Babies, Toddlers and Planes. Oh My!

The ins and outs of traveling with a baby by plane.


I’ve become an accidental expert of traveling with a baby. With family spread over many states along with our habit of house swapping in interesting places, I’ve travelled on 35 airplanes in the last two years with my daughter, Zinnia.


You may already be cringing, thinking of the hassle of traveling with babe in tow.  No one loves being locked in an aluminum can at 30,000 feet, especially kids. But we’ve been l.u.c.k.y to escape without tears or tantrums.


From two hour flights to nine hour, over-night legs, we’ve done it all. Take off at 6AM? Check. Flight at 10PM? Done it.


How do we do it? I totally believe we’ve survived all those flights unscathed due to equal parts Zinnia’s temperament and how my husband and I approach travel, with a generous (and I mean generous) sprinkle of good luck thrown in.


In this two-part series, I share a few things that I’ve found helpful when navigating air travel with a little one ::


Timing is everything


Arriving at the airport with time to spare may be the most important thing you can do to ensure a smooth travel day. My husband, Steve and I fine-tuned our navigation of airports long before we became parents. Barring any crazy security delays, we can go from curb to gate in less than fifty minutes. We’ve carried over this same travel efficiency into flying with our little one, but it’s key to give yourself enough time to do what needs to be done. Before leaving for the airport, check your airport’s website for any published security or weather delays.


If possible, plan your travel around nap time. We usually aim for morning flights, which have us rising earlier than usual. After navigating the airport and boarding the plane Zinnia will often drift off for a one to two hour nap in my arms. You can almost hear the collective sigh of relief as your fellow passengers realize your baby has fallen asleep.


Travel light


No, really. Travel light. We carry Zinnia through the airport with our trusty Beco carrier. It keeps her close and comfortable amidst the sea of strangeness and it makes getting around a breeze. Don’t fall into the trap of huffing around the airport with strollers, over-stuffed diaper bags, back packs, large purses, car seats and whatnot. The airlines aren’t allowed to charge you to check a car seat so I recommend doing yourself a favor and checking it as soon as possible. Why wait and do it at the gate if it means you have to carry it all that way? Most car seats do not fit through the x-ray machines, which means TSA will have to screen it by hand. This, as you can imagine, is a major time suck. Seriously, check the seat early.


I also keep our diaper bag as small as possible, carrying only the essentials: 4-5 diapers, one emergency change of clothes, a few toys, books and snacks. This means skipping any luxuries for myself. In-flight magazines, books and knitting are on hold for this Mama for the next few years. There’s no time to catch up on the latest Organic Gardening issue with a busy toddler in my lap!


Navigating the airport is easy with a baby carrier and a light-weight diaper bag.




When you check-in be sure the agent makes note of the fact that you have a “baby in arms”. Whether it’s a separate boarding pass or a notation on yours, you need something so that you’re not held up by the TSA. Airlines require you to have documentation to prove your child’s age (remember they don’t need their own seat until they’re two), but I’ve only been asked for Zinnia’s twice. I keep a copy of her birth certificate in the diaper bag, just in case.




Getting through security efficiently is all about good timing and being prepared. This, too is when travelling light will really pay off. And keeping your boarding pass in an easy-to-access pocket is helpful so you’re not digging for it at the last minute. If you are travelling with breast milk or formula in bottles, have these out of your diaper bag and ready for inspection. And the good news? These days I can wear Zinnia through security in her Beco (though this rule has changed four times in the last two years) which makes it all the easier. Security agents will swipe your hands as an added security measure, but not having to remove baby from the carrier is worth the one minute hand swab.


Wear them out


With security behind us, it’s straight to the restroom for a new diaper for her and moment to freshen up for me. Once we reach the gate it’s time to play before we board. Now’s the time to wear my girl out; she runs up and down the concourse, climbs under seats and before our most recent flight, made a gymnastics course through the carry-on sizing rack. In my experience, a nap-ready baby makes a good traveller.


Pre-boarding and the perfect seat


I used to hate the idea of pre-boarding. I only wanted to be in that confined space as long as was absolutely necessary. These days,  however, I love it. The ability to get on the plane before it fills up is helpful when travelling with a young one. Pre-boarding gives us time to find our seat, unpack the necessities from the diaper bag before stowing it and it allows just a moment of calm before the the masses board. By the time the plane starts filling up, we’re comfortable in our seat with a book or toy, or heading towards nap time with the help of Mama’s milk.


As far as the perfect seat, it’s totally subjective, but I personally prefer a window seat. It gives you just a few more inches of room and the window is nice to lean against. And once baby becomes a busy and curious toddler, they’re easily entertained by looking out the window.




What about in-flight snacks, diapering in the lavatory and keeping your cool?


Join me in the upcoming part two of Babies, Toddlers and Planes. Oh my! as I share more of our experiences of travelling with a little one.




Visit the official FAA site for government recommendations on flying with children.

About Lisa Coffee

I’m a crafting, gardening, homebirthing, Colorado Mama with a two year old named Zinnia and baby number two (affectionately known as Turnip) due this fall. As a family we strive to live close to the earth and her seasons and my best days are spent gardening the heck out of our quarter-acre backyard, making homemade meals and planning our family’s next big adventure. I’m especially fond of a good Mojito happy hour and I have a weakness for far-too-expensive jeans, but those luxuries sing of life before motherhood. These days, when I’m not stripping cloth diapers or cleaning up after another toddler shenanigan, I can be found barefoot in the garden, at my sewing table, or heading for the hills in the Big White Van. Join me daily, as I share snippets from the good life at .


3 thoughts on “Babies, Toddlers and Planes. Oh My!”

  1. Thank you for this article! It’s perfect timing for us (as for many I’m sure!). We are travelling this summer for the first time with a child. I’m a bit worried but I did manage to book a later flight which I hope my DD sleeps through. Would you recommend a backpack or a diaper dag? We usually use a diaper bag but for travelling would a backpack make more sense?

  2. Hi Ana – I’ve used both a backpack and a messenger style bag for our essentials. Both worked well. Next time you’re out you could wear your little one in a carrier and do a trial run to see what feels good. The only thing with a backpack is they tend to be a wee bit harder to stay organized in – everything just falls to the bottom, but they are handy to tote around.

    And with a later flight (evening?) your little one will hopefully snooze through it all.

    I’ll post part two on Monday.

    Have a great weekend!

  3. Thanks for this, the best article I’ve found on traveling with little ones! We have yet to tackle travel with our now 4 month old, but it’s in our future and I want to be prepared. Had no idea about the free carseat check!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *