[Guide] Everything You Need to Know if You Fly With a Baby

flying with babies
Photo credit : nik.fagundes

Are you flying with your little one these holidays? Are you prepared for flying with a little baby? Have you been waiting to travel with them just because it’s harder? Are you traveling alone with your baby?

Don’t stress out! I will try to respond to all your questions and explain in detail what you need to know: from the check-in to the baggage claim.

Flying with a baby is not that daunting; don’t be too scared, just follow my tips and check out the list of essential baby travel items and you’ll be fine.

Trust me, I’m a flight attendant 😉

What documents do you need if you travel with a baby?

baby flying with documents

If you’re flying domestically, you will be required to show a proof of age, normally an ID or birth certificate or even the family booklet are enough.

But if you’re flying internationally, your baby will need a passport and if the country you’re flying to requires a visa, your infant is also required to have a visa to enter the destination, even in the case of a newborn. The same with the vaccinations.

How old does a baby have to be to fly?

It depends on the airline. Some allow newborns to travel after 7 days following birth, but in the US most airlines require 14 days after birth.

NOTE:

It’s also important to know that if you’re traveling with the baby but you don’t share the same surname, some countries will require you to show the family booklet or birth certificate to prove your affiliation.

And if you are traveling alone with the baby or you are not a parent you will need an authorization from the parents to leave the country. This authorization signed by the parents will authorize the kid or baby to travel abroad and can be made at a police station, notary or court.

What ticket to buy for a baby?

infant boarding pass
Infant boarding pass
Photo credit: alberth2 on Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

Do you have to buy a seat on a plane for a baby? Do babies travel free on planes?

It depends on you. Under the age of 2, they are infant, it is not necessary to buy a seat for your baby. They will travel on your lap and you will normally only pay 10% of the adult fare. But check with your airline because each airline has its own pricing rules. Some of them offer free tickets for infants travelling on national flights and for international flights you pay 10% of the adult fare or a fixed price.

If you want to purchase a seat for the infant, it’s normally a full fare ticket because the baby will be occupying a normal seat. But again, check with the airline because some of them charge 75 percent of the full adult fare.

So how to decide? For me, it depends on many factors:

  • Your budget and the cost of the seat:  Only you know how much you are willing to pay for your baby’s ticket, and if it’s worth it or not for you.
  • The length of the flight: In my opinion flights that are below 2 hours are short, so sitting with a baby on your lap is tiring but still manageable.
  • The personality of your child: If your baby is the type of kid that can be sitting still on your lap or sleeping in your arms for hours, congrats! But for the ones that have very active babies, or the babies that want to get off your lap immediately, you should consider buying an extra seat.
  • The size or age of the kid: Your child’s size or age is also an important aspect to take into account if you are considering buying a seat. When they are closer to 2 years old, it’s more comfortable for the parent and for the kid to be in their own seat.

If you do buy an extra seat for your baby, you can bring your own approved car seat on board for your baby to sit on it. This is a really good idea for those who are not behaving well because kids are normally used to being buckled into the car seat, so they understand and behave better because they know it’s like this.

car seat for plane
Certified car seat for use on aircraft

But if you are already bringing the baby stroller and many other items or luggage and bags, do yourself a favour and leave your car seat at home. You are not a sherpa!

NOTE:

For long-haul flights, make sure that you call the airline after you book your ticket to reserve a bassinet. The bassinets are normally small beds for babies to sleep that are fixed to the wall in front of a parent’s front row seat. Be aware that not all the airlines offer this service and if they do they will prioritize those by age. It’s really useful, even if your baby doesn’t want to sleep inside, to put all your stuff and for diaper changes.

And for the short-haul flights, you can always ask the check-in agent if there’s any possibility of getting an empty seat next to you to be more comfortable with the baby. If the flight is not full and the agent is nice you might get an empty row for you and your family.

 

What to pack to fly with a baby?

  • First Aid kit for baby: Never travel without a first aid kit, you never know if you will have trouble to search for a pharmacy in a foreign country if you will recognize the brands of medicine that you need, the dose, and if your language skills with be enough to communicate.
    baby first aid kit
    Baby’s first aid kit

    ⁣⁣
    Always include:

    • Painkillers: liquid paracetamol and ibuprofen
    • Medicine syringe to dispense medicine
    • Antihistamine for allergies, reaction to insect bites, etc.
    • Thermometer
    • Plasters
    • Teething gel to relieve your baby’s teething pain
    • Antiseptic cream for scrapes
    • Saline nasal spray  for stuffy noses
    • Eczema cream for babies
    • Insect repellent
  • Diaper bag: It can feel like you need to pack half the house before traveling with the baby, so what do you really need to pack in your diaper bag?

    diaper bag
    Diaper bag
    • Diapers
    • Diaper rash cream
    • Wipes
    • Baby wash
    • Diaper disposal bags
    • Baby bibs
    • Extra clothes (2 infant bodysuits, 2 outfits and a jacket)
    • Pacifier or a teether
    • A thin blanket: for your baby to lay down on or to use as a cover in the plane
    • A favorite toy or anything to entertain your kid
  • Food: There are many options for bringing food for a baby depending on what your little one is eating normally. You can bring as much baby food or formula through the airport security as you think you will need.

    baby food
    You can bring unlimited baby food on board
    • Carry 2 or 3 bottles for example, depending on the length of the flight (with or without water, it’s up to you) plus 1 bottle filled with baby milk powder. And mix it later in the plane.
    • Another option is carrying bottles of breast milk or powder milk
    • Baby food or home-made veggie puree in a container or thermo
    • If your baby has started to eat solids, carry as many meals as you need for the travel duration. And you can add little snacks like fruits or veggies (apple, bananas or carrots).

Always keep in mind that the flight can be delayed, so prepare extra food as you might     not be able to buy anything suitable for the baby at the boarding gate or on the plane.

 

Baggage allowance, arriving at the airport and check-in

baggage
The whole family is ready to travel! Photo credit : misslaurenslife

What is the baggage allowance for a lap infant?

It depends on the airline. Always check the baggage allowance for you and in this case for your baby. Some of them, especially major airlines like British Airways or Air France, allow a cabin and checked-in luggage for the infants, but for most of the airlines this is not included in the infant ticket. So you will need to pay for it separately.

What you can surely check-in for free is one baby stroller or one car seat, cradle or travel cot. It’s also allowed to carry on-board a baby bag with the things you will need for the baby.

NOTE:

Make sure you arrive at the airport early, and allow time for check-in because they might be slow, or there can be a lot of people queueing already when you get there. Also take into account that it might be slow going through security. So arrive early enough and you will feel more relaxed.

flying 2 baby boys
Rockstar mama travelling with 2 baby boys – Photo credit : nik.fagundes

Once you arrive at the airport, if there’s a priority desk for families, you will not need to queue. Yey!! Tell them that you have a lap child and ask them politely if there’s any possibility of getting an empty seat next to you. You will have more room for your things and you will travel more comfortably with the child.

What do I do with the baby stroller?

The baby stroller has to be tagged at the check-in counter and put in the hold – unless you have a compact stroller that fits in the overhead compartment.

yoyo in compartment
This Yoyo stroller  does fit in the overhead compartment

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If you have to check it in, don’t worry, for your convenience you can take your infant in the stroller right up to the plane. Once there you just have to fold it and leave it at the aircraft door to be placed in the hold.

At your destination, they will give it back to you at the aircraft door or it can come out with the rest of the checked-in luggage on the baggage carousel. Don’t forget to ask before leaving the plane.

NOTE:

If it’s coming out at the baggage claim, it’s very useful to use the baby carrier, if you have one, to have your hands free because you may need to walk a long distance or to take a shuttle.

baby carrier
Comfy in the baby carrier

Before leaving the check-in counter, just double-check that the information on the boarding card is correct: your names and the seats you’ve picked. Later on on the plane, it’s more difficult for us to change your seats if the flight is full. People are not always collaborative when you ask them to change their seats.

How to go through airport security with a baby?

security checks
Munich security airport checkpoint
Source : Politikaner [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Many airports have separate lines for families traveling with kids, but if not, don’t stress yourself out if the other passengers are not happy to wait, you will not see these people again.

Once it’s your turn, first focus on yourself and your own things. Take off your jacket, put your luggage through the x-ray machine, take off your shoes, belt, watch and put your electronics, coins and toiletries out if needed.

Then fold down the stroller and fit it in the x-ray machine – you may have to remove the handle or some other parts to make it fit.

If you are using a baby carrier, you can walk through the security checkpoint with your baby; you shouldn’t need to take the baby out first. But some airports are more strict than others and they could ask you to take the baby out.

Now, the baby bag. You will need to remove all the baby food from your carry-on bag to be screened separately. Then place it separately in the tray inside a plastic zip bag. Remember that there’s no limit but you are allowed to bring reasonable quantities. Bring bottles no bigger than 100ml with juice, milk, water or fruit jars.  The officers may need to run a test to liquids for any explosive materials.

At the boarding gate

You survived packing, arriving at the airport, check-in and going through security. You are almost there – it was not too difficult, was it?

Now, you just need to find the boarding gate.

If you went to check-in you probably already have a tag in the stroller – but in case you don’t have it, you can ask the gate agent for it. Once you board, you will have to fold the stroller and leave it at the bottom of the plane if you arrive by bus, or at the end of the jet bridge.

strollers for the hold
Those 2 strollers are too big and will go to the hold

The ground staff will be around there and safely load it in the cargo compartment of the plane.

stroller to hold

Do families with young children have priority to board?

Depending on the airline, they will start boarding First class or Business class first and then families with small children.

You can take this opportunity to board as one of the first ones and put away all your stuff and carry on and organize everything.

Or if you’re travelling with your partner you can send them with the carry-ons and you can wait until the end to board with the baby. This way your baby will not get bored and can run around a little more.

first to board
First to board! Photo credit : 100daysexploring

During the flight with a baby

If you are traveling with a lap child, the flight attendant will bring you a special life vest for the baby and an infant seatbelt to attach it to yours.

baby plane window
I’ll have a burrito, please! Nice views by the way!

Some airlines’ regulations say that babies cannot be worn in a baby carrier during take-off and landing. So they can ask you to take the baby out just during those phases – but during the rest of the flight it’s OK.

The life vest that they give you is especially made for babies, but it’s just for emergency use. Please don’t open it.

baby lifevest
Baby lifevest – Source

After this the flight attendant will make sure that there’s a mask for everybody in the row you are seated in and give a little briefing, explaining that you should put your own mask first and then the child’s.

Keep you baby bag under the seat in front of you or wherever it’s handy because you may need many things during the flight.

This time is a good moment to breastfeed your baby if you are comfortable with it. If not, you can give your little one a pacifier or feed them with a formula bottle. This will keep the baby sucking during take-off and landing, which will help their ears equilibrate with the pressure and return to normal.

feeding baby airplane
Photo credit: Lars Plougmann

If your baby has a cold or an ear infection, discuss with your pediatrician if it’s better to postpone the trip. Experiencing a stuffy nose or a cold with pressure changes can cause muffled hearing, discomfort and pain, and it’s even worse for kids.

On long-haul flights, the flight attendants will normally serve meals to the passengers during the flight. On some airlines, they also have baby meals available for infants below 2 years old. These baby meals need to be pre-booked and are normally puree-based.

Make sure you call the airline at least 24 hours in advance to book your baby’s food and ask again at the check-in counter just to crosscheck. In any case, don’t rely too much on this meal, because you never know if your baby will like it or when they will serve it. So bring your own snacks or other baby food just in case.

Is it possible to heat baby food and milk on board a flight?

Yes, but because there’s no microwave on board, it may take a while.  Planes are only provided with ovens. Even though everyone might think that it’s like a restaurant with fully-equipped kitchens and microwaves, it’s not the case. And as you all know, you cannot heat any plastic in the oven for security reasons.

So what we do is we put the baby bottle inside a jar or kettle, if it fits, if not we use a sick bag, and we fill it with boiled water. It takes about 10-15 minutes to warm it. Yes, it is a very old-fashioned method. So, now that you know, don’t be too impatient and don’t wait until the baby is too hungry.

Where can I change my baby on a plane?

changing baby on plane
Nappy change in the sky

You will find a changing table in the bathroom. If you can’t find it, ask the flight attendant. Because depending on the airplane there can be only one toilet with a changing table. There’s always a trash bin inside the toilet, so throw dirty diapers there. Again, if you can’t find it, ask us. Don’t leave a dirty diaper in your seat pocket, they are not trash cans!

And please, do not change your baby’s diaper on your tray table! First of all, because it may not be clean. They don’t disinfect tray tables, and it’s probably full of germs. Secondly because if it’s really messy, it can offend the ones sitting next to you and it can be considered bad manners also by the flight attendants. If you have a changing facility, why not use it?

How can I keep my child entertained on the plane?

When they are just a few months old, it’s easier. They will probably eat and sleep most of the time.

When they become toddlers, it gets a bit more challenging. They start to move, to play with everything around and they are much more active.

You can use the toys you packed: Pick 1 or 2 small toys

  • A story book
  • Teething toys
  • Little texture toys
  • Puppets
  • Videos on your iPad (their favorite Peppa Pig or Muppet videos)

baby toys

If you forgot your toys, don’t panic. Babies don’t need much to be entertained. I’m sure you can distract yours with a plastic cup, the passengers seated next to you or the in-flight magazine.

You can also walk up and down with the baby if it’s a long flight and the flight attendants are not serving in the aisle. But if you want to enter the galley area, ask first as this is normally a place where passengers are not allowed.

After landing

Before leaving the plane make sure you have all your belongings with you. Check the seat pocket, and in the overhead compartment. We see how everyday people forget their laptop, luggage or even passport,  amongst other things!

Ask the flight attendants or the ground staff if they will give you your stroller back at the plane’s door or whether you will have to collect it at the carousel. If that is the case, always check the special luggage area because sometimes they put it there.

You never know how long the walk to the baggage claim is going to be, so make sure you wear your baby carrier. It’s very useful to have your hands free, especially if you also have carry-on luggage.

If you have rented a car, and you’re travelling with someone, maybe you can send them first. It will make it faster.

My personal tips to travel with your baby

  • If you are a person that travels a lot and you want to start to do it with your baby, you should consider investing in a compact baby stroller that will fit in an airplane overhead compartment. This is super light and useful because you will not need to give it when you board or wait for it once you land. See by yourself :

    No more worries about where to pick it up, will it be broken or dirty, or will they lose one of the parts!

  • Dress your baby in comfortable clothes, and to cope with warm or cold weather it’s always best to layer baby’s clothing, so you can remove a layer if your baby feels too warm. Don’t forget it can get cold on a plane, so do always bring a jacket and socks just in case.
  • When the seatbelt sign is on, make sure your baby has their seatbelt on. I know that you don’t want to wake them up if they are peacefully sleeping, but it’s better than getting them injured. It’s difficult to realize the danger of not fastening your seatbelt, but I’m sure that you are totally aware how important the use of the seatbelt is in the car, so why not in the plane?
  • If you are carrying your infant on your lap and have an aisle seat, mind the head or the feet, you don’t want anyone passing by banging your little one.
  • For your own comfort and safety, please don’t overpack. It’s really way more stressful for you and you will have to deal with everything through the check-in, security and boarding. Really,  every day, I see poor mums carrying one suitcase, one handbag, the baby bag, one backpack, and the baby. Do you really need all that on the plane? Just make sure you put all the essentials for the kid and the rest you can check-in.
  • Always make sure to keep the copy of the luggage tags for you to be able to claim, in case they lose it or damage the luggage. This label has a barcode and a number to identify the luggage. So make sure you keep it until you get your luggage at destination.
    ⁣⁣

    luggage tag
    Don’t lose it!

    And, of course, remember to remove the old ones before checking in – you don’t want the staff to send it to the wrong airport!

In conclusion, I’m just giving you a few tips from what I see every day that can be helpful to you. I hope that you feel more prepared now for your trip and that I’ve helped solve all your doubts. If not, please feel free to ask me in the comment section.

Have a smooth flight with your family!

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