The Easiest Way to Flying with an Infant or Toddler
Updated: Dec 28, 2019
DISCLOSURE: THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS, MEANING I RECEIVE A COMMISSION IF YOU DECIDE TO MAKE A PURCHASE THROUGH MY LINKS AT NO COST TO YOU. From what I noticed, most people don't frequently fly and compounding everything with an infant and all their stuff can be quite overwhelming (for anyone!) In my former job, I traveled a lot for work and with a new baby at home, I studied TSA very intensely to see where parents would slow down when getting through the security line, using Uber/Lyft/taxies, and at the destinations. My daughter Evy's first flight was at the age of 1.5 months old. (Fun fact, I went into labor the day I booked her flight from New Jersy to Wisconsin. Has anyone booked a flight for an unborn child?!) My goal was to make the process as streamlined for myself as a parent, the employees, and my fellow travelers.
Problem #1: Most people think of everyone as an individual with their own stuff, own suitcase, and all the baby things.
Solution: Think of the entire group as one and you just need to transport the group's things to the destination.
Check ALL main luggage minus what you need in and on the airplane. It’s one of those times it’s not worth it to be cheap. You only have two hands and who knows how you’ll need to use them (feeding, changing, vomit.)
Do NOT be tempted to bring your stroller with an infant under six months. They are still really small and sleep most of the time. The stroller has to be TSA checked at the gate anyways and is super clunky. It slows you down and is a distraction. We actually got our's damaged with one of the straps being ripped off so use a cover if you can afford it.
Don’t think of every bag as an individual. You just need to get your stuff to your destination. If you want to save money and have something that will help for future trips, get a giant roller bag (you can take up to a 60” bag as checked luggage on most major airlines.) You can put multiple people’s stuff inside in smaller bags and it will stay organized. I have had the same Lands' End duffle for nearly two decades (sadly, now discontinued) and it is still going strong. This is a similar version. Great for baby stuff too!
Problem #2: People fear TSA in general and anxiety only gets compounded with a child.
Solution: Follow the simple tips to remain calm.
Tips to know about TSA and Airlines with Babies and Kids
You will need some identification for your child to get your boarding pass for your child. TSA does not require this for domestic travel but most airlines need something for the boarding passes. If you have a copy of their birth certificate, this is a great usage. I have two just for this purpose. One for travel and one to keep at home. If you can avoid a passport, do it because their faces change quickly that first couple of years. For international travel, you must have a passport.
Baby formula is fine to take through TSA. There are things you need to know though. Put all formula in its own bin. They will check it on the side of the x-ray machine for all powders and any liquid one that’s open. Sealed ones they usually will leave alone, but you need to put it in there. We have tried the single-use premixed ones (see below) but honestly, just having the powder ready to go would have been 10 times easier! If you use a powder, it doesn't need to be in a sealed bin, one of the premeasured formula dispensers are great for drop and go feeding. I loved these because I could use them for formula and snacks and since they stack vertically, I could use them in the drink holders in my baby bag. Bring a refillable water bottle (the flat collapse kind are great for this) and just ask a food court employee to warm up the water for feedings if you need it. Most are more than happy to help.
All food and snacks need to be shown in a bin. Again, these don't need to be prepackaged items, you can bring them from home, but you need to show them in a bin. Make sure your toddlers and little kids who might have their own backpack for entertainment and toys get all the snacks out so you don't get stopped by TSA.
A reminder that diaper creams, lotion, medicine, is all part of the 3.4 oz. liquid rule. Have them in a little clear bag on the top of your diaper bag ready to take out.
Try to nurse or bottle-feed them on take-off and upon landing. Ears popping with changing cabin pressure is hard on babies (hell it's hard on us) and that's why they are fussy and cry. The movement of their jaws help to keep their ear tubes open and no crying.
Getting through TSA and the airport with a baby:
Babywear! This is my preferred method for the tiny ones since they don’t squirm that much. For an infant, this is probably the most comfortable for them anyways. They like sleeping with mom and dad so it is a win/win. The only time you are required to take the child out of the carrier is going through TSA and upon take-off and landing. Benefits of this method: hands-free to do whatever you need to! can also wear a backpack/baby bag easy for both mom and dad.
Car seat stroller - These are specific for traveling through airports and lay flat when on the plane or for storage. They attach to the car seat and you can roll the car seat and the child around the airport. This a great alternative to a stroller because for an infant, if the plane isn’t full SOMETIMES, the big airline will let you put the infant in the seat. I say sometimes because it’s only happened to me once. I’ve been on others where it was empty and they wouldn’t and I wish I would have just baby wore. For older babies and toddlers this works great to get them through the airport quickly since they squirm or walk slow. These can also be an alternative to the regular stroller if you are only doing a little bit of walking around.
I do NOT recommend using the car seats at car rentals. My reasoning is simple. Car seats go through extreme heat and cold. They have expiration dates. You have no idea of knowing prior to getting there how safe the rental car seat is. Again, through my work travels, I have seen piles of dust-covered car seats just laying on the floor and many were not in current styles knowing they have not been replaced in quite some time. There are some services to drop one-off, but it's really not worth it. Bring the seat. Check it with your luggage. You have been warned.
Uber/Lyft/taxis are great at helping you get your seat in. Since it's usually a quick ride, feel free to just use the belt restraints instead of the anchors for the short trip.
Don't feel you need the same size car as you'd use at home. Your luggage will all go to your hotel and you'll have plenty of room very soon. A few minutes of being cramped is worth the money saved.
Take/Don't Take List
Take In Diaper Bag
If you have a bookbag style diaper bag, these work best because you can babywear in the front and hold the items on your back, leaving your hands free to do whatever you need to. Share the load with your travel companions.
Baby ID - birth certificate or passport for international travel
Bottles (no more than 2) just rinse/wash and microwave to sterilize for 30 seconds
Formula - formula dispensers work great for portion sizes, leaving the large canisters for the checked luggage
Diapers for at least one full day, in case of layovers
2 changes of clothes for baby
1 change of clothes for both mom and dad (vomit happens)
2 Spit up towels
Babywear item of choice
1-2 Small toys (new preferably so it holds the child's interest)
1 Book (again, something they haven't heard before)
Teething item, necklaces are great since they can play with it too
Wet bag or plastic bag for wet/soiled items
Breast pump, if necessary
Breast milk bags, if necessary
Small cooler to keep breast milk, if necessary
Infant acetaminophen and Motrin for pain, do not use Benadryl to calm your baby unless they need it for allergies
Few items from your purse that you'll need to get through the day (wallet, ID/passport, phone, cards, cash)
(Optional but great bonus): Cozy Cover - Portable high-chair fits over any standardized chair anywhere for feeding or hanging out. This is an item you won't just use while traveling!
Check These Items as Soon As You Get to the Airport
Stroller - Umbrella strollers are great for travel or something really collapsable like the Pockit or Delta strollers that fold into a backpack or tote bag. Also, look into renting at theme parks if you'll only need it for part of the time and can babywear the majority of the time.
All luggage except for items you'll need while at the airport. Again, remember to think of these items as the collective of the group and not the individual. It will save you time and money.
Lysol wipes - I hadn't heard of this one until recently but if you keep hand-sanitizer in your bag as most parents do, just add some to a tissue and wipe anything that is gross down. No need to pack more things that are necessary.
Bathing items - Babies are small and it is one time to bath them in the sink or with a washcloth.
Pack-in Checked Luggage
Pack all these items in smaller, easy to use bags within the bigger checked bag. Label by purpose or room at the hotel they need to go in for quick and easy unpacking. Keep baby clothes together either by folding a whole outfit together with socks included. Use the lower drawer of your bedroom for toys, books, and diapers/wipes. Make your life so much easier.
Your purse (see above) - just take out the necessary items to get through the airport with this one, no need to lug two bags when a kid is screaming or you need to hurry to make a connection
Nursing pillow - you are only temporarily without it until you reach your destination.
Nightlight - for changes and personal reading while baby sleeps
Tiny first-aid kit
Sun hat and bathing suit
Baby toothbrush, if necessary
Call Your Hotel
Many times your hotel, Airbnb, or other accommodations will have items you may want to bring to make the vacation better.
Crib or pack and play
Activities already planned
Laundry services & soap - it can be invaluable to throw in a quick load to wash if you have poop and vomit clothes
I hope this helps you navigate the airport a little easier and gives you a little more sense of peace about the whole situation. I would follow these rules until your children are at least old enough to run through a major airport with a carry-on so you don't miss a connecting flight. If they can't do that, then continue to use this formula in packing for them. They can always have a backpack of a few things.