If you’re going to be flying with a lap baby, you want to be well prepared before the trip!
First, and this is obvious – but flying with a lap baby is challenging! And not relaxing. And not great for that extremely rare mental state of parenting called “sanity”.
That being said, it saves quite a bit on your travel expenses, which is important for a lot of families. So, if you’re flying with an infant on your lap, here are some things to consider:
Is it safe to fly with a lap baby?
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the safest option is to buy a seat and secure your child in an “appropriate restraint.” Most car seats are considered appropriate restraints. Booster seats cannot be used on airplanes.
Many airlines offer discounts of up to 50% for children under age 2, so it’s worth asking for a deal.
Many parents (myself included) have flown with babies on their laps during flights. Airlines allow for this option for kids ages 2 and under, and it makes airline travel more affordable.
If you decide to fly with your infant on your lap, here’s what you should know:
When can I fly with a baby?
Ideally you’ll wait to fly with your baby until he or she is about 2-3 months old, since they’ll be vaccinated at that point. Of course sometimes flying sooner than that will be necessary, but always consider your child’s immunizations (including scheduling these in advance) when making your travel plans.
Rules for Lap Infants on Flights
Your Baby must be under the age of 2 to be a “lap infant” on your flight
Once a baby hits the age of 2, they’re no longer allowed to sit on your lap. Of course, flying with a toddler over 2 sounds like a total nightmare anyway, so no biggie there.
Note: On most airlines if your outbound flight takes place before your child’s 2nd birthday, but the return flight is after their 2nd birthday, you’ll be required to buy the newly minted 2-year old a seat as a one-way ticket for the return trip.
What a crappy birthday present, airlines!
This may actually cost more than a round-trip. So if you fall into this category call the airline to assess your options and confirm their policies before booking.
You need proof of age for your lap baby
This caught me off guard when we flew with my son Thomas, who was only 3 months old at the time.
The woman at the airport was like “can you show me some proof that this baby is under 2” and I pointed to him because I felt that the fact that he was basically still a fetus was proof that he was under the age of 2.
I was like “Lady, have you ever seen a 2 year old who this closely resembles a fetus?”
No matter, she wanted a document. So just bring a document. A birth certificate or immunization records should suffice, or a passport for international travel.
What if there’s an empty seat on the flight?
You might be in luck.
I would suggest bringing your car seat to the gate and asking before you board if there happens to be an empty seat available. If there’s not, you can always gate-check your car seat for no extra fee.
Even if you don’t bring your car seat on board, if you can find a row with an empty seat you’ll be able to spread out, and this will be better for everyone.
Is there a luggage allowance for my lap infant?
Nope. There isn’t. If your child is under the age of 2 and is flying on your lap, you’ll need to pack their belongings with you own luggage, and pay extra baggage fees when applicable.
My absolute favorite travel and diaper bag is the KAVU lightweight over-the shoulder diaper bag. This works fantastic on flights instead of a traditional purse. It’s easy to toss over your shoulder even while carrying your baby, and you can still bring on board your standard-size carry-on bag.
Most airlines will allow you to bring a diaper bag in addition to your normal carry-on, but confirm with your airline in advance.
How do I check my car seat and stroller?
Airlines make this very easy. You can bring your car seat and stroller right up to the boarding gate. The airline will tag these items for you, and you simply leave them at the door right as you board the plane. They’ll be available to you when you exit the plane, right as you walk out.
What if I’m flying with more than one baby?
First of all, that sounds epically challenging. Good luck to you.
Second of all, you’re only allowed to have one infant on your lap. I can’t imagine anyone trying for more than one on their lap, but if you’re an overachiever please don’t use this opportunity to push yourself to the limit. Join Cross Fit if you’re looking for a challenge.
If you have two adults in your party you can each have a lap baby. I’ve never tried it, I’m not at that level of competence as a mom. We have traveled internationally with a 3 year old and a baby, but the magic of unlimited screen time really made that possible, not my skills as a mother.
Even if you and a partner are traveling together with more than one child, you might not be able to sit together as a family. Due to the fact that there are a limited number of oxygen masks, most aircrafts only allow for one lap infant in a row.
Are the rules for flying with a lap baby different on international flights?
On most airlines traveling internationally you’ll be able to fly with your baby on your lap, but this is not usually 100% free like it is for domestic flights.
You may be charged for taxes and fees for your lap infant. Ask about any fees you’ll incur on an international flight before deciding if you want to buy a seat for your infant. If the fees are high enough, it might be worth it to pay a little extra and have the comfort of an additional seat on a long flight.
Tip: Check to see if your flight has bassinets on board. These are common on international flights, and some domestic flights may have them available as well.
Does my baby need a passport for international travel?
Yes, every U.S. citizen needs a passport to travel internationally.
Can liquid formula or breast milk go through security?
You can bring formula or expressed breast milk through security, but you’ll need to follow the reasonable quantities limits.
Pack your formula or breast milk separately and let the TSA know that you have it.
Tips for flying with a lap baby
Flying with a baby for the first time can be stressful. Here are some tips to get you through it.
Take the window seat if possible
Ideally you will sit by the window. The aisle seats pose more risks for the baby during food and beverage service. If your baby’s head juts out into the aisle (which can easily happen if they’re napping on your lap) there is a chance the cart will hit them.
Hot drinks are also likely to be passed over the head of whoever is in the aisle seat – better that head not belong to your little baby!
(I can see an argument for the aisle seat if you think you’ll have to walk around a lot with your baby. If you go with an aisle seat just use a little extra caution.)
Have identification for the entire family – baby included
Many airlines won’t bother asking you for proof of age if your baby is clearly under the age of two. But many airlines will ask you to show proof of age, so best to be prepared.
Various forms of acceptable ID for your baby include a passport, birth certificate, or immunization records. Check with your airline to confirm what they require.
Flying with a lap baby checklist: what to pack
It’s helpful to think through what you need on hand to fly with a baby. Here’s a quick checklist for on the flight:
A baby carrier is really helpful on flights
A baby carrier, such as the Ergo Carrier or similar, is really useful on flights.
You’re not allowed to have your baby harnessed in the carrier during take-off or landing for safety reasons, but during the bulk of the flight it’s fine to use one.
This is a great tool for when your baby is napping. It’s really hard to hold a baby in your arms the entire time, so I would highly recommend packing a carrier for the trip.
Consider buying protection covers for car seats and strollers
If you want to make sure that your car seat and stroller are protected from the elements during airline travel, you can buy protective covers for both from Amazon. These aren’t mandatory, but they help!
This Ultimate Backpack Car Seat Travel Bag is #1 Best Seller on Amazon and comes highly rated. It should work with your infant car seat, as well as with most other car seats.
You’ll need to check for your particular seat to be sure, and I’d recommend doing a test run at home before you head to the airport!
If you want a protective cover for your stroller, you can check out this Gate Check Bag for Standard and Double Strollers, available on Amazon.
Have diapers easily accessible
It wasn’t as hard as I thought to change my baby during the flight in the plane’s tiny bathroom. There was a pull down changing table just like in a regular public bathroom, only smaller.
It’s not ideal, but it does the trick. So have a few diapers in your carry-on (keep them in the bag that goes under the seat, not overhead!)
Not all planes are guaranteed to have these changing tables – if they don’t, ask airline staff where they recommend you change your baby. Sometimes the floor is the best you can get, so have your little changing pad handy.
Be strategic about diaper changes
Despite the fact that diaper changes aren’t as bad as you might think, it’s still better to be strategic here. Change your child’s diaper right before you board! Flying with a lap baby is hard enough. You might as well start the flight with a dry diaper on your side.
Feed your baby during takeoff and landing
Feeding your baby during takeoff and landing has a a few benefits:
- It keeps your child calm
- It reduces the pressure on their ears. The sucking motion helps to equalize their ears, the same way adults sometimes chew gum or yawn to achieve the same effect.
Have a few toys on hand
If you can toss a few small items for the baby to hold into your diaper bag I’d recommend it.
Did I do this myself? No I did not. And my child ended up chewing on the laminated safety manual in the seat pocket. Not ideal.
If you’d rather your child not eat the manual (and who could blame you!) bring some small toys.
If your baby is nursing or takes formula rather than solid food, you don’t need to worry about this. But if you have an older lap baby and can bring some Cheerios, teething wafers, etc. I would suggest it. Nothing too messy!
How to prevent ear pain when flying
It’s important to learn how to avoid ear pain during flights for babies. Child ear pain when flying can be a common issue. Babies have narrower Eustachian tubes, which can make it harder for them to open up easily to equalize pressure.
Here’s how you can combat it:
- Feed your baby during takeoff and landing to reduce ear pain and pressure. The sucking motion will help.
- If you bottle feed, make sure your baby is sitting upright while feeding.
- If your baby uses a pacifier, this can help during pressure changes on flights.
- If you know your baby gets ear pain while flying, you can try acetaminophen or ibuprofen 30 minutes before takeoff.
- Avoid decongestants, which aren’t recommended for young children according to the Mayo Clinic.