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 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? Is 4, or 6, or 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 older!” 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 and Covid adds a whole other layer of concern for flying with your baby. If you have an unavoidable flight with your baby during the pandemic, we have general tips that will cover keeping all kinds of germs away.
Wear your baby
For smaller babies and young toddlers, wearing them through the airport and boarding will minimize how much they touch and will ward off any unwanted touching by strangers.
Disinfect your seating area
Bring a travel pack of antibacterial wipes and give the entire area a good wipe down, don’t forget the tray table and seatbelt buckle. Anywhere the baby might touch gets a cleaning.
Stay Hydrated and Healthy
Leading up to your trip, during travel, and once you land, ensure you and your baby are staying hydrated, getting lots of nutrients and vitamins, and getting as much rest as you can.
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 personally have never had our infants on a strict schedule for many reasons but it makes them more flexible for travel and adventurous life in general. If you do have a set schedule and are intent on booking flights around nap time or bedtime, be prepared for a delay or hiccup in your plans, or your baby’s schedule.
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… it’s all about the destination!
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.
We have had a few really tough moments on flights. Moments and not entire flights! We have 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. And obviously pre-Covid.
Once this pandemic is under control, 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?
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 and undeniably the safest, choice. Note: young babies shouldn’t be in a car seat for an extended amount of time— check with your pediatrician for specific guidelines. However, 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, yes, 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. 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 face 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. 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.
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 quickly 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
Pack enough pumped milk or formula 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”.
For babies who have started solids, a few extra pouches of food mixes that are low stain (keep anything with beets at home!). Open very slowly with a burp cloth wrapped around the cap in case of pressure build-up.
Diapers + Wipes
Pack for your trip + one day. Most planes have a changing table in the bathroom above the toilet, it’s a small space so just bring a changing pad, diapers, and a pack of wipes and leave the bag at your seat.
Bring 2-3 changes of clothes for baby + a change of clothes for adults. A pair of leggings and loose-fitting t-shirt back nice and small. You do not want to find yourself soaked in several ounces of returned breastmilk for the last 3 hours of a 4-hour flight. Not that I would know anything about that.
Bring 1-2 of babies’ favorite toys + a few new toys or games. Suggestions items below are broken down by age range.
Newborns 0-3 months old
Young Infants 3-6 months old
Infants 6-12 months old
Young Toddlers 12-18 months old
Toddlers 18 months and older
Other essentials for the diaper bag:
- Burb cloths
- Muslin swaddles
- Extra pacifiers + Clips
- Water bottle with easy close lid (for the parents)
- Medication and thermometer (allergy/fever reducer/EpiPen, etc)
Have an amazing trip and let us know what other questions you have in the comments below!