Nobody looks forward to flying with a baby, but life goes on even after having children. It’s simply a fact of life that sometimes you’ll need to or want to travel by air with your baby, whether it’s to attend a special family celebration, a family emergency, cross-country move, or a well-earned family vacation.
As a parent I’ve discovered that the tiniest members of our family somehow also end up needing the most “stuff,” and it can be challenging to know what to bring on the plane. Check out our list of must have items to help you pack lighter and smarter on your next flight.
Space is at a premium when you’re packing a carry-on bag, so you need to pack smart. Multi-use items are a must, and receiving blankets are the ultimate in versatility. Since they don’t take up much space, pack three or four receiving blankets in your carry-on bag. These can be used to keep baby warm, shield baby’s eyes from bright lights, clean up spills, prop baby’s head when sleeping, use as a breastfeeding cover if you use one, or even to cover up a dirty seat or high chair.
Never go anywhere without a couple of waterproof wet bags to stash away dirty clothes, dirty diapers, wet stuff, used cloth wipes, and anything else you need to keep separate from the rest of your stuff. A good quality zippered wet bag can even serve as an air sickness bag in a pinch!
Bring a good supply of finger foods and snacks to keep older babies and toddlers occupied. Dry finger foods are a better choice than sticky or wet ones, for obvious reasons. Think Cheerios, rice puffs, freeze-dried fruit, and baby crackers. Reusable squeeze pouches are useful for pureed foods or snacks like unsweetened apple sauce, and don’t forget to pack a leak-proof sippy cup for water.
As every parent knows, kids are just naturally sticky. Normally I use cloth wipes and water to wipe sticky faces and hands, but when space is at a premium, disposable Water Wipes are a decent option since they’re moistened with just water and a drop of grapefruit seed extract. We also like these Rawganic biodegradable baby wipes.
Bring a selection of toys to keep baby occupied on the flight. This is a good time to pick up a few new toys as well as the novelty will catch and hold baby’s attention.
Babies need to be properly harnessed and secured in their own seat to be safe on the plane. Yes, airlines allow babies under two years of age to travel for free on your lap, but in case of turbulence or a crash, this can be very dangerous. Plane crashes are incredibly rare, but turbulence is not. In severe turbulence, unexpected drops in the air, or a crash (most accidents occur at take-off or landing, not mid-air) it would be physically impossible for you to hold on to your baby, and they could be seriously injured or killed. Babies should be strapped in whenever they’re in the seat, just like adults.
Transport Canada, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the American Academy of Pediatricians all recommend securing your child in an approved restraint in their own airplane seat, and this is why. You can use your regular car seat as long as it’s approved for air travel (check the label), but you will need to confirm the dimensions of the airplane seat with your airline ahead of time to be sure it will fit.
A car seat is heavy though, and the longer you lug it around the airport, the heavier it will get. If you’re planning to do a lot of travelling, consider picking up a lightweight car seat like the Evenflo Tribute Convertible (just over 9 pounds) or a Cosco Scenera Next (under 7 pounds!), both great options for frequent flyers.
Unfortunately, many airplane bathrooms don’t have a pull down baby changing table (ask your flight attendant) so you may end up having to change your baby on your seat or on the floor. Don’t forget to bring a generously-sized change pad to protect baby and to protect upholstery/carpet.
Try a diaper clutch/changing pad combo like this one that allows you to keep your supplies and a clean diaper all together for convenience’s sake when you’re making trips to a tiny airplane bathroom. The snap handle lets you hang it on your stroller or on the outside of your carry-on bag for easy access.
I would choose a baby carrier over a stroller any day. Not only is it super convenient to carry your baby hands free while traveling and at your destination, but pulling a suitcase and pushing a stroller at the same time is a HUGE pain.
Wraps take up less space than a structured soft carrier, but I never liked dealing with all that extra fabric on the plane or at the airport, dragging on the ground or getting stepped on. A loop wrap like the Baby K’tan or made-in-Canada Huggaloops is a better choice for travelling as it doesn’t have the dangling “tails” and folds up nice and small when not in use.
If you prefer a stroller over a carrier, then choose a lightweight folding one that can be checked at the gate. Many airlines require strollers over 20 lbs (9 kg) to be checked with your luggage so be sure to bring a stroller that weighs less or you may end up carrying your baby through the airport anyway.
Use a backpack style diaper bag (or just a backpack!) rather than an over the shoulder tote so you have both hands free to juggle baby, your own carry-on, and everything else you’ll need.
While we’re on the topic of diaper bags, pack all your usual supplies plus at least two more diapers than you think you’ll need for the flight as well as changes of clothing for your baby and for yourself. (Babies spit up at the most inconvenient times!)
Breast milk, ready-to-feed formula, and baby food are all allowed through security in amounts over the usual TSA limit of 3.4 ounces (100 ml), but if you plan on making your formula on board the plane, you’ll need to purchase bottled water once you’ve gone through security.
And finally, be sure to pack anything else your baby must have on hand if your luggage is lost, specifically medications and any specialized medical equipment. You can always replace clothing, toys, diapers, and most baby gear at your destination, but make sure to carry anything that can’t be easily replaced with you. Note that car seats, strollers, and your diaper bag do not count towards your or your baby’s carry-on allowance.