I’ve taken my kids all over the world —  here’s my foolproof strategy to get you through a flight with a baby

Baby at airport, flying
Flying with a baby doesn’t have to be difficult. Shutterstock

The INSIDER Summary:

  • Flying with a baby sounds scary, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.
  • One way to make the flight easier is to schedule it to coincide with nap time.
  • It’s also important to pack enough supplies and activities to get through the flight.
  • One tip is to wrap up small items like Play-Doh or crayons so that your baby can enjoy the act of opening a “present” while also using it during the flight.

While planning a trip to Italy with my almost 1-year-old baby, I remember dreading the 8.5-hour flight more than any other aspect of the trip.

The idea of packing a car seat, stroller, suitcase, and diaper bag full of toys and then entertaining my very active daughter for hours in a confined setting was a completely daunting task. But in reality, the flight was one of the easier parts of the trip.

Since having my second child (which comes with its own set of challenges), my family has definitely curtailed the long-haul flights, but we still manage to travel with our kids when we can.

Here are 9 of my best tips to get you through a flight with a baby:

Schedule the flight time to coincide with nap or bed time

Ideally your baby will sleep for much of the flight. To help him or her do that, book a flight that coincides with nap time or bed time. There’s a good chance that the ambient noise on the plane will lull your baby to sleep anyway, but it helps if the flight is during a time that your baby will be sleepy.

I took the red eye to Italy when my daughter was almost one, and she slept for almost the entire duration of the flight, since she would have been asleep for the night anyway.

Choose seats strategically

Infants under 2 years old can fly for free if they sit on an adult’s lap. That said, if you can afford the extra airfare, it might be worth it to buy your baby his own seat. (You can bring an infant car seat on board and strap your baby into the seat.)

If, however, you don’t want to shell out the money for another seat, then you should carefully select seats that will give you the most space possible. (See my strategy for getting the best seat on every flight here.)

Consult SeatGuru to see the layout of the plane and find the seats with the most legroom. In coach, this usually means the bulkhead seat, though some airlines also have select seats where you can pay a little more money for extra room.

Baby sleeping in bassinet on plane
Try to book the bulkhead row if you want to get access to a bassinet. Shutterstock

For long-haul flights, most airlines offer bassinets that hook into the wall in front of the bulkhead seat — this is the most ideal option, after getting a seat for your baby. Though there are no guarantees; you need to call the airline as soon as you book your flight (often you can’t request it online) and put in a request for the bassinet. You should also get to the airport early and reiterate your request.

If you’re flying with someone else, you may want to book a window and aisle seat (leaving the middle open) in the hopes that the middle seat won’t get filled. And even if it does, there’s a good chance that the person will switch with you as no one wants to sit between two people who are passing a baby back and forth.

My last tip is just before boarding, ask the gate agent if there are any empty seats. You might just get lucky and get a seat for your child.

Bring a stroller, baby carrier, or car seat through the airport

You’ll want to keep your hands free in the airport, so bring a stroller or baby carrier, like the Bjorn or Ergo. It might make sense to bring the car seat too, since you’ll want it on the flight if you can snag a spare seat for your kid. You can check the stroller and car seat at the gate.

If you choose to check your car seat when you first arrive at the airport, it’s free! I’ve often used my car seat bag as a bonus piece of luggage, where I stash jackets and other bulky items that don’t fit into my suitcase.

Pack extra diapers, clothes, and supplies for the flight

Bring more diapers, wipes, food, and spare clothing (for both you and the baby) than you think you’ll need. You do not want to run out of the essentials on the flight.

If your baby drinks formula, bring extra. Flights will usually have whole milk and water on board, but it doesn’t hurt to bring some of your own, too. Also, pack lots of snacks.

Come up with creative activities to occupy your child

Aqua doodle
Get creative with activities for the plane. J Polland

Bring enough toys, books, and activities to entertain your baby during the flight. You always want to have a backup plan to distract the baby if she starts to melt down.

I try to bring new things my kids haven’t seen before on flights so that it feels special and holds their attention for longer.

This might mean a new colouring book or a sticker pad. Aqua Doodle’s travel pad is a perfect plane activity; it’s a reusable art pad that uses water as ink, which means that there’s no mess. Melissa & Doug makes a whole series of “On The Go” activity books, like scratch art pads.

Another great plane activity? Post-it notes. My daughters loved peeling off every single Post-it note from the pad — and then drawing all over them.

I’ve also wrapped up little items — like crayons or Play-Doh — in wrapping paper simply because it takes extra time to unwrap presents (which my kids love), and then it makes the item inside feel more special.

Don’t over pack

It’s hard enough to chase after a baby or toddler, so the last thing you want is to be weighed down with tons of luggage. Of course that’s easier said than done, since babies come with tons of stuff. But try to pack the least amount possible — at least for the carry on.

Give your baby something to suck on or drink for takeoff and landing

Your baby will probably have the toughest time during takeoff and landing, since their ears may bother them when the air pressure changes. To prevent the baby from crying, make sure that he or she is either feeding or sleeping during that time. Any sort of sucking motion will help, so give them a bottle or pacifier during the ascent and descent.

Be courteous to the other passengers on the plane

Some parents apologise to fellow passengers in advance, while others even offer gift bags with ear plugs and candy to passengers. That’s a nice gesture, but it’s not necessary. Still, a basic modicum of courtesy will go far with your fellow passengers.

If all else fails and your baby melts down, just take a deep breath and stay calm. Unfortunately, babies cry. That’s what they do. Just do your best to comfort and quiet your child as quickly as possible.

Let the rules slide

You may have strict rules about not using an iPad at home, but on planes, anything goes. A plane ride is not a good time to teach your kid a lesson or knowingly put them in a situation that will aggravate them and bring on a tantrum. Let them play with the iPad or have that treat that they’re not usually allowed. It will make the flight much easier.

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