For new parents, traveling with a baby on a plane can be stressful. You may be worried about all of the items you have to remember to pack for the baby or how to protect your baby's ears with the high altitude. There's so much to plan for!
I remember my first baby's first flight. We were headed on a family trip to a resort in the Dominican Republic for a few days during Christmas. I packed a VERY LARGE suitcase filled with formula, diapers, and wipes, and her clothes. I panicked and researched every little detail about our airline and TSA regulations to make sure nothing would go wrong at the airport.
One of the suitcases on my first trip with my baby!
Thankfully everything went smoothly and since then, I've traveled with my babies many more times, including an 8-hour trip to Italy! After all of that travel, I learned a few tips that every mom flying with a baby for the first time should know before their trip.
For more helpful travel guidance, check out these great posts:
At what age is it safe for a baby to fly?
One question you might have on your mind: At what age is it safe for a baby to fly? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) doesn't give an exact age but generally discourages flying with babies shortly after birth because a newborn's immune system is very weak. Therefore, they have an increased risk of catching an infectious disease. For premature babies and babies with heart or respiratory problems, the AAP recommends first seeking clearance with a pediatrician before traveling.
Airlines, such as JetBlue, allow babies on board as young as 2 or 3 days old. However, for an infant less than a week old, some airlines require you to get a medical form filled out by your baby's doctor.
Best Tips for Traveling with Baby on a Plane
Here are the top tips you need to know for a successful flight with your baby:
1. Make a detailed packing list
Flying with a baby requires packing much more than you're used to for yourself. Because there are so many items you'll have to remember to bring with you for the flight, do yourself a favor and take the time to write it all down in a checklist. Have someone else review it too, like your spouse, to ensure you haven't missed anything. Check off each item only once you've packed it in your bag.
Some of the items you'll want to bring:
Diaper bag or other carry-on bag with necessary items such as a changing pad, diapers, diaper cream, and baby wipes.
Baby bottles, formula or breast milk, and snacks or baby food pouches.
A change of clothes for your baby (and yourself in case your baby gets you dirty too!)
Car seat and compact travel stroller. Most airlines don't charge a fee to check a car seat or stroller and it will not count towards your checked baggage allowance.
Toys, books, or other entertainment.
Any prescribed medications and Tylenol or Motrin.
A baby carrier.
When traveling with formula and breast milk, make sure you are aware of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening rules. While formula and breast milk are allowed through screening in reasonable quantities, they will have to be screened separately.
If you're traveling with frozen breast milk, this helpful guide can walk you through everything you need to know to ensure your breast milk stays frozen until you reach your destination.
2. Get the green light from your baby's doctor
It's a good idea to check in with your baby's pediatrician to let them know of your travel plans. Especially for international travel, the doctor may want to speed up some necessary vaccinations for your baby prior to the trip. Your doctor may also be aware of certain outbreaks in countries that you're flying to and help you take the proper precautions to keep your baby from getting sick.
3. For international flights, apply for a passport WAY in advance
TSA rules don't require identification for your baby (or any child under 18) for domestic flights within the United States. It is a good idea to bring the baby's birth certificate though, just in case you're asked to show proof of age.
If you're flying internationally, your baby will need a passport. Make sure you give yourself enough time in advance of your trip to apply for a passport. Generally, you'll need:
a completed application,
baby's original birth certificate and a photocopy,
both parents' original birth certificate,
both parents' original passport or driver's license and photocopies,
and a passport photo of your child.
Then, both parents must go in person to a passport acceptance facility to submit a completed application and pay required fees. If both parents can't appear, then you'll need to provide additional documentation.
In my experience, processing times vary, and it can take a few weeks to a few months for your passport to arrive. I've had to pay expedited fees to get my baby's passport on time, so I definitely advise you to apply for a passport as early as you can!
4. Book your baby their own seat
Although it's true that airlines allow you to sit your baby on your lap for little to no cost (it's why a baby under 2 is a "lap infant"), the risk is not worth saving money on an extra seat. Think of the worst turbulence you've ever experienced on a plane. Now imagine adding a baby on your lap during that flight. Sadly, there have even been reports of children deaths and injuries that could have been prevented had they been restrained.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), your child is safest in a government-approved child safety restraint system. Most car seats will be acceptable for your flight, however, make sure the car seat has a label indicating approval for use on a plane. You'll also want to find out the seat dimensions on the flight to make sure your car seat will fit. As an alternative, there are also FAA-approved child harnesses you can use for children weighing between 22 and 44 pounds.
Note that you'll have to purchase an extra seat for your child, usually at full price. Some airlines, like American Airlines, will give you priority boarding if you are traveling with a child under 2, so you'll have time to ensure you can properly set up your child safety seat.
Since the rules can vary per airline, make sure you read up on them before you book seats for you and your baby. For example, some airlines don't allow child safety seats in exit rows or first or business class, so you'll want to make sure you don't book those seats if that's the case.
5. Book flights close to baby's naptime or bedtime
Especially for older kids who are starting to move around more, you'll want to schedule your departure time just before your baby's usual nap time or bedtime. Otherwise, you'll end up with a baby with more energy than you know what to do with for the entire length of the flight.
If your baby is still napping more than once a day, the best option is the longest nap. For example, my baby typically naps between 2 to 3 hours starting at 9:00 a.m., so the best time to book my flight is around 8:30 a.m. Around takeoff, I'd prepare a bottle and feed my baby (see tip #5) to help him fall asleep. Usually works like a charm!
For long flights, you should schedule a night flight close to your baby's bedtime if possible so your baby will sleep until the final destination.
6. Give your baby milk or formula for takeoff and landing
The best way to prevent your baby's ears from popping on the plane is to encourage your baby to suck on something in order to counter the differences in air pressure. What's always worked for me is to bring my baby on the plane hungry and awake, and breastfeed or bottle feed during takeoff and landing. You can also give your baby a pacifier as that has the same effect.
Whatever you do, try to keep your baby awake until the cabin pressure normalizes so that your baby doesn't wake up in pain with airplane ear.
7. Print out and bring with you the relevant TSA, FAA, and airline rules
It's unfortunate but there are flight attendants and TSA agents that are not trained properly and may give you a hard time for things that are permitted. For example, there have been reports of women being denied to fly with their breast milk, even though the airline policy expressly allowed it.
Therefore, it's a good idea to be prepared for the worst-case scenario and print out the relevant regulations and rules from the TSA, FAA, and your airline to ensure you can quickly correct any misunderstanding. This includes:
Child safety seat and rules
TSA's screening rules and 3.4 ounce rule exemption on formula and breast milk
Airline rules on checking strollers and car seats
Going on a trip with your baby can be overwhelming, but your baby's first trip will go much smoother if you do a little planning and researching ahead. Even though your child may be young, you're opening their eyes to travel and new experiences, and that alone will be worth the effort! Soon your baby will be going on cruises and road trips in no time! Good luck and enjoy your trip!
About the author
Yesenia Capalbo is the owner/editor of the Hard Knock Mama blog. She’s also a former lawyer turned full-time work-from-home mom with two young kids. Hard Knock Mama’s mission is to help working moms navigate the “hard knock life” of early parenthood. On her blog, you will find practical resources for new moms on breastfeeding, baby sleep, product reviews, and support for overwhelmed working moms.