Flying with a child can be daunting! Since my father had his second stroke, we’ve been flying from Tennessee to Colorado every 2-3 months. If you’re new to this, like I was, you’re probably anxious for tips, product recommendations, and what to expect from airline policies. In this post, I’m sharing all that and more starting from packing to deboarding the plane. I’m here for you, girl!
Before we jump in, my biggest piece of advice is to GIVE YOURSELF GRACE! It is what it is when it comes to travelling with a child. There are SO many topics that could be addressed too, but I hope the content I’m sharing in this post increases your chances of having a happy flight and trip or sparks new ideas! 🙂
When to Fly
Do yourself a favor and set yourself up for success when choosing the timing of your flight(s). In my experience, I highly recommend booking a direct flight if you can. We’ve flown during nap time, bedtime, and awake time. Beckett behaved differently each time, sometimes he slept during his normal sleeping hours, other times he only napped for a total of 12 minutes the ENTIRE day at 9-months-old (yikes!). I learned that it’ll be what it’ll be, but now we prefer to try to fly during awake time and let him play instead of fighting him to go to sleep when he clearly has a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out) on planes. You know your child best, so go with your gut.
Where to Sit
We’ve always sat in the very back of the plane. I’m not sure that really helped our case at all, because Beckett has a set of lungs, but it did give me some peace of mind knowing that maybe, just maybe, we weren’t disturbing the entire plane, ha! It did give us easier access to the back of the plane, which had the bathrooms and room to stand and sway with Beckett in the back of the plane.
Purchasing a Seat for Your Child
If your child’s mobile AT ALL, you may want to consider buying your child their own seat. I know it’s an extra cost, but for us, it’s SO worth it. As expected, Beckett didn’t sit still and got frustrated that he couldn’t go anywhere. He tried climbing on the passengers next to us, accidentally threw his toys their direction, and we had a very hard time not invading their personal space when trying to get things out of our bags or situating Beckett. There are articles out there that talk about it being the safer seating option anyways!
I’ll admit it right now that I’m not a minimalist packer, and I do nothing fancy, like packing cubes, but I do have several tips that helped our sanity. My biggest recommendation’s to buy what you can online and having it shipped to your destination (things like diapers, wipes, and baby food). This’ll save you LOTS of space, luggage weight, and time from having to shop when you arrive to your destination (who wants to do errands on a trip?!). Then, pack what you need for the plane ride and one extra day in your carry-on, just in case your luggage gets displaced, or your order doesn’t arrive when expected. This’ll give you time to get to the store!
Choose a backpack-style diaper bag and baby wear!
To be as hands-free as possible, use a backpack-style diaper bag and “wear” that child if they’re little! You’ll also be able to access things easier than using other types of bags. (Note: Diaper bags are usually free and NOT considered to be your carry-on item.) I LOVED having my Ergo 360 for babywearing because it’s super comfortable and works for newborns through toddler-ages and is machine-washable (that’s a big deal for a mom!). Eventually, Beckett became too heavy for me to wear him on such long treks. So, in the stroller he went!
Dressing for Air Travel
Speaking of carry-on items, think ahead when deciding what you’re going to wear and what you’ll pack in your diaper bag and carry-on. I recommend dressing in layers. This’ll make it easier to adjust to temperature changes on the plane. Once we taxied on the tarmac for so long that the plane felt like it was blazing, then we took off and it soon felt like we were in the artic!
Our carry-on/diaper bag must haves:
- A change of clothes for your child AND you.
- Prescription meds or over-the-counter medicine that you want to take, just in case your luggage gets displaced.
- Extra diapers, wipes, and diaper rash cream
- Bottles, sippy cups, formula, breast milk, food pouches, snacks, bibs, utensils, etc.
- Snacks for YOU
- Handheld fan
- Toys & activities
- Nursing cover, if needed
- Trash bags for snack trash, wipes, soiled clothes, etc.
- Downloaded movies/TV shows on our phones and kid-sized headphones
- Baby carrier/wrap/sling
- Wallet (obviously, ha! Just being thorough here)
Protecting Little Ears
Pressure changes can be rough on your child, so to protect their ears consider bringing a bottle, sippy cup, pacifier, pouches, or any other snack for your child to suck or chew on.
Flying with Breast milk & Formula
Remember that breast milk/formula is exempt from the 3.4 oz liquid rule! Once I pre-made all my bottles and brought a can of powdered formula just in case. I’ve also heard of people only packing powdered formula and using hot water that the attendants use to make tea and coffee on the plane. I didn’t do this method simply because I’m a control freak and didn’t want to wind up in a position of not having hot water for some reason. There’s more info in the FSA’s website I share in the following sections. If you decide to only pack powdered formula, a container like this may help you ration it out and dispense it!
Protecting Your Gear
If you plan on checking in a car seat and stroller, you’ll want to consider purchasing bags to protect them. They’re handled in quite a rough manner and are going to come into contact with plenty of germs. Our bags are red, so they’re easily identifiable too! This is the one we use for the car seat and strollers. We simply used a special, oversized-carabiner to clip it to the outside of our carry-ons so that it didn’t take up valuable packing space. They stuff back into their attached spandex bag quickly. They’re not recommended for baggage check, but for checking at the gate. We used it both ways and had no issue.
Utilize a Stroller Travel System!
If your child’s still in an infant car seat that you’re bringing with you, utilize a stroller travel system! This’ll save you from carrying your car seat, and using your stroller will keep you hands-free! We also used the basket in our stroller and the handles to stuff random items or hang lightweight bags off a carabiner clip. If you’re going to be bringing these items anyway, might as well make them useful! Once Beckett outgrew his infant car seat, we utilized our mid-size umbrella stroller instead of a lighter weight one so we could have more storage.
Consider buying on Facebook Marketplace
If you’re travelling to a destination that you’ll frequent, it may be helpful to check the local Facebook Marketplace to see if there are items like highchairs, umbrella strollers, pack ‘n plays, or other larger gear that can be bought at a low price. This’ll save you money (and a headache) in the long run!
Some more of our favorite travel gear:
- Portable white noise machine
- Umbrella stroller
- Dohm Classic for the best white noise sound out there! We have one in each room of our home!
- Disposable Placemats
- Summer Infant Pop & Sit Portable Booster
- Chicco Playard/Pack ‘n Play
- Kidco Peapod Travel Bed for the immobile children
- Liquid dish soap in a small travel bottle, along with portable cleaning brushes/sponges and drying rack
- Video monitor
Arriving at the airport & checking in
Arrive mega early.
I was punctual until I become a mother, ha! You feel me?! I have a feeling that I’m not the only one! So, arrive early, like well before the 2-hour recommendation. Security will take some extra time, and as you well know, babies are so unpredictable.
Use Curbside check-in!
This’ll save you from having to lug your luggage around the airport along with your child and all their gear. Don’t forget to budget for a tip for this service!
Check-in or gate check your baby gear!
We’ve gate checked our car seat and stroller AND checked it in at the check-in counter. Either works, but for your sanity and ease of navigating the airport, I’d recommend ditching what you don’t need at the check-in counter. I suppose a risk is that it could get displaced like luggage sometimes does. So, you may want to only consider gate checking baby gear. There’s no additional charge. You can request gate check tags from an attendant at the counter. Leave the items at the bottom of the jetway, and gate checked items will typically be waiting in the same spot at your destination when you deboard the plane, but I’d check with the airline before your flight about their gate check policy.
Limit distractions for a sleepy baby.
If you’re babywearing or going to keep your child in a stroller travel system throughout your travels, you may want to consider purchasing a nursing cover to keep your child from being distracted from changing lighting, seeing new things, and such. I loved this cover because it didn’t require any tying or adjusting and comfortably draped over my shoulders; was narrower around my neck, so it stayed on well; and could function as a fashionable scarf!
Bookmark this FSA website resource!
This was easily the most daunting part for me as a rule-follower. I was so anxious to be singled out and for someone to possibly think I was a dangerous person, ha! I did so much research on what was allowed. This FSA webpage was helpful. It answered all my questions about formula, breast milk, juice, screening children’s items, screening technology, and how my child would be screened. I also made a couple phone calls to my airline.
Keep giving yourself that thing called grace!
Other than being on the plane, this is one of the other big areas to give yourself a lot of grace. Though most security personnel and other passengers were understanding and patient, some weren’t. Some even laughed at our ignorance of the process (rude!). Though I did my due diligence to pack well and “right,” I still “messed up.” In the end, it worked out. Just be prepared for security to take more time than usual so that you don’t miss your flight!
Boarding & riding out the plane ride
Preboarding’s not all that it’s cracked up to be.
Most airlines offer parents with small children to board first. We utilized this once and will never do it again! If Beckett were immobile, it would’ve been helpful, but with a mobile child, it’s just asking to have to be a jungle gym for 30+ more minutes than we had to be! So, now we board last and let Beckett run around as long as we can.
Haters gonna hate
Board with a dry diaper, identify which lavatory on the plane has a changing table, and then prepare to let haters hate. You may prepare SO well and pack every “helpful” thing, but your child is gonna do what your child wants to do. We’ve had really great flights where Beckett played on a Kindle and really awful flights full of tantrums and standing in the back of the plane just praying to land sooner than later (and to not know anyone on the plane, ha!). It’s one of those things that just is what it is. So, mommy, give yourself grace, muscle through what you have to, and know the plane WILL eventually land. 🙂
En route activities
With that said, there were a few things that seemed to give us a better CHANCE of a happy flight. We rotated snacks, reading, meals, and toys over and over. We packed simple non-noise-making toys, and after Beckett playfully threw them at plenty of passengers, I purchased silicone straps to keep the toys, sippy cups, pacifier, and such attached to an armrest or stroller bar. These helped us avoid SO many germs…and kept other passengers safe from flying objects, ha! I purchased some new toys/activities and gave them to Beckett once we were on the plane. One of his favorites was the water coloring activity book by Melissa & Doug. Don’t be fooled though, he also LOVED playing with his wipes and diapers, ‘cause it’s the simple, CHEAP things, I guess. 🙂
If you’re on a very long flight, some planes have bassinets that you can reserve and use! I have no more personal knowledge on this subject, so hopefully just mentioning it gets you a’Googlin’.
If you gate checked any gear, your items will be brought out to the bottom of the jetway for you to pick up. Give yourself a moment to decompress and freshen up, ‘cause YOU MADE IT!!! You’re probably a pro now at flying with a child! Grab yourself a sweet treat and give yourself a hug! 🙂
There are so many different scenarios that could be talked about like navigating baggage claim, transportation, or preparing for your next destination. So, I’m just going to recommend that you just think ahead, and if you have another adult traveling with you, work it like the team that you are! Perhaps if one person’s changing the baby, maybe the other is waiting at baggage claim. One person watches the child while the other uses the bathroom IN PRIVACY (what is that?!). Just some thoughts 🙂
You Did it!
I hope that this was helpful and maybe even sparked some ideas that I didn’t talk about here. I’d love to hear your feedback about what was helpful or what you’ve learned through your own experience of flying with a child! Don’t be a stranger!