Flying With Baby? 20 Must-Read Airline Hacks For Traveling with Young Kids

My kid sits quietly (thank goodness) on a flight while playing Angry Birds. Image/Adrienne Gibbs

Airlines can’t stay out the news lately can they? They seem to always be doing something awful to passengers. From the doctor who was beat down for not giving up his seat to the mother who was nearly knocked out by her own stroller as it wielded by an airport flight attendant, it seems that flying with baby is mighty perilous these days. Don’t worry, Sassy Plum is here to help you figure out how to do this. You CAN do this mom. You can fly safely and efficiently with your baby, your infant, your toddler or your young kid. And hopefully you can do it with minimal issues.

I’ve flown with my oldest many, many times. He’s been to Boston, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Orlando and Raleigh.  Each time we’ve flown there’s been some sort of major issue with folk not understanding how to strap his carseat into his seat or with folk not understanding that yes, I purchased a full fare seat for my baby. I don’t believe in holding infants for flights – especially with my history of turbulent flights. I prefer that my babies be strapped into their seats in case I fall asleep or the plane hits some bad air.  So yes, I buy a seat.

Ousted From The Flight?

And that’s why I relate so very much to the story of the young family traveling from Hawaii to Los Angeles (on Delta Airlines) and how they were removed from a flight with their two toddlers because they refused to give up a fully paid seat so that an adult on standby could be accommodated on the flight. It is utterly ridiculous that these parents were asked to give up a (likely) $350-plus seat and told to gate check their infant carrier. They paid for the seat! And then to have the flight attendent lie and say that the baby “has to” sit in the parents lap? Plus, why would you check your infant carrier and subject it to getting broken, dirty and brushed up against all the gunk and oil and other crap that is in the gut of an airline? And then put your precious new baby into it? Nopity nope. But I digress.

Getting Through Security and Flying With Babies, or, Don’t Let The Airline Folk Punk You!

This post has a list of ideas for parents who fly with young kids and babies. I’ve done it several times with success, and it’s much easier to do it with my husband or my sister. I’m not a fan of traveling by myself in an airport with an infant because people seem to think that you are extra stupid (see Hawaii story) or they are extra mean when they see you with a baby. (And not to knock TSA too much, because they do try to keep us safe, but DAMN, the agents who insist that on testing every bottle of breast milk or the ones who want you open every bottle of formula even though the bottles expire two hours after opening, so WHAT WILL BABY DO for food four hours from now when you are on hour two of your five-hour flight to Los Angeles. (You can also find related articles tagged at the bottom of the post for more reading.)

Here are a few tips and tricks for flying with baby, in no particular order of importance.

  1. Buy a seat for your kids. Yes. Yes. It’s expensive. Yes. Yes. But do you really want to hold your baby for a six hour flight? I mean, you’re going from Chicago to Nashville? Sure. Hold the kid. You’ll only be in the air for like 40 minutes. But New York to San Diego requires a different approach. Plus, never underestimate the fact that if you get a bad patch of turbulence, it will be VERY difficult to safely cradle your infants head and to hold your infant. (If you’ve ever hit the six-foot drop turbulence and difficult landings in high winds, you know what I’m talking about. And if you’ve never experienced severe, almost pee on yourself turbulence before, then God bless you and keep you that way.)
  2. Bring extra food, diapers, change of clothes, formula, applesauce for the kid(s), band-aids and infant Tylenol. Bring more than you think because you might get stuck on an airplane that is sitting on the tarmac for like, four hours. Bring at least a full day’s worth of food and diapers with you. Always bring a painkiller. Just in case…
  3. Take the first flight. With young children, be sure to snag the very first flight. If flights will be delayed, it’ll be the ones that happen later in the day. Plus first flight babies will probably sleep though most of it.
  4. Never underestimate being overtired. Overtired babies cry and cry and cry. And airports are stimulating. Be sure to bring a nice blanket to cover baby’s head, to hold baby a lot and to let baby go to sleep if baby is super tired. That’s why it’s great to be on that first flight.
  5. Board the plane last if you can. If you are traveling with someone, have them board at the regular time and set up the infant carrier, put your bag under the seat, etc. Then you board with baby at the last possible minute. That way if your kid is a toddler, they can run around until the last possible second.
  6. Pop a boob out for take off and landing. Even if you don’t nurse on the regular, flight time is an excellent time to nurse – even older toddlers. It’s not about milk, it’s about comfort. I nurse my babies up and nurse them down. And I’ve long since stopped caring about whether the man across the aisle will see my tit. Oh well. He probably thinks boobs are for sex and he probably watches too many porn films. I don’t care anymore. I’d rather have a suckling toddler than a screaming one.
  7. Buy some stickers. My kid loved to play with those Melissa and Doug stickers that stick to glass and other surfaces and peel off.
  8. Change activities every 15 minutes. Just like in daycare or preschool, be sure to bring enough activities to rotate with your kids every 15 or so minutes. Start with books and soft toys. Rotate to stickers. Play with the ice cubes in the cups. Provide goldfish at regular intervals. It’s ok to repeat activities, but try to bring coloring books, extra crayons, markers, play dough, books, a charged iPad or charged cell phone with kids shows loaded on them and a doodle buddy type toy.
  9. Use your iPad/iPhone/Android. Even if you are a crunchy, no TV type mom, a flight is a good time to suspend that rule. My kids love the little cartoons on Super Simple Learning on YouTube that show an owl singing Twinkle Twinkle little Star. You can download the app for free and they will watch that dangon owl fly to the moon and stars and sing to the universe. It MESMERIZES them. Then often they fall asleep. Angry birds is good too – even for infants. As long as they can point, they can touch the screen and get a response from the pigs and birds. You can talk them through it and they could stay entertained for at least a half hour – long enough to get you to the next activity.
  10. Bring water and extra clothing for the adults. Kids get sick. Poop explosions happen. Yes they do. Be ready with an extra set of clothing.
  11. Be strategic. Use your shawl as a baby blanket. Use a tattered baby blanket as a changing table. Keep crackers in each pocket. Keep a toy car in every nook and cranny, so if you are in a tight spot, you can reach anywhere and find something they want or need.
  12. Change a pee diaper in your lap. Moms. Hopefully you’ve mastered the art of changing the diaper without going to the actual bathroom. I don’t know official airline rules on this, but before dragging my infant to that dirty ass plane bathroom, I will change him in my seat. Quick. Ninja quick. If there is poop, however, I will take him to the bathroom for a changing.
  13. Gate-check your stroller. Yes that’s right. Put baby in your big ass, gigantic Cadillac of a stroller and roll that bad boy all the way to the gate. Then? Tell the agent you want to gate check it. Take the infant seat on the plane and then when you get off, your stroller will be in the hallway with all the other handicapped accessories for other passengers who can’t walk well.
  14. Put your bags directly above you. This is not the time to put stuff five rows down.
  15. If you are traveling alone, ask for help. Tell the flight attendant you are alone. Say hello to the pilot and say you’re traveling alone and anything you can do to help make sure my little ones ears don’t hurt too much would be super appreciated.
  16. About those ears. Pilots CAN control the air pressure in their planes. Tell them you have a baby and can they please help you out a bit. They can slow the descent just a smidge to help better equalize things. But also, be sure to give your kids gum, candy, a sucker, a lollipop, a bottle or a boob when you start to descend. They need to swallow every 3-5 seconds to equalize that pressure.
  17. Traveling with colds. Don’t do it. It can hurt your ears. If you must do it, take a decongestant. And if your baby is sick, please reconsider flying. A busted ear drum is no fun. Trust me, I’ve busted mine five times now, all on the descent. That’s no fun and plenty painful.
  18. Print out the TSA rules for infants, strollers, seats and milk/food. Bring them with you in an easy-to-reach location. If anyone tells you that you can’t use your car seat on the plane or that babies “have” to sit in the last row, you can pull out your federal law and read it to them. Per TSA rules, you an bring bottled water through security if you have your infant with you. So load up!
  19. Tell TSA to change into new gloves. You have the right to ask them to put on new gloves when putting their hands in your diaper bag. And you should because their hands touch a bunch of stuff that has been sitting on the ground. Do you really want those germs in your baby’s bottles?
  20. Leave early, don’t rush and remember that most airports have playlots. If this is your first time flying, just give yourself lots of time. You can always visit the playlot if you need to burn off time and energy.

Related: Travel Tips for Flying with  Turnt-Up Kids

What travel tips do you have for flights? Let us know!

Happy travels!