Flying with Babies: Essential Tips You Need to Know

Are you getting ready for baby’s first flight? Traveling with infants and toddlers can be a stressful endeavor, but the key is to do your research ahead of time. In this post we answer the most commonly asked questions about flying with babies so you’re more than prepared by the time you reach the airport.

Do babies need their own separate tickets?

Domestic flights within the U.S.:

Infants (a baby that is younger than 2 years of age) do not need a plane ticket as long as they are seated on their parent’s or guardian’s lap. If the adult traveling with the baby would like to guarantee extra space and comfort, they would need to purchase an extra seat.

Once the child is over the age of 2, they are required to sit in their own seat and therefore need their own ticket. Note that some airlines require the purchase of a full adult fare, while others offer more flexible child fares that are deeply discounted.

International flights: 

For international flights, babies up until the age of 2 can travel on their parent’s or guardian’s lap at approximately 10% of the cost of the full adult fare, plus the additional taxes and fees. Note that this does vary according to each airline, so you will need to check directly with your carrier to confirm the final cost. Some airlines offer discounted fares for passengers between 2 and 12 years of age, which is typically about 75% of the adult fare. Just remember to check with the airline before you purchase.

What paperwork or documents do I need to fly with a baby?

Every passenger that will be boarding the plane must possess at least one valid form of ID, including babies.

On domestic flights within the U.S.: If the baby doesn’t possess a passport, a birth certificate is the most commonly accepted form of identification for traveling domestically. To obtain a copy of the baby’s birth certificate, you’ll need to contact the local county Department of Vital Records; you might have been given a copy at the hospital following your baby’s birth.

On international flights: Babies, just like all children and adults, are required to have a valid passport in order to travel internationally. They will not be permitted to board a flight abroad without it, regardless of their age. You can consult the steps for applying for a passport for a child under the age of 16 directly with the U.S. State Department.

Tip: Adults who are neither the parent nor legal guardian are recommended by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to carry notarized documentation granting express permission to take the child on the trip. This also applies to cases where the child isn’t accompanied by both parents or guardians. This “letter of consent” is not a requirement in the United States, but some countries may deny entry without it. Make sure to check with local and international authorities as well as your airline if you have any questions.

Can infant passengers check bags?

In most cases, infant passengers are only permitted checked and carry-on baggage in the case that a separate seat has been purchased for them. However, some airlines allow parents or adult guardians traveling with the baby are allowed to bring a diaper bag, stroller, or car seat on board, in addition to maximum baggage allowances. Other airlines offer gate-checking of strollers without any extra fees. It’s always smart to check with the airline before you travel to be sure you have everything prepared properly.

What is the youngest age that a baby can fly? 

Generally speaking, babies are eligible for air travel when they’re as young as 7 days old, but each airline has its own set of specific rules. Medical professionals caution that it can be dangerous for babies to fly before reaching 2 months of age, given their underdeveloped immune systems are put to the test in the cramped environment of an airplane. Premature babies or those with chronic cardiac or pulmonary issues are particularly susceptible to health problems as a cause of the changes in oxygen levels on an aircraft. Check with your pediatrician before booking your tickets.

How can I reserve a cot for my baby?

In the interest of safety, some airlines recommend that you purchase a separate ticket for your baby as well as a special authorized travel seat for them (otherwise, their car seat). For babies between 6-8 months, some airlines offer special bassinets or cots that must be reserved ahead of time. Once you make your reservation, contact the airline directly to make your request.

Am I allowed to bring baby food on board?

Though airlines have policies that regulate the amount and type of liquids that passengers can bring in their carry-on luggage, exceptions are made for baby food, formula, and breastmilk. They will be screened separately by security before you get to the gate and board the flight; there isn’t a strict limit on how much you can bring with you, but TSA recommends a “reasonable amount” to last for the trip’s duration.

How can I avoid my baby’s ears from popping during the flight?

Changes in cabin pressure, especially during takeoff and landing, can cause pain and discomfort in traveler’s ears – especially in those of babies and toddlers. A way to ease this pain is by giving the baby either something to eat, a bottle, or a pacifier (if they use one), which helps relieve the pressure in their inner ears. If your baby is very young or still nursing, breastfeeding can provide similar relief.

A few more tips and tricks to flying with babies: 

  • For more comfortable travel and a bit of extra space, try booking bulkhead seats
  • Flying at night is ideal as it’s more likely the baby will sleep through the majority of the trip
  • Try to dim the lighting around you – pulling down the window shade, turning off the reading light – to create a more cozy environment that is conducive to sleep
  • Some airlines offer special children’s meals; check before you fly to learn your options
  • Many planes have in-flight entertainment with special programming designed for babies and kids, offering a welcome distraction
  • Don’t forget to travel with their favorite blanket, toy, or book!
  • Even if it’s warm outside, bring extra layers as the air on planes can get quite chilly
  • While traveling, disinfect your hands with sanitizer before touching the baby
  • If you can, book a direct flight – the added convenience factor is often worth the price difference; if you can’t fly direct, be sure to leave enough room for a layover that gives you time to change diapers, get everyone fed, and make it to the next flight without rushing

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