and it will be waiting for you when you disembark — very easy and convenient.
Families with children under the age of 5 are often allowed to pre-board first before everyone else — altho I think this rule has changed a little on some airlines such as Southwest — i.e. first class or priority A people get to board first, and then families — but still…make sure to take advantage of this benefit.
I’m not sure what age your infant is (i.e. newborn or 11 months old?) but it will help to have a little “bag of tricks” filled with things to amuse your baby while s/he is awake — rattles, toys, books, a small mirror for them to look at themselves etc. Fun distraction will hopefully help the time go by — and trust me, it will seem like an eternity when traveling with a baby, especially if s/he is awake the whole time. Sorry, just being honest!!
Lastly, if you happen to be flush with cash (?!?), even tho you dont technically have to buy a seat for an infant, some parents do choose to do so because then you are able to bring your carseat on the plane and strap your baby into the seat — often times a baby will think s/he is in the car and just go straight to sleep in their comfortable carseat for at least 45 minutes to an hour — aahh, peace and quiet. If you do that, the carseat MUST be FAA-flight approved (it usually says so on the carseat tag).
That said, I’ve always typically lap-carried to take advantage of the “free” seat, but I think I bought a seat for a baby once for a longer flight and it really did make a world of difference — she slept in her carseat almost the entire 3 hours…
Anyway, that’s about all I can think of — best of luck to you and I hope the flight goes smoothly for you and baby!!
Great advice! I’m a bit surprised (but at the same time not) that the airline representatives would ask for proof of age. Unless you’re trying to pass off a 5 year old for an infant, it seems like overkill on their part.
I also wasn’t aware of the car seat FAA-approval – although with some quick research have found that airlines in some countries (like Australia) are not required to let you use *any* car seat. In those situations it’s best to make a bit of a fuss and the airline rep will usually comply.
We have two kids, ages 6 and 1. They’ve flown a lot and are generally really well behaved. The biggest piece of advice I can give is to take your time and have fun. Going to the airport, flying, renting cars can be exciting for babies and kids. If you’re rushed and anxious, they will be too. I do have to agree with Jacqueline, though – time moves slowly when flying with a baby – and my wife and I have used similar tactics with success:
1) Infants don’t necessarily cry during takeoffs and landings. In fact, they sometimes even enjoy the change in sights and sounds. Feeding them during the ascent and descent does seem to help. (Older kids like to chew gum or eat mints).
2) Totally agree about the bag of tricks. Buy new (cheap) toys that they haven’t seen before and pull out one every hour or so.
3) Tag team with your travel partner by passing the baby back and forth every 20-30 minutes. Just a little downtime to read a magazine or close your eyes goes a long way.
4) The age of 9-12 months – when babies are starting to crawl – can be the most difficult period to fly because they just don’t want to sit still.
5) Once your children are old enough to watch shows, load kids’ programs on your video iPod. It’s a lot better than lugging around a DVD player.
6) Also, for older kids, teach them to play chess and buy a good magnetic travel chess set (Carrom makes the best one). Chess is intense and takes up a lot of time. Start a match and before you know it, it’s time to land.
I hope that helps. Good luck!
Great tips from everyone! I would also suggest checking out http://www.deliciousbaby.com/ she has two small ones and writes about her many travels with them.
@ Yo MC:
“Going to the airport, flying, renting cars can be exciting for babies and kids. If you’re rushed and anxious, they will be too.”
Great advice for traveling with kids, but for adults as well. More travelers could learn to relax and enjoy the experience.
Thanks for the great link!
WOW – everyone has really provided great advice and not sure I can add much more!! I am a new mom – have a 7 month old boy – who I have traveled with three times so far on an airplane, of which one time by myself! Yes, that is a challenge, trying to keep a baby calm while carrying, diaper bag, breast pump, stroller, purse etc through security without an extra hand, but no worries, it works! One thing that I didn’t do, but highly recommend, is to carry your baby in a sling. That way you have both hands free, which is very helpful especially traveling “solo”.
One more thing – call the airline about 24 hours before your flight to find out if it is full. I have been able to take my car seat on the plane without buying an extra ticket, which I agree, is the best!! Even if the flight is close to full, take the car seat and work the check-in personal for an extra seat next to you. It worked for me – I was very adamant about taking the car seat for a 3.5 hour flight and enough begging got me a free seat – even though the flight was 99% full! Most people will work with you – especially since you are asking for your infant!!
Hope this helps – Good luck!!
You *did* add some great advice in addition to the great comments, thanks so much!
A cute baby face will get you far with the airline personnel, work it for an extra seat Rachel!
Well, everyone has advised already. So what ? I can still chip in some. 🙂
If you are not able to take the car seat for some reasons, ask for a bassinet. This has to be done in advance and make sure 24 hours prior to flight that the airlines has arranged for one.
Having bassinet also means you get a seat with extra leg space. This comes handy for international flights.
Also, if the baby is very small, nursing is the best solution for not getting his/her ears blocked because of air pressure. A little older yet small kids can have some biscuits etc just to keep their jaws to work.
If you are traveling international to a distant place (more than one flight), make sure you take sufficient break in between. It is very hard for an infant to cope with 2 flights of 7-8 hours each with a gap of only 2-3 hours in between.
Do not want to paint a gloomy picture but we recently had a case where a 5 month old kid died just as the airplane was descending at final destination. They were traveling from Toronto to New Delhi, India with around two hours to change flight in Brussels. But I still believe that was a one off case.
My advice – travel such a long distance ONLY if it is absolutely necessary.
Have fun traveling with your kid. 😀
Everyone says that everyone has said everything, but travelers with little ones are a resourceful bunch and you’ve added to a nice collection of advice.
I’d like to add that the case you’re referring to is a highly rare case – my advice is any news like that you hear on TV is the least likely to happen.
I was carted off many times as an infant by my parents, the only damage was to their ears from my crying 🙂
Great advice from everyone! My experience is a little old since my children have grown to their twenties but I still wanted to write. Airline seats are so narrow that with an infant space problem could be huge. Yes, pacifiers do work and having small attractions would keep the baby busy for a while. My suggestion is to keep the baby fed and dry so he/she won’t cry. Crying is bad for babies and it is frustrating for the parents. In the old days when half of the passengers used to smoke, travel with an infant was a disaster. It is good that smoking is not allowed on airplanes any more. My infants used to cry all the was across the Atlantic in those days!
Thanks for adding to the conversation! I hope that we weren’t too bad twenty-something years ago!
Rachel, I just saw this and thought it would be useful:
Here’s an interesting situation. When babies fly domestically, they fly for free — but international flights require a ticket and, apparently, a huge fuel surcharge.
The agent asked for our ticket for our son. I will not go into all of the details, but an hour later (and 35 minutes to flight departure), we were forced to pay 332 euros ($423.10) to get my son a ticket so he could return back to the states.
Words cannot describe my outrage at the time, especially the justification of the fees ($320 fuel surcharge – $160 each way??!!). How can they legally charge that much when our ten pound infant does not even have a seat?
Delta responded to this complaint with a form letter explaining that kids need a ticket — which is 10% of the regular fare. The only problem? He’d already paid that fee when he booked the tickets. The $320 was explained to him as a fuel surcharge.
I’ve flown with my infant at 3 months old and he slept the whole time if not eating,he was sleeping it was a breeze
Second time I flew a 12 hour flight connected to another plane ride which was 4 hours when he was 5 months and he did the same thing slept I asked for a bassinet on both flights and he slept and just ate
He is now 11 months and never never wants to sit still,
we flew back home and if you can try to take a backpack filled with different things, I took around 6 hard books so I could read and he could grab with out tearing up, I took 3 more books that were songs and peekaboo’s.
Take snacks this keeps them entertained, I perfer puffs because I can put them in his mouth and no crumbs anywhere.
If you don’t mind the mess take crakers cookies anything.
But because of the mess and fear he would get crumbs in his cloths and be uncomfortable I took puffs.
Cloths wise you be comfotable, I wore sweats with a hoodie and this worked perfect caues if I got hot I took off hoddie and when I got cold I put the hoodie on, my child I took him in a footsie get up since the plane is often very cold and packed an extra just incase, and his cloths for when we landed.
Lollipops are the best distraction ever, especially if you don’t give your kids candy, they cry let them have a lick and they stop it’s like magic I got the sugar free kind.
I also bought a book of Constitution paper and stickers galore and put the stickers on myself and told a story or sang they think it’s magic to see stickers on a once blank page
I bought different color bright bows and stuck them on the back of the book of construction paper book and he just played with the bows for ever, it seemed
I got different types of bright bows and bow strings, they have sooo many now
See through Easter eggs fill them up with anything they with shake them look inside of them this is fun for them too
I taped the eggs shut with scotch tape to make sure he didn’t get them open
I would alternate reading them toy, something new ever hour don’t go through all of your bag of tricks too fast, just stick through something for an hour or at the very least 45 min and if they are fussy you just have to let them fuss it out.
Glow in the dark stuff is amazing for them too if you flight is during the night or just when everyone closes there windows they are in awe of it.
Get creative you don’t want to buy toys cause they seem to be more interested in any but toys on a plane, even a cardboard of toilet paper is fun for them they will grab it shake it and stick in there mouth, why? I have no clue but they do
I also got different color tissue paper let him play with the bag first then opened it slightly let them rip it take the tissue paper out and they have a ball but they always want to taste it so be careful with that
They have a stroller/car seat that is FFA approved this is a gift from heaven!!
Also get there early ask for a seat in the bunk cabin more room and if you get a pop up toy box opens up it pops open and it’s an instant bed or playpen they have Dora the explore ones and deago just stuff with a pad or just blanket I saw this trick from a lady that flew from dallas to japan her kids were 2 and 4 they both fit in there and played one would sleep in it and the other watch tv, just a tip for those who are in the bunk.
She also and elastic strings and I think a thumb tack which she tied there drink cups to then tacked to the front of the wall, it worked wonderful..
Since her kids where older she took out all the magazines and books from there places and exchange them for sticker books coloring books dress up doll books books that had magnets they were the perfect angles on the plane
This lady was prepared
I was in complete awe and understood right then and there that you just have to be creative and have something for them to do every hour and you don’t have to break the bank in doing so.
Good luck and try and stay calm and cool, everything will be ok.
If you get frustrated just say to yourself I can do this and just get through it.
Great tips! I especially like the glow in the dark (kids are fascinated by glow in the dark) and Easter eggs filled will candy, beads, or something else to make noise.
A creative set of toys that you can make at home, I like it!
Don’t stow it in the overhead locker or under the seat in front of you.
Right. Don’t confuse baby for carry-on, got ya.
I think that everyone has given great advice about traveling with an infant and toddlers.
I have traveled with infants and children domestically and internationally when mine were young over 20 years ago. I also have the vantage point of being a flight attendant and observing what works for parents flying with infants and babies domestically on regional carriers.
This is what I experienced a yesterday with a couple flying with an infant. The wife is seated by the window with the baby in her lap. The husband is sitting on the aisle. He decides to amuse himself by playing with his laptop. This laptop is 17″. It is bigger than the tray table. Space is tight on the jets as it is. There is barely room for the baby.
I start the beverage service. The wife asks for coffee. She tells me to give it to her husband. I serve him the coffee. I move to the next row to begin service. I feel something hot splash on me and burn my legs. I look around the husband has spilled the hot coffee on the laptop keys. I give him napkins so hopefully the laptop is not ruined. Then I realize that the wife is holding the hot coffee and the the baby. I grab the hot coffee away from the mom with the baby.
If the baby had been burned we would have had to make an emergency landing to rush the baby to the hospital. Fortunately only adults were splattered with hot liquids.
Packing for babies is very difficult. Sometimes the dad becomes a pack horse who is hitting the passengers with diaper bags, car seats, strollers, and other carryon items. He can’t make it down the aisle to the seat. He is carrying so much stuff. Please use common sense. Are you really going to use all that stuff. Where are you going to stow it on a plane. The family ends up being uncomfortable with very little room for their legs and feet. Definitely nowhere for the baby to move either.
Wow, can’t believe that couple made things so tight for them and the baby! I can barely fit into a seat myself let along imagine the scenario you described. Thanks for adding to the conversation and the insight!
Hey Anil, a few ideas here.
A couple people mentioned the bassinet but I need to emphasize just how great it is – if you can get it. Most airplanes can attach a bassinet to the front of the each cabin section if you have those seats at the front of the bulkhead. It’s like a free seat and with any luck you can lay your kid out in it and they’ll sleep like – uhm, gotta say it – a baby. We were fortunate enough to get it 3 out 4 legs of our trip to Bali and our youngest got a good 15 hours of sleep in it all together.
Take a couple changes of clothes. I had one flight where my youngest got sick and we went through 3 or 4 different outfits. You never know what’s going to happen or how long you could be in that plane.
Most flights won’t have milk. If you’re child drinks – and depends on – cow’s milk you’ll need to take it with you, probably buying it from a shop in the airport after you pass security. Though technically you should be able to take it through it’s usually just easier to get it on the plane-side of the security check.
If you’re crossing a border and traveling as a solo parent be sure to have a signed affidavit from the other parent showing they consent to the child’s travel plans or you might not be able to board the plane.
Final tip: you can usually send anything big, say a stroller, under the plane into cargo at the actual gate. So for example, you could use your stroller to get around the airport, wheel it up to the gate as you board the plane and they’ll tag it and take it away. When you get off the plane at your destination it’ll be waiting there for you just as you exit the aircraft.
Hope that helps anyone planning a trip.
Excellent and enlightening tips which bring up points I had no idea about or would have even considered. Thanks for taking the time to share them here.
We had a 14 hours flight to Bangkok with our small son. So here are my additions.
Take some of his favorite candies and snacks . We took some rubber candies he likes , and chupa-chups.
If you have an laptop or any tablet computer, record his favorites movies.It can distract and relax the kid during the flight.Favorite books and toys are also good.
If the child is bigger, you can have some color pencils and do some painting during the flight.
Dress your self and your child in comfort clothes ,and don’t forget to pack an extra set in your carry-on bag.
Grab an extra blanket and pillow, it could be cold during the flight.
Thanks for adding your experiences and tips to the conversation!