Flying with Babies & Toddlers – Pre-Flight

How many of us mamas only have to think about navigating an airport or flying with our babies to break out in a cold sweat? With how much the aviation industry has changed in the last fifty years, it’s not always a kid-friendly place anymore.

But it can be. Just ask my son, who’s flown just over 42,000 miles in his two and a half years of life. My husband and I are a little geeky when it comes to aviation, so we track our son’s flight information using FlightMemory. I can tell you which airlines and aircraft he’s flown on. Almost every day, my son asks if we can go to the airport; he LOVES to fly.

Based on my experiences, and the experiences of some of the other mamas on Mama Say What?!, I have compiled a list of travel tips for our readers. If and when the laws change, I’ll try to update as much as I can.

All of the information about airport security and TSA policies in these three articles only apply to airports in the United States. I cannot speak for the policies of airlines and airports in countries outside the U.S.

I have broken up these tips into three separate posts and different categories to make them a little easier to follow. They aren’t set in stone, as all parents have to do what works best for them and for their kids.  Flying with Babies & Toddlers – Pre-Flight

Pre Flight:

  • Schedule a direct flight whenever possible. In my opinion, if it only costs a few extra bucks, it’s worth it. Layovers have been exhausting for us as my son has become more and more active and wants to run around the whole time. And when we do have a layover, we try not to schedule super short ones, so the risk of having to wait even longer in the event of a delay is less. I have had to kill six to eight hours in too many airports.
  • When you book a flight online, many airlines don’t have a way to include a baby who will be flying on your lap. You will have to make this reservation over the phone. If you need to book your flight in a hurry to get a fantastic fare, then book the flight anyway. Then call the airline afterward to add your baby to your reservation.
  • If you and your partner are flying with two lap babies, don’t be surprised if you can’t sit together on the airplane. A row of three seats will only be equipped with four oxygen masks. In the event of an emergency, there would not be enough masks for everyone seated in that row. Because of this, an airline will not sit more than one lap baby in a row. You can talk to a reservations agent with the airline you’re flying and try to sit together in aisle seats or sit front-to-back. 
  • If you are flying with a baby on your lap, you will probably not be able to check-in for your flight online. Most airlines will require you to check-in at the ticket counter so they can verify that your baby is under the age of 2 and eligible to fly for free.
  • When you check-in, make sure the airline gives you a separate boarding pass for your baby. Even if baby is flying on your lap, TSA requires a boarding pass for everyone.
  • Pack light for yourself since you are bound to over pack for the baby.

  • If you will be taking a long flight, pack a spare outfit for baby and Mommy. This is especially important if your baby is young enough that he/she still gets occasional diaper blowouts. Cruising altitude is the last place you want to deal with a blowout and have no change of clothes for Mommy. Including a small wet bag with your carry-on isn’t a bad idea either.
  • Do your best to arrive early. Everything will take longer when you have a baby with you. This is especially true if it’s your first time flying with your baby and/or you are traveling over a holiday weekend.
  • If you are you worried about your car seat or stroller getting lost or damaged, Google the airline you are flying and the words “Contract of Carriage” to find out what their policies are and what they are liable for. Most of the time, airlines claim no liability for damaged strollers or car seats. I know that a few airlines keep a couple of loaner car seats at their Baggage Service Offices in some airports in case a checked car seat doesn’t make its flight and the parents are stranded without it, unable to leave the airport. I know some parents who have purchased an inexpensive $40 stroller to travel with because they didn’t want their $600 stroller to possibly get damaged.
  • If you will be flying with your baby actually sitting in a car seat, check the label on your seat to make sure it says it’s certified by the FAA as an approved restraint system. Not all car seats have this. If a flight attendant asks to check and your seat isn’t approved, then your car seat will be gate checked and your baby will have to fly on your lap. This could really be a disappointment if you spent money on a ticket for your baby. If your baby is over the age of two, then he/she will be sitting in their own seat without their car seat.
  • If you can avoid bringing a stroller and car seat with you (if you can borrow or rent them at your destination), do it. It’s much easier to navigate an airport when you have less stuff to carry or push around, and fold and unfold when going through security.
  • I LOVE using our baby carrier when we travel. I still use it even though my son is two and a half. If we have any distance to walk or if we have to take a tram or shuttle, it saves me so much worry to know he’s safely strapped to me, and I have my hands free. Because my son is getting heavier, I can’t wear him in my carrier for very long lengths of time anymore. For two recent trips I just bought a cheap $20 stroller at my destination rather than bring my stroller through security. At the end of the trip, I donated the stroller to my airline’s Baggage Service Office. I dislike bringing a stroller to the airport that much. Read more about how much I love babywearing.

  • If you are flying with a newborn or during cold and flu season, I highly recommend wearing them in a sling, wrap or carrier while you are at the airport. If baby is strapped to you, strangers will be less likely to want to touch your baby with airport germs.
  • Bring proper identification for everyone! 
  • Pack a copy of your baby’s birth certificate in your diaper bag or your purse and leave it there. It can be a photocopy of the original. Even if it’s obvious that your baby is under 2, according to many airline policies, if they ask to see the birth certificate and you don’t have it, they are within their rights to deny you boarding. Also, TSA should never ask to see your child’s birth certificate; they have no reason to.
  • If you are flying internationally and your child’s father is not traveling with you, you may need to show the airline a notarized letter from your child’s father stating that he gives permission for you to take the child out of the country. This measure is in place to prevent a child from being kidnapped in instances of a custody dispute. Not sure if you need this? Just call customer service for the airline you will be flying.
  • Also, if you are flying alone with your child and your last name is different than your baby’s (if you kept your maiden name, you got remarried, etc.), it is also recommended to have the above-mentioned notarized letter from your baby’s father granting permission for your baby to leave the country. Some airlines may not ask for it, but it’s better to have one than be denied boarding because you didn’t have it.

Check out Part 2 - Airport Security and Part 3 - In-Flight of this three-part series.

8 Responses to Flying with Babies & Toddlers – Pre-Flight

  1. Pingback: Flying with Babies & Toddlers – Airport Security | Mama Say What!

  2. Pingback: Flying with Babies & Toddlers — In-Flight | Mama Say What!

  3. Thanks for such a great and informative article…we’ve yet to fly with the little man (and I’m scared to death) but I know when we first do fly, I’ll read this over more carefully. Thanks!

  4. Pingback: Flying with Babies & Toddlers – Airport Security | Mama Say What?!

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  6. This is a god send with holiday travel season upon us. My babies are 7 years apart with my youngest just shy of 2 and this helps calm my nerves. Thanks!

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  8. Pingback: Infant in Arms | Put a Bib on It

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