As a frequent traveler pre-baby (and pre-Covid) we knew we wanted to make our daughter and all future children great little travelers that we could bring with us wherever we wanted to go in the world. But when our anniversary trip got canceled last minute due to lack of childcare and we found ourselves booking a new trip with our one-year-old in tow, we gave ourselves an express course on how to travel and fly with a baby.
I did a lot of last minute research before our first flight our one-year-old, and wanted to share my experience and newfound knowledge on how to have a successful first flight with your baby or toddler!
International flights still require a passport, but domestic flights you’ll typically need just your child’s birth certificate. However, we were never once asked to present it. At the very least it’s worth carrying a copy of the child’s birth certificate. (We got a certified copy when she was born so we could have an extra for these scenarios.) It is true that when traveling with only one parent, especially internationally, you may need a note from the other parent confirming they are aware you are traveling.
Your child can also go through TSA pre-check and Clear with you as a minor. (They do not need their own account.)
Kids under two can often travel as a lap infant, although different airlines have different rules, and some rules change if you are flying internationally. Older toddlers and/or longer flights may be worth paying a bit extra for their own seat, so check the options available. Regardless, you will need to include them on your reservation when you book your ticket.
Most major airlines will let you check a stroller and car seat for free as a “specialty item.” You can also gate check these so that you have access to them in the airport and avoid any potential issues with them getting lost along the way. (I fly United and both were available as options to us.) While the stroller may be useful in the airport and the car seat a bit cumbersome to carry with you, you may want to consider gate checking it in case of emergency (more details later on my mistakes). [P.S. I highly recommend investing in a good travel stroller. I’m in love with our foldable Baby Jogger Travel Stroller which is great not only for planes, but also navigating into tight city restaurants.]
Some car seats are also able to install on a plane seat if you purchase your child his or her own seat! We opted for purchasing the Cosco Scenara as our travel car seat after seeing it recommended on several different place online and although we didn’t use it on the plane it is able to be installed easily! It’s also super light and quick to install with a seat belt in any Uber.
If you choose to gate check any items, just let the attendant know when you get on the plane and they will tag it and have it waiting for you when you step off the flight at your destination!
We packed a few small toys that didn’t take up much space to keep her entertained, like Tegu magnetic blocks. New toys are always great since they are novel to the baby and they tend to be a bit more interested. We also had a small flap book that kept her busy opening and closing as we read to her. Our baby has a short attention span for video right now so unfortunately the iPad/iPhone routine didn’t work, but if your kid likes screen time now is the time to pre-load as many offline videos as you can. (Netflix lets you download ahead of time if you don’t have wifi on the plane.) We also learned this trick for keeping your screen locked. If your child is old enough to watch a full video, be sure to get them headphones!
Snacks, snacks, and more snacks
I’m not typically a parent that over-does it on snacks, but a plane is certainly a place where anything goes. It’s usually what keeps my kid occupied and happy. I stocked up on small snacks like blueberries, veggie straws, and puffs that took a little longer for her to manually pick up and eat. (I used these stackable containers and stored in our bottle bag.)
One tip that I found super helpful was to feed your baby milk or formula (or nurse) during take-off and landing. The swallowing helps with the air pressure change which can often be uncomfortable for their little ears. We had a bottle of milk ready to go and took it out just as the plane was taking off. (And yes, you can bring milk or formula through TSA.) On landing, we gave her water. If desperate, a pacifier or more snacks works too! And if your child happens to be asleep during take off or landing there’s no need to wake them up – they will typically sleep through the pressure change.
Flights are for exceptions (survival is key)
In addition to unlimited snacks, a flight is for unlimited everything. Essentially, whatever makes your kid happy (and keeps you sane) is fair game, no matter what parenting rules you typically have. Screen time should have no limits and foods should be whatever keeps them happy.
One thing I repeatedly read on all the blogs and articles and message boards: if your baby cries, everyone can deal with it. It’s a tough thing to accept for those of us that have anxiety about the people around us judging our screaming children (especially when pre-children we were the ones judging). But you’re the one doing the best for your child. And as long as you are attempting to keep your kid happy, everyone else can deal with it. It’s not the end of the world, it’s just a bit of crying. And overall, even when she was upset we found everyone around us to be surprisingly kind and understanding.
Hope for the best/Prepare for the worst
Pack everything you would need for a one-night diversion in your carry-on or baby bag. Take it from me, who thought for sure an easy three hour flight from Florida would be as simple as the flight to get there, and then was diverted on a 12 hour nightmare to the middle of Pennsylvania with the airline losing our luggage (and car seat) along the way. In that time we ran out of wipes and she pooped several times because of all the airline snacks we had given her to try to keep her calm. We got stranded in an airport that was closing, and had no stores or food available. Don’t make the same mistakes I did! Pack extra snacks, extra diapers and wipes, and extra clothes, even for a short flight.
It may also be worth gate checking your car seat along with your stroller so that if you do get stuck somewhere you have transportation options available, like Uber.
And if you do get stranded somewhere or have a delayed flight remember that it’s a learning experience, however horrible it may be.
Remember, it will all work out in the end
Traveling with a kid is definitely harder than pre-baby. But just because it’s harder, doesn’t mean it’s impossible, and practice makes perfect. The best advice is to prepare, and then just do it … and not stress about the bumps along the road. Take it from me, who had a stressful 12 hour flight diversion… It will be worth it when you arrive at your destination!