If you’ve read between the lines of this blog, you’ll have duly noticed there’s one travel-related “first” I haven’t yet done since the twins were born: I haven’t brought the babes on a plane. I probably don’t need to tell you why this is true. But mainly I’m looking forward to the day when we pack up these babies and get those first stamps in their pristine passports.
Meanwhile, as I gather data ahead of their first trip, I’ve been scouring the web and personal sources for the best advice for flying with a baby. And, thanks to a lively conversation in a professional group online this week, I just hit the advice jackpot — and it’s only fair to share it with all of you.
In this post, you will find the absolute best advice for flying with a baby, because it is crowdsourced from the hive mind of people who know it best: travel writer moms of all stripes (as well as some non-moms with plenty of exposure).
These are moms who are motivated and unstoppable (even if daunted). Women who don’t accept dirty looks from strangers. Women who have a great career and a family and also travel and therefore (if I may) — women who absolutely have it all. So without further ado…
The Best Advice for Flying With a Baby
“I have traveled with my daughter since she was a tiny one and she’s now 17. When she was little and wanted to run, I used reason: ‘Look, no one else is walking around.’ ‘See you only get up of you have to go to the bathroom.’ Those are the rules. I’ve been on many flights where parents walk their kids up and down the aisle or carry them up and down the aisle and I always thought to myself — why would you ever set that expectation for the kid and for you as the parent? Babies cry and get scared (hell, I cry sometimes). Things hurt and it’s part of travel for them and was for the adults around you at one time too. All you can do is your best. Bring some snacks, a favorite toy, a favorite movie or video on your iPhone. It’ll be fine.” —Kimberley Lovato
“I’ve been on many flights where parents walk their kids or carry them up and down the aisle and I always thought to myself — why would you ever set that expectation?”
“Snacks and more snacks (goldfish, pretzels, and Cheerios — anything that takes a while to eat). Random new toys. Keep everything baby-related in a small carry-on that you can fit under the seat so you can reach in a pinch. Many baby wipes. The flight attendant can give you cups to play with. And no worrying. Anyone who grumbles about a kid crying has their own issues and it’s not your problem.” —Sarika Chawla
“We’ve traveled so much that my three-year-old has extra pages put into her passport! My advice is the more anxious you are, the less patient you will be with your toddler and the less adept you will feel. Do whatever it takes to calm your mind before, during, and after the flight (jet lag is no fun). Those who have issues with children in public spaces have a lot of internalized misogyny—pay them no mind.” —Pooja Makhijan
“Those who have issues with children in public spaces have a lot of internalized misogyny — pay them no mind.”
“My kids are older — 5 and 8 — but I wanted to [emphasize] the point about not stressing yourself. My kids are a sponge and mirror whatever behavior they witness, so the calmer I am the better it goes. I’m a bit afraid of flying and claustrophobic and sometimes take a half a Xanax, which I hardly ever do any time else, but boy it made mommy more fun and patient. Also, it’s great traveling with kids once you get to wherever you are going, especially internationally. They are wonderful little ambassadors to the world, who not only allow you to join special fast lines for families but simply bring out everyone’s most friendly and welcoming natures.” —Bliss Broyard
“[Kids] are wonderful little ambassadors to the world, who not only allow you to join special fast lines for families but simply bring out everyone’s most friendly and welcoming natures.”
“I am anti [the oft-recommended distribution of gift bags meant to ingratiate the baby with other flyers]. It basically ties up the flight attendant’s time to distribute them and, sadly, ear plugs do nothing against a child having a real cry (however kind the gesture). If all heck breaks loose and baby goes a bit nuts, the best thing to do (not kidding here) is to hand your credit card over to the attendant and tell them that you are buying a stiff drink for the row ahead and behind you.
I’m not a parent but from observations from a million flights, it seems that life will be so much easier if you take one large bag instead of several small bags, both in terms of checking one large bag instead of two small carryons and also taking one large tote bag on board instead of snack bag plus toy bag plus diaper bag plus purse. One large bag means you still have a free hand for keeping hold of baby and there is much less to keep track of.
I’d also dress baby in something easy to swap out — no cutesy outfits, just stuff that’s easy to whip off and swap out in case of spills.” —Vanessa Chiasson
“If all heck breaks loose… the best thing to do… is to hand your credit card over to the attendant and tell them that you are buying a stiff drink for the row ahead and behind you.”
“Plenty of snacks, plenty of games and fun things to do. Don’t be stressed yourself (if possible!) — because our daughter always picked up on that if I was. Being able to play and run whenever possible (on the layovers). I always took washable markers and let her draw on herself or her clothes. That really kept her interested and happy. [Nursing] helps with their ears. And please don’t do those little gift bags. They are so horrible. Just — no words. Any family travel writer will tell you the same — it just makes it worse.” —Jessie Voigts
“We’ve done multiple trips with my 11 month old, including lots of cross-country trips and international travel, and maybe we’ve been lucky but it hasn’t been nearly as difficult as I imagined pre-baby. First of all, check everything you can. For us, this includes car seat and stroller (which are free to check and don’t count against luggage limits). Carry on only your diaper bag and any electronic essentials that you can’t check. Then wear your baby: so much easier for security and getting around the airport. You can’t wear baby for takeoff or landing but you can during the flight, so it can be great for naps. I bring lots of snacks and am much freer with them than I am at home. I also nurse more liberally, and always on take off. Unlike most people I only bring a couple of toys because I don’t want to keep track of them or chase them down. I let her look through and rip to shreds the airline magazines and Sky Mall. Maybe we’ve just been lucky but the people we’ve sat by have been happy to wave back, smile at her, and play little games with her. (Another reason I love Southwest and their open seating policy: The people who sit next to us almost always do so by choice so they’re usually people who like kids.) During layovers and before the flight, let your little one run around as much as possible. Relax as much as you can. Though there are crappy people and flight attendants, I’ve found that most people are much more understanding and helpful than we think they’ll be. I’ve even taken a baby in first class and didn’t get a single stink eye!
“Though there are crappy people and flight attendants, I’ve found that most people are much more understanding and helpful than we think they’ll be.”
Also when you board, ask the flight attendant which bathroom has a changing table. They don’t all have one and you don’t want to find yourself waiting for the bathroom only to get in there and not have a changing table.” —Theresa Dowell Blackinton
“The real trick to flying with a baby is to know that your calm must be real – your baby will know the difference – but you can get to a real place of calm by faking it to begin with – you can fake it until you make it here. If the physical act of smiling can actually make us happier, as research suggests, many of us are more in control of how we feel than we’re initially inclined to assume. I have struggled with anxiety for many years, so I know how it feels to be beyond the point of Just Think Happy Thoughts And You’ll Feel Better! But I also know that much of the time, save for a full-on panic attack, I can make myself – and thus, my baby – feel at least a little better and calmer.”—Elizabeth Seward
“The real trick to flying with a baby is to know that your calm must be real – your baby will know the difference.”
“Use the time on the ground in the airport to burn some energy. I used to find a quiet spot — like an empty waiting area — and run little races with her, both before boarding and during layovers. Or if you’re traveling with someone, play monkey in the middle. Anything so that when you board, it’s quiet time. Also, on long flights, ask about the bassinets. I don’t think there’s a charge to use it and it’s like a little play space.” —Geri Bain Keroack
“This advice has likely fallen out of fashion and there may be adverse reactions to following it, but when I faced this question with my squirmy toddler in the mid-90s, a wise mom friend whispered: ‘Benadryl.’ Worked like a charm.”—Anonymous for obvious reasons, but use your judgement
I hope you’ll click on the links of the writers named above for more of their travel tips and stories as well.
Now you tell me: What’s your best advice for flying with a baby?