Are you planning on flying with your new baby? Be sure to talk to your baby’s doctor first. You may be advised to wait until your baby is 3 months old or older. This is because a newborn’s immune system is not yet fully developed, making colds and other infections more likely to occur. At the airport and in the closed quarters of an airplane, your baby will be exposed to a lot of germs. Also infants do not equalize ear pressure well. The doctor can give you guidance as to when it is safe for your baby to board a plane. When you are ready to plan the trip, follow the tips below.
If your baby has a health condition, such as lung problems or a cold, be sure to talk to the doctor. Depending on your baby’s health, you may need to postpone the trip. If your baby has an ear infection or a cold, the doctor may suggest giving your baby a pain reliever for ear pain associated with pressure changes.
Something else to keep in mind is that airplanes have low oxygen levels. This does not cause problems with healthy people. But if your baby has a breathing problem, the doctor may want your baby to have supplemental oxygen.
There are many factors to consider if you are planning on traveling abroad. Check the CDC Travelers' Health website for specific information about the country to which you are traveling. Also, talk to the doctor to find out if your baby needs any additional vaccinations.
On most airlines, it is free for children 2 years of age and under to fly if sitting on a parent’s lap. However, it is safer if you reserve a seat for your baby. You can place your baby in a rear-facing car seat in an airline seat and buckle your baby in. Most car seats are certified for planes. Check to make sure yours is. If you do plan on bringing the car seat, tell the airline staff when you buy your tickets.
Where should you sit? Some people recommend sitting in the bulkhead seats because they offer more room. If you are going on a long flight and need a bassinet (which the airline supplies), the bulkhead seats can accommodate it. You can always get advice about seating from the airline staff when you book your reservations.
Get the latest airport security information by checking the Transportation Security Administration website before your flight. On the page Traveling With Children, you can learn about what is acceptable to bring (eg, breastmilk, formula, medications) and what the security process is like. Remember, too, that you will need to carry your baby through the metal detector. Even if your baby is sleeping in a stroller, you will have to pick him or her up to go through security.
Before packing, check the TSA’s website to learn about restrictions for carry-on luggage. Be sure that you are clear about what you can bring and how you should pack it. For example, some items need to be in zip-lock bags. Here are some ideas for supplies:
In addition, you may want to bring your own portable stroller so that you will have it at the airport and when you reach your destination.
Dress your baby in comfortable clothes that are easy to remove for diaper changes.
Get to the airport early to give yourself plenty of time. This will help to reduce stress, especially when you and your baby go through security.
If you are traveling with someone, have your companion drop you and your baby off at the door. This will make your voyage a lot easier. Be sure to have a meeting spot so you can reunite with your companion.
With the baby supplies and your own luggage, you will have a lot to carry and keep track of. Try to check in as much of your own luggage as possible to reduce your load.
Before boarding the plane, change your baby’s diaper. The airport restroom is much more comfortable and convenient than the cramped bathroom on the plane. You may want to check to make sure that the airline does have a changing table in their bathroom. In some cases, you may be able to change your baby’s diaper in the seat.
The plane is a noisy environment. Do not use cotton balls or ear plugs because your baby could choke on them if they fall out. You can find ear muffs especially made for infants for sale on the internet.
If your baby begins to cry, check to see if a diaper needs to be changed, if your baby is hungry, or if your baby is too hot or too cold. Your baby may also be bothered if the sun is shining on his or her face. While it is distressing when your baby cries, remember that not every passenger will be able to hear the crying. The plane’s engines are noisy and muffle other sounds. Do your best to stay calm. If allowed, walk down the aisle with your baby.
Ear pain happens because of the changes in air pressure. But not every baby experiences ear pain. It is more likely to happen if your baby has a cold. In that case, the doctor may advise that you delay the trip or give your baby a pain reliever.
Breastfeeding, bottlefeeding, or giving your baby a pacifier can help to relieve ear pressure. The pressure becomes the most problematic when the plane takes off and when it begins to descend. You can ask the flight attendant when the descent will begin, since this differs depending on the plane’s altitude.
If you have tried feeding and using a pacifier and your baby still seems to be in pain, try rubbing your baby's ears.
After the plane has landed, you may want to allow other passengers to exit the plane before you. This will give you room and time to gather your belongings.
With proper planning and patience, flying with your baby can go smoothly. Remember that you can ask TSA staff and airplane attendants for help. They have helped many families travel successfully, and they are a great resource.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Transportation and Security Administration
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
International travel with infants and children. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Travelers’ Health website. Available at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2010/chapter-7/traveling-with-infants-and-children.aspx. Updated July 10, 2015. Accessed March 29, 2016.
Safety and prevention: flying with baby. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/on-the-go/Pages/Flying-with-Baby.aspx. Updated November 21, 2015. Accessed March 29, 2016.
Travel safety tips. American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/news-features-and-safety-tips/Pages/Travel-Safety-Tips.aspx. Updated July 14, 2015. Accessed March 29, 2016.
Traveling with kids. Transportation Security Administration website. Available at: https://www.tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures/traveling-children. Accessed March 29, 2016.
Last reviewed March 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 5/8/2014