The idea of getting on a plane with a baby can be intimidating, especially on those days when just getting out the door to the grocery store seems insurmountable. But with a little planning and preparation, you can turn your baby into a jet-setter before he's even learned to crawl. We've got the need-to-know necessities to make sure your travel plan is successful. (By the way, if your baby is under two weeks old, you'll need a signed travel waiver from your doctor.)
1. Get the right flight.
Take a look at your baby's schedule and see if you can plan your trip for your baby's sleepiest time. That might mean taking the red eye in the wee small hours of the morning but the payoff will be flying with a baby who – with any luck – will nap most of the trip.
Try to avoid layovers unless you need to give a bigger sibling some time to get up and move. It's hard on you (unpacking, unhooking, etc.) and it's hard on baby. Short layovers and infants do not mix – make sure you have time to get your stroller or carrier out of the gate check and on to your next gate.
2. One seat or two?
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommends that babies under 40 pounds be secured in car seats on airplanes but it's not required. Most airlines have special rates for infants so check ahead and see if it meets your travel budget.
- If you do book an extra seat, you'll be able to bring your carseat on board and the flight attendant can help you install it. Carseats don't install as tightly on planes as they do in your car (for one thing, airplanes only have lap belts) and they all work front facing. Your baby should be in the seat whenever the seatbelt light is on.
- If you won't be able to get your baby her own seat, here are some tips for flying with a baby-in-arms:
- Use a sling or other soft carrier. This will make it much easier for you to relax and get comfortable.
- If the plane has rows with three seats across, book the aisle for you and the window for your partner. Other travelers are less likely to request middle seats and if the plane isn't full and someone does get assigned the seat between you, they'll be more likely to switch to another row. If the flight is completely booked you or your partner can trade for the sandwich seat to sit together.
- Get a seat on the aisle. Then you can get up more easily for diaper changes or to walk a fussy baby.
- Alternatively, get a seat by the window. There you'll have more privacy for nursing and your baby will have a wall to bang on instead of the seat in front of her.
3. Shoot for the bulkhead.
Even if you won't be getting an extra seat for your baby, make sure to let the booking agent know that you'll be flying with an infant since you won't be able to sit in any of the emergency exit rows. Request the bulkhead seats -- the ones in the front row. That way you won't have to worry about your baby pulling on or kicking the seats ahead of you. It also gives you more floor space for stretching out and for diaper changes.
4. Give yourself lots of time for surprises.
Make sure you get to the airport with plenty of time to check in and get baby fed and changed. You don't want to be so rushed that dealing with the inevitable missing pacifier or sudden diaper blowout becomes a full-scale crisis so give yourself some wriggle room in the schedule.
5. Bring everything you think you'll need -- and then some.
Make sure you have more than enough of everything in case your flight is delayed. That means extra diapers, extra clothes, extra snacks, extra wipes and (if you're bottle feeding) extra formula. Remember, too, that planes in the gate get stuffy, but once you're in the air, it can feel extra chilly so dress your baby in layers to make it easier to deal with temperature variations. And bring extras for you, too. Sitting stuck on a plane with baby spit-up souring on your shoulder is not the way you want to start (or end) your trip! Tuck an extra t-shirt into your diaper bag just in case.
6. Be stroller smart.
Pack the sturdiest but most compact stroller you have. Practice beforehand by loading yourself, and it, with your diaper bag, your baby, and your carry-ons to make sure it holds up to the challenge of racing to your next flight. (If you'll be bringing your carseat onto the plane, make sure you've figured out how to transport that, too.) You'll be able to gate-check your stroller as you board the plane so bring it even if you have a baby who would rather ride in-arms; it'll come in handy to transport your carry-ons.
7. Don't be shy about asking for help.
Flight attendants can help you get comfortable, bring you water to mix up a bottle, dispose of stinky diapers, grab an extra pacifier out of your bag in the overhead and even hold your baby so you can take a trip to the bathroom.
8. Dealing with tears.
Traveling is hard on everybody and some babies are just less amenable to changes in scenery and routine. Try nursing or giving her something to suck to relieve the pressure in her ears, walking the aisles (if you can) or adding or removing a layer of clothes. Unfortunately, sometimes there's nothing you can do but hang in there. Don't assume every traveler on the plane is glaring at you -- most parents know exactly what you're going through!
9. A word about breastfeeding.
Is breastfeeding on planes...illegal?! We talked to Jake Aryeh Marcus, a lawyer specializing in breastfeeding rights, to get information about policies around nursing in flight. Ms. Marcus says that aviation law can be confusing and there really isn't a straight answer. If a woman is concerned, she should talk to the airline beforehand. "The advice I give people is to contact the airline by e-mail before traveling and ask what the policy is concerning breastfeeding on the plane. Then the mom can print that and bring it with her. If she is questioned by a flight attendant, she can then pull out the e-mail."
Most nursing moms will fly without incident but if you're concerned you can also take these precautions:
- Request a seat by the window and reserve the seat next to you if you won't be flying with your partner. That way you have more room to get your baby into position.
- Ask the flight attendant for a blanket or bring your own cover-up to help you be discreet.
- Wear clothing that makes it easy to latch baby on without too much rearranging, like a button-up shirt that you can unbutton from the bottom.
- If you're really uncomfortable nursing your baby in public, top him up just before you board the plane even if it's before he seems interested. He might get through the flight without needing another feed.
For more advice on family vacations, see our 10 tips for traveling with toddlers.