A lot of people think that once you have a baby you have to stop traveling. Fortunately, that’s far from the truth. In this guest post, Kristin Addis from Be My Travel Muse and Parenthood Adventures shares her tips for flying with a baby so you can travel with confidence the next time you take flight with your little one.
Flying with a baby can seem daunting. Plenty of parents dream of traveling with their little one, but visions of an entire plane of people gawking as their child cries keeps them from taking the leap. As the mom of a well-traveled one-year-old, I’ve had my fair share of flights where everyone complimented how well my baby did, and others where I was counting the seconds until it was over, with a fussy, squirming child in my arms. From those successes and failures, I’ve learned a lot about how to make a long flight more tolerable with an infant. With 10 countries and nearly 100 flights as a family under my belt (plus some solo with my child), here’s everything I’ve learned about how to fly internationally with a baby:
Get Your Documents in Order Prior to Booking
Before traveling internationally, ensure you’ve left enough time to get your baby a passport. First, you’ll need a birth certificate, and depending on where you live, this could take a while. Next, take photos of your child lying on a white background (I used a T-shirt) and make your passport office appointment, where you’ll submit your application forms (available online and at the office), photos, and payment. Check your local passport office or post office for the required documents and procedures. Make sure that you leave plenty of time to spare for processing the application. Consider expediting it if there’s a long wait or if you plan to travel in a week’s time (in which case, go in person). It took us about three weeks to get the appointment, and six more to get the passport (even with expedited processing).
Make Sure Baby Has a Ticket
Even if your infant will be on your lap, they still need to be ticketed to be allowed to board. For international flights, you’ll have to pay the taxes, and usually 10% of the adult fare, even if they’re just on your lap. Make sure you have this ticket confirmation prior to heading to the airport. I have run into issues before, when the airline said my son was added to my reservation when in fact he wasn’t, causing me to miss my flight while we sorted out the extra ticket and fees. Now, I make sure I have the actual ticket confirmation to avoid any issues.
Reserve a Bassinet
For those traveling with lap infants, check with your airline to reserve a bassinet. Bassinets attach to the area in front of the bulkhead seats, providing a safe and cozy spot for your baby to rest during the flight, and giving you your lap back. You do not need to book your child their own seat to reserve a bassinet, as it will be attached to the wall in front of you. They have weight limits, but each airline is different in terms of what those are, with most being 20–26 lbs. These bassinets are limited, and bulkhead seats are popular, so make your reservation early to secure one. Not every airline reserves these ahead of time, but some do. Singapore Airlines and Emirates even reserve bassinet seats especially for parents!
Get Toddlers Their Own Seat for Longer Flights
Children under two can fly on your lap (usually for free or for a discount, as mentioned above) instead of in their own seat, but on lengthy international flights, it’s well worth booking a separate seat for them. If they’re mobile, they’ll be squirming and encroaching on the space of the people next to you if they don’t have their own seat and will probably be frustrated that they can’t move around more. Though we didn’t do this for my baby before he was standing and crawling, on our most recent flight, from Cape Town to San Francisco, which involved 24 combined hours in the air, it was our saving grace. Having our own row gave my son space to move, stand, climb a bit, and get his energy out. It also gave us more legroom and a space for him to sleep. It was so worth the expense. If you do this, you’ll need to either bring a car seat or CARES harness onboard for them. A CARES harness wraps around the seat, creating a better-fitting seat belt situation, but they are only usable for babies who can sit up comfortably unaided, are over 3 feet (1 meter) tall, and weigh 22-44 lbs (10-20 kg).
Reserve a Meal for Them
Some airlines offer baby meals, such as purees, and even toddler meals. Though it’s a rare offering, Emirates even has formula onboard! Notify the airline in advance about any dietary restrictions or allergies your child may have. Airlines can often accommodate special requests, ensuring that your child has a suitable and safe meal during the flight. I always pack our own snacks and food as well, since you never know what the meal might include, and babies get hungry on their own schedule. Don’t count on the airline to provide milk for your child. We’ve found that while some have milk onboard, they’re not really prepared with extra for babies and toddlers, and some might not have any to spare at all. We bring our own plant milk in smaller containers (see below about quantities), or lately, I’ve been bringing powdered fortified oat milk sachets now that he’s older. Toddler formula is an option as well!
Print Their Boarding Pass
Even though parents can use mobile boarding passes, I’ve always been required to show a printed ticket for our baby, even as a lap infant. From time to time, the ticketing agents have not realized this and said we could use a mobile ticket, but TSA, at least in the US, may require the printed ticket to get through security. While you’re checking in at the kiosk, just ask for printed tickets to avoid any headache.
Leave Extra Time at the Airport
Give yourself more time at the airport than you ever did before when traveling with a baby. Diaper changes, blowouts, extra time in security, and impromptu feedings can all happen, and having a comfortable buffer before your flight leaves is essential. It also allows for a more leisurely airport experience, ensuring that you don’t start off the whole trip rushed and stressed. You may have been able to sprint to a closing gate in the past, but that’s going to be difficult with a baby and all the extra luggage that entails!
Be Aware of TSA Regulations
Security is a whole new experience as a parent, and one you’ll be spending extra time dealing with. Familiarize yourself with regulations concerning traveling with a child, and know your rights. Regulations can change, so if you’re departing from the US, check the TSA website for the most up-to-date information (and if abroad, check your country’s website). The most important thing to know is that formula, breast milk, juice, water, and food for infants are allowed over the 3 oz./100ml limit in “reasonable” quantities, which will be up to the agent. I have only been questioned once, and only in the US. Abroad, we’ve hardly been given any extra checks when the agents know the liquids are for a baby. We even brought an entire carry-on full of oat milk through security in South Africa without anyone batting an eye. However, when going through US security, you will have extra checks. They may run any liquids through an extra scanner, bomb-test the bag if there’s powdered formula, and even take off the lid to perform a vapor test. This can take anywhere from 5 to 20 extra minutes, even if you have TSA Precheck!