Ultimate Guide to Flying with a Baby and a Toddler
The idea of flying with a baby and a toddler will likely give any parent anxiety. In the past 3 years, my husband and I have flown on 88 flights with our baby, or our toddler, or both. Emily is now 1 and James is 2. We have experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly. The ugly being, our most recent flight home, where, not 1, but BOTH of my kids puked multiple times throughout the 3-hour plane ride. The flight attendant had to hold up the following flight in order to clean up and sanitize our entire row.
I tell you this, not to scare you out of flying with a baby and a toddler, but to encourage you. Once we made it home, I told my husband that if we could survive that, if we could come out on the other side and laugh about it, then we can handle any traveling hiccup that comes our way in the future. So today, I’m bringing you the ultimate guide that will ease your fears and answer all of your questions about flying with a baby and a toddler. (This is a VERY extensive blog post and list, so if you have a specific question, feel free to jump ahead to the heading that pertains to you.)
Booking the Flight
The rule goes: if you are 2 years and older, you gotta pay your way. So break out your toddler’s wallet and purchase that little man a seat. Initially that extra sticker price will sting, but keep in mind, you are also purchasing comfort, because who wants to fly with a 35 lb toddler in their lap anyways?
For the baby, you have 2 options. 1. “Infant in arms” means you can fly with a baby, under the age of 2, in your lap. Be sure to call the airline before the flight to add your child as “Infant in Arms.” Southwest does not allow you to do this over the phone (you will add her on the day of travel when checking-in at the airport). But for other airlines, call ahead. Option 2. If you can swing it, buy that baby a ticket. I would only recommend this for a flight that is 3 hours or more. On a long flight, the extra room will be much appreciated, or you will also have the option of bringing the car seat to place in the baby’s purchased seat.
What to bring when flying with a baby and a toddler: For a week-long vacation with a baby & a toddler, we bring: 2 strollers. Two car seats. Two large suitcases (under 50lbs). One carry-on bag, and a pack-n-play.
Transport Approach: There’s many ways you can go about transferring all of this stuff to your vacation destination. I have tried many tactics, but the following is what has worked best recently: We check our 2 large suitcases, both car seats and the pack-n-play. Most airlines allow each traveler one free checked bag, and car seats check for free. All 4 of us will share 1 carry-on bag and we bring both strollers through the airport. Tip: Carrying all of this from the car into the airport can be tricky. If you don’t have a car seat bag, strap the car seats to the large suitcases with a bungy cord.
Stroller or No Stroller? I find it’s convenient to have a stroller for both baby and toddler in the airport. But that’s my personal preference. Some may not want to deal with the extra hassle of taking 2 strollers through security. In that case, check the baby’s stroller (it’s free to check) and carry her in your ERGObaby or some other type of baby-carrier for a more hands-free approach.
Travel Strollers – I use the GP Pockit Stroller for both of my kids. It is by far the best travel stroller out there, because it folds up so small, you can fit it in the overhead bin on the plane. Which means, no gate-checking your stroller. Not only does that save time in between a short connection, because you don’t have to wait for them to bring it up to the jetway. But it also prevents a potentially lost stroller. The GP Pockit is for babies 6 months or older. When my kids were 6 months and under, I would bring my car seat that clicked into the stroller through the airport. In this case, you will need to get a stroller tag before boarding the plane.
Travel Pack-N-Play. We use the Guava Lotus Travel Crib, mainly because it is so light and easy to carry into the airport.
Car Seat Bag – Car seat rentals can cost up to $25 per day. Multiply that by 2 kids and I save our family $350 by bringing our own for a week long trip. Plus airlines let you check them for free! This nifty car seat travel bag makes it so easy to carry the car seats into the airport. And it keeps them free of dirt, germs, and damage. Travel hack: if you don’t want to buy a car seat bag, simply strap the car seats to the large suitcases with a bungy cord for when carrying everything into the airport.
Luggage Scale – I’m always trying to squeeze in as much stuff as possible…while keeping them JUST under the 50 lb weight limit, for a checked bag. For us, the biggest challenge is when we are heading home from a trip, AFTER we bought souvenirs, etc. And hotel rooms don’t have scales to confirm we’re still under 50lbs. Southwest charges $75 one way per bag, if it exceeds 50lbs. American Airlines charges $100.
This digital luggage scale from Fosmontech is tiny enough to bring along, so no more stress or worry about overweight luggage fees!
Check-in at the Airport
Can I Check-In Online? If you are flying with an “Infant in Arms,” you must check-in at the airline ticket counter. It is best not to attempt online check-in for your own ticket, because this can cause delays at the ticket counter. I’ve done this before (checked in online and then arrived at ticket counter to add infant) and they had to cancel my ticket and then re-issue a new one, then add baby, adding time and stress to an already hectic morning.
When flying with a baby and a toddler, what documents do I need to bring? For your toddler, his passport or birth certificate is the recommended documentation. Same goes for your Infant in Arms, but they also will take a copy of his/her immunization records.
Does my child need a ticket? Your toddler (age 2 and up) will have his own ticket. An ‘infant in arms’ will not have a ticket. But most airlines will print you off a separate boarding verification document for the infant. Other times, they may just stamp your own ticket with “Infant in Arms.”
Here comes the fun stuff. Going through security with a baby and a toddler is a bit like a dance. Seriously, if you were to video my family going through security, muting the background noise and adding music, it’d be a bizarre version of the Hokey-Pokey.
TSA Precheck – Consider the one-time $100 investment. For us, it has been a life saver. It saves a huge amount of time through security lines in U.S. Airports. Kids slow EVERYTHING down. If you happen to be running late for your flight, imagine how less stressed you will be, knowing you get to skip the long security line and go in the TSA precheck lane. Plus other advantages, such as getting to leave your laptop & 3-1-1 liquids in your carry-on bag, and you don’t have to take your shoes off when going through security.
3-1-1 Liquids – If you don’t have TSA precheck, be sure to follow the 3-1-1 rule when it comes to any liquids in your carry-on-bag. Three ounces in one quart size bag per one person. This does NOT apply to Breastmilk or water in a baby bottle. But be aware they will pull you aside for extra screening for these liquids and sometimes even for a can of formula.
The Dance – Put the carry-on bag on the conveyor belt. Pull out ipads/laptop and liquids and put in separate bin on conveyor. Any metal or cell phones come out of your pockets, placed in separate bin on the conveyor. Take baby out of stroller. Fold stroller and put on conveyor belt. Take toddler out of stroller. Fold stroller and put on conveyor belt. Hold child in your arms and walk through the metal detector. Repeat in reverse on the other side.
In the Terminal
Gone are the days of plopping down at the bar and enjoying a glass of wine while waiting to board. We now use this time to let the kids run and stretch their legs before being confined to a few square feet for hours. While my husband watches the kids, I head to Starbucks (or your next best coffee shop) to fill my thermos with steamed milk (or hot water to warm breastmilk/formula for a baby). I also fill up our water bottle and grab some additional snacks (fresh fruit, etc) for the flight. You also might want to do one last diaper change.
When flying with a baby and a toddler, we usually fly Southwest because we have a Companion Pass. Southwest has family boarding that occurs after they board all of the A-passengers. This is clutch because you will likely get an entire row for your family. If flying with a different airline, and you have assigned seats, then I highly recommend waiting until the last possible minute to board the plane. I have found the best layout is when my toddler is seated by the window (staring at the other planes and luggage carts is a great distraction.) I usually sit in the middle, and my husband on the aisle and we share lap-baby duties. If you are breastfeeding, I always liked the window seat for more privacy. But you do what is best for you!
Take Off – Flying with a baby and a toddler
Before Sitting Down, I wipe down EVERYTHING with antibacterial sanitizer wipes. The seats, the arm rests, the table tray, basically anything your baby or toddler will put their hands or mouth on.
Before Taking Off, I pull everything out of our carry-on bag that I will need easy access to…ipads, snacks, milk, water, etc. If you can, hold off on giving the baby her bottle, as you will want to save it for take-off AND decent to help with ears popping. I also usually hold off breaking out any toys until we are in the air. Looking out the window and the magazines in the seat back pockets are usually entertainment enough at the beginning…then you can slowly bring out toys as you need them.
Read this for How I MAINTAIN a calm flight with a baby and a toddler
So I know that this is A LOT of information. But I also know, through experience, that knowledge and information will be the best antidote to your fear of flying with a baby and a toddler. And I promise, once you reach your vacation destination, you will be SO glad you overcame your fear and will most likely even think to yourself….”Well, that wasn’t so bad!”
If you have ANY other questions about flying with a baby and/or a toddler, feel free to ask them in the comments below!
Happy and Safe Travels!