Traveling Safe and Stress-Free on Planes With Babies

Mother with baby on plane
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Traveling with an infant or any child under two can be a challenge, particularly if you need to travel by air over long distances. It requires plenty of preparation to ensure your baby is not only comfortable but safe during and after the flight.

Here are some simple tips that can help:

Planning Your Trip

While people have become more accustomed to booking air travel online, you may be better served to call the airline reservation desk to ensure you give and get all of the information you need. Among the considerations:

  • When making your reservation, provide the ages of all of the passengers and ask if there are any limitations or regulations you should know about. Some airlines, for example, do not allow newborns under two weeks to fly, while others charge excess baggage fees for cars seats and strollers.
  • Always ask for a bulkhead (front row) seat and request a bassinet.
  • However, for older babies, you may want to avoid the bulkhead as there will be no under-seat space to store toys or baby supplies.
  • Try to avoid booking travel during your baby's usual sleep time, particularly for longer trips, as air travel may sometimes keep babies awake and make them fussy.

International Travel

If traveling overseas, check with your pediatrician to ensure your baby is properly vaccinated. You can get an overview of the vaccinations needed for your destination country through the online Traveler's Health portal offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What to Pack

Choosing the right carry-on bag can be a lifesaver when traveling with a baby. Make sure that your bag is easy to lift or roll and, most importantly, that it falls within the airline's size and weight limitations. When packing, be sure to bring along extra supplies in the event you experience an unexpected layover or delay.

The checklist of items in your carry-on bag should include:

  • Diapers and a diaper changing pad
  • A baby blanket
  • Plenty of baby food, snacks, drinks, and formula
  • Premeasured powdered formula in individual baggies, if used
  • A bib and extra changes of clothing
  • Wet wipes
  • Empty plastic bags for used wipes or soiled diapers
  • An extra pacifier or baby bottle just in case
  • Plenty of non-noisy toys that won't disturb other passengers
  • A small medical kit with bandages
  • A small bottle of waterless antiseptic hand cleanser
  • Any baby medication, sealed in a separate ziplock bag for easy retrieval (never check in medication that cannot be replaced at your destination)

Finally, test your carry-on bag to ensure that it's not too heavy.

Just prior to your trip, ask your pediatrician to check for an ear infection or any other illness that may interfere with air travel. If you want to bring along an infant pain reliever (especially if the baby is teething), ask your pediatrician for advice.

At the Airport

When traveling with a baby, the first rule is to get to the airport early. Even if you've made every necessary preparation and ticked off every box on the checklist, there may be unexpected mishaps or delays. By arriving early, you and your baby will experience far less stress.

Here are a few other handy tips:

  • When you check-in, tell the attendant that you are traveling with a baby. Let the attendant know if you have a stroller or car seat with you.
  • Check-in as many pieces of luggage as you can. Lugging along extra carry-ons may save you money but end up costing you more in terms of stress. Keep in mind, for example, that your baby may need to be taken out the stroller or car seat as you enter security.
  • Change your baby's diaper immediately before boarding the airplane.
  • Avoid breastfeeding or bottle-feeding your baby just before boarding. If you do, the baby may fall asleep and wake up crying as you lug yourself and your belongings to your seat. It is often better to wait until you're seated and fully settled before feeding.
  • Consider bringing your stroller with you and checking it at the gate. In this way, it'll be right there waiting for you once you exit the plane.

During the Flight

Even in the best of circumstances, an otherwise happy baby can suddenly turn fussy in the strange and often noisy surroundings. Try not to panic. In most cases, if you acknowledge your difficulty to your fellow passengers (and even apologize), they'll generally be more helpful and understanding than if you pretend that they're not there.

Some other helpful tips:

  • To help your baby adjust to changes in cabin pressure, encourage swallowing during takeoff and landing. You can do this by breastfeeding or by using a bottle or pacifier.
  • Flying in an airplane can cause dehydration, a condition that happens much more quickly in babies than adults. Take extra effort to keep your baby well hydrated.
  • Changing diapers can be a real challenge on a flight. Some airplanes have changing tables, but these are typically very small and tricky for larger babies. If in doubt, speak with the flight attendant, some of whom may allow you to use their jump seat or provide you floor space near the galley or bulkhead.
  • A flight attendant is usually more than happy to heat a bottle for you. However, be sure to check the temperature as the galley system can often make liquids very hot.
  • While high-efficiency particulate filters remove 99 percent of bacteria and viruses from cabin air, make a point of avoiding anyone who seems sick or is sneezing or coughing. Wash your hands regularly and use your waterless hand cleanser at your seat, when needed.
  • Unless you have to, try not to rush off the plane once it is parked at the gate. This will prevent you from having to stand in a slow-moving line amid a crush of passengers.
4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. China Airlines. Special assistance: Infant.

  2. Weinberg MS, Weinberg N, Maloney SA. Family travel: traveling safely with infants & children. In CDC Yellow Book 2020: Health Information for International Travel. Oxford University Press.

  3. U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus. Traveling with children.

  4. Bagshaw M, Illig P. The Aircraft cabin environment. In Keystone JS, Connor BA, Mendelson M, Kozarsky PE, Nothdurft HD, Leder K, eds. Travel Medicine. 4th ed. Elsevier; 2019:429-436. doi:10.1016/b978-0-323-54696-6.00047-1

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.