The first flight with a baby can be stressful and dreadful to most parents. While for some parents flying might be unavoidable, you might also want to take a vacation or visit a family on the other side of the country, or world.
The good news is that the younger the baby, the sleepier he or she will be – and more portable. Plus, you don’t have to worry about bringing a bunch of toys to keep your infant entertained. Flying with a baby isn’t as hard as they say.
Our bub flew 17 times before he even turned 3 months. Over 30 before he turned 8 months and I stopped counting later, but he’s 4 now and it’s probably around 100 flights. His younger brother isn’t too far behind.
While I’m not an expert on flying with babies (I mean, who is really?) and I realize that each kid is different, here are my best tips for flying with a newborn.
Keep in mind that no airline has the same rules. Just because something is provided on Emirates or you’re offered priority on Delta it doesn’t mean it will be the same when flying American. You might be able to bring a stroller on board on Air France, but maybe not on EasyJet. Always familiarize yourself with different rules!
For tips on flying with a toddler (any bub that’s mobile so in our case it was 13 months and up) check out my other article, because let’s be real – flying with a toddler is a completely different story than with a little baby (spoiler: it’s harder).
Since his little brother showed up we also flew with 2 under 2 (+ a cat) several times, and that’s a whole new world due to certain regulations you need to know about – we didn’t and were taken by surprise.
Have baby, will travel!
Flying with a Baby: All Your Questions Answered
When Can a Newborn Fly?
If you search for flying with a baby in Google, the most common question that appears is ‘can I travel with a [insert the number of weeks/months] old baby?’.
The truth is that you can actually fly with a baby much earlier than most people think. They won’t kick anyone’s seat, they don’t need to be entertained as much as toddlers, and they won’t run down the aisle screaming.
Most airlines will allow your pipsqueak to fly as soon as he turns 2 weeks. While most parents might be scared of flying with a baby that young, or simply have no need to do this so early on, as Dylan was born in another country his first flight happened exactly on the day he turned 2 weeks old. His little brother Holden was a big older and took his first flight at 6 weeks.
While flying with a fresh bub seemed dreadful, not to mention we also have a cat with us quite often, it was way easier than I thought it would be.
My first son slept through an entire flight and didn’t even make a peep. My second son was fussing a bit (he’s a bit more of a fussy baby), but also just fell asleep. The crew loved babies and fellow passengers were amazed at how quiet they were.
What to do about ear pressure when flying with a baby?
Before we started flying with a baby we kept hearing “baby’s ears will be hurting because of air pressure in the cabin”. People kept telling us to feed the baby during take-off and landing, but I kept asking – what if the baby isn’t hungry or is asleep?
Then take a pacifier, was the answer. What if the baby doesn’t take a pacifier? Will they be suffering the entire flight?
The thing is, not once have we had an issue with either babies or ear pressure. Neither Dylan or Holden ever seemed to be bothered by it and Holden doesn’t take pacifiers at all.
TSA and Airline Policies Regarding Babies
First things first, the good news is that in the US, children under 24 months old fly free if they sit on a parent’s lap. In Europe or internationally you’ll only have to pay 10% fee for an adult ticket.
Once a child turns two, they become a much more expensive travel companion as they need to pay full fare for their own seat. Only a small amount of airlines offer discounted fares for children.
Many parents, however, chose to pay for the seat for the baby even those under 2 because it can be convenient. Personally, we have never done it – not even once. We took advantage of empty seats but never purchased a seat in advance with just one baby.
Check-In and Security With a Baby
Not all airports and airlines have special family lanes. In fact, most do not. Sometimes airline staff spot those flying with a baby and will allow them to check-in using the business class desk, but don’t count on it. Most of the time you won’t be able to do it.
Check as much luggage as you can, so pay attention to potential luggage fees, but never check important things for your baby. I’ve had my luggage lost way too many times so I wouldn’t risk checking things I might need immediately after arriving at the destination (like baby formula or his favorite toy).
But, I also traveled with just a carry-on suitcase and checked no luggage to just make it in and out of the airport quickly.
Most airports will ask you to put your stroller through an x-ray machine (if you’re gate checking your stroller), while some will not even ask you to take your baby out of the stroller (rare cases of nice staff). Be prepared for any circumstance and ready to handle a million things at once.
Even if you’re allowed to bring your stroller to the gate, it doesn’t always mean that it will be waiting for you immediately after disembarking or during your layover.
If you have a fancy stroller I wouldn’t bring it on the plane. Airlines break strollers (it happened to us a few times before we got a travel stroller) and unfortunately many airlines (eg. Southwest) have a small print saying they’re not responsible for the damage. Imagine getting your beloved $1000 stroller destroyed and having to rebuy it, on top of not having a stroller at the destination until you do.
I also don’t want to scare anyone, but occasionally airlines also lose gate-checked items. In fact, when we were moving from Europe back to the US and checking our full-size stroller the airline lost half of the strollers and other gate-checked items, including someone’s wheelchair.
Sometimes you’ll have to find your stroller on the luggage belt later because the ground staff refuses to give it to you at the gate (or you need to wait for it for 45 minutes like at Amsterdam Schiphol). Hence why I got a stroller that you can take on the plane with you as it is first in the overhead bin. It’s the most worthy investment for traveling with a baby on a plane.
Why I Don’t Always Recommend Boarding First
When it is time to board, airline staff is keen to have young families board first. While it sounds exciting, it’s not always a good idea.
If you’re reaching your plane by bus (which happens more often than it doesn’t in Europe) you’ll end up waiting for other passengers on the bus in a confined space and still might actually enter the plane last.
Once you’re on the plane, you’re stuck in your seat, so why extend this time and potentially stress the baby more? Even my cat prefers to board last.
Flying With An Infant On a Lap
Depending on where you’re headed, flying with an infant on a lap could mean hours with an often squirmy and sweaty baby. Many parents prefer to pay extra for an extra seat, but it’s only possible if you bring a car seat for your baby to sit in. On top of the obvious – extra funding for the ticket that you don’t HAVE TO pay for.
If the plane isn’t full, you could book two aisle seats in the middle row right before the toilet. No one wants to sit in the last row in the middle of the middle, so these seats never get booked unless the plane is full.
That way, you’ll end up with 4 seats and plenty of space for your baby to crawl around. Unless you book a bassinet – more on this late and why I don’t always recommend it.
On European or Middle Eastern flights you will be given a seat belt extension to securely fasten your baby to your seat belt.
On flights in the US you won’t get a seatbelt for your baby as they find them unsafe. Go figure.
Flying With a Baby Internationally: What to Know
If you’re flying within the US your baby doesn’t need a passport straight away. Internationally, your baby will need a passport to fly and there’s no way around it.
Getting a passport for the baby isn’t usually a problem. Fellow parents were warning me that it would take a minimum of 6-18 weeks to get a passport, especially at the Embassy overseas, but guess what – it took 5 days for both of Dylan’s passports: Polish and American!
For my second baby Holden we got both passports (USA and Mexican) same day, but that’s a story for another time.
I left the hospital after 3 days, I was able to get his birth certificate from the registry when the baby was 5 days old. Getting his passport photos done was a challenge because many photo studios won’t work with infants so small.
I debated taking photos by myself, but I ended up finding a nice lady who took baby’s photos patiently when he was 5 days old. It can be done if time is your priority!
IMPORTANT: If you’re flying internationally with a baby keep in mind that lines to immigration might be very long. You might be stuck for an hour waiting and quite often no one will let you skip the line (at least not in the US).
Have some snacks, milk, and toys for the baby to keep him occupied. If you’re flying into the US, as you’re flying with a baby you won’t be able to use your Global Entry unless you get one for the baby as well so get on it quickly!
For European airports, if you have an EU passport you won’t be able to use a quick electronic entry with a kid under 14 and will have to wait for an agent in a non-Schengen line.
Bassinets on Planes
Internationally, many planes will offer a bassinet for a baby, but not all plane types have them in the same spot. If you get a bassinet for your infant you can put him down for most of the flight.
However, don’t count on it and if your baby is older I wouldn’t always say it’s the best idea…
Airlines Lounges – Ask for Baby Rooms
If you have status with an airline, Chase Sapphire Credit Card (with pre-ordered Priority Pass) or flying business class, you are entitled to a lounge at the airport.
Many international lounges have dedicated baby rooms with toys, cartoons, books, where your baby can crawl around and have fun. Or even sleep, as there’s usually no one else apart from you there. When we traveled out of Italy, we always used Skyteam lounge.
What To Bring When Flying With a Baby?
Before even thinking of any baby items you need to think about yourself and your comfort. If you’re not comfortable there’s a big chance that your baby won’t be either.
That said… dress in comfortable clothes and bring a change of clothes for yourself in your carry-on bag. Babies can leak through their diapers, throw up, or simply sweat on or with you.
Put on a good reliable bra, whether you’re breastfeeding or not. I used to go bra-less during pregnancy, but babies have this insane ability to pinch and grab everything in front of them, so a bra is a must.
1. Baby Carrier & Babywearing on the Plane
One thing that was recommended by ALL parenting and travel blogs was a baby carrier. Everyone was saying to wear your baby through the airport and security.
Ironically, we didn’t bring our carrier to Poland for Dylan’s birth, because we had too many things to carry already.
I must say that the carrier might have been useful at Warsaw Airport where the TSA staff there was particularly unhelpful and unfriendly the first time I flew and then the first time we flew with Holden they asked me to undress the baby for some unknown reason.
I was still learning how to fold a stroller and I couldn’t actually lift it after my c-section to put it in the x-ray machine, no one was there to help, as they rushed my husband with a cat through the screening gate.
However, the more I flew the more I realized that I’m rarely offered help during security even when flying alone with a baby, so solo traveling moms and dads – brace yourself!
However, I’m not the biggest fan of baby carriers and my baby gets antsy after being in it for a while and I get sweaty as well. You also CANNOT use a barrier on the plane, you’ll be asked to remove it for take-off, landing and turbulences. Babywearing is not a substitute for using a child restraint on board the airplane.
While I think it’s useful – it’s just not for me personally unless we go for a hike and then our baby carrier works fine. For city trips, I always take a stroller, especially in warm destinations.
2. Foldable Travel Stroller
I loved my Uppababy Vista stroller at first. It’s sturdy, comfortable, and valuable considering all the extras you get with it for free, BUT… this thing is a giant monster – I actually ended up getting rid of it fairly quickly.
Not all airlines will let you gate check strollers that big, but even if you take it to the gate handling a heavy stroller through security while carrying your hand luggage and a baby isn’t going to make your airport experience any less stressful.
That said, get yourself a second stroller for travel that’s lightweight, small and ideally has a one-handed folding and steering option. I tried to avoid paying a lot of money for the second stroller, and this is why I got Cybex Eezy S Twist at first as it was suitable from birth and seemed like a good travel stroller.
Nonetheless, as I fly a lot around Europe I quickly realized that a travel stroller isn’t necessarily a good stroller for airplane as carry-on luggage sizes are smaller in Europe, and they don’t always fit in the overhead bin.
Trust me, I’ve tried to squeeze it in a bunch of times and I’ll spare you some embarrassing horror stories. This is why I eventually ended up with the most popular options like Babyzen Yoyo+.
3. Bringing a Carseat on the Plane for the Baby
To bring a car seat or not to bring a car seat? Many parents will tell you they love traveling with car seats on board. I will tell you that it depends on the child.
If you’re traveling somewhere where you’ll need to move around by car, bring your own car seat if your baby is still an infant.
With Dylan we NEVER had a car seat on the plane. We always checked the car seat in the travel bag (yes, I recommend bringing your own car seat to a destination, because most rental ones are crap and very expensive, especially those for infants).
We tried bringing a car seat with Holden (Dylan’s little brother) as we took advantage of an empty seat, and frankly, we probably will never do it again…
Holden sat there for about 30 min and preferred to be held for the rest of the flight. He’s not a car seat lover, so for us it was a waste of space we could have used for him to actually lie down or for us to lay down with him.
Also, car seat can only be put on the seat next to the window. Due to the kindness of staff we had the whole row to ourselves, but if the plane was full and we purchased the seat then we’d have people on the aisle between me with an infant and my husband with a toddler (because two under two lap babies cannot be seated in one side of the row).
Quite often you could rent a car seat from a car rental place, but the price of it can often exceed the value of a car seat. Plus, that way you won’t end up with a possibly beat-up car seat you might overpay for.
You can easily clip it onto a stroller, or check separately for free (My tip: always gate check your car seat. You will have more things to carry at the airport, but car seats can easily get smashed when checked as regular luggage. There is a risk to checking a car seat at the gate as well, but less than if you put it in oversize luggage.
My stroller got actually destroyed on its first flight and while I was lucky to receive compensation from Delta, many airlines don’t take responsibility for damaged car seats and strollers.)
Do you really need a car seat on your trip? In many European countries, taxis will not take you and your baby without a car seat. But in Mexico or some spots in the Middle East it’s up to you.
After endless attempts to pre-book a taxi with a car seat, I realized that most don’t offer anything for babies that small, despite the advertising they do.
IMPORTANT: keep in mind that US car seats are not approved for Europe and vice versa.
4. Good Diaper Bag with Changing Mat
Get yourself a good backpack or diaper bag that can also act as a day bag for yourself and a baby. My bag is not only cute but also has a separate compartment for diapers and an insulated compartment for bottles.
Always have a changing mat for your baby. Changing tables on planes is hard and cold (and possibly dirty), so it’s not something you want to put your baby on.
That said, don’t be a jerk to fellow passengers and don’t change your poopy baby on a seat next to you unless you absolutely have to (like during turbulences for hours). Even as a mom the last thing I want to see is your baby’s poop potentially ending up on a seat that I could be seated on.
Bring plenty of diapers for your flights. Many babies tend to pee and poo more on planes, so they might require extra changing.
I also disagree with the advice to buy your diapers at a destination. Buy more diapers, yes, but don’t bring only the exact amount you need for the flight.
On our first family trip to the Amalfi Coast it was somehow difficult to find a store or supermarket that sold mini diapers as we visited smaller towns. I was glad I brought an emergency pack for the first few days.
6. Extra Bottles with Formula
You can pass through security with formula milk, water and juice. The last thing you want is a screaming baby asking for food on the plane. You might be able to taste-test the formula.
6. Food for the Baby
Most people don’t know that but on international flights that feed all the passengers, your baby can get a meal as well. You can request a baby meal entirely free of charge. Quite often we get so much food that Dylan cannot even eat it all.
But, I still recommended bringing something in case the baby doesn’t like what’s provided. Once Dylan was old enough to eat on his own, crunchies like these ones can keep him occupied for a while.
While my baby doesn’t care whether his milk is warm or cold, I tend to give him formula slightly warmed up. You can bring an empty or full thermos through security and always ask any restaurant or cafe to give you hot water for the baby in case you run out.
Plan to nurse or bottle-feed your baby as the plane takes off and lands. Changes in cabin pressure can cause pain in little ears. If a baby isn’t hungry stuff a pacifier into his mouth.
8. Leash for the Pacifier
That said, get a leash for a binky. Your baby will drop his pacifier from his mouth multiple times and you don’t want it to land on a dirty floor.
- Gadgets That Were Recommended to Me, but I Never Used Them:
Ziplock Bags for Diapers – Most diapers can be easily closed on their own and disposed of later. I’m yet to find a place where trash bins aren’t available nearby.
That’s all for the plane, but you should also have some baby travel items packed in checked luggage.
Pay attention to time. Try to change and feed your baby right before landing. We didn’t do it once and had a screaming baby until he got fed after we got off the plane.
Any questions about flying with a baby? Let me know!