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Airplane travel with baby : Advice from parenting expert Elizabeth Pantley (Part 1)

With the summer holidays upon us, many new parents are facing airplane travel with their baby for the very first time. It can be a daunting experience, so we’ve invited parenting expert Elizabeth Pantley to share her tips on preparing for travelling with your baby or toddler.

Flying high above the PacificQuestion

We’re about to take our first airplane trip with our one-year-old. We flew quite a bit before she was born, but now we’re not sure what to pack or how to make this trip successful.

Learn about it

Even if you racked up your share of frequent flyer miles before your baby was born, forget what you know of travel so far. Flying with a little one is a whole different story.

If you fear turning into one of those families we’ve all met aboard planes — those with squalling, unruly, squirming children who tend to bring out the same traits in their fellow passengers — take heart. My oldest child, Angela was just 14 days old when she took her first flight, and since then, I’ve taken many more trips with my four children. I know that you can travel with your little ones and enjoy the process. Forethought and preparation are the keys.

Planning the trip

The details of your trip often can mean the difference between success and disaster. Keep these ideas in mind as you plan:

  • Examine all aspects of the journey when you book your flights. Aim for direct flights so that you can avoid changing planes. If you have to make a change, avoid short layovers that give you too little time to get from gate to gate, and conversely avoid long layovers that require lots of idle time in airports.
  • When you make your reservations, give the agent the ages of all passengers. You may learn some important rules such as:
    • FAA regulations allow only one lap-child per adult. If you are traveling with two children, and only one adult, one child will require a seat of his own. (Not that you would want to travel with two children on your lap!)
    • Some airlines do not allow newborns to fly; check on age requirements.
    • Some airlines offer discounted prices for children’s tickets.
    • Most airplanes have only one extra oxygen mask in each row, which means you can only seat one lap-child in each row. If two adults are traveling with two children, consider sitting across the aisle from each other, or two behind two.
    • Some airlines count carseats or pushchairs as extra baggage.
  • If your child falls asleep easily and stays asleep, try scheduling travel for during your child’s nap or sleep times. If you have a finicky sleeper, on the other hand, avoid traveling during usual sleep times, as your baby may just stay fussy and awake.
  • Reserve your seats in advance to be sure your entire party sits together.
  • If you have an infant, ask for the bulkhead (front row) and request a bassinet.
    • Contrary to popular advice, I think it’s best to avoid the bulkhead with older babies and toddlers, because these seats offer neither under-seat space nor seat pocket, so you’ll have to store all your toys and supplies in the overhead compartment. Also, in the bulkhead, the food tray pops up from the armrest, effectively trapping you in your seat when your table is laden with food.
    • Don’t put your child in the aisle seat, as the food cart and passengers carrying luggage could injure your child.
  • Ask what special features your airline offers for families. Some companies offer children’s meals, bassinets, gate check for pushchairs, or early boarding privileges.
  • If you can afford to do so, buy a seat for your child and bring along his carseat. Your baby is used to being buckled into his carseat, and the familiarity may make it easier for him to sit still and even sleep. This only works though when your child is able to fit comfortably in the tight seat compartments. A toddler with long legs will be scrunched between his seat and the seat in front of him. The added benefit of bringing a car seat when you can, is the safety feature of having your child in a protective seat on the airplane. Make sure your carseat bears a sticker that says it’s FAA approved for air travel, so that it’s not turned away at the gate. You’ll need that seat anyway to get to and from the airport at home and at your destination. (Carseat rentals are typically expensive, and availability is often limited.)
  • Visit your baby’s pediatrician a week or two before your trip to be sure your little one isn’t harboring an ear infection or other illness. If possible, avoid exposing your child to other children the week before the flight so he’s less likely to catch one of those many kid-carried bugs.
  • If you will be visiting relatives at your destination, make a family photo album and “introduce” your baby to these new people via their pictures prior to the actual meeting.
  • If your baby will be taking any medication on the day of the trip (such as a decongestant or pain reliever), be sure to test it out before the day of travel to gauge any side effects.
  • Decide if you’ll need a pushchair / buggy at your destination. If you don’t think you’ll need a conventional one, at least consider bringing a lightweight portable type for use in airports; this will give you a free hand as you tend to tasks such as luggage check-in and pickup, while keeping your child safe and close by. If you opt to take your regular pushchair, you can usually check it at the gate or right at the door of the airplane.
    • Alternatively, a sling or soft-pack carrier can be very helpful if your child still likes to be carried and is light enough for you to carry this way for long walks through the airport.
  • Dress yourself and your child in comfortable layers of clothing. Airplanes are often cramped and hot, but sometimes too cold.

International travel

  • If only one parent is traveling, make sure you bring a letter of permission from the other parent. This should be signed and assert that the parent gives permission for the child to leave the country. You may not need this, but it’s an easy document to bring along just in case.
  • Get passports for all travelers. It’s easy to obtain a passport for a baby. Passport application forms and instructions are available at your local post office. Plan ahead though, as this can take weeks to obtain the passport after making application.
  • Take advantage of the room available in a larger airplane by taking your baby for walks when it’s safe to move about the cabin.



At your destination

  • Determine in advance where your baby will sleep, and find out if you can rent or borrow a cot, if you need one. If you plan to co-sleep you may need to move the furniture around, or even pull the mattress off the bed to make a safe sleeping situation. (Most hotel housekeeping staff will help with this if you ask politely.) Other equipment such as carseat, pushchair, highchair, and safety gates often can be rented or borrowed.
  • Find out if your brands of nappies and formula are available at your destination. If not, send a box ahead of time.
  • Ask if your accommodations have been childproofed. If not, bring along some outlet protectors and a role of duct tape for on-the-spot childproofing.
  • Pack a child-safe nightlight to make those middle-of-the-night potty runs and diaper changes safe.
  • Make sure that the vehicle you’ll be picked up in or that you are renting has enough seatbelts for everyone, plus room for luggage and your pushchair.
  • Upon arrival, you might want to collect your luggage and then send one adult for the car while the other stays at the kerb with the bags and children.
  • Remember to keep your carry-on bag organized, including snacks, for your return flight home.

For the frequent flier


Make a master list of those items you typically take along. Be sure to include those you’re more apt to forget. Keep your list on your computer, if you have one, so it’s ready to print out when it’s time to pack.

We hope that these tips help you in planning airplane travel with your baby or young children. Coming soon in the Airplane Travel with Baby series are Elizabeth Pantley’s tips for last-minute travel preparations the night before you fly, what you’ll need to do at the airport, packing your carry-on bag and baby changing bag, and how to survive the long flight itself.

Elizabeth Pantley Greatvine consultant, author of No Cry seriesAbout Greatvine Consultant Elizabeth Pantley:

Elizabeth is USA-based parenting educator and president of Better Beginnings Inc, an American family resource and education company. Her No-Cry parenting book series achived worldwide recognition and won Amazon’s Best of Parenting Award in 2005 and 2007. Elizabeth lives with her husband and four children in Washington, and can offer expert advice through Greatvine.

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Image of baby on airplane courtesy of Jyri Engestrom on Flickr.

Written by Janis P.

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