Flying With a Baby: A Tired Dad’s Best Tips

We recently took our first flight with our son. So take these tips as tips for flying with a baby from a tired dad who nervously thought through every scenario he could think of. 

We thought of most things we needed and there’s a few things I would and wouldn’t do again. 

Those tips and a handful of things we learned are listed below. 

Tips for Flying With a Baby

1. Bring baby bottles already filled with water

If your baby is doing any formula feeding, I’d highly recommend bringing bottles already filled with the correct amount of water. 

TSA in the US allows you to bring formula, breast milk, toddler drinks, and baby/toddler food in amounts larger than the typical 3.4 ounce limit. You just need to let the TSA agent know you have baby food and they’ll typically screen that bag separately. 

With a direct flight, we brought 3 bottles with the right number of ounces already in them so we didn’t need to find water or pour water in from a water bottle. 

2. Get a formula holder

Fly with a formula holder, not a plastic bag.

If you’re doing any bottle feeding, I’d recommend getting a formula holder (even for when traveling not on a plane too). 

Trying to dump baby formula powder from a plastic bag into a bottle is an enormous pain. I also had a tough time finding the darn plastic bag in the diaper bag, too.

Getting a little powder holder with three sections makes it much easier.

3. Double check you included a lap infant on your ticket

If you’re planning to keep your baby on your lap and not get them their own seat, you’ll need to add in your purchase that you’ll have a lap infant with you. You won’t need to pay extra. 

You can get the baby their own seat and use a car seat or other seating device, you’ll just need to pay for the seat. The seating device just needs to meet the requirements of the FAA Child Restraint Seats

Your boarding pass will have “INFT” listed on it if you included the infant on your ticket.

4. Take your car seat base

If you get a bag to put your car seat in, you can take your car seat base with you and put it in that bag, too.

For that matter, you can put pretty much whatever you’d want in that bag as long as you don’t mind it being kept in a big bag under the plane. We only needed to put our car seat base in there, but we were glad we knew that was doable since it made putting our son in/out of the car much easier later on.

5. Get TSA PreCheck

This may seem a little unnecessary but hear me out. TSA PreCheck lets you use a typically much shorter security line. We’ve found it to be much much faster, and much much much less stressful when flying with a baby.

It’s $85 per person to sign up for 5 years, and my wife and I have saved an average of 30-40 minutes every airport trip. (We got it before we had a baby because we realized how much stress it’d probably save us from wondering if we’d miss our flight. We were constantly late at the airport.) 

The less time you can spend waiting in lines, potentially having to console your crying baby, the better.

6. Get an extra stroller attachment

This is more of a suggestion than a necessity. We were concerned with our stroller (which wasn’t cheap) being tossed around with other luggage and getting damaged. 

So we found a Graco stroller attachment online that fits all Graco car seats and took that with us instead of our full stroller. Our recommendation would be to get one that fits your own car seat brand or get a cheap stroller that you wouldn’t mind potentially getting damaged.

7. Keep in mind the to/from airport ride

One detail I forgot until the few days before our first flight was how we’d get to and from the airport. We were going to visit family for 10 days and I didn’t want to pay the ridiculous sum of money to leave our car at the airport the whole time. And jumping in an Uber isn’t as easy with a baby.

I learned you can put your own car seat in an Uber or Lyft. You’ll want to factor in some extra time to get it installed, but that’s one option. You can also order an Uber with a car seat but there are restrictions on how old (much be 2+) and large (22-48 lbs & 31-52 inches) your child must be.

8. Use family boarding (or don’t?)

Some airlines allow family boarding before the main groups get on the plane. My first instinct was to use family boarding so we weren’t crammed in with everyone else at once, but you may want to hold off. 

Boarding early means your baby also needs to chill out on your lap for longer. So if they’ll be more relaxed with you walking or strolling around the gate area, and you’re on an airline that has reserved seats (I swear I still love you, Southwest!), you may have better luck with a quiet baby by not using family boarding.  

9. Put sleep stuff in your carry on

My son has a few things that we use to help him sleep that would be an enormous bummer if they got lost in lost checked bags. 

For him, it’s a sound machine (and charger) and a type of sleep suit he’s currently wearing until he grows out of it or can control his arms better.  We packed those in our carry on so we wouldn’t have a major issue with sleep if our bags were lost. 

10. Feed your baby during takeoff and landing

It’s easy to pop your ears as an adult to relieve pressure. Babies don’t know what an airplane is much less how to pop their ears as you change altitude. 

We tried to feed our little guy during take off and landing, and we’ll try to do it that way with any flight we can. He didn’t make a big fuss thankfully.

11. Get gate check bags for your car seat and stroller

Flying with a baby means carrying everything at once

I have no idea how many germs are in an airport but my guess is more than a few. We got a gate check bag (basically a big red canvas cover) to put our car seat in to help protect it from germs, and it made it easier to identify as ours after we got off the plane. 

Forewarning: I looked a little like I was carrying a team’s worth of hockey equipment, but it sure worked well. 

12. Bring baby documentation

The TSA website suggests checking with your airline to see what documents are needed for your child. I’ve seen some airlines list that proof of age is required. Especially if your child is under 2 and they’ll be on your lap without their own ticket.  

Others require proof that the child is yours, which is what I was asked for by Allegiant for my 3 month old. 

You can bring medical records, their birth certificate, or their passport if you’ve already gotten one for them.

All in all, make sure you check with your airline on what they require. 

13. Gate check your stroller (and car seat)

Slightly obvious tip here, but I didn’t know to expect this until we looked it up ourselves. 

You can check your stroller at the gate and it’ll be waiting for you when you get off the plane. Our car seat attached to our stroller, so we gate checked both and it made it much easier to transport things in the stroller (though we held our son most of the way since he was most relaxed that way).

14. Use your free diaper bag (depending on the airline)

Many airlines allow you to bring on a diaper bag if you’re flying with an infant and it won’t count toward your normal personal item or carry-on limit.

Check if your airline allows it and put it to use. It was much easier for us to have the diapers, changing pad, and bottles all stored separately in the diaper bag so they were easy to get to.

15. Try not to book late night flights

We learned the hard way. Flying with a baby on a 9:15pm flight when they normally go to sleep around 7:30pm is not a recipe for a good time. Sometimes there are limited flight times and price options, so you might not have a choice, but I’d strongly suggest flying during the daytime hours if possible.

16. Ask to move to an open row

An incredibly kind flight attendant noticed we had a baby and told us we could move to a completely open row before one of our flights took off. On another, we asked to move to an open row in the back and having the extra seat was a life saver. Less stress without a person sitting next to you and more room for the plethora of baby things you’ll probably pull out of your diaper bag.

17. Use Mamava pods

Some airports have little rooms that look like a spaceship escape pod for moms to breastfeed in. We haven’t tried them since we realized when we tried to open the pod that you need to download an app and sign up beforehand. 

If you’ve got a long layover and need a private space (even if mom isn’t breastfeeding) the pods can be easier than trying to find a quiet gate in the airport. Mamava has the list of airports on their site so you can look them up beforehand.

18. Bring protein bars

Snickers should make one of those “you’re not you when you’re hungry” commercials about parents flying with a baby. I already don’t do well in life generally when hungry and being hungry while in a confined space with a sad baby is awful. That sentence makes me anxious just writing it. 

Bring a handful of clif bars or protein bars and the $8 you spent on them might save your sanity mid flight when you’re hangry.

(Snickers marketing team if you’re reading this: yes, I will star in your commercial.)

Bonus infant travel tips

1. Buy blackout curtains

They don’t take up much space in a suitcase, aren’t expensive, and make traveling easier if you’re going somewhere that doesn’t have thick curtains. (Would also recommend the Babysense camera for traveling.)

2. Use packing cubes

I always thought packing cubes seemed bizarre and unnecessary since everything is going in the same bag anyway. Well now I have a child and I’d like to confess to packing cube manufacturers. I was wrong. 

Packing with a newborn means bringing all their clothes and pacifiers and other random stuff. I was surprised how helpful it was that my wife packed my son’s stuff in packing cubes and then it was easy to find later and his miniature pair of shorts didn’t get lost inside a sweatshirt sleeve. 

In Summary

Probably the biggest flying with a baby tip, that isn’t really a tip, is to expect it to be an imperfect experience. You can prepare a ton for every detail imaginable and still have your kid scream his head off for part of the trip (speaking from experience here). 

Hopefully some of these make your trip at least slightly easier. Happy traveling and email me at gooddadhelp@gmail.com if these helped you or you have suggestions to add.

And if you’re prepping for your paternity leave or dadhood could use some ideas, I wrote on leave durations and what I learned from my own leave and general new dad tips.