Flying with a Baby – A Complete Guide

Author: Celine Brewer

Last Updated:

Flying with a baby for the first time can be intimidating, but don’t let that stop you from planning your family trip. For most parents flying with a baby for the first time, the experience will be much better than you’ve feared. With the proper advance preparation and a calm, positive attitude, you may very well even enjoy your first flight with baby!

In our travels with our babies, we’ve experienced the full range of outcomes. Our very first flight with a baby was a long haul flight and it went amazing! A few short months later, we had a 10 hour flight where she didn’t sleep at all. We’re here to tell you that no matter what happens with your flight, you’ll make it through it.

a happy mother and baby at the airport awaiting an international flight with a baby

Even in your worst case scenario, where your baby cries a lot or is very restless and fussy the whole flight, you’ll make it through. You’ll find that most of your fellow passengers are very sympathetic and understanding, and many will surprise you with offers of help. These days, almost everyone on the plane has headphones on the entire flight, so a crying baby isn’t such a big deal anymore.

A long haul flight with a baby might seem like an eternity at the time, especially if your little one is fussy on the airplane. Just know that you will get through it and once it’s all over it’s time to enjoy your trip. To put it in perspective, even a long haul flight with a baby is really only a very small portion of your entire trip.

And if there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that your last flight with baby will not necessarily be indicative of what’s to come. Babies change so fast – flying with a 3 month old is very different than flying with a 8 month old child, for example. Every flight and every time you travel with baby will be different. So even if you’ve had a bad experience flying with your baby in the past, don’t let that stop you from trying again – family travel is so worth it!

a sleeping baby on a long haul flight

So with that out of the way, here are all our best travel tips for flying with babies. Whether you are flying domestic flights or flying with a baby internationally, you’ll find everything you need to know in this post!

This post contains compensated links.

traveling with a baby to NYC was worth the stress of flying with a baby

Our Best Tips for Flying with a Baby

Here are all our best tips for flying with a baby. We are certain you’ll find plenty of tips for traveling with a baby on a plane that will work for your family!

These tips for flying with babies cover all the questions related to traveling on a plane with a baby: from flying with a baby stroller and car seat to flying with milk for your little one.

A baby sits on her airline seat waiting for her domestic flight to begin
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Do I Need a Passport for my Baby?

If you plan to fly internationally with a baby, your baby needs a passport. If you are flying domestically, you likely only need your baby’s birth certificate to travel. Either way, you will need proper identification for your child in order to get on your family flight.

Don’t forget, for most international destinations, passports typically need to be valid for 6 months beyond the time of your trip.

Tips Flying Alone with Baby

If you are flying alone with your baby, you may need a consent letter signed by the other parent.

The Government of Canada strongly suggests that children (including babies) carry a letter of consent if traveling internationally with only one parent or guardian (or anyone else other than the parents).

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection has a similar recommendation for a consent letter for parents who are traveling internationally with a baby alone.

You may also need visas for both you and your little one, depending on where you are going.

An infant looks out the airplane window

Flying with a Newborn

How Old Does a Baby Have to be to Fly?

If you are traveling with a newborn child very shortly after birth, be aware that there are age restrictions on the minimum age you can fly with an infant. For some airlines, you can fly with a newborn infant as early as 48 hours, if there were no complications with the birth and you didn’t have a C-section.

More commonly in North America, your infant will need to be at least 7 days old to travel by airplane. It’s best to check with your specific airline before buying tickets.

If you are flying with a newborn within that restricted time or if there were complications, you may need to get approval for travel from your family doctor.

Tips for Booking a Flight with a Baby

Before you go ahead and book your flight with a baby, you’ll need to decide if you are booking a seperate seat for your baby or not.

If you are flying internationally with a baby, your little one will need a ticket even if you are flying with a baby on your lap. If you aren’t able to book this online, you will need to call your airline after booking your flight to ensure you get a ticket for your baby.

a cute baby site on a suitcase as her parents pack for traveling with a baby

Booking a Flight Before Baby is Born

In the event that you need to book a flight before your baby is born, you will need to call the airline after your infant is born to ensure you get a ticket in your baby’s name.

Airline Fares for Babies

Do Babies Fly Free?

If you are flying with a lap baby, then your baby does fly free domestically. If you are flying with a baby on lap internationally, it is not free. You will typically be charged 10% of the adult fare.

Again, we recommend calling your airline immediately after booking your flight to get a ticket booked for your child to ensure you are paying the 10% of the fare of the flight you just booked. You don’t want any surprises at the airport!

If you are buying a seperate airline seat for your baby or toddler, then you will pay the adult fare for that seat. In this instance, you should check if your airline offers a discounted ticket for children. Not all airlines do, but depending on the route or direction, you might be able to save your family money on the flight.

a young child sits calmly in her airplane seat on a domestic flight with her mom

Tips for Reserving Your Airline Seats

If you are hoping to get your baby to sleep on the plane, reserving the right seats will make a difference! If you are flying with a lap infant, reserving a window seat will give you more privacy.

One of our most important baby air travel tips is to stay away from the airplane bathrooms, where people tend to congregate and talk. Or worse yet, the slamming bathroom door which is likely to keep your baby from sleeping on the flight. This happened to us when we flew home from our trip to Paris with a baby – the slamming bathroom doors woke her up countless times!

Tips for Getting an Airline Bassinet for Your Infant

An bassinet can be a real blessing on long haul flights. If you haven’t purchased a seat for your baby, then, if possible, reserve an airplane bassinet and the appropriate bulkhead seats. Some major airlines have bassinets for babies in airplanes. Which means, rather than holding your baby during long haul flights, you’ll have a place to lay baby down! We got a bassinet for our very first long haul flight on our trip to Barcelona with a baby – it was so nice!!

a baby sleeping in an airline bassinet on an overseas flight

Here are a few things to know about booking an airplane bassinet when flying with a baby:

Airplane bassinets are not available on all flights.

Check with your airline to see if they are available. You may need to call your airline directly, but it will be worth the effort.

Reserve the right seats to get a bassinet.

These are typically only the bulkhead seats so there will only be a few spots where a bassinet can be made available. Again, call your airline.

Airplane bassinets are not guaranteed.

Have a back up plan on how you’ll get your baby to sleep on the flight in the event that you don’t get one. A baby carrier is a must-have for taking a baby on a plane.

flying with a baby is easier on long haul flights if you have a bassinet

Airplane bassinets are only provided after take-off and before landing

You will need to wait until the flight attendant can safely bring you the bassinet, after take-off. In addition, you will need to pick up your baby in the event of turbulence.

Make the airplane bassinet comfortable.

Consider getting a CoziGo Bassinet and Stroller cover to help your baby sleep during the flight. We also brought a sleepsack and hat to keep our baby warm and comfortable.

The Safest Option for Flying with Your Infant

The safest way to travel with a baby or toddler, is to purchase a seat for your baby and travel with a car seat on the flight. As mentioned above, this will cost you either a discounted child fare or the full adult fare.

A Strategy to Get an Extra Seat

If there is a chance you will be able to snag an extra seat on your flight, you can bring your travel car seat all the way through security and to the airplane. Talk to the flight attendants when you check in and again at the gate to see if you can get that extra seat for your baby. If it doesn’t work out then you will need to gate check your car seat.

arrive at the airport early to try and get an extra airline seat for your child

Tips for Gate Checking Your Car Seat

If you are gate checking your car seat, don’t forget you’ll want an easy way to carry it through the airport. Here are the best options for transporting a car seat through the airport:

Tops Tips for Flying with Large Baby Equipment

What baby travel items can you bring on the airplane with you for your flight with a baby?

A Dad pushes his infant in a stroller while his toddler runs ahead at the airport ahead of a family vacation

We recommend NOT giving out “Baby’s First Flight” bags – here’s what to do instead!

Whether you are flying with a lap infant or you have bought a seat for your baby or toddler, you can usually check two baby items. These will typically include a car seat, a stroller or a travel crib.

Sometimes, instead of flying with a stroller, we have traveled with a baby backpack carrier and used it as one of our checked baby items. Here’s even more tips for flying with a hiking baby carrier.

It’s best to gate check the stroller and car seat, but you can check them along with your luggage. We recommend protecting them with a car seat travel bag and even a travel bag for strollers if you plan to check them.

Alternatively, as we mentioned above, even if you have not bought a seat for your child and the flight is not full, you can bring the car seat to the gate and attempt to get a spare seat on the flight for your baby. You’ll likely want to bring your stroller along too to help carry everything.

Looking for a lightweight travel stroller? Check out these best strollers for air travel.

Baggage Allowances When Flying with a Baby

As for other baggage allowances, please check with your individual airline on the rules, but typically if you have not bought a ticket for your child, they do not get a baggage allowance. You can likely bring an additional small carry-on for your baby with their necessities (diapers, wipes, baby food, etc).

If you have bought a ticket for your baby and they have their own seat, then their baggage allowance is the same as that of an adult plus their baby items. Please confirm the rules for your specific flight and airline, since this is likely to change as airlines continue to charge a fee per bag.

Tips for Flying with a Baby Car Seat

A baby enjoys pureed fruit while sitting on a car seat on a long haul flight to Europe

If you’ve bought an extra seat for your baby and you know your baby will travel best in a car seat, here are some of our top tips for flying with a car seat:

1. Make sure the car seat is airline approved

Before you plan to bring your car seat on a flight, make sure that the car seat is approved for air travel. How do you know your car seat is approved for air travel? It should have the date it was manufactured plus it will specify the design standards for which it is approved (i.e. FAA-approved child restraint system).

The best way to find out what you need for your particular airline is enter the following into Google, “[your airline] traveling with children”. For example, “United Airlines traveling with children”. Most airline websites will specify how to ensure your child’s car seat will be approved for air travel.

2. Research the Airlines Policy

Check with your airline about any specific policies they have on flying with baby car seats on the airplane and the size requirements.

3. Board Early

Try to board the plane early when they allow families with small children to pre-board. This will give you more time to install the car seat. If you had hoped to keep your baby off the airplane until the end of boarding (a good strategy if your baby is fussing), then one parent should pre-board and install the car seat.

4. Know Where You Can Install the Car Seat in an Airplane

The car seat will need to be installed either in the window seat or in the middle seat, if seated in the center of the airplane. It can not block the exit for any seats on the airplane. It also can not be installed in an emergency row.

5. Frequent Fliers Should Get One of These

If you plan to fly with your car seat frequently, consider getting a lightweight travel car seat that is easier to transport. Which lightweight car seat to buy for travel? Cosco Scenera Next car seat is the one that’s most recommended because it’s light, gets great ratings, and it’s easy to carry.

6. Tips to Getting an Extra Seat for Your Child

If you haven’t bought an extra seat for your baby, your best bet for getting an extra seat free of charge is to arrive early. Ask at check-in if the flight is full and if there is a possibility of getting the seat next to you blocked off. Then bring your car seat through security with you. Ask again at the gate to make sure you’ll have the extra seat.

If you aren’t able to get a seat secured, you will need to gate check your car seat. Bring a car seat travel bag along in case this happens to protect your car seat when you gate check it.

What to Pack for Flying with a Baby

Looking for a packing checklist for flying with a baby? Getting organized is key for new parents and having a packing list for travel with a baby will ensure you don’t forget anything (we have a Flying with Baby Checklist & Packing List available for download at the bottom of this post).

For the flight itself, we recommend keeping it fairly simple so you aren’t carrying too much. Stick to the must haves for flying with baby.

You’ll already feel like you need an extra hand or two when flying with a baby. Here are our tips on what to pack for flying with a baby:

a father and daughter play in the airport waiting for an international flight

You can also see all the products mentioned in this post on our Flying with a Baby shopping list on Amazon.

Tips for Airport Security with Babies

Getting through a security line can leave you sweating and this is where packing light is really valuable. First, look for a family line or take advantage of Nexus/Global Entry (if flying to/from the US or Canada).

Next, put your child in a baby carrier to go through security. This will allow your hands to be free to remove any liquids from your bag, fold up your stroller, etc. There’s a chance you won’t have to remove your baby from the carrier, but this isn’t a guarantee.

Going through security is easiest if you travel with a lightweight travel stroller that is easy to collapse to make getting through security easier. Don’t forget to empty all the pockets of your stroller before putting it through the x-ray machine. If your stroller won’t fit in the x-ray, inform the security personnel, who may be able to do a physical or visual examination.

Breastmilk, formula and baby food do not fall under the 3.4 ounce (100ml) liquid restriction and can be brought through security in reasonable quantities. This applies to flying with baby food pouches and flying with homemade baby food.

You will still need to remove the breastmilk, formula or baby food from your bag for screening.

The TSA website on traveling with children has the information on how it will be screened. It never hurts to print this out and have it with you in case you run into an problems.

Is it Possible to Fly Without a Stroller?

A mother carries her infant in a baby carrier walking through the airport prior to her flight

I can speak from experience that it is possible to fly without an infant travel stroller. We have on several occasions flown with just a baby carrier, to keep it light.

In these instances, we leave our car seat at home and rented a stroller at our destination through a reputable baby equipment rental company. This allows us to check our bags and only bring carry-on essentials for baby onto the plane with us.

We only recommend this packing strategy if you are traveling light!

Read all about travel with a baby carrier or stroller, where we help you decide which is best for your trip!

Top Tips for a Successful Flight with a Baby

It’s no surprise, but advice on successfully taking a baby on a plane for the first time is amongst the most asked questions we get! Many parents worry about how they are going to keep their baby entertained for a long haul flight, especially if their child is mobile.

The best advice I can give on travelling with your baby on plane is to stay calm and focus on your baby. You will survive flying with a baby. And chances are good that it won’t be as bad as you think.

Your baby will enjoy the new environment and everything on the plane will become a new travel toy for your baby (this includes the seatbelt, plastic cups and spoons and the window shade). Let them explore!

The plastic airline cups make great entertainment when flying with a baby

As previously mentioned, your part will be to stay calm. Your child will feed off your energy. More importantly, when traveling with babies on airplanes, set your expectations accordingly.

Go into the flight expecting that airplane travel with baby means you will spend the majority of the time entertaining your baby and any sleep you get will be a bonus!

1. Choose the Best Flight Time for Traveling with Baby

One of the best tips on flying with a baby on a plane, aside from staying calm, is to pick a flight that will give you the best chances of success. If you think it is unlikely that your baby will sleep during the flight, then choose to fly early in the morning when your child is at her happiest.

Flying around nap time, can improve your odds to get a sleeping baby.

If you have a long haul flight, getting an overnight flight that leaves shortly before your baby’s bedtime is a good strategy. This will give your little one time to explore the airplane and the new exciting environment before you can start their bedtime routine. With any luck your baby, once asleep, they will sleep for the remainder of the flight.

a baby sleeping on plane in an airline bassinet

Some people suggest not sticking with a routine and just going with the flow when traveling with a baby on a plane. This will definitely work for some babies but not all. If (like ours) your baby is a nightmare if they are overtired, then you may still want to try to get your baby to nap on the plane.

On the other hand, try not to get stressed about whether your baby will sleep or not. I have done that and it didn’t make anything better. In fact our baby was up for 12 hours once without a nap when she was 10 months old (she refused to sleep on the flight)! Although it was a lot of work to keep her entertained on the flight, she was happy enough. We got to our destination and she fell asleep in the carrier instantly. 

Wondering if your baby’s sleep on the plane will affect their jet lag? Get my best baby jet lag tips!

2. Tips to Get Babies to Sleep on Airplane

a mother holds her sleeping infant while on a family flight

As parents we worry about our baby’s sleep schedule, even if we are flying. This is especially true if you’ve just gotten your baby to start sleeping through the night.

Here are our best tips for getting your baby to sleep on an airplane:

Bring a Baby Carrier

The most important thing you’ll want to bring for traveling by plane with baby is a baby carrier. This will allow you to keep your baby close and you can stand or walk up and down the aisles to help your baby get to sleep. This will enable you to have hands free when your baby does fall asleep. Keep in mind, you will not be able to use it for take-off or landing.

Choose the right time to fly with your baby

Choose a time to fly with your baby that will have the most success for getting your baby to sleep on the airplane. If your baby doesn’t nap well on-the-go, try for an overnight flight. If your baby refuses to sleep anywhere but her crib, fly during the day.

Use your nap or bedtime routine

Babies like the comfort of routine. One of the best tips on how to travel by plane with a baby is to take the time to change your baby into pajamas, read a familiar story and feed your baby just like you would at home.

Feed before sleep
A mother reads Goodnight Moon to her baby to prepare her infant to sleep on the plane

While you’ll likely be feeding your baby during take-off to help with their ears, you should also include this in their bedtime routine just like at home.

Don’t rush it

A first flight is an exciting time for babies! Give your child time to be excited in the new environment before you attempt a nap.

Try to get your baby to sleep before they get overtired

Letting a baby or toddler get overtired can be a recipe for disaster. This may be out of your control, but if possible start your bedtime routine as soon as you can to keep a similar schedule as your typical day at home.

a father with his baby on a plane
Bring a travel car seat

If your baby sleeps well in a car seat, not only is that the safest way for a baby to fly, but it might be your best way to get your baby to sleep.

Get extra space

Even if you didn’t purchase a seat for your baby, try to get an extra seat for your baby if the flight is not full. Having the extra space and privacy will help make flying with an infant or baby a lot easier.

Don’t get stressed

Knowing you are calm and stress free will keep your baby from feeling anxious and should help get you that coveted sleep for your baby on an airplane.

Reserve your seats

Choose seats that either give you the option of using a airplane bassinet or the window for more privacy. Also, make sure your seats are not too close to the toilets, where people tend to congregate or the slamming door may continually wake your baby up.

an infant sleeps on a plane while on her mom's lap

Flying with a toddler? We get so much use out of our Fly Tot inflatable airplane cushion and our toddler has slept the entire flight almost every time!

3. Tips for Changing a Diaper on the Airplane

There’s a real lack of consistency when it comes to change tables and diaper changing on a flight. The flight attendants will let you know which toilet has the change table. If they don’t, be sure to ask them. They may also give you a bag to put the dirty diaper in before putting it in the garbage, but not always.

As you know, the airline toilets are extremely small and trying to maneuver in there with a wriggly baby is no easy feat.

Here are our tips for changing diapers on a plane:

Take only the essentials with you

Plan to take only the diaper changing essentials (not your entire baby backpack diaper bag) with you when you change a diaper on a plane. The Sidekick hip baby by No Reception Club is the perfect solution! It fits perfectly in The Getaway Bag and makes for easy access of all your diaper changing essentials.

See our full review of The Getaway Bag by No Reception Club here.

mother changing baby's diaper on the beach, while demonstrating easy access to diaper changing essentials with a diaper backpack and wipes access of the Sidekick by No Reception Club nearby
Be prepared with everything you need

Pack your a pack of wipes, diaper, change mat and extra change of clothes in a Ziploc bag or diaper changing clutch near the top of your carry-on bag. This allows you to grab your diaper changing essentials, baby and be on your way.

Change your baby before boarding the flight

Make sure you change your baby’s diaper right before you board the plane. You just never know how long you’ll be waiting for those seatbelt lights to come off and you can get up again.

Don’t change your baby at your seat

I’ve seen it asked in forums if you can change your baby at your seat. This is not recommended, however I am willing to bet there are plenty of moms who have changed their babies on their laps if absolutely necessary.

4. Tips for Breastfeeding while Flying

If you have any concerns about breastfeeding while flying you can look into your airline’s policy about breastfeeding on an airplane. There shouldn’t be any issues with it, but it doesn’t hurt to be armed with information.

A mom smiles at her lap baby as they share an airline seat

The window seat will give you the most privacy for breastfeeding your child during your flight.

If you will need to pump during your flight, you can get all the tips for pumping on an airplane in our post flying with a baby and breastfeeding.

5. Tips for How Entertain Babies on a Plane

Another great way to entertain a baby on an airplane is to let them watch cartoons on the seat back entertainment system

Keeping your baby entertained on a plane doesn’t have to be difficult. We suggest keeping it simple and making use of what you have around you, while packing just a few baby travel toys. Trust me when I say that your baby will be far more entertained by a plastic cup and spoon on the plane than any toy.

That being said, it won’t hurt to make sure you have a few favorites or a couple of new toys with you. You can even put away a favourite toy for a few weeks at home, then bring it back out when flying long haul with baby.

a happy baby plays with a simple toy during an international flight

You can get more ideas from our full list of travel toys and airplane activities for babies and toddlers.

6. Tips for Flying with a Lap Infant

Flying with an infant is likely to be your easiest flight. Newborns and infants sleep a lot and will easily be lulled to sleep by the engine noise of the plane.

Bring a carrier to help get your baby to sleep and use all our flying with a baby tips above.

A mom shares her airplane seat with her baby boy to save money while flying with a baby

7. Tips for Flying with a Lap Baby

Flying with a lap baby or a lap toddler gets a little more complicated. Once your child is on the move, it’s not likely they are going to want to sit in your lap. This will be especially difficult with a lap toddler, so be sure to read our post with our tips for flying with a toddler.

This is the time when you will want to do whatever you can to get some extra space on the airplane, if you haven’t purchased a seat for your baby.

Make sure you arrive early to give yourself the best chance of snagging any spare seats. Also, be as polite and friendly as possible to the check-in agents, the gate agents and the flight attendants. They will be your best allies throughout the flight.

If you need to, take your baby for a walk down the aisle. Let them explore the plane (within reason). Find someone who wants to play peek-a-book with your baby.

Encourage your baby to get some sleep on the flight. Finally, try to stay calm and just know that you will get through the flight.

a baby looks out the airplane window on a 4 hour international flight

Summary of our Tips for Flying with a Baby

There are so many aspects to cover when flying with a baby on a plane, but in reality it’s pretty simple. To summarize, here’s a short summary of all the tips for flying with a baby:

  • Talk to your airline: Some airlines like British Airways will allow you to choose your seats for free when traveling with a baby. Do some research on your airline by reviewing their family travel or traveling with children section webpage. Take the time to call them if necessary, it will be worth your time.

  • Check the rules of flying with a baby: It’s impossible to include all the rules for different airlines and countries in one post because they aren’t consistent. For example in Canada, Transport Canada requires that parents can not travel with more than one infant. If you are flying with twins in Canada you will need one adult for each baby.

    For this reason it’s important to educate yourself on the rules for flying with a baby both through airport security (every country has different rules) and for your airline.
pack favorite foods for for flying with a baby
  • Book your flight for the best time of day to fly with your baby (if possible) and reserve the best seats for your flight.

  • Feed your baby or give them a pacifier during takeoff and landing to help with the cabin pressure change for your baby’s ears.

  • Pack lightly and bring a baby carrier to be hands free. A baby carrier is one of our top recommended baby flying essentials, as it will make going through security and the entire flight easier.

  • Put your diaper changing essentials in an easy to reach place: Only bring what you need to the toilet to change your child on the airplane.

  • Give your baby as much time to play off the airplane as possible: One parent can board early with the carry-on to get space near your seat, while the other parent can wait to board giving your baby less time on the airplane. We love these travel play mats to give your baby a chance to move around before needing to be in a car seat or bassinet for a long flight.

  • Don’t let rude comments upset you: As much as there are people who will be willing to help, there may be other passengers who can’t help but be rude. Ignore them and don’t engage them. Above all, don’t let rude comments from other passengers rattle you.

    You are as entitled to be on that airplane as they are, after all you purchased a ticket just like they did. And they are adults, if they want they can just put headphones on and block out the sound.

  • The last trip won’t be a reflection of the next trip: Babies change so much. If your last flight was a disaster, learn from it but don’t let it scare you off. There may be a few things that you can do differently, but more likely your child will have changed from that flight.

  • Take help when it’s offered: There are no prizes for doing it alone. Many people will go out of their way to help parents flying with babies, accept their help!
an infant holds on to a teething necklace while snuggling their mom on a flight together

Travel with a Baby Checklist & Packing List

We’ve prepared a checklist for planning travel with baby and a packing list for flying with a baby. Click to download our Travel with Baby Checklist.

Don’t miss our web story with our top Baby Flying Tips.

Flying with a Baby

This post was written & edited by: | Website | + posts

Celine Brewer is the owner of Baby Can Travel. Not only does she have years of experience traveling with babies & toddlers, but she's helped millions of new parents travel with their babies and toddlers for over a decade. In addition to writing on her baby travel blog, she has shared her expertise on traveling with a baby or toddler by contributing to articles about traveling with a baby with the Washington Post, USA Today, the Lonely Planet magazine and Pregnancy & Newborn magazine.

Celine also writes about family travel on the site, which she co-owns with her husband. Being from the Canadian Rockies, she shares her passion about her home and travel to Banff National Park and area on their site

Read more about Celine Brewer.