When my second baby was barely two weeks old, we flew across the country to Boston for my brother’s wedding. We almost didn’t make the flight since she was shy of two weeks old by a few hours and our airline had a strict age policy for newborn flyers. The stress of taking a two week old on a plane is tough enough, but add on the anxiety of not having the proper documents for our flight made our baby’s first plane ride quite turbulent for me.
Thankfully, the actual flying part of our journey across country with a two week old was smooth. Infants aren’t yet mobile, and the plane engine can help put them in the most glorious of sleepy cuddles. This experience prompted me to do a bit of research on flying with an infant. Here is a checklist to use if you are flying with a baby under three months old.
1. Always read THE DETAILS on the airline’s website you are flying
It states very clearly on Southwest Airline’s webpage Baby on Board that an infant must be over two weeks old to fly.
Otherwise you need a doctor’s note. On Alaska Airlines’ traveling with infants page, there is no minimum age requirement.
So even if you think you are familiar with your favorite airline’s policies, always double check their website before you get ready to depart.
2. Bring a copy of the baby’s birth certificate
If you don’t have a copy of the Birth Certificate yet, bring the proof of birth document from the hospital. This document states the date and time born, where they were born, and stamped/signed by their doctor.
3. A Medical Release is required if the infant is under two weeks old.
I learned this the hard way, by not reading the fine print. I think it would be safe just to have a medical release anyway to give yourself peace of mind no matter the age of your infant. Not all airlines require this, but Southwest Airlines does. Definitely get this from your pediatrician if your infant is anywhere around the two week old mark, or if you don’t have a copy of your child’s Birth Certificate yet.
4. Call the airline ahead of time to add a lap child
If you are flying Southwest, you need to call BEFORE you check-in, otherwise you will need to do it at the airport. If you book online, there isn’t a place to add your lap child details, so over the phone or at check-in is where you will do this. If you forget to call ahead of time, you can add your lap child at the airport (as long as you have a copy of their birth certificate).
5. You may have the option to reserve a seat through booking an Infant Fare
Southwest Airlines offers Infant Fares to be able to purchase your baby their own seat. You also have the option of using an FAA-approved car seat. Read more on the Federal Aviation Administration Website.
Many airline websites recommend that the safest place for your baby is in their own seat in their car seat. If you have a seat booked for your child and a car seat that is approved for use in aircraft by the FAA, then you can bring and use a carseat on board for your child. Many seats from manufacturers like Britax, Chicco, and Graco are FAA-approved, but make sure by reading your carseat manual or the sticker on the side of your seat. The label will say “This Restraint is Certified for Use in Motor Vehicles and Aircraft.” You can check out Lucie’s List of the Best Convertible Car seats for Aircraft.
You can also check car seat dimensions ahead of time to double check that your car seat will indeed fit in the aircraft’s seat.
Some airlines recommend placing the carseat in a window seat if possible, and the accompanying adult should take the middle seat. If a window seat is unavailable, take the middle seat for the CRS.
A carseat cannot be placed:
- In an aisle seat
- Emergency row
- Any seat in a row directly in front or behind the emergency row
Can a lap infant take an empty seat?
Definitely read the airlines’ website you are flying, but Alaska Airlines states that if an empty seat is available on your flight, then your lap child can take the seat free of charge. You can talk to the gate agent to see how occupied your flight is. Since many flights are booked full, this would be a tough gamble to rely on.
6. Carry On Luggage
Also something to check with your particular airline. Alaska Airlines states that a diaper bag will count towards an adult carry-on allowance and a lap infant is not entitled to their own carry-on. After checking the car seat and stroller at the gate, my two carry-ons include the diaper bag and my laptop bag. Try to be as minimal as you can. You can buy diapers at your destination and you don’t need to bring rattles or toys. The crinkle of an airline magazine and even a plastic cup work great!
7. Get to the airport even earlier just in case
Don’t rush when flying with an infant. Yes, it’s not ideal to have extra time waiting at the gate, but to reduce your own anxiety, I would recommend arriving to the airport early just in case you do need to get a hold of your doctor, or if there are extra long lines in security.
Some airlines offer family boarding (flying with small children). Southwest allows family boarding following the A group. Don’t forfeit A group to stand aside with family boarding. Family boarding time does usually get you on the plane with most of the back still available (I prefer flying in the back of the plane anyway with tiny travelers). When you travel with babies and toddlers, it definitely helps to wait until the end of boarding to get on the plane (except for Southwest since you will definitely want a row together), but when flying with an infant, I like to get on the plane and get settled in before take off.
8. Bring bottles, nursing covers, changing pad, blankets…whatever you need to be comfortable. Oh, and pack an extra top for yourself!
Ideally, it’s nice to time take-off with a feeding, whether it be nursing or bottle. The ‘sucking’ motion can help a baby unplug theirs at ascent and descent. You are allowed to bring liquids such as water, formula and breast milk through security. Yes, security will need to check your liquids, so it helps to pull them out ahead of time and put them into their own bin.
You don’t need to bring toys or stuffed animals. First of all, they take up space, and if your baby is still an infant, they probably won’t focus on a toy for very long. If you are bringing something for your infant to do, maybe a black and white book. Babies get really focused on black and white images and designs. I like this one because it is soft and doesn’t take up much space.
Whatever you decide to bring for any entertainment, make sure you keep it in your diaper bag (or a backpack) under your seat. It’s more difficult to have to get up and pull things out in the overhead bin. Sometimes, I even pull things out before take-off and place them in the seat storage in front of me so things are even more accessible.
It’s pretty challenging (and loud) to change a baby in an airplane bathroom. So when the inevitable happens, I place a changing pad right on my lap. Sorry to the passengers that have sat next to me!
Since you are traveling with an infant (and infants aren’t the cleanest people out there), bring a clean shirt for yourself, just in case you get showered by your seat mate (or worse).
9. You will need to get gate check tags from the gate agent
Upon arrival to your flight’s gate, you will need to check in with the agent to receive luggage tags for your stroller and car seat. You cannot bring a stroller on the plane (and unless your infant has a purchased, reserved seat and you are using an FAA-approved car seat, you will also need to gate check your car seat and car seat base.) Yes, you will feel rushed at the base of the gate ramp, when you are transferring your baby out of their stroller and into a sling while you hurry to collapse your stroller.
After your flight is over, your stroller and car seat will be waiting for you as you exit the aircraft (not in baggage claim. This way, baby can go right back in his or her car seat/stroller and you have your hands free. Since it’s really difficult to be one of the first off the plane when flying with a baby, I usually wait until most (or all) passengers have deplaned before jumping into the aisle.
10. Purchase bright colored bags to place the stroller and car seat in when gate checked.
To help avoid damage and the mix up of grabbing someone else’s stroller, I highly recommend purchasing bright colored bags to place these items in. During the last four years of flying with a baby, I have had great success with these bags.
They aren’t the thickest, but they are easy to spot, you can write your name quite large on the front, and they aren’t expensive, so if they do start to tear a little in the corners, it’s not the end of the world.
Also, if you are traveling with another adult, or recruited someone to help you in the gate area, you can transfer your infant into a carrier and collapse your stroller and car seat and place them into your travel bags before walking the gate ramp. This will definitely save a little time. It’s just hard to do this if you are the only adult flying.
11. Bring a Baby Carrier or Sling
It’s great to be able to put your baby into a sling or Baby Bjorn while walking down the ramp, but you will have to take your baby out of their carrier during security, take-off and landing. This is why bringing swaddle blankets is helpful to keep your baby covered and warm.
12. Disinfectant wipes!
When I had to fly with a two week old baby across country, I could just picture all those little germs’ faces taunting me as I approached our seat. It gives a little piece of mind to wipe down your entire aisle before you sit down.
13. Nurse or bottle at take-off
My pediatrician assured me that a baby’s ears would be fine if you can’t time a feeding during take-off or landing, but there still might be discomfort of that new feeling of plugged ears. The combination of a bottle (or breastfeeding) and the hum of the engine can create the best nap ever….for the baby….not for you. Pack a pacifier too.
14. During your flight, if you are struggling, stand up, ask for some help
If you have a spouse, friend or family member flying with you, you will have an extra pair of hands. But if you are solo, ask a passenger sitting by you or even a flight attendant to offer a bit of help. If you don’t feel comfortable having someone else hold your baby, maybe they can offer help getting down a piece of luggage or getting you a cup of water.
15. If you are flying alone, have someone pick you up at your destination
If possible have a family member or friend pick you up at your destination. If you are re-installing your car seat and base in their car, have them park in short term parking at meet you in the baggage claim area. This way you have an extra pair of hands to help carrier all of your gear!
16. Flying International May Require Paying Taxes and Fees
Even if your baby is flying free as a lap child, you still may need to pay international fees and taxes for their flight. You can call your airline ahead of time or pay at the ticket counter. If you are traveling outside of the country, your baby will need their own passport. So if you are going to travel internationally with an infant, it would be best to expedite your passport shortly after your baby is born.
It may feel like the longest day ever, but you will get through it (and you get to do it again on the way back home)!
Flying with an infant can be daunting, but it always helps to do your homework and talk to your airline about their infant rules (or look on the airline’s website). Make your own check list and try and pack as light as you can. I know this isn’t always the case, but flying with our infant was easier than flying with a 12 month old (for sure!).