Because of points and miles, my infant has been on more flights in his first 8 months of life than I had in my first 18 years. But flying with an infant isn’t for the faint of heart.

Recently, I returned from a trip to Phoenix, AZ where he flew on a 5-hour continuous flight. In this article, we’ll give those flying with infants some tips and tricks from my experience of what worked, and what didn’t.

Flying with an Infant

Lap Children vs. Car Seat

The first decision you’ll have to make when flying with an infant is whether you will buy them their own seat and fly them in an FAA approved car seat or fly them as a lap infant. Many airlines do not charge for a lap infant, or charge a heavily discounted ticket price.

However, on aircraft that have the standard three seat to a row layout, this puts you in the uncomfortable position of flying with a stranger next to your potentially fussy infant.

From my experience, most children don’t sit quietly in their car seat while gazing into their parent’s eyes who won’t pick them up. The roar of a jet engine just isn’t the same as the lulling sound of tires on the pavement in a car. Most parents I see that plan on strapping their kids in, end up taking them out at some point in the flight. However, buying an infant seat can provide you the space to ‘own’ an entire row on an aircraft which can make your flight experience a little more manageable.

When flying with an infant we have always chosen to fly them as a lap infant.

Going Through Security With an Infant

If you are planning on flying with an infant, you have a lot more to juggle. You likely have extra luggage, a ‘Pack n’ Play’ and car seat for your infant, plus you are short at least one hand, either carrying or strollering the infant into the airport.

We prefer to check as many of the infant items we can. While most airlines will allow you to gate check strollers and car seats, I find navigating airports with these items cumbersome. We use a stroller gate check bag that we pack our car seats in and check that bag along with our normal luggage. My wife or I will carry the infant with a baby harness. This way, we are hands free through the airport.

Going through security wearing a child is fairly straightforward. The only difference is, the TSA agent will test your hands to see if you’ve been handling explosives. Once my wife had to undergo a thorough screening because the machine was detecting traces of explosives (which she doesn’t handle on a regular basis.)

The only thing we could figure is that some of the cleaning solutions she had used the day before were triggering the device. We don’t clean the bathroom the day before a flight anymore!

If you are using a stroller to navigate the airport, security will need to inspect the stroller.

Take Off While Flying With an Infant

Most airlines allow for pre-boarding for families with infants (children under 2). While some airlines make a formal announcement, others leave it up to the passenger to indicate that they’d like to be pre-boarded. Check in with your gate agent and let them know you have an infant and ask for early boarding.

Getting your child to sleep while in the air is key. Especially over a four plus hour flight, a cranky kid is a crying kid which leads to a cranky cabin. It’s especially tempting to try and coax your child to sleep just before take-off. In my experience, however, the best time to get your kid asleep isn’t before take-off or immediately after.

First, you’ll want to help your infant relieve the air pressure in their ears from the altitude change.

Infants don’t know how to do this on their own, so planning on feeding them on your altitude climb will help work the muscles necessary to ‘pop’ their ears as your altitude increases. This way they have full tummies and without ear pain once you’ve reached flight-height.

Of course, if it’s not time to feed them, giving them a pacifier or even letting them suck on your finger can simulate the action that will allow for air pressure to release in their sinuses.

Keeping Your Infant Occupied in Air

It would be nice if while flying with an infant he could just sleep the whole five-hour flight. But as parents, you know that this is unlikely. So, you’ll have to keep them occupied. This can be a full-time job on the ground, and even more so in the air. We find it helpful to rotate activities every 30-minute or so. This keeps us from randomly attempting things to interest him the entire trip.

Snack Time

Finger foods and snacks keep everyone happy on a plane, but it also gives your child something to do. My wife, who is something of an inspector gadget when it comes to baby equipment, found these little food trays (pictured) that fit perfectly on the seat back tray on planes.

snack time lap infant inflight

Suction cups on the bottom keep it steady to the tray and the dividers help give our child something to pick the food up against. My infant would eat forever. On our way to Phoenix, we might have overdone the snacks since we let him eat a lot and we paid for it later on in the day.

Time Occupied: 20 minutes

Movie Time

Southwest in-flight entertainment wasn’t quite up to speed for our 8-month-old. But once again, my wife came prepared. She’s no rookie!

We always travel with a foldable portable DVD player that the kids can watch their favorite movies on. Baby Einstein films are a favorite for our infants since they engage children with lots of colors and puppets, but avoid plot lines and dialogue that would bore a child his age. Sound is also not necessary to hold his attention which is useful since he’s too young to wear headphones. On the way back we left this critical device in the rental car. We attempted to download some videos on our phones before take-off, but they weren’t his familiar shows and didn’t hold his attention nearly as well.

Time Occupied: 20-30 mins

Play Time

My 8-month-old enjoyed looking out the window, holding cups, tearing up napkins and playing peek-a-boo with Mom or Dad. You can only play so many rounds of peek-a boo before you tire out. Taking a slow walk down the aisle of the plane also is a good way to keep your child occupied, and many of the passengers enjoyed meeting him. Just make sure you avoid doing it while flight attendants are doing drink service or the seat-belt sign is on.

Time Occupied: 30-40 minutes

Nap Time

Often the first few minutes of putting my infant to sleep is a battle of wills. Wrestling your infant to sleep while a business traveler looks on over your shoulder isn’t fun for anybody. Find as comfortable a position you can, and wait to attempt putting your child to sleep until they are very tired. We chose to sit on the window and middle seat so that we wouldn’t have to get up if someone in our row needed to use the restroom.

Time Occupied: 45 minutes- 1 hour

That’s around two and a half hours. We repeated the cycle and finally landed. Our seat mate told us that “he did well” which was generous of him to say. But our baby got restless several times and we had to deal with flying with a crying infant.

When Your Infant Cries

A crying baby is just part of raising kids, but there’s little more embarrassing than 200 heads watching you try to console your upset infant.

When flying with an infant that is crying remember that many people on the plane have been there. It’s easy to feel like a bad parent, like you’re disrupting the entire flight, or that you’re causing a scene. A lot of this is simply self-consciousness.

If you are a parent, you know the routine, check the main things; tired, hungry, diaper. There is simply no good way to change a diaper on a plane. The only way I know is to change the child on your lap and keep a couple grocery sacks or Ziploc bags on your carry-on in order to seal the spent diaper.

If none of the big three seem to be wrong and the seatbelt sign is off, I suggest going for a slow walk down the aisle.

Just remember: You’re a good parent and five-hour flights are hard on everyone.

Final Thoughts

Flying with an infant can be a challenge, but it doesn’t have to keep you from traveling.
Set reasonable expectations for yourself. You aren’t going to finish a novel or get any work done while your infant is on the plane. Keep snacks and entertainment handy and watch for signs of sleepiness. Remember many of the people on board have raised children of their own, most people are more patient than you expect.

Parenting is work so try not to plan any additional travel or plans the day you arrive at your destination.

Settle into your lodging and rest. You earned it.