Baby on a Plane: How to Prepare

For air travel with a tot, you need a flight plan -- and some key equipment.

Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on August 19, 2014

Air travel can be an exercise in patience. Add a baby, with all the extra gear to lug, diapers to change, and cries to calm, and it becomes even more trying.

Meg Collins, author of the e-book Flying With Baby, offers this advice for arriving at your destination with your sanity intact.

Bring a car seat. This is one travel item you can't be without. It makes taking your baby from car to airport to plane a snap.

"Car seats are portable, so you can just plop them into a car or an airplane seat," Collins says.

You can also snap it into your umbrella stroller -- the type Collins recommends for trips, because it's light and portable as you move through busy airport terminals.

Although your baby flies for free on your lap, that's not the safest way to go. The Federal Aviation Administration says a parent's arms don't provide adequate protection during turbulence. The best place for your baby is strapped into a car seat. Make sure your car seat bears a sticker showing it's approved for use in both motor vehicles and airplanes.

Plan for meals. Next, think about feeding your baby. "Breastfeeding is … the easiest thing to do because you can just nurse on the airplane," Collins says. Pack a cover-up to give you and your baby privacy.

Formula feeding gets a little tougher. To save space when you pack, Collins says bring a single bottle with multiple disposable liners instead of many bottles. If you use liquid formula, the Transportation Security Administration lets you bring more than the 3.4 ounces of fluid normally allowed through security. Remember, formula that's premade can last only 1 hour at room temperature.

Powdered formula is more portable, but you'll need to ask the flight attendant for warm water to mix it with once you're on board. Always make sure the water is not too hot -- test it on the inside of your wrist.

Make diaper changes easy. Bring along a diaper changing kit, a fold-up accessory that holds diapers, wipes, and a pad that will turn any surface -- even your lap -- into a diaper-changing station.

Keep your baby on schedule. Trying to soothe a screaming baby amid the glares of your fellow passengers is stressful. One key to avoid such a scene is to keep your baby on their nap schedule.

"When kids get really tired they start melting down," Collins says. Whether you're in the terminal or on the plane, settle your baby into her carrier at the appointed time.

To combat boredom fussiness, Collins suggests you bring a few toys your baby hasn't seen before. The novelty will boost her attention span.

Takeoffs and landings are high time for crying, because babies' ears are more sensitive to pressure changes. The descent can be particularly painful. As soon as the pilot announces you're about to descend, offer baby a bottle, breast, or pacifier to relieve ear pressure. If that doesn't work, gently rub your baby's ears.

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Show Sources


American Academy of Pediatrics: "Flying with Baby." 

FAA: "Child Safety." 

Meg Collins, editor of Lucie's List: A Survival Guide for New Moms; author, Flying With Baby, Edamommy Publishing, Inc., 2013.

TSA: "Traveling with Children."

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