The first flight with your baby can make even the most seasoned traveler more than a little anxious. We have pulled together our best tips from short and long haul flights around the U.S. and across the world into this detailed guide for traveling with a baby. From the must-pack items, on-flight entertainment hacks, and all the gear you should leave at home, we have you covered!
We weren’t always such confident pros! But after three kids and dozens of flights we have come a long way! Our third baby even had his first international trip planned while he was still cooking on the inside.
Alright, let’s get to the big questions and then break down gear specific recommendations once we have you convinced that you CAN do this!
The big questions for baby’s first flight
When should baby take their first flight? 4, 6, 10 months too young?
There is no perfect time to fly with a baby since they are changing by the day (sometimes minute!), and it will be an adventure at any age. That said, flying before 6 months is quite a bit easier in our experience. Don’t delay your trip on the grounds of “waiting until the baby is a bit bigger!” An older baby wants to crawl and explore (entertainment recommendations are below) so the benefits and challenges grow on both sides.
The bottom line, if life with your baby feels hard at home, parenting on a plane will also feel hard. But when given the choice between hard on a plane to the beach or hard in your living room, I would take the beach! (For tips on a beach vacation with baby, we have you covered there, too!) We love traveling with our kids enough that we turned it into a business so of course, we say “GO!”, whenever you have the chance.
But what about germs?
Yes, planes are gross and germy. You knew that before you had kids and it didn’t stop you then and don’t let it stop you now. We bring a travel pack of antibacterial wipes and give the entire area a good wipe down as we board. Anywhere the baby might touch gets a cleaning. We also try to keep baby in a carrier as much as possible to ward off any unwanted touching by strangers.
Finally, ensure you and your baby are staying hydrated, getting lots of nutrients and vitamins, and getting as much rest as you can (hah!).
When is the best time of day to fly?
There are firm camps on this one but we fall in a space of “it kinda doesn’t matter.” We have never had our infants on a strict schedule for many reasons but it makes them more flexible for travel and city life in general. We have tried scheduling flights generally around nap time, but inevitably there is some sort of delay or hiccup so don’t bank on perfect alignment.
Overnight flights may mean baby sleeps most of the flight OR may mean baby screams all night and disturbs the sleep of a few folks in your very immediate area. If your baby ends up crying, which might happen, take comfort in knowing that planes are loud and baby cries will mostly be muffled by the massive engines.
All of this to say, pick a time that fits your budget, schedule, and then do your best to keep baby calm, fed, entertained or just secure on your lap until you arrive. For most things in life, I am fully “it’s about the journey, not the destination” this does not apply to flights… its all about the destination! The best advice we have just expect the unexpected and plan on being adaptable. You can do this.
What if my baby cries the whole flight?
As you board with your baby most folks are going to be gushing over how cute your little one is, these are friends. And yes, a few grouches may sigh expecting your baby will scream the whole time. These people also get upset with sunny weather and free drinks, we don’t like these people. If you used to be these people, now you know better. Chances are your baby will NOT scream the whole time. But if they do, remember you have a plane full of parents, aunts, and uncles who are silently cheering for you and your endless efforts to bounce and swing away the tears. In any event, the grouches assumed your baby would cry, thus creating this self-fulfilling prophecy. Let’s blame them.
I will not lie to you, we have had a few really tough moments on flights (moments and not entire flights!). Just like birth, you will soon forget the pain and move onto the good memories that followed. We’ve also been on a 16-hour flight from the middle east where a poor mother of 3 kids had a steady rotation of crying and puking kids the entire flight. During that flight, the rows around her became her community. We rallied together assisting her with bottles, rocking babies, holding hands while she cleaned up messes. It was the best of humanity, folks.
If your community doesn’t rise up, or you aren’t too keen on handing your baby to the kind grandma in the aisle in front of you, take a walk to the bulkhead, or hold and rock your baby by the bathrooms. We have found the flight crew pretty flexible with us in the name of calming down a screaming baby. There’s always a little flight attendant’s nook at the back of the plane, and as we’ve said, it’s loud enough on the plane that people a row or two up won’t even notice.
Infant in a car seat or lap infant?
Another topic that has some firm camps, we will give you some considerations on how we decide before the trip.
The safest seat for the baby is in a car seat in their own seat. If your baby is already used to the car seat and you can swing it financially, it’s a great choice. Note, young babies shouldn’t be in a car seat for an extended amount of time— check with your pediatrician for specific guidelines. In the US, lap infants fly free domestically and for a very small fee internationally. We didn’t own a car until our third kid was born and our kids detested car seats and being strapped down. So, for most flights before they turned two, we have chosen to travel with them as lap infants.
Additionally, on many international flights, you can call the airline and book a bulkhead seat with a bassinet which was amazing for our first international trip when Lincoln was 9 months old. On long-haul flights or when traveling with international carriers, you will likely be given a second belt to loop around babies’ lap and connect to your lap-belt (not used on US domestic flights). Flight attendants are happy to help, but I have found baby prefers to face me and not facing out (or flop down in my lap and take a snooze which is the best case scenario).
Additional considerations for baby’s first flight
Baby Wearing vs. Stroller for getting around the airport
For babies under two, we almost always prefer a carrier over a stroller for getting around the airport. The baby is close and not touching or being touched by rushed travelers. Generally, security check-points will allow a non-walking baby to stay right in the carrier during the screening process. We love the Ergo 360 with cool mesh and it makes a great travel companion.
However, don’t check that stroller and car seat just yet. Pile it up with your bags for an airport buggy! You can bring the stroller and an infant car seat right to the gate and gate check. We like to pop them into a universal car-seat or stroller bag to keep things clean. You can pick them up as you exit the plane and make your way to the baggage claim. We gate check our car seat to minimize the handling and potential damage from being checked. It is our “back-up” car seat for travel and not our heavy-duty and super pricy model for everyday use.
Do I need to bring a travel bed? High Chair? Stroller?
Typically, we try to have as much gear on-site when traveling especially if we have a home base. You have a few options for getting “on-site gear”.
- Choose a family-friendly AirBnB/hotel that can provide baby gear,
- Ask local friends/family to help source borrowed gear from friends during your stay or,
- Search for a local rental company that will loan items for a low daily or weekly rate, Babyquip is one great option.
If you are location hoping or traveling for a long distance we tend to prioritize the gear we need and bring it with us. For our babies under a year having a safe sleep solution is non-negotiable. We love the Lotus Guava, which can be worn as a backpack, folds up quick and easy and works from hotel to beach to campsite, etc. Airlines will not charge extra to check a portable crib but it is also small enough to be considered a carry-on on most flights. None of our kids sat still long enough in a high chair for us to find it essential travel gear. A parent lap works great for mealtimes while traveling.
The UppaBaby G-Luxe is our hands-down favorite for any travel and was our sturdy sidekick for over 5 years. We currently have a Mountain Buggy Nano and it is just fine, folds up super small and has clips to secure most car seats right to the stroller seat.
Next, let’s get to the smaller “gear” we love when flying by plane, we check as much as we can and back one extra-large diaper bag for baby and one bag for each of the other kids:
Diaper Bag Essentials for flying
Milk and Food
If your baby is taking pumped milk or formula bring enough for your flight + several hours extra. Flight delays and lost luggage happen so ensure you will have enough to get you through a “worst-case scenario”. If you are nursing and use a cover, I highly recommend the ones that can be worn as a scarf, Covered Goods is my current favorite. If you have started solids bring some extra baby-friendly food as well. While we follow the baby-led weaning approach to solids at home, we always travel with several baby food pouches (banana, avocado, and oats, yes, please!).
Diapers + Wipes
Pack for your trip + one day. Inevitably you will have a blow out (or 2) and in a hurry will rip the tab off of one of the diapers mid-change. Every plane we have flown in has a changing table right in the bathroom above the toilet, it’s a small space so just bring a changing pad, diapers, and pack of wipes.
Bring 2-3 changes of clothes for baby + a change of clothes for parents (I usually toss in a pair of leggings and t-shirt that roll up nice and small). One of my first flights I did not bring an extra outfit and spent the last 3 hours of our 4-hour flight SOAKED in several ounces of returned breastmilk.
Bring 1-2 of babies’ favorite toys + some novelty new items below broken down by age (for game/toy ideas for the older crowd, a post “Taking Your Kids on their First Flight” is coming soon!
The toys and games below are all hyperlinked with affiliate links. If you purchase from these links there is no extra cost to you but we do earn a small commission. We only ever link to a product we already use and love.
Other misc. essentials for the diaper bag:
Burn cloth: great to clean up messes, a make-shift in-seat diaper changing mat, bib, etc.
Muslin swaddles: back-up nursing cover, blanket for chilly flights, cushion for supporting an adult arm holding a sleeping baby. Also can serve as a temporary “outfit” for a big brother when he pukes on the way to the airport. Of all the swaddles floating around our house, Milk Barn is the best quality with the most darling prints.
Extra pacifiers + Clips: Germs. Keep extras on-hand and a reserved pocket for the dropped ones until you can get to hot water.
Water bottle with easy close lid: For the grown-ups. I have worn two cups full of complimentary beverages on the airplane. Small space + curious baby + distracted mama= lesson learned the hard way… twice.)
Medication and thermometer: Motrin & thermometer for fevers and EpiPen & Benadryl for allergic reactions (if this applies) in the diaper bag. We keep a more robust first aid pack in the checked luggage.
Have an amazing trip and let us know what other questions you have in the comments below!