Your Baby's First Flight

I’ve laid out a play-by-play of how to prepare for your baby's first flight. With planning and patience, the adventure will likely be a big success. even if it isn’t, it’s a day you’ll never forget.

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Five years ago, people asked me where to go on their honeymoon or what bucket list trip I’d do again in a heartbeat. Now, nine times out of ten, I get this question: What do I need to know for my baby’s first flight?

I’ve laid out the essentials below.

How's that diaper bag coming along? For a nifty checklist of what to bring on board, click here!

Before Your Flight

Get your child’s ID If you are ticketing your baby as lap child (an option on most airlines for kids two years and younger), you will need to bring identification to prove that your child is under two. For U.S. flights, that means you need one of the following IDs:

—Your child’s immunization card: This was likely given to you at the hospital when your baby born, but can also be ordered from your pediatrician’s office or your state health department.

—Your child’s birth certificate: This has to be ordered from the vital records office in the state in which your child was born.

—Your child’s passport: If you have already obtained a passport for your baby, this form of ID works as well.

Check in with your airline Call your airline to make sure your baby has a lap child ticket, to ask what kind of luggage is free to counter or gate check, and to ask if there are any other restrictions or considerations you need to keep in mind.

Book an isle seat If you’re on a full plane and can’t manage to get an entire row, opt for an isle seat so you can get up and down easily.

Prep what you’re checking If you’re counter or gate checking a travel crib, car seat, or stroller, it will survive better in a bag. Test bags before you get to the airport—I’m guilty of bringing a duffle and crossing my fingers. The product’s corresponding travel bags will obviously be the best option. Some companies, like UppaBaby, even cover damages when you register and use their travel bags.

Call your pediatrician if…your baby is sick or if you think she might have an ear infection. An ear infection can make her flight—and yours—unbearable. (Most airlines also require a fit-to-fly note from a doctor if you are traveling with a baby under two weeks old.)

At the Airport, Part I (Pre-Security)

Get there early Traveling with a baby takes more time because you often have to stand in the full-service line during airline check-in, even if you’re carrying on your luggage, to get a lap seat ticket. Taking a baby through airport security can also take longer, especially if TSA agents need to scan things like breast milk or big strollers separately.

Prep for TSA You don’t need to show your baby’s ID to a TSA agent. However, even if your child has fallen asleep in his carrier or stroller, he will have to be taken out while going through the security scanner in the U.S. Strollers and baby carriers have to go through the x-ray machine. If a stroller doesn’t fit, it will be handed to and separately scanned by a TSA agent. And yes, unlike Global Entry, children under 12 can join you in the TSA Pre-Check line.

Bring your breast milk TSA allows you to carry more than 3.4 oz of some liquids, such as breast milk, formula, and medications, as well as gel packs to keep them cool, when traveling with an infant or toddler. Separate them from the rest of your carry-on luggage, and if you don’t want to send the liquids through the x-ray machine, ask a TSA officer to examine them separately.

At the Airport, Part II (Post Security)

Change your baby’s diaper Try to get a new diaper on before you board. There’s a 99.9% chance they’re going to poop on the plane, and it’s better if they poop into an empty diaper than a full one.

Warm up your bottle If your baby is drinking from a bottle, head to a Starbucks and ask for a Venti cup of warm water before you get on the plane. You can either submerge your bag of breast milk in it to warm it up, or mix it with formula. (Note that “warm” is not a word that computes with Starbucks employees. This water will actually be scalding hot.) Warm milk + wheels up = a (cross-your-fingers) sleeping baby.

Forgot something? Find another parent in the airport or on the plane. Chances are they’ll have an extra of what you need, and will likely be very happy—and secretly patting themselves on the back for being more prepared than you—to help.

 Thomas's first flight to San Fran. We had to change that vintage Pan Am onsie as soon as the seatbelt light turned off. 

Thomas's first flight to San Fran. We had to change that vintage Pan Am onsie as soon as the seatbelt light turned off. 

On the Flight

Clean your seat I’m in the “germs are good for you” camp, but you don’t want to start a trip by getting a cold. Traveling alone or with kids, I wipe down my seat, tray tables, windows, and arm rests when I get on a plane. I repeat this process in the airplane bathroom, especially when changing a baby.

Anticipate spills Throw a burp cloth on your lap and over your shoulder in the case of, oh, so many things: spit-ups, leaky diapers, spilled drinks, and so on. Also set up a trash bag at your feet.

Wear contacts? I usually swap out my contacts for glasses on the plane, but as soon as a baby gets grabby (3-months+), I keep my contacts in and have eye drops on hand. Having a baby grab at your glasses for three hours is really, really irritating.

Locate the changing table before you need it Ask a flight attendant which bathroom has a changing table as you board. Curiously, they’re usually in the front of the plane.

During takeoff Make sure your baby is sucking something, a bottle or boob—during takeoff and landing. It helps their ears adjust to the pressure. 

Have a crier? Try your usual doctor-approved remedies (bottles, saline or gas drops), distractions like finger puppets, and all of those trusty S’s (swaddle, shush, side, swing, suck). If she’s still at it, considering heading to the bathroom to give your neighbors a break. Other than that, there’s little you can do, so just repeat the mantra you’ve probably memorized since your baby popped out: This too shall pass.  

And finally...

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...have fun! Tell people it’s your baby’s first flight. Hand out bribery packs with earplugs, a friendly note, and maybe even a chocolate. Ask your neighbors to take a picture of your family. See if the captain will sign your baby’s first ticket or let you take a picture in the cockpit. Some airlines might even have a certificate honoring this special day.

Have an additional tip? I'd love to hear it below. And click here for a list of on-board essentials!