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Air travel is one of the fastest ways to get from point A to point B, and if you’re traveling with your littlest one, it might be your preferred mode of transportation. Why keep baby in a carseat for hours when you can fly and get to your destination in a fraction of the time?
But while flying with a baby is quicker than driving, it isn’t always easier. You have to worry about layovers, diaper changes, feedings, confinement, and of course, the dreaded screaming child. (Pro tip: Don’t fret it or be ashamed. Babies scream. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent — not in the least.)
It’s only normal to be a little nervous before a flight, but the truth is, flying with a baby becomes easier when you know what to do. Here are a few tips to make flying with a baby smoother — for both of you.
Airplanes are a breeding ground for germs, so it probably isn’t a good idea to fly shortly after giving birth since newborns have a weaker immune system. At the same time, though, an airline isn’t going to ban a newborn from flying.
American Airlines allows infants as young as 2 days old, and Southwest Airlines allows infants as young as 14 days old. But a baby’s immune system is more developed by 3 months of age, making them less susceptible to illness. (Bonus of traveling this early: Babies still tend to sleep a lot at this age, and they’re not as mobile/wiggly/restless as little ones a few months older.)
If you need to fly with a younger baby, no worries. Make sure you wash your hands frequently or use hand sanitizer to protect baby from germs, and keep a safe distance between your little ones and other travelers.
One benefit of flying with an infant is that you don’t have to book a separate seat for them, though what parent couldn’t use the extra space? That’s why airlines offer two seating options for infants: You can purchase a separate ticket or seat for them and use a car seat approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), or you can hold the infant on your lap during the flight.
Lap infants don’t have to pay on domestic flights, but you’ll still need to reserve a ticket for them. Keep in mind that lap infants do pay to fly on international flights, but this isn’t the full fare. It’ll be either a flat fee or a percentage of the adult fare, depending on the airline.
Lap infants and the FAA
Note that the FAA “strongly urges you” to secure your child in their own airline seat and in an FAA-approved car seat or a device such as the CARES harness (when your baby is older, weighing at least 22 pounds).
The concern is that in unexpected, severe turbulence, you may not be able to hold your baby securely in your arms.
That said, know that traveling with a lap infant is ultimately up to you — we just want to help you make an informed choice, and not one based on one factor alone.
You’ll be happy to know that most airlines allow each ticketed passenger to check one stroller and one car seat for free at the ticket counter, and either one stroller or one car seat at the gate (but not both). This is regardless of whether you’re traveling with a lap infant or paid an infant fare. Hooray!
If you’re checking a stroller or car seat at the gate, don’t forget to request a gate check tag at the gate counter before boarding the plane.
Beyond that, baggage policies do depend on whether your little one has a paid seat or not.
Airline policies vary, but typically a lap infant doesn’t receive the same baggage allowance as an infant with seat. So if you check a separate bag for a lap infant, this bag will count toward your baggage allowance. Airlines do allow one carry-on diaper bag per lap infant at no additional charge (in addition to your personal carry-on).
Pro tip: Check the car seat at the gate
If you’re going to check a car seat for a lap infant, it’s smart to do so at the gate rather than at the standard baggage check-in counter.
If the flight isn’t full or if there’s an empty seat next to you, you might be allowed to seat your lap infant at no additional charge. Check in at the gate counter before boarding to ask about availability.
Changing tables are available on board in the restrooms, but space is tight. Do a quick diaper change before boarding — we guarantee you’ll have more room to move around in the airport restroom!
If you have a short flight, your baby might not need another changing until after the flight. At the very least, a diaper change beforehand reduces the number of times you’ll need to change your baby on board.
If possible, choose a departure time that closely coincides with your baby’s sleep pattern. This can include choosing a flight in the middle of the day when your baby naps or a flight later in the evening near their bedtime.
For longer flights, you might even consider a red-eye since your child will likely sleep the entire flight — though you have to consider whether you’ll be able to, as well.
Before your flight, talk to your pediatrician to see if it’s safe for your baby to travel while sick. If so, ask about what you may be able to give your baby for any related ear pain.
The loud noise of an airplane’s engine and chatter from other passengers can make it hard for your baby to sleep, which can lead to an overly tired, fussy baby. To make sleep easier, consider shopping for small noise-canceling headphones to mute surrounding sounds.
We know this isn’t always possible. But in an ideal world, your little one would eat those altitude changes away. The sucking action from feedings can open your baby’s Eustachian tubes and equalize the pressure in their ears, easing pain and crying.
So if possible, hold off feeding your baby until takeoff or landing. You can give them a bottle or breastfeed, which is perfectly OK.
Related: Breastfeeding in public
Be prepared to show some type of documentation when traveling with a baby, whether they’ll be a lap infant or have their own seat. Documentation requirements vary by airline, so contact your airline in advance so you don’t have an issue boarding the plane.
For example, the American Airlines website notes: “You may be required to present proof of age (such as a birth certificate) for any children under the age of 18.” To have your bases covered, no matter what airline you’re traveling on, carry a copy of your baby’s birth certificate.
American Airlines also notes that if you’re flying with a baby less than 7 days old, you’ll need to provide a medical form completed by your pediatrician stating that it’s safe for your baby to fly. The airline can send the form directly to your doctor.
When traveling internationally, don’t forget that all infants need required passports and/or travel visas. And if a child leaves the country without both parents, the non-traveling parent(s) must sign a Letter of Consent giving permission.
If your child is traveling internationally with one parent, but not the other, the traveling parent may also be required to show proof of their relationship, which is where a copy of your child’s birth certificate comes in.
Be aware that each adult and person over 16 years of age can only hold one infant on their lap.
So if you’re traveling with twins or two young babies alone, you can hold one on your lap, but you’ll need to purchase an infant fare for the other.
And typically, airlines only allow one lap infant per row. So if you have twins and are traveling with your partner, you won’t be seated in the same row — although the airline will try and sit you close to each other.
Basic economy tickets are the cheapest. But the problem is on some airlines you won’t be able to choose your own seat — which can be a major problem when traveling with a baby.
The airline assigns your seat at check-in, and this can be an aisle seat, middle seat, or a window seat.
If you’re traveling with a baby, consider booking a fare that allows advanced seat selection. This way, at least you have the option of picking a seat that lets you get up and down more freely.
That said, we also believe in the goodness of most people, and if seat choice can’t be arranged, you can likely find someone who will switch with you.
This is a little unknown secret, but you can actually rent baby equipment at your destination — including high chairs, cribs, playpens, and bassinets.
This way, you don’t have to haul these items to the airport and pay extra checked baggage fees. Rental companies can deliver equipment to your hotel, resort, or relative’s house.
One huge benefit of traveling with an infant is that airlines allow you to pre-board and get settled in your seat before other passengers board. This can make it easier for you and others.
But to take advantage of pre-boarding, you need to be at the gate when boarding begins, so arrive early — at least 30 minutes before boarding.
In an effort to pack light, you might only bring what your baby needs for the flight. Yet, flight delays could extend the length of your trip by several hours.
So make sure you bring more baby food, snacks, formula or pumped breast milk, diapers, and other supplies than you actually need to avoid a hungry, fussy baby.
A cold or warm baby can become fussy and irritable, too. To avoid a meltdown, dress your baby in layers and peel off clothes if they become too warm, and bring a blanket in case they get cold.
Also, pack an extra pair of clothes, just in case. (If you’ve been a parent for more than a few days, we know you won’t bother asking, “In case of what?” But sometimes we all need a reminder.)
Try to book an itinerary with a nonstop flight. You might pay more for these flights, but the upside is that you’ll only go through the boarding process once, and you only have to deal with one flight.
If a nonstop flight isn’t possible, choose an itinerary with a longer layover between flights. This way, you don’t have to sprint from one gate to the other with a baby in tow — your baby might find that exciting, but we doubt you would.
Plus, the more time you have in between flights, the more time available for diaper changes and stretching your legs.
Don’t be intimidated by the idea of flying with an infant. Many airlines are family friendly and go the extra mile to make the experience enjoyable for you and your little one. With a little forethought and preparation, flying will become much easier, and perhaps one of your favorite ways to travel.