Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
It may require so much organization and effort just to go to the store with a baby that the thought of traveling across the country sounds crazy. However, once you get a system figured out, infants can be surprisingly portable. At the ripe old age of 7 months old, Paxton has now been across the country 4 times. It’s never going to be quite as easy to fly with a baby as it is without one, but we’ve come up with our system that makes it completely manageable and relatively low stress. Below are my tips if you are taking to the sky with your baby.
Make a List (or Lots of Lists)
The sheer amount of stuff that our tiny human requires is mind-boggling. I always thought I packed a lot of stuff, but Paxton routinely has the largest suitcase of us all. To make sure that we don’t forget anything, a list is a must-have. Now when I say list, I don’t mean something on an old piece of paper that gets tossed as soon as you finish packing everything. I mean a OneNote notebook dedicated to packing lists. I have a list for Paxton, a list for me, and a list of things that need to go in a carry-on. The reason I love using OneNote is that I can create the list on my laptop, and then open it on my cell phone and add things as I think of them and check things off as I pack them. I make a list for each trip that I take and title it with the reason for the trip or place I’m going. This allows me to copy a list from a similar previous trip as a starting point the next time.
Plan Your Carry-on System
The last thing you want is to be stuck in an airport or airplane without enough diapers, wipes, baby food, etc. However, you can only carry so much stuff on with you. Airlines allow all passengers to have a large carry-on for the overhead bin and a small one to put under your seat. However, parents traveling with children are also allowed to gate check a car seat and stroller. If you purchase a seat for your child, then they also are allowed the two carry-ons. If you have a lap child then they do not get the carry-on allowance, but a diaper bag does not count towards your carry-on limit. When we travel we take a jogging stroller travel system with the car seat, a carry-on size roller bag, a tote bag, and a diaper bag through security. The is very manageable for the two of us. The jogging stroller seems like it would be big and clunky at first, but it actually works really well. It’s sturdy and has a storage basket which means that I can hang my diaper bag from the handles and put a tote bag in the basket. It also serves as a method of transporting the car seat and baby. When packing our carry-ons, we utilize the following system:
- Diaper bag: Everything we want to have handy for Paxton throughout the trip (food, diapers, wipes, rags, extra clothes, a couple toys, etc.) To see what I recommend having in your diaper bag, check out this post.
- Tote bag: Everything we want to have handy for ourselves throughout the trip (food, headphones, computer, cells phones, chargers, etc.)
- Roller bag: Items that we don’t want to check or may decide we want, but that we don’t have to have available at a moment’s notice (baby carrier, pump and related accessories, travel fan, extra toys, stroller, and car seat gate check bags, etc.).
Accumulate Your Key Items
These are some items that you want to have while flying with a baby that you may never have considered before. Below are my must-have items (aside from the obvious items a baby needs like diapers, bottles, etc.).
- Battery-powered or rechargeable hand-held fan (this one is what I recommend): This may not seem like it’s needed, and I don’t use it on every trip, but after being stuck on a 5 hour flight, in the summer, when the air wasn’t working great, I will always make sure to bring a fan. The heat makes me a little cranky, but it will make a baby into a monster. This is especially true if you are holding the baby and transferring body heat between you.
- Gate-check bags: Strollers and car seats are not welcome in overhead bins. However, the airlines are happy to check these for you at the gate, and you can pick them back up as soon as you get off the plane. You could check these items when you check other baggage, but gate check is free, and it allows you to use them throughout the airport. Bags aren’t required when you gate-check these items, but if you don’t wear your baby sits is getting all of the dirt and grease from the cargo area. Gate-check bags are designed to fit car seats and strollers, often have a place for your name and contact info, and fold into attached pouches for easy transport when not in use. We found a generic car seat bag at Babies R’ Us, but the stroller bag they had wasn’t big enough to fit our jogging stroller easily. We ended up ordering a stroller bag from Amazon designed for large strollers. An added bonus is that it has backpack straps which are great for carrying it down the jetway. This is the awesome stroller bag we have.
- Toy and pacifier straps: When juggling all of your baggage and a baby that may be figuring out it’s fun to drop things, the last thing you want to worry about is if you are losing toys or pacifiers.
- Baby carrier: Some people feel that you either need a stroller travel system or a baby carrier. However, I like to have both. If I’m gate-checking the car seat, instead of taking it on for Paxton to sit in, then I love having a carrier so I can strap him to me and have both hands free while boarding. You do have to remove the baby from the carrier during takeoff and landing, but it can be helpful to give your arms a break during the flight. I wouldn’t want to use the carrier the entire time I’m traveling through.
- Travel-sized noise machine: Baby is likely used to a quiet sleeping environment, but there is no guarantee that a hotel will provide that, especially if you and baby aren’t used to sharing a room. A travel noise machine is inexpensive and can be placed next to the pack and play to help drown out any other noises. I find that
the whitenoise also helps me sleep better. This is the travel noise machine that we have. It works great and is small enough to make packing easy.
- Luggage with 4 swivel wheels: With all the stuff you are going to be lugging around, you need luggage with swivel wheels. I can easily push the stroller and wheel two large suitcases through an airport this way. I wouldn’t be able to do this if any of the suitcases had the older style wheels.
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You don’t need to provide an ID for your baby for TSA; however, you do often need proof of age for the airline when checking in with a lap child. Generally, airlines ask for a birth certificate. However, I highly recommend getting a passport book and card for your child. Although a passport is not needed for a child traveling within the US, hear me out. A passport card is easy to tuck into your wallet and always have on you (much more so than a birth certificate or a traditional passport). However, a passport book is required for air travel to any country. The card is only good for traveling by car into Canada or Mexico. By getting a passport card for Paxton, I can keep it in my wallet, so I never have to worry about remembering and keeping track of his birth certificate or passport book when traveling within the US.
When traveling with a baby, you don’t want to forget about figuring out how/where Baby will sleep. Pack and Plays are great for this, but they add yet another piece of luggage. Most hotels have a pack and play or crib that they will let you use. However, it’s always wise to call a few days before your trip to verify that they do have one and have it added to your reservation. Bring your own pack and play sheet though.
Don’t forget that it’s important for you to get some sleep while traveling too. Make sure to grab these tips for making sleep happen before your next trip!
Overwhelmed Yet? Get your FREE packing list for traveling with baby HERE.
Decide Whether to Buy Baby a Seat
Children under 2 can travel for free on your lap within the US. However, there is something to be said for having the extra space of giving Baby his own seat. If Baby has a seat, you can bring the car seat onboard for baby to sit/sleep in. It just has to go in a seat by the window. If you decide you want to buy an extra seat, some airlines have infant fares that may be less expensive than traditional fares. However, if you go with the lap child option, it’s worth asking when getting your gate check tags if the flight is completely full. On Southwest, with their open seating policy, if the flight has an empty seat, they will let you take the car seat on board so your baby can have a seat. I’ve heard other airlines will work with you to see if they can get you next to an empty seat, but I don’t have any first-hand experience with this. It’s always worth asking since you are up there anyway. About 50% of the time we get lucky and there is an empty seat.
Be Prepared for TSA
Going through security is no small task with a baby and all of the stuff you have. However, once you know what is expected, it gets much easier. Here are my comments regarding security. You can use the TSA app to see how long security lines typically are at the time you will be traveling. Make sure to check out the TSA app and my other favorite apps here and here.
- You are allowed to bring a reasonable amount of milk, formula, baby food, juice, and/or water for baby. Make sure to have this all in a clear ziplock bag (I use a gallon sized one), so that you can quickly remove it because it needs to go through the scanner out of your carry-on. If the bottle is clear and/or can be opened, there isn’t a problem. They may put the items in a machine that analyzes them but this is quick and doesn’t affect the product. The only time there might be a problem is if the liquid is in a container that can’t be opened and is not clear. These Similac 8oz formula bottles are convenient to travel with because you can just screw on a nipple. However, the bottles are not see through at all, and once opened, they are only good for 2 hours if not refrigerated. Most TSA agents haven’t had a problem with these. If they question it, they just wipe my hands to test for bomb residue and then we’re good to go. However, one time the agents decided to have a problem with them, and I was told that either they had to open the bottles or give me a full body pat-down. I had never been questioned anywhere, let alone that airport I had been through multiple times, but for some reason that day they decided to have a problem with it.
- Allow plenty of time to get through security in case they decide to have a problem with something (see point a)
- Some places let you wear your baby through security in a baby carrier and others make you take them out.
- Get TSA Precheck. If you have precheck your baby can go through with you for free. With precheck you don’t have to worry about removing your shoes, taking out electronics and taking out normal liquid allowances which allows you to focus on everything else you are juggling. It’s also great because the last place you want to be is stuck in a long security line with a screaming child.
- Have your baby’s boarding pass ready. If it’s a lap child, the airline will give you a special pass. Baby doesn’t need an ID though.
Plan How You Are Getting to the Terminal
When we travel we have 3 checked bags in addition to the carry-on items I mentioned above. There is no way I want to juggle all of our stuff on the shuttle from long-term parking. Therefore, we have a system where my husband drops me, Paxton and all but two bags off at the door. We check the bags I have and get Paxton’s lap child boarding pass. John then parks the car and takes the shuttle in and meets me at security.
Plan How You Are Leaving the Airport
Public transportation has suddenly become much more difficult with the amount of stuff you are now traveling with. Rental cars can work, but you will likely need an SUV for all of the luggage and the stroller. Make sure to book a car that provides enough storage space.
Master the Double Diaper
The last thing you want is an overflowing diaper on an airplane. You also don’t really want to be changing a diaper on an airplane. If your flight is more than about 2 hours, I strongly suggest double diapering. We do this right before boarding. When Paxton is close to sizing up in diapers, we make the outer diaper a size larger. When he still has room to grow in his current size, we use two diapers that are the same size. Two diapers have been sufficient to get across the country without leaks and without needing to change a diaper. However, when we skip the second diaper we have had blowouts at 30,000 feet. If your baby is peacefully sleeping before boarding, you may be tempted to skip the diaper change and additional diaper –DON’T. The sleeping child will eventually wake up and unless your flight is super short, you will likely be regretting your choice at some point.
Get the Mamava App
If you are breastfeeding, you are going to want to know where the nursing rooms are in each airport, and these rooms tend to be well-hidden. Mamava makes portable nursing rooms that are commonly located in airports. The free app tells you exactly where these are located near you. However, the app also tells you about other nursing rooms that are available nearby complete with reviews from other moms.
Carefully Select Flights
- Flights with layovers but no plane change may not be the best option. There is something to be said about being able to get off the plane and change a diaper in a real restroom and get yourself something to eat. If you don’t have a layover that allows this, it can make for a long trip.
- Choosing flights that are while baby normally sleeps may be a good idea in theory, but I haven’t found it to be worth the effort. I generally find that choosing times that I like based on the amount of sleep I will get, where the layover is, and travel duration is much more worth my time.
- Avoid layovers in airports where you have to leave security. The majority of airports keep you in the same terminal or at least don’t make you leave security to go to another terminal. However, there are a few where you may need to go out of security and back through. Security is rough with a baby, and you don’t want to do it any more than necessary. Airports that I’ve had to do this are San Diego and Newark. I’m sure there are others that I haven’t experienced yet.
- Check your airline to determine what policies they have in place for traveling with children. The links to the major airline policies are below.
The Bribe-Bag Debate
I read blogs that suggest parents can bring little bags with candy, earplugs and a cute note to handout to nearby passengers to buy a little understanding if the baby screams. The idea is kind of cute if you are a type of person that likes doing things like this. However, I don’t think it’s necessary. There are plenty of ways that people on airplanes annoy each other when they don’t have children. Do you bring a goody bag for the person on the aisle that you are going to ask to get up 3 times so you can go to the bathroom?
If you will have a layover, make sure to check out this post for my tips!
For more great travel tips, make sure to check out these posts!
- Checklist for Traveling with a Baby
- How To Stay in a Hotel with a Baby
- Flying with a Baby | The Ultimate Guide
What travel hacks have made your trips easier? Tell me in the comments.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Mom, wife, veterinary pharmacist, equestrian, ice cream lover and occasional hot mess