Flying with Babies & Toddlers - In-Flight

This is Part Three in a series about flying with babies and toddlers. You survived packing and getting to the airport. You made it through airport security. This post is about time spent at the gate, boarding, and during the actual flight. Then your vacation can really start, right?!

Check out Part 1 - Pre-Flight and Part 2 - Airport Security if you haven’t seen them. 

At the Gate

  • If your baby will be flying on your lap, it never hurts to ask the gate agent if there will be an empty seat available for your little one.
  • Depending on the demeanor of your kids, take the opportunity to pre-board/family board when you can, especially if you are flying on Southwest Airlines. When flying with them, family boarding begins after the A Group has finished boarding. If you aren’t flying Southwest and have a toddler who loves to run around, then I don’t recommend pre-boarding. Let them run around as long as possible and then board the airplane near the end. This is one I have learned the hard way.

  • If you are gate-checking your car seat, bring a large plastic bag, with it. That way you can put the car seat in the bag to avoid it getting dirty in the belly of the airplane. Sometimes airline employees will have one at the ticket counter when you check in or at the gate. But they don’t always have them, so it’s better to bring your own. Some car seat companies make zipper bags specifically for this reason, spending the money is up to you.
  • If you are gate-checking a stroller, pick up a gate-check tag from the gate agent. I recommend picking up the tag right when you get to the gate, before boarding. The gate agent will appreciate it because then they won’t have to do it while everyone is boarding. It helps keep the boarding process running a little smoother. Also, fold down the stroller yourself and place it at the end of the jet bridge or the bottom of mobile stairs so a Ground Ops crewmember can load it onto the plane. Don’t expect them to fold the stroller down for you— that’s a recipe for something getting broken.



  • Not all babies are affected by the change in air pressure, but to avoid potential discomfort, I recommend nursing or bottle-feeding when the plane is landing. If you’re on a flight that shows your current altitude on a screen, start when the aircraft descends past 20,000 feet. This is especially helpful if your baby is suffering from a cold or allergies. If your baby is sick with either a cold, ear infection or allergies, it’s possible that they will have some discomfort while taking off too, but it’s rare. For some babies, a pacifier can work in place of a bottle or nursing. For older kids, we play a game on who can yawn the widest or the most often. Yawning helps get those ears to pop. For bigger kids, chewing gum can help too.
  • It’s an FAA regulation that babies cannot be worn in a baby carrier, ring sling, or wrap during takeoff and landing. Some flight attendants are sticklers and will make sure you know the rule during boarding, some may not say anything. The reason behind this is that no baby carrier is FAA approved as an appropriate restraint when flying. No baby carrier has ever been tested for safety in severe turbulence, an emergency landing, or hard breaking on a runway. Some believe it may be safer for baby to be strapped to you versus just being in arms. Some believe it’s not safe. Regardless of what you feel, don’t argue with the flight attendant on this, they are just doing their job, they don’t make the rules. If the flight attendants don’t mention it, then you do what works best for you and your baby.
  • You have every legal right to breastfeed your baby on the plane. If you can get a window seat, you will probably be more comfortable. It is always possible that you’ll come across someone who isn’t comfortable with it, or thinks it’s offensive, and it’s made worse since they can’t really get up and go somewhere else. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can take the opportunity to educate your seat mate on the benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and baby, and explain that their minor discomfort is much better than dealing with a screaming baby. If a seat mate is really, truly uncomfortable, they can always ask a flight attendant if they can sit elsewhere. I’ve never had anyone give me any trouble while nursing on a plane. I’m fairly certain 99% of the people sitting near me had no idea when we were even doing it. We are pros at nursing without a cover. Typically, a happy baby = happy passengers, so breastfeeding should be a win for everyone on board.
  • Does your little one use a pacifier? I recommend getting a pacifier strap to keep it secure and safe from falling on the floor. This can also work with a favorite teething toy. Most airlines don’t shampoo the carpets very often. For us, the five second rule does not apply to airplane floors. Blech!
  • Pack a few extra toys or whatever will keep your baby or toddler occupied on the plane. From my experience, flying with an infant was way easier than flying with a toddler, especially one who doesn’t want to remain seated. The hard months are pretty much from when they start walking until around age three. With our toddler, we found that the items in the seat back pocket and a plastic cup from the flight attendant make excellent toys. My son currently loves to look at the “drink book” when there’s a drink/snack menu in the seat back pocket. If we’re going to be on a longer flight (longer than 2 or 3 hours), my husband and I will often bring a new toy that he doesn’t get to open until we’re in the air. Loading a couple of his favorite Muppet videos onto an iPad or iPhone sometimes helps in extreme cases of fidgetiness or crankiness. When flying international, the iPad came in handy.
  • Have a fidgety toddler or one who’s in dire need of a nap and on the verge of a meltdown? If your toddler has their own seat, do everything in your power to make sure they are seated, with their seat belt fastened, once the aircraft doors have closed. The FAA mandates that all passengers who have their own seat be seated with seat belts fastened when the airplane is taxiing, regardless of tantrum status. A family made the news in 2012 because they were asked to deplane when their child wouldn’t stay in her seat with her seat belt fastened, mid-tantrum. It’s a nightmare for every parent, so do your best to avoid the situation.

  • Almost all commercial aircraft restrooms have changing tables. Sometimes only one of the restrooms will have one. Use them! Please don’t change your baby’s diaper on the tray table, we eat off of them. And do not, I repeat, DO NOT leave dirty diapers in the seat back pocket. It’s not a garbage can.
  • If your baby becomes that baby, and cries on the plane, try your best not to let it stress you out (Easier said than done, I know!). Your baby will likely sense your heightened stress and it will be harder for them to calm down. It happens. Other passengers will get over it. Don’t let nasty looks and comments get to you and don’t apologize for your baby simply acting like a baby. Same goes for kids who are just acting like kids.
  • Is your toddler or young child fascinated with airplanes and flying? If you pre-board early enough, your child might be able to sneak a peak at the flight deck when the pilots are doing their pre-flight checks. Sometimes the pilots are too busy, but sometimes they’re friendly and will show your child what some of the buttons do. It will always vary on the pilots and the airline, but it never hurts to ask the flight attendant.
  • Many airlines make plastic wings as a souvenir for kids. They usually have some adhesive on the back or a pin so your child can wear it on their shirt. Just ask a flight attendant if they have any. We’ve been able to get some wings from a couple of different airlines. Once my son was done playing with them, they went into his baby book.

In conclusion, I know these are a lot of tips for what is only a small portion of your trip. Like I said at the very beginning, many of these tips are what have worked best for us. You have to do what works best for you, your child and your family, all while adhering to the rules set forth by the FAA and the TSA. Hopefully, we can make air travel a fun adventure for our kids in our post 9-11 world.

12 Responses to Flying with Babies & Toddlers - In-Flight

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

  2. Pingback: Flying With Babies & Toddlers — Pre-Flight | Mama Say What?!

  3. Love this article! Great tips for my next flight with my two little boys :)

  4. Thank you SO much for taking the time to write this series. My husband is in the military, and we are moving to Japan in the fall. My daughter will be almost ten months old, so any advice we can get to make this trip as smooth as possible is invaluable.

  5. I recently left my job as a flight attendant, and these are all great tips!
    The baby carrier fuss during taxi, take off and landing is actually a Federal Aviation regulation. It is technically against federal law to wear a baby during these times, so don’t give your flight attendant a hard time about it.
    I know it doesn’t make sense, but the flight attendants are just doing their job. If they didn’t inform you of this regulation they could get fined themselves.

  6. I really appreciated this series! We are expecting out first in November, and both sets of grandparents live out of state from where my husband and I live. We’ll be doing a lot of flying in the future!

  7. I appreciate this series as well - we’re flying for the first time later this month with a toddler and an infant and I’m a little nervous! (a lot nervous)…you had some great tips though that will hopefully make it go more smoothly. Thanks!

  8. Flying tomorrow and I’ve been referring to this series for the last month in preparation! Thank you!!

  9. Great advice! Flying next month with our (will be) 9 month old. In concerned about how to *try* to keep her healthy during our travels. We live in a warm climate and are heading north during cold and flu season. She’s never been been there before, so has no experience in cold weather or snow, and that’s not counting the normal airport/travel bug that we tend to get. Thoughts on keeping her healthy? We’re planning to wear her through the airport, but what about for the rest of the trip?

    • Hi Jennifer!! With how often my boys and I travel, we do occasionally catch bugs from airports and planes. Make sure to wash hands often and ask family members you’ll be visiting to do the same when they ask to hold your little girl. Wearing her as often as you can also helps. In my experience, strangers seemed less likely to touch my baby than when he was in the stroller.

      During cold and flu season, we all take a dose of elderberry syrup a couple of times a week to help keep colds and flus away. I don’t know if there’s a version available for babies who are under 12 months old (some brands may use honey as an ingredient), but it’s worth checking out. Also talk to your pediatrician about their recommendations. Best of luck on your trip!

  10. Have you ever tried the Cares Harness for flying? I have a 13 mo old im considering it for.

    • I haven’t, but I have heard really good things about them for flying with kids; especially when you don’t want to lug a car seat through the airport. If you may be flying a lot, they can be a great investment.

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