Flying With Babies and Toddlers: Five Tips (Includes a Plane Travel Packing Checklist)

“Sorry, m’am, you can’t take this through security. We’ll have to dispose of it.”

The subject under scrutiny was not a knife, water gun, or even a bottle of pop; it was applesauce.

I didn’t realize that you can’t take liquid food through the security line that is not packaged as baby food. Baby food is okay, individual packages of apple sauce are not. I wish I would have known beforehand, my daughter’s breakfast ended up being confiscated by Homeland Security. We ended up buying her a cup of yogurt on the other side of security, but all the hassle could have been avoided.

If you are flying with your baby or toddler for the first time, or just need a refresher, here are a few tips for the trip.

1. Be prepared for the security line.

As demonstrated by the example above, the hoops you have to jump through for the security line merit an article all their own, but let’s just cover the basics.

You are allowed one carry-on item per ticketed passenger, plus a purse or diaper bag. If your baby has their own seat, you can take along an extra carry-on for them, but I prefer to keep things as simple as possible. I combine the necessities from my purse and diaper bag with some extra items needed for the flight in one backpack- with a lot of compartments. This means less to carry, less to go through in the security line, and one bag that you can keep stowed under the seat in front of you on your flights, thus having it close at hand.

Liquids are not allowed through security because the ingredients for explosive devices can be smuggled through the x-ray machine this way. However, there is an exception for breast milk, formula, and baby food. Baby food needs to be in baby food packaging, preferably with any safety seals still intact. If you want to go through the trouble of pumping and carrying along your breast milk, you’ll need to carry this in a small cooler so that it stays sanitary. If you are at all comfortable with it, I would recommend just using the breast milk that is already inside of you at the right temperature and breastfeed your baby on the plane. For formula, buy one of the handy formula containers and dispensers for traveling, take empty bottles or liners, and buy a bottle of water once you are through the security line.

The only other liquids you can take through the line must be in containers less than four ounces and all fit into one quart sized baggie, you are allowed one baggie per ticketed passenger. I take diaper cream, hand lotion, hand sanitizer, and baby pain reliever in one quart sized baggie easily.

When you approach the security line, remove your jacket and shoes and place them in the provided plastic caddy along with your baggie of liquids. Your baby or toddler also needs their shoes removed and placed in the caddy. (I know, that’s ridiculous, but just go along with it.) If you are taking your stroller to the gate, you will also need to fold up your stroller to go through the x-ray machine. This brings us to our next tip-

2. Take a stroller.

Even if you are flying out of a small airport and landing at another small airport, you will most likely change planes at one of the nation’s airline hubs, which means you will probably end up walking a long distance from one gate to the other. Don’t take a chance. If you have an infant younger than six months, you could take along a front carrier to transport them between flights instead. But if your child is over fifteen pounds, a stroller is hardly even an option.

You can take your stroller through the security line to your gate and usually right down the jet way. The airline employees will instruct you on specifics, but usually they tag your stroller, give you the perforated attachment as a receipt, and instruct you to leave your stroller at the airplane door. When you get on the airplane, your stroller will be loaded after all the checked baggage. When you get off your plane, your stroller should be sitting in or at the end of the jet way waiting for you. If it’s not there, they will bring it to you within five minutes.

Personally, I recommend taking your extra stroller, or one you bought at a second-hand store or garage sale. The airlines do not guarantee the protection of your stroller since it’s not checked baggage. And since the handlers do often transfer luggage roughly, you run the risk of your stroller getting bumped, bent, or scratched. For children who can sit up, an inexpensive umbrella stroller is a perfect option.

3. At the gate

Depending on how early you arrive for your flight, how long it takes you to get through security, and if your airplane is running on time, you may have anywhere from a few minutes to an hour to sit at your gate and wait to board. This is a great time to let your baby or toddler crawl or walk around. If you are concerned about germs- of which there are many when you are traveling- get out an antibacterial wipe and wipe off their hands every few minutes. But considering that your child is going to be stuck in one seat for a lengthy amount of time, use this opportunity to let them move. Bring along one or two toys that are fun to move around with, such as small cars or a ball. Let your child be free and play before being confined.

Change your baby’s diaper immediately before boarding the plane. There is not a good place to change babies on an airplane, so make sure you start the flight clean. Pack a spare outfit for baby, and a spare shirt for you, in case baby overflows their diaper. Also include a few empty baggies and maybe even an empty plastic bag in your carry-on. These will be handy for disposing of dirty diapers or storing dirty clothes until you arrive at your destination. I once had to change my daughter’s diaper and outfit (after a “blow out”) in the jet way immediately before boarding a plane. I was relieved I had packed for emergencies.

As for boarding for your flight, the airline will offer passengers who need assistance or who are traveling with small children the chance to board first. If you would like to be seated and get settled before other passengers, by all means, take this opportunity. I personally prefer to wait till all rows have been called and the announcement is being made for final boarding. This means less time your children will be strapped in one spot in a small space. Your seat is assigned already, so there really is no reason to rush.

4. In the air

Most parents know this, but your child needs to be swallowing while ascending and descending in the plane, due to the change in air pressure. For babies this means nursing or giving them a bottle at the beginning and end of the flight. A pacifier will even work, or sips of water from a cup. For a toddler, you can give them bite sized snacks intermittently, such as Cheerios, or even a sucker. (If your baby sleeps while ascending or descending, they most likely will not notice the change. If they do and wake up, simply give them something to eat or drink.)

In the area of having activities to do while in the air, I cannot overemphasize having a lot of options. Take along some of your child’s favorite small toys for the flight, for added interest, put these toys away a week or two before your trip; your child will be delighted to see them again when they are pulled out. Unfortunately, toys that make a lot of noise, although interesting to your child, are not a good idea for flying. They’ll be almost as annoying to other passengers as a crying child.

Sandra, a mom of three daughters in Illinois, recommends heading to a dollar store and getting a few small toys and trinkets your child has never seen before. Pull one of these surprises out when you sense a climax of boredom approaching. Heather, mother of four in Minnesota, says that Magna Doodles or etch-a-sketches are great plane toys. She also recommends walking up and down the aisles with your child if they absolutely need to move.

Snacks are also a great use of time. Have small travel cups or baggies with a variety of healthy finger-food snacks for your baby or toddler. Consider taking along a few special treats for when you really need something to divert their attention, for my daughter that would be fruit snacks or a lollipop.

Coloring books and crayons are wonderful activities on a flight, as is simply reading books. Once you have your variety of activities and snacks assembled, Deborah, mother of four in south Texas, recommends separating them into large baggies to save on mess and keep things accessible and organized. Every half hour, she says, simply pull out a new bag.

As a backup, a travel DVD player, MP3 player, or iPod can keep children entertained easily. If you board the plane, and simply plug your child into some form of media entertainment, you are cheating them out of much of the fun of plane travel; however, these mediums are great helpers when all other options have run out and you both need some peace. Don’t forget the headphones!

5. Take along your sense of humor!

In the end, take a deep breath and enjoy the trip. Some day you’ll look back fondly on these trips (I promise!) Thousands of parents do this every day, and you can do it too! Prepare yourself in advance that there may be a few rough patches, but you will get to your destination and if you stay calm and take it easy, your whole family will have a much easier travel experience.

6. …One bonus tip

You may have noticed a left the topic of where your child can sit completely out of my advice. This is because I know this is a very hotly debated topic and, I believe, one that is very personal. It is within airline safety guidelines to hold a child in your lap who is younger than two years old. You may also buy them their own seat on the plane, and bring their car seat for them to sit in. Weigh your options and the facts, and make the decision that is best for your family.

As far as safety goes, air travel is not the same as car travel. Air planes are infinitely safer than cars- contrary to what recent news stories would lead you to believe. Here is an excerpt from

Barnett, judges the actual risk of one person being involved in a fatal airline accident, to be once every 19,000 years, provided he flew on an airliner once each day of those 19,000 years. He bases that estimate on what actually happened in the domestic U.S., during the 1990s.

Trevison ( also notes that:

"Measured in deaths per mile, American commercial airline flights are 22 times safer than car travel. More people die in three months of traffic accidents than in 40 years on commercial jets. More Americans die each year falling from ladders, drowning in bathtubs and freezing to death than by flying."

My family chooses to hold our children younger than two years in our laps. We’ve never had a problem with this, and always felt completely safe. While in flight, we are able to pass the child from parent to parent and they don’t feel confined. We also omit the risk of paying for an extra seat for our child and then having them want to be held the entire flight, which is what most children under two prefer in a new situation such as air travel.

All that being said, I do believe this decision is very personal and has many valid arguments on both sides. I would urge you to inform yourself and make the decision that is best for you and your child.

Air travel with young children is challenging, but often necessary. Make the best of your experience with the tips above, and I believe you’ll have smoother- and happier- travel.

Plane Travel with Babies and Toddlers Packing Checklist:

  • Diapers
  • Changing pad
  • · Wipes
  • · Diaper cream, hand sanitizer, lotion, and children’s/baby pain reliever in a quart sized baggie
  • · Baby washcloth or burp rag
  • · Bottle(s)
  • · Formula or breast milk
  • · Baby food
  • · Spoon
  • · Bib
  • · Sippy cup
  • · Snacks and finger foods
  • · Pacifier
  • · Blanket (for cold planes, to cover up when nursing, etc.)
  • · Extra outfit for baby
  • · Extra shirt for you
  • · Plastic bags
  • · Individually wrapped antibacterial wipes
  • · Small package of tissues
  • · Books to read
  • · Coloring book and crayons
  • · Plenty of small toys (old favorites and some new surprises)
  • · Travel DVD player and DVDs
  • · MP3 player or iPod and headphones
  • · For you: license or identification, travel papers (tickets, etc.), lip balm, money, magazine or book

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Comments 37 comments

LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

We found flying with a baby easy as anything.

Flying with an incredibly active toddler - not quite so much fun....

Sarah Songing profile image

Sarah Songing 8 years ago Author

LondonGirl, thanks for your comment. Air travel with kids is an adventure, that's for sure. I guess it all depends on your child's personality. My three year old- easy as pie to fly with, she's flown more in three years than I did in my first 20. Now my eleven month old is another story- I'm fearful for our next trip in May! ;)

LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

Wow, an easy 3 year old on a plane?

Isaac just never, ever stops moving. So planes aren't good (-:

Sarah Songing profile image

Sarah Songing 8 years ago Author

Maybe it's because she's a girl. Or maybe her personality. Who knows? She is quite reserved, cautious, a pretty calm girl. She loves airplanes and flying. On planes she loves to look out the window on takeoff and landing, and other than that is content to color and read and eat snacks.

Now Violet is another story. She is a very loud, energetic, attention-getting girl. She's flown twice, but we have yet to see how she does now that she's getting bigger!

LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

reserved, cautious, calm.... no-one has every applied any of those words to Isaac. He has two modes - overdrive, and park.

Sarah Songing profile image

Sarah Songing 8 years ago Author

He sounds like a blast! (That's easy to say when you don't have to take care of him all day, right?) Boys are so different from girls, and so much fun. I love watching them play together. I grew up with two brothers, so I have an appreciation for their rough ways. :)

Have fun with Isaac, he sounds like a great boy!

LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

He's great, smiling, cheerful, affectionate, just never, ever stops (-:

Your daughters sound lovely!

LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

He's great, smiling, cheerful, affectionate, just never, ever stops (-:

Your daughters sound lovely!

Sarah Songing profile image

Sarah Songing 8 years ago Author

I guess you enjoy nap time then!

LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

naps. Something he used to do. A long time ago. Sleep is for hte weak (-:

izettl profile image

izettl 8 years ago from The Great Northwest

GREAT TIPS! Very comprehensive hub!

Sarah Songing profile image

Sarah Songing 8 years ago Author

LondonGirl: You are hilarious! I think you shoud write a humorous hub about caring for your son. :)

izettil: Thanks for the encouragement! Glad it helped.

ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 8 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Hi Sarah, these are great tips!  Yes it would pay to know the rules of airline companies when it comes to traveling...saves so much hassle.  I remember my family had to drink the milk and water right there and then because they couldn't bring it inside.  Imagine breakfast near the immigration counter. LOL 

By the way, congratulations!  This hub is part of the nubnuggets this week.  Check out Shirley's hub as she explains what this is all about.  Do vote and invite your friends to vote okay?

Sarah Songing profile image

Sarah Songing 8 years ago Author

Hi ripplemaker! Thanks for making a ripple on my hub. Love your airport security story- the only thing that makes all the frustration worthwhile is finding a way to laugh about it.

And thanks so much for the hubnuggets nod! I am truly honored.

ajcor profile image

ajcor 8 years ago from NSW. Australia

well done - great tips and a hub nugget to boot....cheers

k@ri profile image

k@ri 8 years ago from Sunny Southern California

These are very good and realistic tips. A must read for anyone getting ready to fly with small children! I wish I had this advice when my children were younger, it may have saved me some learned (the hard way) experiences!

Sarah Songing profile image

Sarah Songing 7 years ago Author

ajcor: Thanks for the props! Cheers to you. :)

k@ri: Thanks for stopping by and reading. It's true- hindsight is 20/20. I'm learning as I go, of course, but trying to lend a hand to other mommies out there.

LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

Hi Sarah - I followed your suggestion, and did indeed do a hub about my son!

ADP 7 years ago

Dated info. I think that you can fly with liquids now.

Sarah Songing profile image

Sarah Songing 7 years ago Author

I looked it up, and as far as I can tell these restrictions still apply. At least here in the states.

Thanks for the heads up though, good to know for sure since I'm flying again in two weeks.

LB Mom 7 years ago

I may help to bring a copy of your child's birth certificate or passport to verify his/her age ;)

Sarah Songing profile image

Sarah Songing 7 years ago Author

Good tip, LB Mom! I think so too. I always bring my daughters' birth certificates along, and have never once been asked for them at the ticketing counter or security. Strange! I kind of wish they would. ;)

Thanks for reading and commenting, LB Mom!

ljlittle profile image

ljlittle 7 years ago

Great tips! Thanks for writing them Sarah. You should come by the toddler warehouse and check out our flying friendly strollers and their accessories.

Sarah Songing profile image

Sarah Songing 7 years ago Author

Thanks for reading them. :)

Looks like a great site, thanks for stopping by.

Pinkchic18 profile image

Pinkchic18 6 years ago from Minnesota

This is fabulous advice! Traveling with a baby is tough, and Flying with a baby is even tougher! Thanks for sharing your knowledge, I've featured you on my hub titled "What to Pack For An Overnight Trip with Baby".

Sarah Songing profile image

Sarah Songing 6 years ago Author

Thanks again, Pinkchic18! :) I'll be flying with a preschooler and toddler in a couple weeks, so I may have to refresh myself. Ha!

RichardCMckeown profile image

RichardCMckeown 5 years ago

Thanks for this hub. great job.

Mermaid 5 years ago

Great articles and I do get a few tips from your experience! I'm going to fly with my 9 months old from the state to Asia so it's going to be a very long flight on top we will have 1 stop and we will be having to wait at the airport for 7 hours...

rideoncarryon 5 years ago

My wife and I leave our strollers at home when we travel with our kids. We found a chair that instantly converts your roll aboard luggage into a travel stroller. Seat attaches to carry-on luggage, making family travel easier for parents and fun for children.

Sarah Songing profile image

Sarah Songing 5 years ago Author

Thanks, all! And "rideonecarryon", that sounds absolutely awesome! The only qualifier I would add is if you're flying someplace- for a vacation- where you would use the stroller. No one wants to be pushing their suitcase around a resort. LOL! But that's a great idea for trips to family.

twoseven profile image

twoseven 5 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

Just came across this - great advice! We've done 8 round trips in my son's two years, and I wish I would have read this before we did any of them! We ended up stumbling upon a lot of the same stuff, luckily. Especially the importance of keeping a sense of humor :)

pooja 5 years ago

thank you sooo much for writing this article... it gave some courage as i'm travelling alone with my toddler for first time without any assistance...

nicki 5 years ago

thanx for the great advice :)

Rent a Room Peterborough 4 years ago

Great post and great ideas and advice as well. Thanks for sharing those tips with us. It is really helpful.

Kelly Crichlow 4 years ago

We took our first born on a 900-mile road trip to a family reunion in Washington State when she was 4 weeks old. We were nervous, but after receiving our pediatrician’s blessing, we went ahead. We endured unheated cabins in a state park, marathon breastfeeding sessions, and a surprise heat wave that caused our newborn to vomit. I spent our last morning on the phone with our pediatrician and we changed our route home to stay nearer a hospital, just in case. She had no further problems and when we look back on that trip, we remember those hard things, but we also remember the special time we were able to spend with out-of-state family, walks on the beach, and scenic drives through Olympic National Park, Mount St. Helens and the Columbia River Gorge – all with our precious baby girl. Be flexible, focus on the positives and keep your pediatrician’s number handy

Emmy D 4 years ago

We are flying with our very active 10mth old in a couple of weeks -13hrs from Australia to the USA, I am bringing the NAN brand pre-made baby formula in the tetra packs, 200ml is just perfect to pour into an empty bottle for the little one. Thankfully this week our local supermarket had them on Sale for under $3 normally they're about $4.50 for 2 packs.

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Divyashash 3 years ago

A lot of things should be kept in mind while flying with an infant or a toddler. Situation and taking precautions according to it differs from one another. Incase you are travelling with your infant by plane keep in mind that you have all the necessary equipments and things that the baby might need. Incase you are worried about when you should travel with your baby by plane read this. This blog will help you.

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