Travel with Baby: Tips for Surviving the Airport and Plane

st martin plane
Watching Planes Land in St. Martin
I firmly believe that airlines should serve complimentary cocktails to parents traveling with babies and toddlers. It's incredibly stressful - the lugging of gear, the confined space, and all the unexpected delays.Yet we still persevere (or at least I do). Whether it's a visit grandma, a much needed vacation, or to move cross-country, flying with babies is part of life for many of us.

I've completed several 5 hour+ plane rides recently with a baby (and sometimes with a toddler, too) and as a result I have some tips to share about traveling with a baby.



What to Pack - The Baby Gear

I spend a lot of time planning (or as my husband would say "obsessing about") what I'll pack for our vacations. I make lists and cross off each item only after it goes into the suitcase. You need to be strategic because if you're traveling with a child under two years old and not paying for a seat, you only get to bring a carry-on (no checked bag) for the baby. You'll need pack the rest of the baby's stuff in your bags.

Food & Diapers: Pack at least as much as you need to get through two days and plan to buy additional when you land. I used to only pack one day's worth until I spent hours wandering around Seattle trying to find diapers while my son toddled in his VERY wet one. If your child requires a special brand or has allergies like my little guy did, then I'd pack enough supplies for your entire trip just to be safe.

In your carry-on, include more supplies than you think you'll need - you never know how long you might be delayed during your travel. I pack 24 hours worth of supplies in my carry-on just to be safe.

Here's a list of the best baby travel snacks to bring on the plane.

Stroller, Carseat, or Combo: These are bulky items and a pain to carry with you, but crucial.

For the stroller, you want something lightweight that's easy to fold up. If you're not wearing your baby, you'll want to keep your stroller with you in the airport (don't check it with your luggage) so you can use it to wheel your baby through the airport. You can check the stroller at the gate, just as you're about to board the plane.

Here are recommendations for the best lightweight travel strollers.

If you're child has a seat on the plane, the safest way for them to travel is to be buckled into their carseat. I choose my seat assignments strategically so I'm most likely to end up with an empty seat next to me when I haven't paid for a seat for the baby. (I usually choose the window and aisle seats for my husband and me, leaving the middle empty, knowing that nobody picks the middle seat unless they have to.) Depending on where you're going, and whether you'll be riding in a car, you'll also need the carseat when you land. If you're renting a car, most rental agencies allow you to reserve a carseat, but the price can be steep (like $50 a day steep!) so it's usually worth it to lug the carseat to the airport and save some money.

If you travel a lot, it might be worth investing in a carseat/stroller combo - there are several options. I have the Sit ‘n' Stroll and while I think it might one of the ugliest contraptions I've ever seen, it's also a lifesaver. You can use it as a carseat AND a stroller. So I wheel it through the airport, fold up the wheels when I get on the plane and use it as a carseat, turn it back into a stroller when we land, and then back again to a carseat when we hop in our rental car.

Toys and Lovies: Travel can be tiring and scary for all of us. Make sure you pack something familiar for your baby that will remind them of home - it will help them feel relaxed and sleep better.

Navigating the Airport

Getting through the airport with a baby is not easy, but knowing what to expect will make it less stressful.


Security: Some airports now have "family-friendly" security lines just for people traveling with kids. Keep your eye out for the signs because not only will it save you time, but it will also keep you from feeling pressure when you hold up your fellow passengers.

EVERYTHING needs to go through security, including the baby. If you have a stroller, you need to fold it up and put it through the x-ray machine. If you have a carseat, that needs to go through too. If you're wearing the baby, you'll need to take him out and take off the carrier. I've even been asked to remove my baby's shoes. Once everything is on the conveyor belt for screening, you'll carry the baby through the metal detector.

You'll probably have a variety of liquids in your carry-on for the baby like milk, formula, juice, and baby food. Let the screeners know you have these items before you put your bag through the x-ray machine. You'll likely be pulled aside so someone can look through your bag  and test your liquids for explosives. Here's more details on what you can take through security for your baby.

Keeping busy: If your baby's mobile, you should check this list of kid play areas at airports before you leave. You want to let them get as much energy out as possible before buckling in for a long flight.

Boarding the plane: Some airlines still do the "people traveling with small children can board the plane first" announcement. Some don't even bother. Either way, I don't recommend going first, especially if your baby is a little older. I like to board near the end so we minimize the amount of time we're on the plane.

Babies on the Plane!

I'm snickering to myself thinking about the classic movie line "Enough is enough! I have had it with these motherf-ing snakes on this mother-ing plane!" When your fellow passengers see you carrying a baby onto the plane, their faces will probably distort in terror as if you've just brought a lethal snake onto the plane instead of a cute baby. Here are some tips for minimizing your reign of terror:

 Bring Gifts for your fellow passengers. Start the flight off right by offering some nice chocolates to the folks seated around you. (Or if you're cheeky, some earplugs.) You've now acknowledged that you know you're not the ideal seatmate and hopefully cut the tension.

Benadryl. I've personally never tried this, but I know a lot of moms who have. Here's some info on using Benadryl for babies on planes.

Pacifiers, Bottles or Boobs. You're going to want your baby to suck on something during takeoff and landing to minimize the pressure they feel in their ears. Be sure you have a pacifier, bottle or boob handy to pop in their mouth.

Entertainment. Bring something that's fun, but not noisy like a mirror, a ball, or a teething toy. I like to buy a new toy to give on the plane (especially for the toddler) - it holds their attention much longer than the same old toy they've seen a million times. For older babies, a DVD player for cartoons is also very handy. Here's some more baby travel toy suggestions and 10 Tips for Keeping a Toddler Busy on the Plane.

Changing Diapers. Almost all airlines have changing tables in their bathrooms. You can double-check their availability on the airline's website before you fly. The bathrooms are a tight squeeze though, so try to time things so you don't have to use the bathroom mid-flight.

Here are more Flying With Baby Tips.

After You Land

When you land, give yourself a quick pat on the back and wipe the spit-up off your shirt  -- you made it! Now pick up the items you checked at the gate, find your luggage, and get yourself a nice strong drink.

Meanwhile, here are some other great resources on baby travel:

Have Baby Will Travel has hotel reviews, trip reports, destination information, useful articles, travel tips and packing lists, all geared to those traveling with babies and small children.

Travel Mamas is a community of parents who want to learn and share  not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their families.

Flying with Kids is for families who plan to fly with a baby or pre-school age child. It's based on tips and advice contributed by flying families from all over the world.

So, what did I miss? What are your tips for traveling with baby?

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