The 10 Essentials of Flying With a Baby

Ask any outdoor enthusiast about “10 essentials” and they’ll be able to tell you about surviving in the wilderness by packing 10 simple items. I’m here to tell you that when it comes to traveling with a baby, well, there’s definitely way more than 10 simple items you can pack for survival; so instead, I’m sharing the 10 essential things you need to know when flying with a baby so you’re prepared for your first flight and airport experience together.

1. Infants under the age of 2 fly for free within the U.S.

That’s right! Flying with an infant under 2 doesn’t cost you a thing. You do need to add them under a paid adult ticket as a “Lap Infant” or “Infant in Arms” with your airline at the time of booking, or by modifying your reservation online or on the phone. Please don’t wait until the last minute and add them at the airport – the process can be time-consuming and cause delays for you and the passengers waiting in line behind you. If you’re a parent of multiples and you’re traveling alone, note that you can only have one lap infant per paid adult fare.

Yes, you can have a lap infant on international flights too, just know there will be a surcharge for international taxes and fees (typically 10% the cost of an adult fare). 

2. When packing and preparing, remember the golden role: less is more.

Even if you’re traveling with your partner and have the extra hands to carry allllllll the extra baby things, try to edit down your packing list to necessities and a small handful of luxuries. Babies and toddlers are incredibly adaptable to their surroundings, so stick to the essentials and remember to pack one extra day’s worth of necessities in case of delays or cancellations. I like using laundry baskets as a “staging area” for what I want to bring, then edit down from there once I’m ready to actually pack for a trip.

Use packing cubes to keep everything organized en route. Consider vacuum-seal travel bags for lengthier trips.

3. Any items for baby, like medicines, diaper rash creams, water for formula, breastmilk, regular milk, etc., are all exempt from TSA liquid restrictions.

These items will need to be screened outside of your luggage, so pack with purpose. Pack all exempt liquid items last and in the same bag if you can, so they’re easy to find and remove at TSA. If you’re traveling with ice packs, know that they must be completely frozen at the time of screening (if for some reason your ice packs are confiscated, fret not, just ask a food vendor after security for a cup of ice).

Traveling with breastmilk? I’ve written a companion blog post for traveling with breastmilk to help you feel prepared and know what to expect.

4. Look up your specific airline’s “exemption items” for families.

I think we’re all familiar with the “1+1” rule of one carry-on and one personal item per passenger, a rule governed by the FAA, enforced by airlines, and is even further scrutinized based on what airline you fly and what fare-class you purchase. BUT, did you know that some airlines have exemption items that don’t count against your fare’s carry-on/personal item allotment? Diaper bags and breast pumps are the most common exemption items, so Google your preferred airline’s name and “diaper bag” or “breast pump.” You’ll want to follow the links that direct you to the airline’s website for accurate info, like in this example below:

5. Baby-wear through the airport, security checkpoint, and boarding/deplaning.

Baby-wearing gives you the freedom to transport your baby safely while being able to carry all the other luggage and necessities with ease. Going through security, you have both hands free to grab bins, take off your shoes, and remove electronics and exempt liquids from your bag. You can even baby-wear through the metal detector and keep those hands free for putting your shoes back on and re-packing electronics and exempt liquids. Note that you can baby-wear for boarding and deplaning the aircraft. You can’t baby-wear during taxi, takeoff, or landing, but you can baby-wear once you’re at cruising altitude.

6. For your travel day, pack one diaper per flight hour.

This is the magic formula that worked really well for us, and I have seen other traveling families swear by this method as well. We usually end up having extras by the end of our trip, but trust me, you’d rather have extra than run out. 

I pack a “seatback pocket bag” using a Ziplock bag with our necessities: one extra outfit for baby, an extra shirt for me, enough diapers for the flight, wipes, a pacifier, and a burp cloth. I keep it in my seatback pocket so it’s convenient to grab in a pinch.

7. Change your baby’s diaper right before you board.

You want baby to have a fresh bum for as long as possible in-flight, so best to change the diaper right before you board. Changing tables onboard are very small and can be frustrating to use, so take advantage of the full-size bathrooms on the ground while you can. I also suggest adding some fresh vaseline or bum ointment during this diaper change to help protect baby’s booty, as you never know when the seatbelt light will come on unexpectedly due to turbulence.

8. Carseats and strollers can be checked for free. If you’re gate-checking a stroller or carseat, do it first thing upon arriving at the gate.

If you check your carseat or stroller at the ticket counter upon check-in, these items will go all the way to your final destination. Gate-checking a stroller or carseat, however, means that you will have these items available to you at each connection city; they get delivered in the jet bridge or planeside, but require a special handling tag at your origin city. So when you get to your assigned gate for your first flight, let the gate agent know if you have a stroller, carseat, or both. Doing this first thing helps to help expedite boarding and gives your gate agent ample time to prepare your stroller and carseat tags.

9. You can guarantee using your carseat in-flight if you purchase a seat for your infant and if the carseat is FAA approved.

If your child is under the age of 2 and you’d prefer to bring the carseat onboard for the flight (it is the safest way for your baby to ride), you can purchase a full-fare ticket for them. Just make sure you have a carseat that is FAA approved. How do you know if your carseat is FAA approved? Look at the sticker on the side of your carseat. You may see an airplane logo and the words “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.” The text is usually in red so it’s easy to spot. You want to make sure your carseat is FAA approved and know where the text is located before your flight, as both the gate agent and flight attendant will verify this information before letting you board with your carseat.

Sometimes you can score a free seat for your infant carseat onboard with Alaska, American, Delta, and United airlines, per their websites. Each airline has their own restrictions, but typically if the flight isn’t full, there is an open seat in your row, and/or the gate agent has time to assign the seat, they will let you bring your carseat onboard for use in-flight at no charge. Simply ask the gate agent when you arrive at your assigned gate. If they are unable to accommodate the carseat, the agent will gate check the carseat to your connecting city for pickup planeside.

10. Offer your baby a pacifier, bottle, or boob for takeoff and landing.

If you remember nothing else I say, this is the one thing to remember! This helps to ease the painful pressure in your baby’s ears due to changes in altitude, much like yawning and swallowing helps to “pop” an adult’s ears during flight. If your baby is fussy for seemingly no reason, it could be ear pressure, so offer them something to suck on just to be sure their ear pressure adjusted properly.

I hope this list helps you feel at ease and more prepared as you embark on a new and fun travel adventure with your baby. You’ve got this! Please shoot me an email or reach out on Instagram to tell me how your travels went!

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