Everything you need to know (and more) about flying with an infant.

May 4, 2001

The Bottom Line You can fly safely with your baby, but you need to be prepared!!

My son is now 4 1/2 months old and he has flown a 4 times now. The first time was a trip from Rochester to New Jersey (quick flight - less than 1 hr) when he was just 3.5 weeks old but he has flown as far as Rochester to Albuquerque, NM - which required changing planes and layovers.

Now, you are probably saying "WHY?", "That's not safe!" or questioning my sanity. You maybe remember being on a flight where there was a baby screaming and all the other passengers were "suffering". In this epinion I hope to address the answers to these questions and more.

First off, it is SAFE for babies to travel with you on an aircraft. Now, exceptions would be if your doctor sees a medical condition or a medical problem for your baby. If your child (or you) are already sick then flying may not be an option for you. (I however prefer taking a 1 hr flight instead of a 6-7 hr car-ride -especially since I am breastfeeding) I'm not so lucky to have all my family close-by and so if I want to see my family then I need to fly or travel all over the US. I'd like my family to be a part of my child's life, so I'm traveling with him now (before I need to pay full price for him!).

If you are worried about your child getting sick because of the air getting recycled and being very dry, its a risk - but its low. Wash your childs hands and face frequently. Bring a wet washcloth in a ziplock bag. Nurse or feed your baby and keep them hydrated.

Now, when you fly with your child, be it alone or with a spouse, remember you are doing this alone. Please be aware that the airlines most often do NOT have any supplies for babies. I have heard that some flights have cribs available. But I've never been offered one, and I wouldn't expect that they will have one. If you are hell bent on securing your child in a crib - you will want to make sure the flight and airline provide this service. As well, the flight attendants are instructed that they cannot handle/hold babies. In my experience they usually say hello to the baby and will do the usual "Goo and Ga". And in my case they seem to always think my Son is a girl (because I prefer to dress him primary colors).

Flying with your baby may be free or maybe not. It depends on the airline. For most airlines you can travel with an infant in your arms for no additional charge. I've heard of some airlines where you will need to pay a fee to fly with the baby (10-15% of a single fare). Apparently this doesn't pay for an extra seat - its merely a surcharge because you are bringing the baby on board. If you want to have the extra seat you need to pay an extra fare. Usually a child's fare. If you do not want to hold your infant, and want to have them ride in their carseat then you will need to pay the extra fare and get the extra seat.

Its a lot more comfortable to have the extra seat next to you for the baby (even if you hold them the entire flight). Its nice to have a place to put some of their belongings, lay them down to change a diaper, etc. And also - if you do get the extra seat and try the carseat route - if they scream and cry you will end up holding them anyways! If you book the extra seat you need to fasten them (in the carseat) during take off and landing. If you are traveling "infant in arms" - then you need to hold your child during take off and landing. To me, this seemed like common sense - obviously I'd hold my infant!! Some of the smaller commuter planes require you to hold your child a certain way during takeoff/landing. This could prevent you from breastfeeding. You will need to discuss this with the flight attendant.

Always tell the airline (via phone) or when making your reservation. I used an online booking site and it had a space for me to "check" that I was traveling with an infant. If you play it smart you can get good seats. If you aren't on a full flight you may luck into getting an empty seat next to you - so try to avoid popular flying times. You can request 'bulkhead' seats -they have a lot more legroom. Also, as a reminder because you are traveling with the baby you are not permitted in the exit rows. A trick to getting an empty seat next to you is to phone the airlines and put a hold on the seat next to you (you can state that a sibling or friend will be calling to pay for it).
If the flight is subsequently FULL (and obviously your "friend" never called and paid for the seat they will assign your seat to someone. But if the flight doesn't fill up, you'll luck into getting an empty seat next to you. Alternatively - there are some nice people out there who will switch seats and allow you to have an empty seat next to you-- Most likely these people really don't want to sit next to an infant, no matter how adorable he/she really is. Also on some flights you can only sit in certain seats because of safety equipment (children's sized O2 masks) only being available in certain rows or sides of the plane. This depends on the flight - so again, ask the attendant.

Use Gate check for some of your bulky baby gear. We've gate checked the stroller, the carseat, the infant carseat etc. on various flights. What this means is you get to keep your stroller with you for use at the airport all the way to the gate and then you leave it right before boarding, and pick it up as you deplane. This is good for use during lay-overs etc.

Boarding takes a bit more time for you because you've got lots of baby gear. Its usually not a problem to board first. Some airlines will call for people "needing extra assistance" or with children, That's you!. If they don't I just start boarding as soon as they start boarding for the flight.

Bring diapers with you - I don't think I need to explain this one too much! It can be challenging to do this on a plane. Get creative but I'm sure you can do it. If you have an empty seat next to you this is much easier - otherwise you can try the pull down snack trays (though they don't hold much weight). Some of the bigger airplanes have changing tables in the bathrooms. Others don't. You may want to bring a blanket or mat (like in your diaper bag). You can throw away the diaper in the vomit bag - or better yet - bring a couple ziplocks in your diaper bag and use these.

The pressure on the airplane can be rough on babies. You know how when the plane goes up and down and your ears pop - imagine how that feels on your little one's eustachian tubes. Bring bottles & formula if you are bottlefeeding, or prepare to breastfeed discreetly if you are nursing. Bring a pacifier with you - even if you don't do pacifiers - you might want one. I breastfed my son during take off and landing (if he wasn't snoozing!) and it helped release the pressure. If you get them to suckle/swallow it makes their ears pop. Just like chewing gum or sucking on a lifesaver can be helpful for adults on the plane! So, be prepared to feed your baby (or let them suck on the binky) during take off and landing.

My child tends to nurse during take off and then spend most of the flight either sleeping or resting. The airplane is like "white noise" and tends to relax him. Now - he's had his occasional fussy moments and thats to be expected. I brought some of his favorite toys with him, and suggest you do the same. You know your child best on how to sooth him/her - so do that!

And lastly, in my experience the flight attendants are really nice to you and most of the passengers are as well. However, some people do get mad when they see they are sharing the flight with a baby. They think "I've just paid hundreds of dollars to be locked in with a screaming child". I like to prove to these people that not all children scream the entire time - and besides that, my baby has as much right to be on the aircraft as everybody else!! So don't get stressed out and don't react when people are not nice. If they sit someone not very nice next to you - you could always request to move, or ask the flight attendants to speak with them and suggest them to move for everyone to be "comfortable".

For the most part, I've found that people do understand that its a baby and don't get angry. If anything, they feel bad that the baby is upset and will try to assist you.

So, I hope I've answered your questions and you feel more prepared to fly with your baby! I've had some great flights!!!

PS. On most of the bigger airplanes they have "wings" that they give children. I've asked the flight attendants and they've given them to me. I put the wings and my ticket stub, date and flight info in my son's baby book to commemorate his "first flights".

Happy Flying!

This was written as part of the Random Thoughts Write Off, hosted by tinasamuels. The write off is scheduled for May 4th, between 7 pm and 10 pm. Please look for and read the submissions of the following participants:


This also, I am proud to say, was my very first Write Off. Thanks Tina!!

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