Few things in travel bring more questions, or strike more fear and wonder than the first flight with your infant or baby. No matter how many frequent flier miles you’ve logged on your own, the first time you bring that precious little someone with you, and embrace travel in a new light, you can’t help but have questions.
If you’re in that boat, ready to take your little one on their first flying adventure, there’s at least 25 things to know to bring a little peace of mind and proper planning, all of which we wondered before our first flight with baby. Here’s how to travel confidently with an infant…
Passports and ID
Babies needs their own passport to travel internationally. Make sure you get this sorted in plenty of time before your trip, and be sure to check the photo requirements carefully, since they’re slightly different for adults.
If traveling domestically in the USA, TSA Security does not require ID from babies, or even kids under 18, but the airline may require proof that the child is under 2 years of age. Be sure to always carry a copy of a birth certificate, immunization records or any photo ID documents you’ve managed over the years.
One crucial detail: international travel with just one parent can be complicated and require advanced planning or approval. If you are traveling solo with your baby infant, or without the other parent, you will likely need a notarized letter stating both parents approval for the trip, or be asked for proof of relationship to the child.
Start with a letter from the other parent stating their approval and consent for the trip, and include contact details should they need to be reached. Having the letter notarized adds a layer of security that will help immigration authorities understand the purpose of the trip, so aim to have these ready at least a few days before travel.
Baby needs their own reservation, even if its not technically their own airline ticket. If under the age of two, babies fly for free, or nearly free, depending whether the flight is international, and on the specific airline policy.
Each airline has slightly different rules of how they price this, charging either a flat fee, no fee at all, or 10% of the live fare at the time of purchase. If you paid in miles, you’d typically pay 10% of the mileage cost as well. Get travel in while you can, because over the age of two baby’s ticket will be full price, whether you’re using miles or cash.
Hot tip: airlines usually offer log books and special kits for infants first flights, which can make for fun times on board, and great memories.
Baggage For Babies
Typically, children under two are allowed to bring essential items such as car seat, buggy-strolle or travel cot etc for no charge. Some airlines also include 1 checked bag for lap infants, which can be a huge help for everyone traveling!
Check with your airline as rules may vary, and consider the extra costs you may incur from less generous airlines when factoring in the overall price of the trip. It may make sense to pay $10 more per person on an airline offering a free checked bag for infants.
Plan for extra time at pretty much every juncture. Traveling with a child can make every step take that extra bit longer, including waiting for checked bags. Make sure you leave plenty of time for layovers, departures, pick ups.
Particularly in cases where a lap infant is added onto a reservation post fact, ticketing can occasionally get messed up, leaving check in agents confused – so it pays to just pad the schedule to account for the unknown.
It may sound generic, but do a deep dive check of airline rules before booking a ticket. Every airline is different, so be sure to know what you’re getting into long before. It can be the difference in paying hundreds for baby to join, or paying nothing at all.
Skyscanner offers a solid guide of airline rules for lap infants, as well as fee tables with when and where charges may apply.
Carry On Stroller/Buggy
Can you bring your stroller on board? Maybe, it just depends which one you have. Some buggies or strollers will fold up small enough to go in the over head bins and can remain with you for the duration of the trip. Others however, must be checked at the gate, being touched and thrown around by others.
The Babyzen Yoyo+ is a popular choice, and with good reason. It’s internationally recognized by airline staff as fit to fly, and takes literal seconds to go from fully rolling to collapsed small enough for any overhead bin.
One absolute essential is to keep a change of clothes in your hand luggage. Babies can be very messy from all ends, and flights when feeding is involved can add to that even more. But don’t just take care of baby, either.
Always keep a few changes for baby and one for the adults somewhere you can access them in flight – just in case! You may only need to fly once to figure out why. Plus, with changing temperatures on planes, it’s good to have baby prepared for any weather.
Hand Luggage Essentials
Documents aside, few things matter more for baby’s first trip than well thought out packing lists. Pack baby’s essentials in hand luggage and be sure you’ve got plenty of nappies, wipes, changing mat, snacks, favourite toys, change of clothes and any other essentials with you that will last for the length of your trip.
Better yet, pack baby’s bag with extras for any delays or potential overnights. Plan for the worst, hope for the best, never the other way around! A variety of toys, books and other distractions will help baby feel comfortable, and with any luck, keep noise down for those around.
Baby Milk And Security
Baby’s milk can go through airport security and it doesn’t have to be under the 100ml limit that applies to other liquids, either. One exception? Frozen breast milk can be excluded from carry on allowances in some countries and may not be allowed past security.
The key to getting this right: let airport security know you have breast milk or formula before they start screening. The USA’s TSA Airport Security doesn’t have a set limit on how much breast milk or formula you can bring airport security, but the UK limits you to containers of 2,000ml or less.
Traveling with a child under 2, you can board your flight first, pretty much always. No need to battle with other passengers, just use the announcements for “pre boarding” as your cue.
This extra time can be a great way to ensure your stroller or buggy fits in the space above your seat, as well as any carry on bags. To ensure you don’t miss out on this nice gesture from airlines, allow adequate time to arrive at the gate prior to boarding. If you happen to be in business class and don’t need overhead space, waiting to board until the last minute can help keep baby comfortable for longer.
Babies like to touch just about everything they can get their hands on, and on planes that’s important. Even with additional airplane cleaning protocols during covid-19, not all surfaces are wiped down in between flight, which means it’s extra important to limit the risks in and around your seat.
If your airline doesn’t provide wipes and cleaning kits, be sure to travel with your own antibacterial wipes. Wipe down all the surfaces your little one may reach for, including the edges of the tray table, the under parts of the seat divider
Privacy And Seating
First of all, traveling with an infant can bring magical powers when it comes to seating assignments, and don’t be afraid to use them. Basically, some seats are reserved for people traveling with an infant, since they have special space to attach a bassinet.
Window seat can offer meaningful privacy when attempting to breast feed a baby on board, so f you want a little more privacy and no risk of having to move for another passenger, then choose a window seat. However, window seating can come at a cost to walking around space.
If you’ll likely be getting up and down a lot to walk/bounce baby, choose an aisle seat, or be sure to secure a “bulkhead” which is the first row in any part of the cabin, where it’s easier to get in and out. These bulkheads are often the only seats capable of offering an infant cot.
Not All Cabins Have Bassinets
Some parents demand a bassinet on their flight, while others prefer to keep baby in their own arms and reach during flight. If you demand a bassinet, be sure to research which plane and airline you’re flying on, or confirm the offering before booking.
Many new business class cabins don’t offer bassinets at any seat, while others may. If it’s a concern for you, it’s up to you to use airline social media, or airline seating charts available online to find out for sure.
Seatbelt For Babies On Flights
An additional small seatbelt for the baby is often attached to the adults seatbelt for take off and landing. This little harness is quite simple, and basically loops around your seatbelt to ensure it can’t travel. You clip it around baby’s mid section and you’re good to go.
Don’t be afraid to ask cabin crew about how to use yours, or inquire if a harness hasn’t been provided. When a plane aborts a take off, or experiences chop on departure, G-force can be experienced, so it’s important that baby is secure.
No Masks For Babies
Parents and children above a certain age are expected and required to wear masks on board flights these days, but infants are not. Babies or infants under 2 are absolutely not required to wear a mask on board, or at any point during their travels.
For parents, masks can be distracting for babies, and children tend to love to pull on the masks. Be sure to bring a couple extra, since it’s recommended to swap them out every 4 hours anyway, and in the likely event your baby tries to snap yours!
Feeding Is Key
Feeding baby for take off, climb, approach and landing can make all the difference in streaming tears and opera level screaming, or quiet and happy flights for all. Bottle or breast feed your baby during these times helps with the pressure in baby’s ears and provides meaningful comfort.
If you child is older, having something to suck on instead can help, and at any age, the more distractions available the better.
Heat Up Milk On Board
Even during covid-19 when airlines have reduced food and drinks on board, customers traveling with babies can use the aircraft equipment on board to heat up milk for baby. Virtually all airline galleys – the area of the plane where cabin crew work – offer setups suitable to heat milk.
If you plan to heat up milk on board a flight, be sure to travel with containers capable of taking heat and don’t forget any bits required, like sterilized water or formula itself.
Feeling safe and comfortable is important and keeping baby safe is more important than any ego. Ask any airline staff for any help or queries you may have along the way. While airlines haven’t always been known to be the friendliest, staff always seem to have a soft spot for parents traveling with young ones.
Additionally, the more effort you put in, the more airline staff tend to want to help. A parent ignoring their baby’s calls doesn’t win much favor with cabin crew, but giving it everything you’ve got tends to earn something, be it praise or a glass of champagne!
No Miles For Babies
No miles for babies, unless you want to pay for them! Children traveling as a lap infant don’t earn miles, but if you roll like that and want the extra space and buy a separate ticket for your infant, they can of course earn miles on the full priced ticket.
Starting at 2 years old, all children require their own ticket, so at that point you can get baby started on their adventure to earning elite status, and miles of miles.
Plan your packing around your destination, because where you’re going will determine what you need for the trip. If you know you’ll be near a large supermarket, you’ll likely be able buy nappies, wipes, sun cream etc when you arrive and won’t need to fill a case just of nappies. Bring some anyway, of course.
However, if you’ll be more isolated, like in the Maldives, or a log cabin in the middle of the woods, you’ll need to pack everything for the duration of your stay, knowing many things won’t be easy purchased down route.
Hopefully you won’t need it, but it’s good to know beforehand where the nearest hospitals, walk in clinics and pharmacies are to where you’ll be staying. You can never be too prepared.
Fortunately, apps like TripIt now have all these features built into your trip planner, so you can learn about the safety ratings of destinations, and crucial access to healthcare before you leave the house.
Patience Is Everything
Be patient, and if you run out of patience, buy some more. Traveling with or without a baby can be stressful, and knowing that your little one is having a new, and often trying experience adds to that.
Try to pack hands free items which will help you take care of your baby, like wireless ear buds for you, so that you can make any necessary calls in transit without shuffling things around. Having content all queued up and ready and downloaded for offline use can be a great way to destress if you get baby to sleep, so be sure to take care of both of you in carry on packing.
Pick The Right Plane
New planes can make a big difference in comfort for you and baby when it comes to long haul flights. New planes offer greater noise reduction than older models, but also better air pressure and humidity too, which can help baby’s wonderful skin stay that way.
Basically, on a new Airbus A350 or Boeing 787 Dreamliner, your baby won’t be as exposed to dry air, or pressure which can bring headaches. Plus, the air has better circulation and particle filters. It’s a win for everyone, parents included.
Wherever you’re headed, traveling for the first time with your baby is a big day. For some, it may be the most pleasant flight of your life, while for others it will be hours of earache and headache.
Try to keep it all in relativity, and try not to let others around you ruin the experience. We all were children at one point, and as long as you’re putting in your best effort to bring happiness and comfort to baby, any judging eyes around you can do one.
And Gilbert…soon you’ll be grateful of …A handheld/clip on fan…the white noise, the cooling, the calming …it has saved the day on oh so many occasions; a couple of wrapped up ‘emergency present toys’ for desperation distraction; Secret duplicate favourite teddy (in case of loss) and a solid hard shell/aluminium, 4 wheeled carry on they can sit on and hang on to when you don’t have time to break out the yoyo/pockit plus..or are queuing in air bridges/preboarding…
Maybe before you do this, question whether this flight is absolutely necessary. I can understand if you are relocating, or if grandma is immobile and can’t visit, but if you just want to leisure travel with your infant, then you are being rather narcissistic to willfully make hundreds of people miserable there and back, and probably at your destination too, just for your personal enjoyment. Maybe consider waiting to travel until your child is old enough to behave themselves. At least if you are pissing off the entire plane, don’t act self righteous like it’s everyone else’s problem. And don’t give me that “some adults are shitty while traveling too” argument, yeah, they suck too, the difference is they usually get held accountable for their actions.
Maybe consider whether a comment like yours is absolutely necessary you contemptuous pillock.
I really enjoyed reading Chris’ rebuttal. And the article, thanks.
Agreed what an absolute pillock! Gilbert do you think it’s better to travel with a toddler in upper class suite or in premium bulkhead seat on virgin A350?
Depends on the flight and time of day, really. For a short overnight where you’ll just sleep, I’d say PE is fine. For day flights where toddler is toddling and wants to move around, we found Upper to be useful on recent trip, mainly because of the Loft and ability (during slowdown in travel) to convert one seat into bed and another into seat. Can’t go wrong!
Thanks Gilbert! I think Upper Class might be the way to go. Hopefully our toddler won’t be too loud.
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