Air travel can be a stressful endeavor, from the long security lines to flight delays to cramped seats to rude passengers and a host of other inconveniences. When you add a baby into the mix, the anxiety only increases: Now you’re navigating all of this while also trying to keep your little one safe, comfortable and entertained, too. No easy feat!
Flying during COVID-19 brings its own set of worries: namely, how to get to and from your destination while minimizing your family’s risk of contracting the virus. Though air travel is thought to be relatively low-risk because of masking requirements and ventilation systems used on planes that frequently circulate air through hospital-grade HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters, other aspects, like eating at airport restaurants and standing in a crowded jet bridge, may pose concerns.
Plus, kids under the age of 5 are not yet eligible for vaccination, and those under 2 cannot wear face masks. So it’s understandable that some parents may feel uneasy about flying with little ones (or decide not to travel by plane for the time being).
We asked parents to share sanity-saving tips for flying with a baby right now — ones that will get you through the COVID era and beyond.
1. Show up to the airport earlier than you did pre-baby.
“Regardless of how organized you are in day-to-day life, navigating an airport with a baby is likely going to throw you off your game. Arrive about 30 minutes earlier than you would have pre-baby. Consider spending a little extra money for a trusted traveler program such as TSA PreCheck that drastically speeds up time spent in the security line. For example, the benefit of TSA PreCheck is handed down to the child automatically if they are under the age of 12.
The program allows you to seamlessly glide through the security lines without removing electronic devices or taking off your shoes, leaving the parent hands-free to take care of their baby instead of juggling their luggage.” — Karen L. Gentile, pediatric nurse practitioner at National Jewish Health
2. Check if there’s a TSA lane for families with small children at your airport.
“When you arrive at the airport, ask for the TSA expedited line for families with babies. Most airports allow immediate access through TSA when you’re traveling with a baby in a stroller.” — Katrina Morrison, owner of Mocha Travel
3. Think twice before you book a red-eye.
“Don’t believe the hype about red-eye flights! Some folks will say that it’s good to fly overnight with little ones so that they will sleep during the flight. Unfortunately, the one time we tried it, no one slept and we spent the first day at our destination literally sleeping all day. I have never been someone who liked to sleep on a plane, and it turns out my kids don’t, either. There is no perfect time to fly with kids. It’s very different than flying alone no matter what time of day. My advice is to choose a time that you are at your best, so that no matter what comes up, you can handle it.” — Gina McMillen, illustrator at @ginsasdrawingclub
4. Early morning flights may have some benefits.
“It reduces the possibilities of any flight delays, especially during peak travel season.” — Morrison
5. Consider bringing your car seat with you on board.
“Flying with the baby under the age of 2 is free, but they are required to sit on your lap. Certain airlines will allow you to use an empty seat to secure the baby in the car seat as long as the seat is not purchased by another customer. (Think flexible-seating airlines.) In these events, I will ask the gate agent if there will be any open seats on the plane, and if there are, I will use my FAA-approved car seat to ‘secure’ that spot for my baby. Flying in the car seat is the safest place for the baby in the event of turbulence. [Note that if you want to guarantee a spot for your car seat, you’ll need to purchase a seat for your child. Check with the airline for their specific policies regarding using car seats on board.]
Additionally, the car seat is a familiar space for the baby and also keeps them contained in a safe germ–free ‘bubble’ on the airplane. Once the baby reaches 22 pounds and can sit up unassisted, the CARES harness is an easily packable, convenient, and safe method for securing your baby in their own seat.” — Gentile
6. Keep loose items like pacifiers attached to you or your baby, or use packing cubes so they don’t get lost or dirty.
“Between arrivals and departures, there is sure to be a lost sock or stuffed animal. Avoid toy sterilization anxiety (another kind of TSA) by making sure any gadget, teether or pacifier is clipped onto you or your baby to keep them off of dirty airport surfaces. For other loose items like the endless contents of your stroller basket, contain what you can in packing cubes to make going through security less of a hassle.” — Caroline Hershey, blogger at Jet With A Set
7. Dog poop bags may come in handy.
“For wet wipes, leaky food pouches, and in some cases, dirty diapers when you find yourself doing a rogue change, dog poop bags are perfect to clip on to your stroller or carry-on and have at the ready for cleaning up the mess when there is no trash can in sight.” — Hershey
8. Feed your baby during take-off and landing.
“Nursing, bottle feeding or having your baby suck on a pacifier can reduce the pressure little ones experience during descent. However, they may still experience temporary discomfort. This can be extremely stressful, but try to remain calm and do what you can to comfort your baby.” — Morrison
“Always have some of their favorite snacks on hand. Babies tend to be happy when eating or snacking.” — Gentile
9. Select a window seat if you want some privacy.
“As a mom, I have flown in both window and aisle seats with kids, and I preferred the window seat when my little ones were still tiny. I nursed most of the trip and found that that tiny bit of extra space between the window and arm rest was nice, as opposed to getting your elbow smacked by a beverage cart. Also, it felt just a bit more private than an aisle seat. Have you ever had to avoid eye contact with half-a-dozen strangers for six hours? It gets old fast.” — McMillen
10. If your baby is more active, it might be worth paying for extra legroom.
“If it works within your budget! The very first seats on the airplane are the best because there’s no one in front of you. Your little one might get restless and may want to be on the floor, either seated or standing, and the extra room gives them the space they need to wiggle around!” — Lina Forrestal, parenting blogger and host of “The New Mamas Podcast”
11. Focus on maintaining your routine rather than an exact schedule.
“Your baby’s feeding and napping schedule is bound to be thrown off in-flight, so check your fears at the gate and don’t worry about the clock. Instead, focus on sticking to your normal routine as much as possible, whether it’s putting on pajamas to signal it’s time to go to sleep, using the same familiar setting on a portable sound machine, or taking your daily walk up and down the aisle.” — Hershey
12. Pack some new toys in your diaper bag.
“I always have new games, toys, and books that my child has never seen before. Little ones love to explore and play with something new and novel; even their favorite toy or stuffed animal may not be exciting when they get on an airplane. Make sure the game or toy is quiet so as not to disturb your neighbors but includes fun lights or textures to really engage the baby. Have these items within an arm’s reach so that you can grab it quickly in a pinch.” — Gentile
13. Heads up: There’s a little changing table in the lavatory.
“Yes, the tiny airplane bathrooms have a tiny changing table. I was worried about changing my little one on our first flight and for some reason had never thought to look up whether or not flights had changing areas. In most planes, there is a small section that pulls down just above the toilet seat; it extends the counter to give a tiny, but usable changing area.” — McMillen
14. Consider bringing your stroller and checking it at the gate.
“I brought my massive Uppababy Vista V2 with us on our trip and it was awesome to have a place for my toddler to sit and relax until the flight. The stroller was fine going through security and was checked seamlessly at the gate. Most airport personnel are familiar with strollers and know how to help you fold them down!” — Forrestal
Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.