Debates about whether parents should fly with babies and toddlers seem almost as old as the airlines themselves. But whether it’s an unexpected life event that takes you across the country or an exciting trip for the family during the winter season, there are many reasons why parents need to board a plane with a toddler in tow.
Here at GoodBuy Gear, we want to empower parents to confidently make memories and live their lives knowing that they’ve got the knowledge (and gear) needed to do so. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of tips for flying with a baby or toddler to help make your flight easy from boarding to deplaning.
1. Get There Early
Babies and toddlers create scheduling hiccups for even the most organized of people. And when you’ve got to check in with your airline, check your bags, get through security and make your way to the gate, you’re going to want to give yourself plenty of time to account for them.
In general, you should give yourself anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour longer than you would without a toddler by your side. That means that you’ll want to follow these guidelines:
- Domestic flights: 2.5-3 hours early
- International flights: 3.5-4 hours early
2. Book a Nonstop Flight (or a Long Layover)
Taking off and landing can be stressful for young ones. So when you’re booking your flights, you should try to keep the number of connections to a minimum. If you do have to book a connecting flight, give yourself a few hours in the connecting airport to give your child a break from flying while also keeping you from having to run through the airport with all of your gear.
3. Book Them a Seat
While children under 2 do typically fly free, you may still want to book them a seat (if they’re old enough to sit in it.) It can allow you to spread out and have more space, which you can use even if your child is seated on your lap. In the event you have a toddler who likes some wiggle room, they can also use the seat in the event they start getting antsy and don’t want to sit with you.
4. Run to the Bathroom Last Minute
You should take yourself (and your child) to the bathroom just before boarding. Not only will this increase the chance that you won’t have to figure out how to use the bathroom on the flight, but it will also increase your kid’s comfort. You should aim to board the plane with a clean, dry diaper.
5. Bring a Few Activity Options
Just like adults, babies and toddlers can get bored. But unlike adults, they’ll sometimes scream about it. Activities can help keep kids entertained (and quiet) on long flights. But in the event they get bored, you’ll want to have something else to distract them with. If you run out of options, you can always cycle through their activities again.
A few activity options for kids on flights include:
6. Bring Comfort Toys or Blankets
Many kids have a specific toy, blanket, pillow or stuffed animal that brings them comfort. Bringing it on the flight can help ease any anxiety that your child is feeling while flying. Familiar smells from and reminders of home can go a long way without taking up too much room in the carry-on.
7. Strategically Book Your Flights
Ideally, your child will sleep on your flight. That can not only reduce the risk of a tantrum, but can also make sure they’ll be in good spirits once you reach your destination. If your flight is long, you should consider a nighttime flight that they’ll sleep through. If your flight is short, you should try to book it close to naptime.
8. Check-in Curbside
Lugging a car seat and luggage through the airport isn’t ideal, even if it’s only to the check-in counter. Using curbside check-in can help you skip the long check-in lines and get to (and through) security faster. Typically, curbside lines are also shorter than the ones inside the airport, so you’ll likely spend less time waiting in line.
9. Gate-Check Your Stroller
Why carry your baby when you can push them? Airport terminals can be long, and you might tire yourself out carrying your child to your gate. You can bring your stroller through security and to your gate, then gate-check it just before you board. That way, your stroller will still make it to your destination, but you can still use it right up to takeoff.
10. Split Up During Boarding
Most airlines allow parents to board before everyone else. And while this is a kind (and tempting) gesture, it might not actually be a good idea for children. Boarding faster means more time on the plane, which can increase your chances that your child will get bored and restless from sitting.
If both parents are on the flight, have one pre-board with the travel gear, while the other stays off the plane with the baby. The parent that boards can stow the gear and get the seats prepared, while the other can spend that time taking the baby to the bathroom, walking around or completing any other preparatory tasks.
11. Plan Ahead
Prepping snacks and drinks ahead of time can make it easier to feed your child on the plane. Liquids for babies (like formula or breast milk) are exempt from TSA rules, so you can bring as much as you’ll need without worrying about keeping them under a certain guideline. These liquids will have to separately go through security though, so you may want to make them easily accessible in your carry-on so you can get through faster.
12. Feed Your Baby During Takeoff and Landing
A big reason why babies and toddlers cry on flights is that the change in air pressure hurts their ears. One way to reduce this pressure (and potentially pain) is by having your baby swallow. Snacking or drinking can keep your child swallowing during takeoff and landing, which will hopefully keep them from experiencing too much discomfort. If they won’t eat or drink, a pacifier can also help.
13. Pack Extra Essentials
Imagine: your child has finally calmed down and started to eat their favorite snack, but they drop it and it spills across the cabin floor. That could lead right back to a tantrum. Packing extras of things like snacks, pacifiers or other small essentials can help you be prepared in the event something gets lost or broken. If your child is a picky eater, extra snacks can also help make sure they eat.
14. Practice Makes Perfect
If you’re planning a trip overseas that will require a long-haul flight, you might want to practice with something smaller. If you can afford it and have the time, consider taking your child on a short, domestic flight to see how they react to being on a plane and prepare for longer and more involved trips down the road.
15. Try to Sit Up Front
There are many advantages to sitting closer to the front of the plane with a baby: for one, you’ll deplane quicker. But more than that, the back of the plane is generally louder and shakier, which can amp up any discomfort your child is already feeling. If you’re able to pick your seat, try to pick one in the top quarter of the plane.
16. Get the Proper Gear
Being prepared is the key to traveling with a toddler successfully. Getting the proper baby travel gear is one of the best ways to prepare. Invest in bags with multiple pockets so you can stay organized, get reusable snack containers to meal prep for the flight and purchase light-weight strollers and bags. You may also want to invest in a carrier that will allow you to strap your baby to yourself so you can keep your hands free while going through security and boarding.
17. Don’t Panic
Many parents may feel nervous about flying with babies. But at the end of the day: the other passengers should understand and empathize with your experience. So long as you are respectful and do your best to keep your baby calm and quiet, you’re being a good plane parent. Just stay calm, be prepared and do your best to make the flight go as easily as possible.
What To Pack for the Plane
Flying with a toddler isn’t the insurmountable obstacle that some people make it out to be. But like most things in life, it requires preparation. Packing smart, light and right can help make the flight a breeze.
Here are a few must-haves for your carry on when flying with a toddler:
- Non-noisy infant and toddler toys
- A change of clothes for both you and the children
- Formula, snacks and other feeding accessories
- A familiar toy or stuffed animal
- Baby blankets
- Antibacterial wipes and sanitizer
- Extra diapers and diaper cream
When Can Newborns Fly?
Newborns can fly once they are three to six months old. But if it’s necessary, babies that are four to six weeks old can handle a flight. However, there are considerations to make for each child. Parents of premature births, babies with breathing problems or sick babies should consider waiting longer before taking their children on a flight.
How Can I Protect My Baby and Toddler’s Ears When Flying?
You can protect your baby’s ears while flying by feeding them during takeoff and landing, giving them a pacifier and yawning. All of these will prevent the ears from popping and potentially hurting. You should also make sure your baby is awake during takeoff and landing. Children swallow more often while they’re awake, especially when they’re eating or drinking. A sleeping baby might not swallow enough to ease the pressure on their ears, which can be painful.
How Can I Protect My Baby and Toddler From COVID on a Plane?
You can keep your baby safe from COVID-19 and other airborne illnesses while flying by practicing social distancing, wearing a mask and sanitizing your area. If your child is old enough to wear a mask comfortably, practice at home so they know what to expect. You should also bring plenty of sanitizers and cleaning wipes to wipe down your seats before takeoff. You can also fly at off-peak times to reduce the number of people who will be on your flight.
Flying with a baby or toddler might be intimidating, but like many things in life, it’s entirely possible with the right planning and preparation. And at GoodBuy Gear, we’re committed to providing the highest quality baby and children’s gear to get you from point A to point B.