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Traveling With an Infant on a Plane

By Amalah


Hi Amy!

I love you! I love your blog! I love your advice! Please help me! 🙂

I am going to be flying to visit my parents next month with my precious, sweet, adorable, munchable baby boy.

Fortunately, I found a direct flight, so we’ll only be in the air for a little over 2 hours. Unfortunately, I’ll be by myself. And I am kind of freaking out about it. He will be 4 months old by then, so I don’t have to worry about packing baby food or anything like that. But! What all do I need to bring on the plane? The car seat is a must because my parents don’t own one. So what do I do with the base? Ask my parents to buy one? That’s kind of a pricey investment for one week of use. Do I bring a stroller? And should I just take the stroller all the way to the gate? And when I think about going through security with him, well, my head just kind of explodes. Any advice for packing formula and bottles? Can I get away with pre-filling the bottles with water before I go through security? Should I bring a carry on for me in addition to the diaper bag? Will I get through security alive? I don’t know! Any wisdom from your experience flying with sweet Ezra would be much appreciated!

Thanks again!

Oh my God, you guys. I take ONE TEENSY TINY LITTLE FLIGHT (one-and-a-half hours! that’s it!) with my baby and I have already gotten at least five questions about flying with a baby this week. If that’s all it takes to become an expert on a topic, I have seriously missed my calling as a Master Sommelier.

So. First. It’s going to be okay. Your flight is short, your baby is young. It’s going to be really okay. Okay?

Lemma run through your questions in order, the best that I can.

1) The car seat.

A four-month-old baby can ride on your lap, if you prefer, and the car seat (and base!) can be checked with your suitcase. (You can buy fabric travel covers online for some models, but really, wrapping it in plastic wrap and packing tape is enough.) And as long as your car seat is something very common in the U.S. and Canada, both the seat AND the base should fit in most airline seats. Google your seat type and “airplane seat” or something similar, and you’ll probably find confirmation from somebody at Yahoo Answers or a message board somewhere. If not, call the airline and ask, but from what I’ve read *most* of the most popular infant seat models will fit in an airplane seat complete with base, perhaps with the armrests up. Opt for a middle and aisle seat, I’d say, just to be sure.

Should the baby ride on your lap or in a carseat in his own seat? I’d say that depends on your baby (and your travel budget). Noah’s infant seat equaled instant nap for him, so I probably would have sprung for a second seat. That thought never even crossed my mind with Ezra, who haaaaaates his carseat and looooooooves to be held, so I knew he’d be happier on my lap. Plus, it’s cheaper, and I am ALL ABOUT using the least amount of “stuff” this time. Stuff sucks. Stuff is heavy, and awkward, and stuff. (Editor: I love The Car Seat Lady. She’s so passionate that she’s famous for stopping cars on the road to help adjust the car seat correctly.)

2) The stroller.

I did not bring one on my trip. I packed a pouch sling in my luggage and carried Ezra through the airport in the Ergo Carrier. If you’re opting to keep him on your lap on the plane and own any sort of baby carrier, I HIGHLY recommend this option, particularly for the ease at security and the lack of waiting for a gate-checked stroller. It was SO EASY, even with a 19-pounder.

You can check a stroller as baggage, or your parents could probably get a very cheap used one online — or find one to borrow from friends. There are probably 1,390,348 strollers currently in circulation for every one baby out there. My in-laws picked most of the basic baby gear up at yard sales back when I was pregnant with Noah, and even though we drive to see them, it is SO NICE knowing they have a serviceable stroller, car seat, crib, booster seat, etc. and we can leave ours at home.

If you decide to buy your baby a ticket and bring the infant carseat, BUY A STROLLER FRAME. The Snap-N-Go or the Graco or Maclaren equivalent. (We had the Maclaren. Loved. It.) Again, you can find these by the dozens on Craigslist if money is tight. Do not bring a big honking travel system stroller deal through security by yourself. You know, the kind that takes two hands to open and close and will be waaaay too wide to fit through the x-ray machine. There is no need to do that to yourself. Get a little frame that folds up umbrella-style that the car seat can snap into. Shove the seat base in the basket underneath but keep NOTHING ELSE down there — you’ll need to remove it all and fold the frame up at security, and that’s the last time you want to be fumbling with stray teething rings and sippy cups and what-have-you.

3) Bottles and formula.

The airline restrictions on fluids/liquids DO NOT apply to baby formula and pumped breastmilk. I’m breastfeeding but supplementing, and brought a bottle on the flight — I filled it with water and brought along a powdered formula dispenser and security didn’t bat an eye, even though they confiscated a small bottle of water from a side pocket of my friend’s carry-on that she didn’t even realize was there.

4) Additional carry-on luggage.

Oh God, no. I had this brief crazy thought the night before my trip that because my suitcase was probably over the airline’s 50-pound limit (and would thus incur an additional charge to check), that I should maybe pack stuff into a small carry-on suitcase, PLUS my regular checked bag AND my diaper bag AND the baby AND…no. I came to my senses and thank goodness. I checked in online, dropped my suitcase off with the curbside guys, and while I had a GENEROUS TIP ready to possibly encourage them to not notice how heavy my bag was…I think there was something about a woman traveling with a baby strapped to her body that made them look away anyway. Streamline, baby. Bring as little as you can through security and onto the plane. Basically: your wallet, milk, change of clothes, diapers…and…maybe more diapers, just to be safe. (I changed way more diapers in the airport than on the plane. I changed zero on the plane.) You very likely aren’t going to use the flight for iPod time, or to read a book, or catch up on your thank-you notes, so really go with the bare minimum.

5) Security.

Again, I really recommend wearing the baby to the airport, and that’s not just the dirty hippie talking. With Ezra in the Ergo, I put my diaper bag in a bin, took off my shoes, then quickly unhooked him, tossed the carrier in the bin with my shoes, and walked through security with him in my arms. I did ask my friend to hold him while I put my shoes on and everything, but if I’d been by myself I easily could have put him back in the carrier first and then retrieved everything else. If you AREN’T doing the lap child option and need to bring more gear through — I promise you aren’t the first woman shoving a Graco Snugride through the x-ray machine and forgetting to put the handle down. Take your time, take deep breaths, tell people behind you to go first, whatever cuts down on that security line PRESSUREPRESSUREPRESSURE.

And on that note, three more tips (man, I am all about the numbered lists today):

1) Pre-board.

Extra time on the airplane may not always be super-ideal for a little one, but getting to board before the crowd and with less pressure from a long line of people generally IS beneficial to a stressed-out solo-mama.

2) Nurse/feed/pacify during take-off and landing.

Whatever you need to do to ensure he’s sucking during prime ear-popping time. I didn’t do the pre-medicating thing, though I did bring teething tablets (Update: FDA has issued a warning on homeopathic teething tablets and gels) just in case of some weird random screaming fit. ANDHEWASFINE.

3) Ask for help.

Here’s the thing: a LOT of people like babies. Some of them even LOVE babies. These people will generally make themselves known to you. Ezra was gushed over by every. single. airport security employee, by gate attendants who let my friend pre-board with me because she was “with the baby,” by random passengers on our plane who stopped in the aisle to smile at him. If you’re suddenly struggling one-handed with a stroller that won’t fold up properly, throw yourself at the mercy of the security line and ask if someone will hold the baby for you. If you need to pour formula into a bottle and your baby keeps whacking it out of your hand, ask your seatmate for help, or a flight attendant. Yes, some people are jerks and hate babies and hate babies on planes and blah blah blah, but I think your chances of sitting next to a person like that are smaller than you think.

And lastly:

4) You (and your baby) will probably never see any of these people again.


Photo by insouciance

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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