Air travel tips for new parents

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Travelling with babies and toddlers can be a test of patience from takeoff to landing, but travelling as a family can also be extremely rewarding. Despite the chance for tantrums and mayhem, with proper planning, flying with infants and toddlers can be a breeze. Before you start searching for your family’s next flight, here’s how to fly the friendly skies and maintain your sanity with kids in tow.

Tips for travelling with infants and toddlers

Pre-trip preparation

Tips for travel day

Pre-trip preparation

Pick the best time to travel with infants

When is the best time to travel with infants
Baby on board. (Image: Rodolfo Nunez, Cenas de Aeroporto 01/Air port cenes 01 via Flickr CC by 2.0).

Keeping your child on a routine that’s similar to their regular daily schedule lessens the odds of crankiness and fussiness. Avoiding early morning or late night flights may work for some parents, while others may find that is the best time to fly. Avoiding peak travel times will potentially give you more space on board and fewer people to avoid should your child have a meltdown. Non-peak times include late mornings and Saturdays.

Depending on the length of the flight and where you are headed, it might be advantageous to schedule nap time during your flight time. As Christine Stevens, a Certified Sleep Consultant at Sleepy Tots Consulting, suggests, “do whatever you can to get your child to sleep. Sleep rules go out the window and it’s more like a ‘do what you have to do’ scenario.”

Choose the best airplane seat for infants and children

Most airlines will generally allow children under 2 years old to sit on the lap of a parent or accompanying adult; however, many parents agree that if you can afford it, buying a seat for your infant makes travelling much, much easier.

If you decide to buy a seat for your infant, you must bring an approved child restraint system like a hard-backed child safety seat. While some child restraint systems can be used in both cars and in airplanes, some cannot. Always check with the airline to ensure you have the proper child restraint system. Airlines do not provide child safety restraint systems and travelling without one means your infant will have to ride on your lap even if you purchased a seat for him or her. Booster seats and harness vests are not approved child restraint devices for airplanes, and some airlines do not even allow them to be used during the cruising portion of a flight.

Follow these tips when buying a child restraint system:

  • Make sure your child restraint device is approved for use on airplanes.
  • Buy a child restraint device that is no wider than 16 inches, so it can fit a variety of aircraft seats.

Once a child turns two years old, he or she must have his or her own seat on the airplane. If the child has their second birthday between the outbound and return flight, a seat will need to be purchased for the return flight.

Passengers travelling with infants or children have a few limitations with where they can sit, some of which are based on the airline, the aircraft type and the number of children travelling.

  • Lap infants are not guaranteed seats, so be prepared to have the infant in your lap for the entire flight.
  • Passengers travelling with lap infants and children in child restraint systems are not permitted to sit in the exit row or in the rows directly in front of or behind an exit row.
  • Some airlines do not permit two adults with two lap children to sit on the same side of a row while other airlines do not allow more than one lap infant per row because of the placement of oxygen masks.
  • Reserve adjoining seats. A child restraint system must not block the escape path in an emergency. Many airlines have policies that require a child restraint system to be placed in a window seat. It cannot be placed in the aisle seat.
  • A child restraint system must be installed in a forward-facing aircraft seat, in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions. Always use a child restraint system when driving to and from the airport.
  • If you do not buy a ticket for your child, ask if your airline will allow you to use an empty seat. If your airline’s policy allows this, avoid the busiest days and times to increase the likelihood of finding an empty seat next to you.
  • If you’re travelling on an international flight, request a bassinet from the airline when booking.

Plan ahead for a bassinet 

William Whyte, Let me tell you about Tokyo via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Flying internationally typically means a longer travel time, and having an infant on your lap for all that time can be quite taxing. To give travelers a little extra space and comfort, many airlines have baby bassinets on board. The bassinet is collapsible and hung from the wall of the aircraft in front of your seat. In economy, they are typically located in the bulkhead seats.

Each airline and aircraft may have different weight or age requirements for using a bassinet. Check with your airline when booking to make sure your child meets the requirements.

These bassinets are a commodity and, if they are available at all, there may be as few as one on board. Because they are in such high demand, book early and be sure to request it at the same time as booking.

If your child is a bit to old for a bassinet, there are a number of products you can buy that will make the flight more comfortable for small children. Cool gadgets can turn your child’s economy class seat into a cozy sleep area. Before your next long-haul flight check out Jetkids Bedbox, Fly LegsUp, 1stClassKid and FlyTot.

Remember to secure all necessary travel documents

Each airline determines its own identification requirements for minors, so it’s best to confirm with the airline before travelling, especially airlines that allow infants to travel with individuals who are under 18 years old. For international travel, all minors are required to have the same travel documents as adults, including passports and visas. For international travel, some airlines and some countries require notarized letters of consent if only one parent is travelling with the minor. Be aware that airlines reserve the right to require proof of age for any child, particularly lap infants. Be prepared by bringing your child’s birth certificate or passport. Passengers without government-issued identification may be required to undergo additional screening. To determine if you need a visa, check with the embassy or consulate for the country you intend to visit.

Determine what vaccinations your child needs

If travelling internationally, check with your child’s doctor to determine what, if any, vaccinations are needed for your journey. Be sure to pack prescription medications in your carry-on.

Consider travel insurance

Children get sick, so it might be wise to purchase refundable tickets or tickets that allow the flexibility to make changes to an itinerary without incurring fees. Travel insurance may cover not only airfare, but may also help with accommodations and even medical assistance once the trip has started.

Packing tips for travelling with infants and toddlers

Get up and go with your kids. (Image: Heather Poole, Kid on a bag via Flickr CC by 2.0)

Lap infants don’t typically get a carry-on or checked baggage allowance, so you’ll have to combine your baby’s stuff with your own. Airlines typically let passengers flying with infants and children check strollers and car seats for no additional cost (a few airlines may even let you bring these items on board as carry-ons too). Infants and children with their own seats typically get the same baggage allowance as adults.

No matter what the baggage situation is, be sure to pack as light as possible. It may also pay to shell out a little extra to check bags rather than wrestle with keeping track of both carry-ons and kids at the same time. If you’re travelling solo, packing light and checking bags to free up your hands is ideal.

What to pack in your carry-on:

Create a checklist before you go to ensure you don’t forget the essentials and your kiddos favorites, advises Jessica Moran, who has moved eight times with her two children, Maggie, 8, and Martin, 7, and travels frequently with them as well. Items to include on that list:

  • A backpack that is easy to transport with various compartments that keep items easily accessible and organized.
  • Favorite blankets and small pillows or child travel pillows for long treks.
  • Hand sanitizer, wipes and tissues.
  • Formula, breast milk, juice and water. It’s important everyone stay hydrated. Bring a sippy cup for younger children to avoid spills.
  • Manual or battery-powered breast pumps because not all airlines are equipped with power outlets.
  • A cooler to keep breast milk cool because on-board refrigeration may not always be available on all aircraft types.
  • Snacks for you and your children. Avoid foods that are sticky, messy or crumbly. Pack a mixture of savory (cheese cubes, bagels) and sweet (fruit). “Bring more snacks that you think you’ll need for both you and your kids,” said Marcie Cheung, who blogs about parenting and travel on Marcie in Mommyland. “For babies and toddlers, snacks can be an activity in themselves. Ask the flight attendant for an empty cup and put a few puffs or yogurt melts inside.”
  • Medicines for headaches, fevers, stomach aches, colds, sore throats, diarrhea, nausea, allergies and motion sickness. Travel sizes are easy to keep in your carry-on.
  • Change of clothes for baby and for mom, advises Kim Milnes, owner of Family Travel Boutique.
  • Diapers, wipes and a changing pad.
  • For babies who use pacifiers, make sure to use a pacifier clip to save it from landing on the floor, said Cheung.
  • Fully charged electronics downloaded with your children’s favorite apps and audio books (and maybe a few new ones) and headphones.“Give in to electronics. Make sure that everything is charged before you go. Bring cables and chargers, even an extra battery,” said Milnes. “If the kids are old enough, have a backpack for each kid with things to do: iPad, toys, coloring books, etc. Have several options. I also go to the dollar store and get a few “surprise” gifts for meltdowns.”
  • Triangle crayons. They won’t roll off airplane trays, said Cheung.

What to check:

  • Consider a small stroller like an “umbrella” stroller instead of a big, cumbersome one. Most airlines will check smaller strollers at the ticket counter or at the gate for free, but big strollers may count toward your checked baggage allowance and you can’t gate check them.
  • Your suitcases. The more you check, the less you have to carry, which frees up your hands for tending to your baby or holding your baby and hanging on to your other child or children.

Advice for parents travelling solo

  • Give yourself plenty of time.
  • “If you have a little one under two-years-old, buy a seat for them. Don’t have them be on your lap the whole time. Give each of you some space. I know not everyone can afford that, but if so you will be so much happier,” advises Milnes, whose boys started flying when they were babies.
  • If you have an early flight, take the kids in their pajamas to the airport and bring clothes to change there.
  • Keep your hands free by investing in a baby carrier, advises Cheung, who has a three-and-a-half year-old and an eight-month-old. “The baby carrier will be your best friend. Wearing your baby will enable you to roll your luggage while wearing a backpack carry-on,” said Cheung. “If you have a lap baby, invest in a good car seat travel bag and check it so you won’t need to lug it through the airport.

Advice for parents of children with special needs

Families who have special needs should contact the airline.

  • Airlines must allow a child under 18 years old to use an approved child restraint device that is designed for larger children who are physically challenged.
  • For children who have peanut and other allergies: Many airlines do not serve peanuts; however, airlines can’t create a completely nut-free environment. Airlines are unable to control what other passengers bring on the flight.
  • For families with children who have autism, there are programs to help families prepare for their big trip. Wings for Autism provides airport rehearsals to alleviate some of the stress that families may experience. The program includes practicing entering the airport, obtaining boarding passes, going through security and boarding a plane.
  • When going through screening at the airport, notify the security agent if your child has a disability, medical condition, or medical device.

Tips for travel day

Getting to the airport

  • Leave plenty of time to get to the airport. If you’re stressed, your children will get stressed too.
  • Ensure kids are wearing slip-on footwear and no jewelry, so you can breeze through security. Parents should wear comfortable clothing and slip-on shoes (or easy shoes to get on and off). You will sweat! Wear a zip-up with a t-shirt under,” advises Moran.
  • Carry babies in a sling or baby carrier strapped to you to move quickly and easily. If travelling solo with two kids, a baby carrier is key so that your hands can be free for your baby and your other child.
  • Prep your children ahead of time by setting expectations for what will happen at the airport and how to behave.“Practice. It prevents panic,” advises Cathy Decker, mother of three. “Share with kids what to expect before they get to a busy, noisy and crowded airport and what your expectations are.”
  • Have a plan if you get separated.“If a child gets separated from the family, have a plan,” said Decker. “When my children were small, I always dressed them brightly and the same – usually a single color tee and cap. I could count one, two, three easily.”

How to navigate airport security with infants and toddlers

Formula, breast milk and juice for infants or toddlers are permitted in reasonable quantities through the security checkpoint. These liquids are not subject to the 3-1-1 liquid rule and can be greater than 100 milliliters. They do not need to fit within a liter-sized bag. Remove these items from your carry-on bag so they can be screened separately from the rest of your belongings. These liquids are typically X-rayed and you may be asked to open the container and transfer some of the liquid into a separate container. Inform the security officer if you do not want the formula, breast milk and/or juice to be X-rayed or opened. Additional steps will be taken to clear the liquid.

Having a plan and being organized is key:

  • With longer and longer security lines, it’s important to keep your little ones occupied in the queue.
  • Carry all family passports in an organized passport wallet to have easily accessible.
  • If you are travelling with another adult or an older child, decide in advance who will be responsible for putting which bags and belongings on the conveyor belt, which child with go through security with which adult, etc.

What to remember before you board

Have a lovely time before liftoff. (Image: David D, Airport Portrait – Day 352 via Flickr CC by 2.0)
  • Check out the departure airport’s website ahead of time to see what amenities are offered – from nursing pods to family bathrooms to restaurants and children’s activities.
  • At the gate, let your children walk around and let the baby crawl. This is the time for kids to use up some of that extra energy before they have to sit for a while.
  • Make sure everyone uses the bathroom before boarding.
  • Change your baby’s diaper before boarding.
  • Have someone in your party be in charge of the bags.“If you’re travelling with your spouse or someone else, have them be in charge of the bags while you tend to baby,” advises Stevens, who has been travelling with her daughter since she was 8 months old. “Walk around with the baby and show them the sights of the area around your gate. The windows looking out over the tarmac are a great way to keep baby engaged with so many things moving.”
  • Many airlines allow families with children under two-years-old to pre-board, giving you one less thing to worry about before you board. However, Moran suggests boarding the plane at the last minute so your children spend the least amount of time on the plane.

In-flight tips and tricks

Many things can happen at cruising altitude. Here is how to navigate them. 

Accidents/spills: Drinks spill, food falls over – especially during unexpected turbulence. Keep calm and carry on. If you have forgotten wipes, ask a flight attendant for napkins or a wet cloth. “Our son once got air sick, and we forgot an extra pair of pants. I had an extra shirt so we fashioned a pair of pants for him out of a shirt,” said Moran.

Bad behavior: If you think your child might act up or get fussy, speak up. “Pre-apologize to everyone around you for your potentially fussy/tired children,” said Moran, who notes other passengers are normally quite understanding and helpful.

Boredom: No matter how many toys and snacks you pack and no matter how great the onboard entertainment is, at some point your child is likely to announce he or she is bored. Before getting into the chorus of “Are we there yet?” be prepared by bringing along a few surprises. Alisha Molen, Disney Cruise Guru at blog Picture the Magic, came up with the idea of surprising her 3 children, ages 6, 9 and 11, on a cross-country trip. “I created “gifts” or “surprises” for each to open at different points along the way. Since our trip was to Disney, most of the gifts were Disney-themed: a coloring book, a word search, a surprise Disney movie on the iPad, some healthy snacks combined with a treat,” said Molen, who notes the prizes don’t have to be fancy or expensive as children just love the anticipation of the surprises.

Molen suggests being strategic about doling out the surprises. “Getting the timing right is important. I found that for most items, an interval of 30 minutes or so was about right. Just enough time for them to engage with their latest surprise…and then inevitably get bored with it.” If, like Molen, you have more than one child, it’s important to organize the surprises. The surprises also helped keep the kids behaved. “If the kids start misbehaving, you have ammo to help keep them in line: ‘If you can sit still in your seat for another seven minutes, you’ll get your next surprise,'” said Molen.

Crying/Earache: If your infant or child is crying during takeoff and landing, it’s likely due to the air pressure interfering with their ears. Unlike adults, children don’t always know how to unblock their ears. Nurse your infant or give your baby a bottle during takeoff and landing. For infants and toddlers, you can also give them a pacifier. The sucking will clear their ears. For toddlers, give them a snack, a piece of gum, a lollipop, or child-safe hard candy. “Our daughter’s ears pop horribly, so we ask the flight attendants for warm cloths to hold over her ears if the pressure is bad as this helps,” said Moran. The warm cloths also worked when Moran forgot to bring chewing gum for her daughter to chew during takeoff.

Fidgety: If the fasten seatbelt sign is off, let your children walk around the plane, particularly on long flights, said Milnes. “For toddlers, I like to have them stand and face their seat. The seat becomes a play area and they are able to move their legs a bit on long flights,” said Cheung, who has taken her children to Thailand, Italy, Greece, Spain, France, Hawaii, Canada, and Disneyland. “Also, the safety card and vomit bag may occupy your child for an entire flight.”

Motion sickness: If your child suffers from motion sickness, be sure to keep them hydrated and don’t feed them foods that may upset their stomach. Make use of the airsickness bag in the seat back pocket.

Run out of diapers/essentials: If you realize you’ve forgotten something, like diapers, before boarding, check the airport shops, advises Stevens. Another alternative is to look for a mom with a child about the same age and ask, said Stevens. “Moms help other moms because we’ve been there. Every one of us has been in a situation where we didn’t have a diaper left. They’ll most likely hand one over,” said Stevens. Some airlines also keep a small supply of diapers on hand, so it’s worth asking the flight attendant.

Tantrums/Meltdowns: Milnes suggests some of the following strategies to calm kids and seat neighbors: “Suckers, candy anything they are NOT supposed to have usually… also I pack a few Starbucks gift cards for the seat neighbors.”

For many parents, screen time is almost always the answer. “When my son melts down, I usually show him videos of himself. This calms him right away, and he starts telling me about what he’s doing in the video,” said Cheung. “This worked even when he was a baby. Kids love to watch videos of themselves.”

Turbulence: Stay calm and ensure your child’s seat belt is fastened or return infants to their child restraint device. If your child is scared, try to distract your child with a movie or by playing a game. 

What to remember once you land in your destination

  • If you gate checked your stroller, you can pick it up right as you get off the aircraft.
  • If you’re making a connection, speak to the ground staff about amenities that can help, from the use of luggage carts to transport carry-on items to shuttle service between terminals. Some airlines have staff that will help passengers get from gate to gate.
  • Check out the arrival airport’s website ahead of time to see what amenities are offered – from nursing pods to family bathrooms to the location of hotel shuttles and car rental desks.

Airline policies for flying with babies, toddlers and children

Confirm your airline’s policy on flying with infants and toddlers before you book. If you’re flying with multiple carriers, check with each carrier.

What are your go-to tips for travelling with infants and toddlers? Share with us in the comments and search for your next flight on

Air travel tips for new parents was last modified: June 27th, 2019 by Lauren Mack
Author: Lauren Mack (9 posts)

Lauren Mack has traveled to 40 countries on five continents, including Cuba, New Zealand, Peru and Tanzania. For many years, she called China, and then Taiwan, home. Countries at the beginning of the alphabet, particularly Antarctica, Argentina and Australia are on her travel bucket list. Lauren is a multimedia travel and food journalist and explorer based in New York City.