Stress Free Flying with Infants and Toddlers

The following was written by contributor Emily Carter.

Just the thought of baggage checks, long security lines, TSA regulations, and cramped airplanes has the potential to leave a person in search of a Xanax.  And that’s when you brave the airport alone, much less with babies and small children in tow.

However, flying with your family doesn’t have to be a stressful event.  As a an avid traveler and a pilot’s wife, I’ve spent a significant portion of my life traveling in airplanes, including twenty-five states and seven countries.  I traveled on a commercial airline by myself with my son when he was nine weeks old, and have continued to fly with him often in the last 19 months.

With a little bit of planning and a relaxed attitude, air travel can be a pleasant experience for everyone.

Technical Tips

Your first step in planning should be checking out the websites for the  Transportation Security Administration and your particular airline to discover the most recent regulations.  Unfortunately, they seem to change on a regular basis, so it’s a good idea to check before you leave for the airport, even if you have flown in the recent past.

passportsPhoto by lilit

From my experience:

If you are traveling with a child under two and plan to hold them on your lap, you won’t need a ticket, but you will need a copy of their birth certificate at check-in. If that child is under one month, some airlines will ask for a doctor’s note verifying the health of the child.

If you are flying outside of the country, every child must have a passport regardless of age. Unlike a few years ago, this is now true for Canada, Mexico, and the Carribean as well.

The passport process can take as long as six to eight weeks, so don’t put it off!

Federal and international guidelines do not leave a lot of gray area.  Do your research to avoid missed flights and ruined vacations.

Practical Advice

Beyond the legal do’s and don’ts there are other things that will help your flight experience.

rolling suitcasePhoto by cogdogblog

Choose Your Luggage Wisely

While I am often a proponent of carrying everything on and avoiding checked luggage, a trip with small children is not the time.  You will have plenty to tote around without a rolling suitcase. Check those bulky bags!

Packing Essentials

In your carry-ons be sure to pack outfit changes, diapers and wipes for longer than your expected travel.  Delays and flight cancelations can leave you stranded in the airport.  Running out of diapers doesn’t need to add to your stress.

If you have room, here are a few other things I like to pack:

-A portable DVD player and headphones (for toddlers or older children)

-A few small, new toys to hold their attention.

-Small baggies of crackers or other snacks.

And don’t forget a comfort item for your child!

The Day of Travel

Your bags are packed and you’re ready to go? Here are a few thoughts to help the day of travel go smoothly.

Keep your essential items within easy reach.

Utilize outside pockets to hold things like your I.D., tickets, and toiletry bag. Fishing for lost items in the bottom of your bag is a good way to get yourself (and those waiting behind you) stressed and irritated.

If you’re traveling alone, consider carrying-on a stroller.

Most airlines allow parents to gate-check strollers and/or carseats for free.  If you’re the only adult, having a stroller to contain your little one and free your hands can be a lifesaver.

A baby carrier is also a good idea.  I loved Megan’s post about using baby carriers while traveling on Simple Organic.

Plan for the pressure.

You have probably heard that it’s a good idea to nurse, feed, or offer a pacifier to your young child during take-off and landing to help their ears adjust to the pressure.  While that is fabulous advice, don’t forget about the contents of your bags.

If you have pre-mixed bottles or sippy cups with liquid in them, slightly loosen the lids and keep them in an upright position.  If they are tighten and sealed, the pressure can cause the contents to force their way out and into your bag.

The same is true for those snap-closed wipe cases.  By the end of your flight, you’ll find everything in your bag is slightly moist.  Avoid this by sealing it up in a zip top baggie.

Roll with the Punches

If there’s one thing I know from all my travels, it’s that few trips ever go exactly as planned. Especially with little ones along for the ride.

When things don’t follow the plan, take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy the ride! Your kids take their emotional cues from you. If you’re relaxed, they will be too.

Will you be flying with your children this summer? What are your best tips?

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  1. The first time I traveled alone with my baby I took a friend’s advice and didn’t take a stroller – and was very happy with that decision! I had my Beco carrier, a backpack (which I used as a diaper bag) and my rolling suitcase/carry-on and that combo worked really well.

    My daughter’s favorite distraction on the plane is our flip video camera. Before we leave we record short videos for her to watch while we travel, and she especially likes seeing her daddy if we’re traveling without him.

    Also, I’ve flown three time now with my 1-year-old on my lap and have never been asked for a birth certificate…

  2. Thanks for commenting, Haley!

    You certainly don’t have to take a stroller (I don’t always) but I’ve found many people don’t know that you can gate check it for freeon most airlines. And there are times when a stroller is really handy depending on the destination. That’s why I also mention Megan’s post about baby carriers.

    I’m interested to hear you’ve never been asked for a birth certificate! I have and know the TSA requires it. However, sometimes it all depends on the mood of theperson checking you in that day. It’s really easy to pack but difficult to provide if you don’t have it so I’d rather be safe than sorry.

    I love the video camera idea! My son loves watching home videos as well!

    • I’ve definitely heard of people bringing their baby’s birth certificate with them, but didn’t know the TSA requires it! I’ll have to make a copy for our next trip…

      I prefer to travel without a stroller if I can, but it IS nice that they will gate check it for free if you do need to bring one. Many airlines will also gate check a car seat for free – and if you have a lap infant you can usually bring an extra carry-on as a diaper bag. 🙂

  3. The hardest part for me, flying with kids was not so much the kids that were in total awe of the entire event and completely involved in their seats, their screens, their snacks… The fellow adults were rude and dare I say nasty… Like “Kids – I hope I don’t end up sitting near them” turns out kids pass out and sleep all night and adults clamber to and from the loo over you, and chat full blast and sing along to music they are listening to through earphones… Give me kids to travel with any day!!!
    .-= se7en´s last blog ..The Week That Was – 2.50… =-.

  4. I totally needed this post! I’m flying with my toddler this summer and I am stressing so thank you so much!!!

  5. I’ve flown twice with my now 6 month old and have never been asked for her birth certificate either. I love gate checking her stroller though! My only tip would be make sure you can fold it down with one hand or put them in their carseat while you fold it. I had an attendant take the carseat when I wasn’t looking and I had a really hard time holding a 4 month old and collapsing the stroller by myself!

    • I strongly encourage you to check out your specific airline’s requirements because I looked a few up (it’s not letting me link sorry!) and it is listed. Sometimes you get someone who doesn’t enforce it, but better safe than sorry!

      You make a good point about folding it with one hand… that can be tricky!
      Thanks for chiming in Megan!

  6. Heather says:

    When you pack your carry on, pack a separate little bag ( like a toiletry or pencilcase size with enough room to fit what you need for one change. When you need to do a change, then you only need to take this little package rather than your whole bag with you. Refill it out of your main carry on bag when you return to your seat.

    For older children, lollipops are great for takeoff and landing. Pack some extras to share around incase there are other kids who are upset. I had an attendant offer another family lollipops once and they were all very appreciative.

  7. This post was helpful and gave me some things to think about since we’re flying in a few weeks… however I too have not been asked for birth certificates, we have just flown to Las Vegas in May and Texas last August, none of my three kids were asked to provide birth certificates (nor have I ever been asked, and we’ve gone on probably 10 flights with our kids at various ages). I guess it doesn’t hurt to be on the safe side though, so I’ll add it to my checklist… which by the way is a great tip – I have a travel checklist that I print out a few weeks in advance, and leave it out in my kitchen. Then as I am thinking about the trip at various times and come up with an idea of something to bring, I jot it down on my list (which is already pre-filled with the basics). This is so helpful and really reduces my packing stress!

    • Yep, checklists are great! I like the idea of having a running list a few weeks before so you can add to it as you think of things.

      Hmmm… I’m interested to hear that several of you have never been asked for a birth certificate! It’s listed on several airline websites (sorry, the comment program isn’t letting me link to it!) for when you are traveling with a child under two as a lap child. I guess some just don’t enforce it! But it’s easy to pack, and like you said, better safe than sorry!
      .-= Emily´s last blog ..Flying with Babies at Simple Kids =-.

  8. I am going to be flying with my 2 kids (2years and 8 months), for the first time, BY MYSELF! I’m nervous, scared and worried…BUT I’m hopeful my little guys will pull through for me and be good.

    I will be armed with snacks galore and $$ for drinks for our neighbors 🙂 I LOVE the lollipop advice…I will definitely be bringing those too!

    Wish me luck…..

  9. The best thing I’ve found as a mother of 3 little kids is to give each of them, and myself, a dose of painkilling medicine as soon as we’re on the plane. By the time we take off, it’s taken effect so we don’t get the earache associated with gaining altitude. Sometimes I do the same for landing, but on my last trip, which was a 7 hour flight, I didn’t find it was necessary to give another dose as the first one still hadn’t worn off.

    • Good call! If you know that you or your little ones have trouble with their ears during flight, then that is a great idea!

  10. I know that it’s not always possible for everyone, but I try to plan my flights when I know will be a good time for my youngest. Just after naptime is usually a winner! There are so many new and exciting things for him to see that I can’t count on him falling asleep during the flight, and I don’t want him to be cranky because he’s too tired. Aisle seats are great if you can get them, and I always try to sit at the back of the plane. Another favorite I have is when flying some airlines you can purchase a snack pack for around $5, my son is always more excited to open the wrappers and try something “fun-sized” than to stick with mom’s boring old snacks 😀 Great article!!!

  11. We have yet to fly with our kids, partly because I’ve been really nervous about it. But, this post has given me some confidence, Emily. Thank you 🙂

    I’ve really enjoyed reading the tips readers have been leaving in the comments, too. Some of these are good no matter what your form of travel – by air, train, or other transportation. Good ideas!

  12. The biggest struggle I found when traveling with an infant was the security check. I had my mom with me, but she went through first. I learned I should have had her walk through with the baby, because once she was through, they wouldn’t let me pass the baby through to her, and I still had to load the stroller and carseat (which I was gate-checking) onto the xray belt. After struggling for what seemed like an eternity, the people behind me finally helped as they weren’t going to make it through until I got through. I’m flying in July with my second child, who will be 15 months, and not taking a stroller. I’ll carry her in my BabyHawk carrier but will be taking a carseat to gate-check (or hopefully get a complimentary seat for!). We’ll see how it goes this time around!

    • Oh the security check! You are so right, Sarah. That can be very stressful. I put my little guy in a baby carrier while I broke everything down and told the TSA worker that they would have to come get the stroller. 🙂

      I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you to get a complimentary seat for your little one, but they tend to really overbook flights these days!

      They do make a gadget that turns your convertible car seat into a stroller that I hear works great in an airport and isn’t bulky. You might look into that!
      .-= Emily´s last blog ..Six Years Ago… =-.

  13. Be aware that baby carriers/backpacks/slings also need to be taken off and put through the X-ray machine! I found that was even harder than putting a stroller up and down, because I’ve always found mine too fiddly. And in an airport I found it impossible.

    • What I researched said that as long as it didn’t have any metal that made the machine beep you could walk through with your baby in a sling/carrier…. I guess I’ll find out come July!

      • I’m in Australia and I’ve had to take the carrier completely off and there were no metal parts. I think they want to make sure you’re not carrying any drugs in it. That was for domestic as well as international flights. It was such a hassle.

      • My experience has been about 50/50 with baby carriers in the security line. Sometimes they let me leave it on and sometimes they make me take it off!
        .-= Haley´s last blog ..How Old is Old Enough? =-.

        • I’ve had varying experiences as well. Sometimes they let me keep the carrier on, sometimes not. Just be prepared to take it off, and grateful if they don’t ask. 🙂 I also find carriers much easier than a stroller, but we gate-check our carseat often just to make sure it gets on our airplane.

          Our almost two-year old flies a lot with family cross-country and moving, five or six times at this point. Flying at every age is different. I found very young to be surprisingly easy, as all she wanted to do was nurse and be held. Even older she still nursed to sleep so we’d try for overnight flights. One flight I bought her all the fun puffy baby foods we don’t normally get, she was in ectasy. 🙂

          Some airports have play areas where they can run off some steam. If not, we still get there early so she can run around at our gate. Most of all, remember: it’ll be over soon! And, those grumpy airplane neighbors will hopefully understand someday (or at least, they’ll soon forget).

  14. We have flown several times with our kids who are now 3.5 and 17 months. Both short (2 hours) and long (11 hours). We gate check our stroller so we can have it with us while checking in and going through security screenings. It definitely helps to have someone with you at the xray screening stuff to pass off babies and load everything onto the belt.

    Regarding in flight, I’ve just found it best to talk about what’s going to happen with your kids before it all happens. About a week before hand, we talk about the trip we’re going on and that we’re going to the airport and we’re going to fly on a big plane, blah blah blah. really play up and describe all the things that are going to happen. We also talk about expectations before a big event. Things like how loud can we talk, that we need to stay in our seats, please and thank yous to the inflight attendents etc. If our boys know what’s going to happen and know what is expected we can generally avoid meltdowns. Granted this doesnt really apply to babies, but for the toddler age it’s great. Also make sure to pack things to keep them busy, and don’t unload all the toys at once. keep some toys in the bag for hour 5 and beyond when they are bored with the first toys.
    .-= kate´s last blog ..Day 1: Amsterdam =-.

  15. Three things I would add:
    1. TSA will allow you to bring liquids for your little one. We’ve been able to bring juice, milk, and even water bottles through security, as long as you let them unscrew the tops and wave their detector strip over the top.

    2. Someone else mentioned, but it’s worth repeating that many airports (at least in the US) have childrens play areas. They may be small, but it’s great entertainment for layovers, so you can save your “bag of tricks” for the actual flight. Even our TINY local airport has a corner with a lego table.

    3. I always dress my toddler in bright colors while traveling. Of course, we wouldn’t let him wander away, but it eases my mind to know that he will stand out in the crowd if he does bolt while we are waiting in line or something.
    .-= Alissa´s last blog ..This and That and a Haircut =-.

  16. Jennifer says:

    One of the best bits of advice I got as a new mom was to bring an extra shirt for yourself–especially if you are traveling with an infant or newly eating toddler. You’ll look just as spit-upy and messy as they do by the end of the trip. If you can’t fit an extra shirt in your carry on bag, then don’t wear black it tends to show a lot more than you’d expect. This tip has come in handy several times & is especially helpful if you’re visiting people you haven’t seen in a long time. A clean shirt helps you look fresh even if you don’t feel it!


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