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Tips for Flying with a Baby or Toddler
In this section you will find our top tips on flying with a toddler or baby. From check-in to touch down, we hope these suggestions eliminate any fear of flying with kids.
Getting Through the Airport Door
It can be a little tricky to get from the curb to the check-in counter with luggage, kids and equipment. Grab a cart ($0-$5), or better yet, hire a porter to help get your luggage to the baggage drop off ($10-$25).
Alternatively, if you need to park a car or drop a rental car and have more than one adult traveling, you can divide and conquer. Drop one person at the terminal (with bags and offspring) and have the other parent park or return the car.
In the event that you drive to the airport and are panicked because you are late and still need to park the car, some airports offer valet parking services. While this can add up to some rather expensive parking, it may seem like a deal if the other alternative is missing your flight.
If you did not check-in online, arrive with plenty of time to check-in and get through security.
Be kind to the check-in agent as they are the gatekeeper. They may have the power to block an extra seat for you allowing for some extra space, or see to it that your family does not get split apart even when the flight is dreadfully overbooked.
Checking Your Bags
Most airlines have a surcharge for overweight or over-sized bags. Check the bag you think is the heaviest first. This way, if it is overweight you still have time to move some things into other bags.
Remember to keep all valuables in your carry-on bags.Those TSA compliant locks may deter thieves but they are absolutely not fool-proof. Many bags can simply be opened by splitting open the zipper with a ballpoint pen and leaving the lock untouched (I was rather shocked when I watched a YouTube video on this).
Breezing Through Security
Security screening is a great area of stress for families traveling with kids, but a little foresight will go a long way.
- Have your boarding passes and passports easily accessible.
- Finish and dispose of any snacks and liquids.
- Organize your bags, stroller, etc. so that you have no loose items and everything is ready to be put on the screening belt.
- If your child has a special comfort toy that they are holding, see if you can get them to put it away until after security, as this will need to be put through the x-ray machine. Catching them by surprise and taking this away at the last second can spell disaster.
- Transfer any metal objects from your pockets to your carry-on bags.
- Look for a security lane specifically for families with small children. Although these lanes are slow, you won’t have a business traveler breathing down the back of your neck.
- In an urgent situation (child that needs a bathroom, late for plane), kindly ask an agent if they can help you get through faster. If they have ever traveled with a child themselves, they will understand.
In Line for Security:
- Be pleasant and make eye contact with anyone at security who looks sympathetic to families in the hopes of getting fast tracked.
- Take off any metal jewelry and accessories and put in your carry-on bags.
- If your child is old enough, involve and distract them by having them help you.
- If you have a laptop, pull it out of the case so it is ready to be put in a separate screening bin.
- Have your clear Ziploc bags full of liquids ready to pull out and put in the screening bins.
- Take jackets off ready to put in a screening bin.
Note: TSA-Pre expedited screening lanes are now available in over 200 airports across North America which qualified passengers can take advantage of with their children. Please refer back to getting through the airport faster in Chapter 1 for more information on the program.
Waiting at the Gate
There are lots of things to keep your child entertained within the airport so no need to break out the airplane activity pack yet. Save it for when you get desperate. Some suggestions include:
Before the Gate:
- Going to the play area.
- Riding elevators, escalators and movators.
- Watching the airplanes out the window.
- Eating (airport food is generally a little better than airplane food).
- With older children playing a game of “I Spy” or having a scavenger hunt.
At the Gate:
- Taking your child for a walk around the airport for some last minute exercise.
- Making a last visit to the washroom since diaper changes or bathroom visits are easier in the airport than on the plane.
- If you are traveling with a baby and plan to nurse or bottle feed on takeoff, you may want to give them a mini feed here (you want a hungry baby on takeoff, not a hysterical starving baby).
Boarding and Takeoff
On most airlines, parents flying with a baby or small child are allowed to board the plane right after reward class members. Takeoff, however, is still at least 30 minutes away. If you are traveling with another adult, you may want to consider the following strategy.
- Send your partner on board with the gear (car seat, toys, snacks etc.) to set up and make sure you get an easily accessible overhead bin.
- Let the boarding flight attendants know that you and your child are going to stay off the plane until last call and let your child have a few extra minutes of freedom and exercise.
- Get on the plane at the last possible second with your child, unburdened by bags and other gear.
One final note on boarding is that there is no need to rush getting you and your child ready for takeoff until you see the flight attendants “secure the doors”. The plane is not going anywhere until this is done.
The same logic applies if you plan to feed your baby on ascent (the sucking helps to equalize their ears with the changing air pressure). Wait until you are on the runway and next in line for takeoff as there can often be a significant time lag between leaving the gate and getting up in the air.
Making Friends on Board
Prior to having kids, did you ever board a flight and think “Oh, please don’t let me get seated near that baby”? People are concerned that they will be next to an unruly child and that the parents will not be considerate of others. You can disarm your neighbors by doing the following:
- Introduce yourself and let them know that you will do your best to keep the disturbance to a minimum. Almost every time they will respond to you with something like “Oh, no, we weren’t worried about that at all!” Now, of course they were, but since you have addressed their fears, you have disarmed them. Later on, should your child act up a little, they will likely show more empathy.
- Make an effort to reduce the amount of seat kicking and seat climbing your child does. Removing your child’s shoes may help as it’s not a lot of fun to kick a seat with socks. Most people will agree that they are more concerned with the reaction of a parent to a less desirable behavior by a child, than the action itself.
- As a last resort, if things really go awry, offer to buy your neighbors a cocktail or pay for their headphones. This small gesture can go a long way in winning friends and influencing people.
Traveling with a child does not have to be like going to war. Think of these steps as an exercise in diplomacy.
Note: In my years of traveling with kids, I occasionally come across people who look at our family with disdain right from the get-go (without our kids making a single peep). This has happened on airplanes, in restaurants, on tours…you name it.
From my experience, I have found that there is no point in trying to appease this small (but often vocal) group. They are very unlikely to come around. I like to cope by imaging what terrible karma they have coming to them.
Let Them Be
Do not break out the toys and snacks until you need to. Pace yourself. You do not want to waste them on a child that was happy enough to just take in their surroundings. Those toys may be much more valuable in the hours ahead.
As an example, our daughter has always been fascinated with the flight safety card. In the event of an unforeseen incident, I think she will be the most prepared in our family. Certainly not my husband, who never pays attention during the safety briefing.
If you are traveling with another adult, you may want to have the flight attendant hold your meal while the other adult eats and you help your little one with their meal. Then you can trade off after and eat properly.
Likewise when traveling alone with your child, you could also hold your meal and help your child with theirs first.
The Dreaded Airplane Bathroom
If you are dealing with diapers the following tips may be of help:
- If you don’t know where the changing table is on the plane, inquire with the flight attendant.
- Bring only a changing kit with you to the bathroom, since there is barely enough room in there for you and your little one, let alone a diaper bag. There are many Portable Diaper Change Pad options available, most with enough room for a few diapers, wipes and diaper cream.
- If they are not busy, ask the flight attendant if they could put the change table down for you. It is not an easy thing to do in such a confined space while also trying to stop your child from touching everything.
- Dispose of dirty diapers in sealed bags (sometimes they are provided by the flight attendants).
Remember that you will need to put away most items (including electronics) and put tray tables up for descent. Keep handy a couple of things with which to amuse your child (a new book, a yummy snack that you can “trickle feed” them such as Gold Fish crackers).
If you are traveling with a newborn, you may want to nurse or bottle feed them as the sucking/swallowing motion helps to equalize their ears from the changing air pressure.
Arrival at Last
There is absolutely no reason for you to hurry off the plane. If you had the ground crew put a stroller or anything else underneath the plane, it will take them a couple minutes to have it ready for you. You may as well relax, let everyone else off the plane, and calmly collect your things.
If you need to pass through customs and immigration at your destination, try to catch the attention of a sympathic security person who might fast track your family.
If you are traveling with another adult, let them get everything organized (luggage on the cart, inquiring about ground transportation etc.) while you entertain your child. There is no reason for the whole family to stand in the hot sun or freezing rain while waiting for a cab or shuttle bus. Stay inside the airport with your child and watch from a window. Come out at the last possible moment.
The same goes for renting a car. Have one person take the luggage and pick up the car while the other waits at the airport with the child.