There are so many things to think about that very first time you fly with a baby! It can be an incredibly overwhelming process from how to book a baby’s airline ticket to what you’re allowed to bring on board with your baby.
So here to help you plan that first flight with a baby, this mega-post includes:
We have reviewed 30+ airlines for their family policies, so if you want more detail on any of the individual airlines baby policies, we suggest you read these guides as so many factors can be airline and country dependent.
Only at the pregnancy stage? See our Ultimate Guide to Flying Pregnant here.
This post is part of our flying with kids series – everything you want to know about flying with babies and toddlers, we should have you covered!
NB: Our focus is on long haul flying with children. Whilst most of our tips equally apply to domestic flights, bear this in mind as you read through our tips as some onboard facilities and service won’t be the same on shorter flights or budget airlines.
Flying with a Baby: Booking infant airline tickets
Generally speaking, babies under the age of 2 are considered “Infants” in the airline industry. Parents have the choice of holding an infant on their laps or paying for them to have their own seat.
Lap baby vs seat for your infant
There can be a huge cost difference to consider between a lap baby and buying a separate seat. Depending on the airline and route, a lap baby will either fly for free or pay a nominal amount of the adult ticket – usually 10% plus taxes.
If an infant flies in their own seat, they will be charged for their own ticket at a child’s rate, which is usually 90% of the adult ticket price. This can only be done if your child is in the correct safety restraint, we’ll cover this more below.
If your infant is travelling on your lap, the airline will provide you with a lap belt extension to hold the infant during take-off, landing and when the seat belt sign is on
(NB – we have seen this practice EVERYWHERE in the world, except on North American airlines. For countries that are so safety conscious, I cannot explain why these are not issued as standard but this might considerably change your view when deciding between lap infant or own sat.)
Can I book an airline ticket for my baby before they are born?
Depending on the individual airline’s policy, you can book a ticket and add the name later (the name you use must match the passport), or alternatively book your adult ticket then add an infant to your booking later once you have your paperwork.
If you are flying internationally, baby must have their passport before they can fly, long gone are the days when babies names were added to the parents passport.
The only time we have seen an issue with the baby being added later is when, for example, a baby is added to a business class booking and there are not enough “baby seats” ie – where there are enough seats fitted with infant oxygen masks. Every row in Economy Class has an extra mask but business cabins are not designed the same way.
If you are lucky enough to score a business class seat, this can be a great way to tackle your first baby flight with not only more room but more attentive staff and better facilities such as the airport lounge along the way!
So what exactly is a bassinet seat?
Keep hearing advice that you need to book the bassinet seat?
This is the row of seats, normally in the bulkhead behind the toilets or galley, where an infant bassinet or cot can be hung from the wall for a baby to sleep in during the flight.
If you are travelling long haul with a baby under 12 months, this is by far the best spot to sit with a lap infant! (NB, usually flights need to be at least 4 hours for the bassinet seat to be used – varies by airline).
There are quite a few restrictions on its use and one thing to be really mindful of sitting in the bulkhead is that your armrests won’t move, but… you do get extra leg space! (If your airline is not totally tight and sold these off for the extra legroom seats).
Some airlines automatically add parents to the bulkhead row when booking with a lap infant, but ALWAYS check, double-check, ring again and get to the flight early to secure your spot (Yes, even with a “confirmed “booking you could get bumped if there are other babies on board). The bassinet seat is NEVER guaranteed until you get on that plane!!
Car Seats on Planes
I can honestly say in all our years of flying with babies and toddlers we have not chosen this method of flying with babies. However, now understanding that North American Airlines do NOT routinely hand out infant lap belts, we can see why this is a popular option for many parents, and certainly safer than having no lap belt.
If you wish your child to fly in a car seat, they need to have their own seat booked on the airplane. You will pay a child’s price for this ticket, regardless if they are under 2-years-old.
Every child’s needs will differ, but we have found our kids do not like to be cooped up in their car seat, preferring the comfort of being able to spread their legs out (we’ll cover more on this below).
Other parents swear by using car seats, particularly if you will use them at your destination – and say that their children sleep far better with the familiarity of their car seat – each to their own,
What you do need to be aware of, is not all car seats are created equal! You must use an FAA (or equivalent authority) approved car seat. You can learn more about using travel car seats on airplanes here.
If you still need your car seats but have not booked a separate seat you can chance it bringing your seat on – but I wouldn’t push your luck.
Other ways to sit with your baby on the plane
If you are not;
- Booking the bassinet seat, or
- Booking a separate seat with a car seat
Then you will be holding your baby on your lap for the duration of the flight. The only other alternative which has worked BRILLIANTLY for us over the years is the spare seat strategy.
This works best when you’re as a couple in a row of three, or three of you in a row of four. Nobody likes the middle seat, right? They are the last to be allocated, so you can chance it and book your seats further back in the plane.
Book a window and an aisle (3 seat row) or two aisles on a wide-bodied aircraft and hope no one books the seat in between you so you can stretch out. If someone has been allocated this seat last minute, they will almost certainly to want to swap with you before take-off so your family is still seated together.
Its certainly not foolproof and relies on how full the flight is, as well as the kindness of staff and others around you, but it’s worth a shot vs 10 hours holding your baby, right?
Flying with a Baby: What can I bring as luggage?
This varies HUGELY by airline so you will really need to check your ticketing fine print.
Premium airlines normally allow larger items to be included, plus an additional 10kg of checked luggage and an extra item of hand luggage for the baby.
If you have booked a child’s seat for an infant, you will get all the benefits of a child’s ticket including luggage allowance (same as an adult) and a meal.
“Extra Items” may include a stroller, car seat, baby bassinet; read the fine print on your airline ticket to avoid disappointment.
What should I bring on board the airplane with my baby
Again this can be slightly subjective based on which airline you’re flying and the aviation rules you fall under. We will use TSA rules as an example. Please check your individual circumstances and country, but GENERALLY SPEAKING:
- You can take fluids up to 100ml through security (but baby’s milk you can take more)
- An insulated cooler to keep any pre-pumped breastmilk at the right temperature, along with ready-to-use sterilised bottles
- Approximately double the number of diapers you’d normally go through in your total transit time door-to-door! (Trust me! Air pressure can do funny things – there’s nothing worse than dealing with a major baby diaper blow out mid-air and not having enough supplies)
- Depending on your child’s age, multiple changes of clothes for baby AND you (see above!)
- A few plastic bags or baby wet dry bags for any soiled clothing (see above!)
- Pacifier, bottle or boob – and possibly your portable pumping kit
- A limited number of small toys/entertainment – see our baby toy suggestions here
- An easy to grab diaper change kit (You can keep a more comprehensive diaper bag in the overhead locker but we always keep a “quick grab” pack of essentials in the seat in front)
- Wet wipes for cleaning any surfaces they may touch
- Snacks for weaning age +, and some small energy snacks for you, especially if breastfeeding
- A nursing cover (for feeding and you may want to shade the airplane bassinet from light coming from the galley/toilet area)
- The airline will give you a bassinet blanket but your baby might like their own sleeping bag/swaddle/blankie too
What sort of bag should I take on board with a baby?
I can highly recommend using a backpack, or backpack style diaper bag when flying with kids. This will allow you to be hands-free for all the processes you need to go through and it’s easy to have a backpack on while carrying your baby in front of you.
Psst – have you seen those cute wheelie case for kids? DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT get these for your children until you know they are ready, more like 3-4 years old. Younger children will enjoy the novelty for all of 5 minutes then you will be the one pulling or carrying it. There, I’ve told you.
Flying with a baby: Getting around the airport and security
It’s a personal preference if you would rather wear your baby throughout the airport in a carrier, or take a stroller. We personally prefer the carrier as for many years we travelled with a double stroller and it was more convenient to check this with our luggage then carry our youngest infant at whatever stage in an Ergo Carrier.
If you take your stroller just check what will happen with it at the other end. You can bring on board if it is a compact stroller (we have a great in-depth review here of top compact stroller brands), or
Tips for going through airport security with a baby
Every airport will be a little different, and I know this can be the most stressful stage of the whole process- nobody wants to have precious expressed milk confiscated or witness total meltdown at this crucial stage.
You should expect:
- You will have to remove your baby from their stroller and have the stroller separately scanned; you carry the baby through security if they cannot walk
- You MAY be allowed through with them in a carrier at some airports, but most will want the carrier put through the metal detector
- You may even be asked to remove your babies pacifier – YES!
- You may be asked to test any milk that you are bringing through
I had high hopes in the early days of whisking through this part of the process with my child soundly sleeping on me, but the reality is, this part of the travel process SUCKS. It’s necessary though, but don’t go in with any disillusion it’s going to be easy, nor that you will get much help from those around you even if you’re flying solo.
That said, some security staff are angels and have helped us through in a very thoughtful and understanding way. But most of the time, this is the WORST part of the flying experience.
As you will discover once you are on board, the changing facilities on a plane are tiny! Any baby over about 6 months old really doesn’t fit so we always try and do a complete nappy and outfit change right before boarding.
If your child is at the crawling/toddling stage, either seek out an airport play area (this is improving at airports around the world) or see if you can find an empty gate to sit at for a while for them to wear off as many beans as possible before your board.
Flying with a Baby: What should I expect on board the plane?
So you’ve got your tickets, you’ve made it through security and to the boarding gate. Now, what should you expect?
When to board the plane with a baby
On many long haul flights (though not ALL), they will have an early boarding call for families. If you’ve got a lot of bags with you USE THIS!
Alternatively, if you’ve got a child that needs to crawl or run off some beans, we tend to leave it as late as possible to minimise the amount of time needing to sit still (or send one of you onboard early if you have two parents to nab the overhead locker space and set up camp!).
In the bassinet row with a baby
If you have scored the bassinet row seat, getting into the flight early will ensure you have the converted overhead locker space as no bags can be left at your feet during takeoff (a drawback to taking the front row).
It is usual practice on long haul flights they will not bring out the bassinet until the plane has reached cruising altitude – this can be quite a long time from when you first boarded the flight, especially if you’re delayed on the tarmac so do expect quite a bit of baby holding time still.
Dealing with take-off and ear pressure flying with a baby
Other than all the usual reasons a baby can cry, the biggest EXTRA thing to think about is ear pressure. This is particularly prevalent during take-off and descent. The most important piece of advice for a smooth journey with babies (and toddlers and beyond) is to get them sucking during take-off and descent.
With babies, this can be done by either pacifier or offering them milk – breast or bottle to help them equalise the pressure.
Older children, this is the time you can bribe them with sucking on a sweet!
The other part of cabin pressure you mustn’t forget is the impact it can have on your insides! You will both no doubt be more dehydrated than usual, so don’t be surprised if baby wants feeds more often than usual.
And be prepared for what it can do to baby’s tummy!! Hence suggesting you take the extra diapers and change of clothes.
Entertainment on board with a baby
So you’re finally in the air, now what?
Whilst some long haul airlines do provide small amenities kits to parents, some may even provide a cuddly toy, we suggest you bring your own toys to keep baby entertained. There’s a good list of suggestions here for your one-year-olds and here for your two-year-olds.
There is zero hope that an infant will be interested in onboard entertainment – as in the screen backs (or the screen will pull up from between the chairs if you are in the front row). You still have a few years before iPads and tablets are an effective entertainment tool.
(Please, don’t dream of being THAT PARENT that lets their kid play with their phone or tablet out loud – no headphones = too young to be using them on a plane).
You will be surprised how entertained a tot can be kept from basic items.
Mealtimes Flying with a Baby
This can be super tricky (especially if you’re flying alone). If you have a baby on your lap, how on earth are you supposed to eat and drink?
If you haven’t scored with any of the tricks we’ve mentioned above (ie, bassinet seat, using a car seat or using a spare seat), then yes, this is most definitely a logistics challenge.
- How long is your flight? Can you skip the offered meal and bring your own sandwiches to snack on?
- Travelling with another adult? If you pre-order a special meal these will come out first, you can take it in turns then to eat and half your tray cleared before the main cabin service starts.
Feeding your baby
We suggest you pop on over and check out these two detailed baby feeding guides on our website:
- Everything you need to know about breastfeeding while travelling
- Everything you need to know about bottle-feeding while travelling
On solids? Most long haul airlines will only have pouches of baby food for infant meals. Once your child is over 2-years-old or in their own seat, you can order them a special child’s meal at least 24/48 hours in advance of your flight.
With an older lap baby on solids, one technique that works is to order a child’s meal for yourself, then as they pass around the regular meal service you take a tray for yourself still.
For younger baby’s on solids, it’s best to come prepared with your own snacking arsenal rather than relying on the airline meals they’re not really designed for younger infants.
Toilet time on an airplane with a lap baby
OK, I know you’re curious so let’s go there. Yes, I have peed in an airplane toilet with my baby strapped on. Of course, having a flying companion hold them, the stewardess or even a fellow passenger help while you pee is immensely helpful. But if you’ve got a screamer who can’t leave your side, look sometimes it’s just gotta be done.
And what about changing bubs? In the bathroom! I know I mentioned they are tiny, the struggle is real! But please, please, don’t be one of those people who changes a baby diaper in your seat.
And when you have more than one child? Yep, been there too. As above, those cubicles are tiny. Yes, you can fit an adult, a toddler and an infant in and play tetris. 3 kids and an adult #fail. (I don’t know whether to be proud or morbidly embarrassed how many times I have tried this though)
Toddle time – can I move around the aircraft?
Yes once, the plane is in the air and seatbelt sign off there is no issue with walking your small child around the cabin – albeit be mindful it’s not disturbing other passengers. But especially on long flights a change of scenery can really help.
More than one baby on board? Check here for our guide to multiples or travelling with 2+ young children.
Flying with a Baby: How to disembark and collect your luggage
If your sanity is still intact at this point, and you’ve gotten through without too many major meltdowns, remember the journey isn’t quite over yet!
Landing with a baby
Some people prefer to wait for the plane to empty out then disembark at the end, but our kids have always been too to angsty and cannot wait to get off the flight so we are prepared and get everything set ready for landing.
Most airlines, in our experiences, will not let you put the baby in the carrier during landing, with the insistence that you use the lap belt, even if this involves moving them kicking and screaming to sit on you (safety reasons are cited but I still think strapped onto your chest is safer than a lap belt?)
Disembarking with a baby and strollers
If you’ve brought a collapsible plane stroller with you, this can be opened once you’re OFF THE PLANE. Please don’t attempt to open it in the aisle! (That said, I have seen a family do this with two Yoyo’s in the front row with amazing grace and speed – so theoretically, it’s possible if your swift and got the top gear – not all compacts have the Yoyo’s turning circle.)
If you have checked your stroller, even leaving it beside the gate, in our experience the USA is the only country that then delivers it back to you at the plane door. Everywhere else we have flown through – dozens of other countries – the strollers and oversized gear need to be collected in the baggage hall from the oversized gate. This is why we prefer a carrier, to get us through until we are reunited with our bulky gear.
Immigration with a baby
Remember it can be quite a hike to immigration and baggage claim – or transiting to your next flight. This is why we stress don’t go overboard with the carry on packing and paraphernalia, and a backpack style diaper bag is definitely better for travel.
Some airports these days (especially the big Middle East and Asia transit airports) have free stroller services, but don’t bank on these.
As you go through immigration, we’ve never had an issue leaving a sleeping baby in a sling or carrier. they may just ask to see the babies face and remove any pacifier momentarily – it’s far less stressful than the other end of the process!
Have you got any more questions you feel we have not covered about flying with a baby? We’d love to help, drop your comments below, or come and join us over on chat group Family Travel Inspiration.
More baby travel and flying advice articles
Don’t forget to check out all these helpful related posts on our blog:
- Baby Flying Review by Airline – over 30+ airlines reviewed for their family-friendly features
- Best Baby Travel Advice – dig into all our helpful baby travel articles
- 10 Baby Travel Essentials – after travelling the world with 3 kids, what are THE most important items you need for your baby?
- Best Travel Cots and Bassinets – helping baby sleep on the move, our top product recommendations
- Toddler Flying Mistakes we’ve made (and I bet you have too!) – ready for the next stage of flying? Lots of handy tips and lessons
- The Best Travel Toys for Every Age – from babies through to school age, keeping your kids entertained on board
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