Okay mama, you’ve got this! Your baby’s first flight can feel intimidating, but your bags are packed (with the help of our packing lists & diaper bag essentials list), and you’ve got everything you’ll need. You are ready to create memories with your family and have an enjoyable time!
I am going to walk you through what to expect when you get to the airport so you don’t feel flustered when you get there. This will help ease your mind and make the process a little smoother. You’ll be an airport pro with your baby before you know it!
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When To Arrive At The Airport
I am the type of person who likes to show up to things RIGHT ON TIME. I don’t really like being somewhere more than 5 minutes early, although I really hate being late. BUT, when it comes to your baby’s first flight, I do NOT suggest pushing it! Especially if you are an inexperienced traveler to begin with.
It is recommended that you arrive at least 2 hours early for a domestic flight and 3 hours for international. We follow these guidelines and have never missed a flight so far. Make sure you know what terminal you need to be dropped off at, a simple google search of your airport will tell you. You might have been able to run through the airport with your shoes and belt in your hands before, but that won’t be so easy this time with a baby in your arms. Don’t take the risk, just get there early. You never know what delays could pop up when you get there.
When you arrive at the proper terminal, you will unload from the car and take your luggage inside. Depending on how many bags you are bringing, this can prove to be challenging with a baby. I suggest getting suitcases with 4 wheels that easily roll in all directions. This type of luggage makes it is so much easier to maneuver several bags. If there is an outdoor check-in kiosk, this may be the time to take advantage of it. But beware, they expect a tip for their service if you do choose to do that.
I find it is easiest to bring our baby and all our luggage into the airport using the umbrella stroller. I hook the car seat and any other bags onto the handles of the stroller and push. If needed, I will even extend the handle of the suitcase and hook it on there too. Read why I don’t take our more expensive stroller through the airport on my other post: Do’s and Don’ts of Flying with an Infant.
We use this extremely basic style umbrella stroller because it was super affordable, has a shade cover, and storage underneath. It folds up more compactly than our other more expensive jogging stroller, which makes it really easy to travel with.
A friend of mine also has this ULTRA compact travel stroller that folds up super small. It is a little more expensive than the cheap umbrella stroller we went with, but it is less likely to get damaged by airport workers because it is so compact. You could even put it in the overhead bins on the airplane potentially!
You’ll find the signs for the airline you’re flying with and go to the check-in desk. It seems that because of COVID, most big airports are utilizing self-service kiosks. These touch screen computers allow you to search for your boarding pass either by scanning your passport or inputting your flight information. The confirmation emails you received from the airline upon booking will have the requested flight information. Have this easily accessible on your phone before arriving. I like to take a screenshot of the email so I don’t have to search through emails while at the airport.
The kiosk will print your boarding passes and tags for any of your luggage that will be checked. This includes car seats or strollers. You are allowed to take the car seat and stroller through security, but we usually check the car seat and only take the stroller. It’s complimentary to check these items, it does not cost you anything extra.
Once your boarding passes and tags are printed, you will get in line to weigh and check the bags with an airline customer service agent. They will ask to see your boarding passes and ID or passport. I love flying with Southwest because they give you 2 complimentary checked bags, and I always take advantage of that! The less I have to drag with me through the airport, the better.
There have been instances when the self-check-in kiosks didn’t work when flying with our baby. Airlines sometimes want to verify the age of your child by checking their birth certificate or passport, so you have to go directly to a customer service agent rather than the self-service kiosk. Always bring a copy of your child’s birth certificate or passport in case this is required. The agent will print everything for you, take your bags, and send you on your way to security.
I can’t tell you how many times we have gotten to the airport and our baby had just fallen asleep in the car. I normally would tell you, keep her in the car seat! Have her sleep on the go! But in this instance, it isn’t really realistic because you have to take them out of the car seat or stroller to go through security.
This is where some people like to wear their baby in a carrier wrap because you can walk through the scanners without taking it off. But I prefer having the stroller for carrying our bags and to make sure our baby doesn’t fall asleep until on the plane. If your baby is too small to fit in an umbrella stroller though, this might be the best option for you to make things easy.
Checking in at the airport doesn’t usually take more than 20 minutes. Where you can find yourself spending a lot of time is waiting in line for security. Each person loads their bags up onto the conveyor belt and based on the TSA requirements at your airport, you may have to take out any electronics larger than the size of your cell phone from your bags. You will remove your shoes, belt, hat, jacket, and walk through the sensor holding your baby in your arms. So if possible, try and keep your baby awake until after security. This way they will nap on the plane & their nap won’t be disrupted by TSA workers.
I have been stopped a couple of times by the TSA because the diaper bag gets flagged. Usually, it’s because of the pack of wipes and bottles of medicine. You can bring snacks in the diaper bag, they don’t even have to be in unopened packages. And YES you can travel with baby formula! Because it’s food for the baby, they are understanding. They may have you take everything out so they can take a look still.
If they have to investigate a bag, you’ll have a couple extra minutes to get everything else situated. You may feel pressured to get your stuff and move along because people are coming through the sensor behind you, but take the time you need. There’s no sense in getting worked up at security before your first flight with a baby.
There should be benches nearby. If you can at least grab everything and move to one of the benches, you can strap your baby in, put on your accessories & shoes, and return everything to its proper place that was taken out. Your boarding pass is the only thing you need to have accessible now. If you are flying internationally, you will need both your boarding pass and passport ready. I wear a fanny pack while traveling so that I can easily access these items! Here’s a great one:
Find Your Gate
Your boarding pass tells you which gate the plane is departing out of, as well as other information like your seat number, boarding group, and departure time.
Sometimes changes are made to this information, so check the screens as you are leaving the security area. Signs in the hallways will direct you to the correct gate. Once you find it, you can relax! Take a little breather, get some snacks/drinks at shops or restaurants nearby. Keep an ear out for when they say they are starting to board your flight. Some airlines let families board early, but I actually wouldn’t suggest doing that. If your baby is mobile, spend as much time as possible outside of the plane before you have to be cooped up and contained. Especially if it’s a long flight ahead of you.
After scanning your boarding pass, you will walk through the tunnel to get on the plane. You can keep your child in the stroller until right before you walk through the plane door. There is a specified spot in the hall for strollers. They tuck them underneath the plane and it is ready for you in that same spot when you get off the plane! Keep your diaper bag out, not in the overhead compartment. Put it either under the chair in front of you or your spouse so you can easily access it. Make sure you’ve packed these essentials to help entertain your baby on the plane.
Some people like to use baby carriers/wraps to carry their baby through the airport, but I do not suggest this. The flight attendant will ask you to unwrap them for take-off because it is not safe. (I’m not really sure the reasoning behind it, but I would imagine it’s something to do with the pressure change). I find it’s just easier to try & get them to go to sleep as the flight takes off.
When the plane starts moving, breastfeed, offer a bottle, pacifier, or sippy cup because it will help their ears from popping and send them to sleepy town. If your baby doesn’t fall asleep eating or sucking a pacifier, you can put on the carrier/wrap and bounce them to sleep in the aisle once it’s safe. For older children who need more space to lay down to sleep, you will definitely want to purchase one of these. We haven’t used one yet, but for families with toddlers and young kids, it is a game changer. Inflatable Bed for Plane
Entertaining Your Baby on the Flight
Download my Diaper Bag Essentials List to be sure you’re prepared for baby’s first flight. Here are links to some of the mentioned items if you’re looking for perfect 0-12 month old plane toys:
Our baby loves snacks, so I make sure and bring lots of options. Pouches are super handy while traveling if your baby likes those. I also usually buy a snack pack at one of the convenience stores before boarding the plane that has cheese, cucumbers, and apples. These are some of her favorite foods and are fresher options than just prepackaged snacks.
I’ll be honest and tell you that I also download a show & movie on my phone in case none of these options are doing the trick. Sometimes you just have to make it through the flight and if that means screen time, so be it.
If you are flying with your 1 or 2 year old for the first time and need help to keep them entertained, make sure to read the 10 Best Travel Toys for 18 Month Olds.
Arriving at your destination is the most exciting part! You made it. You navigated the crazy airport with your baby, you survived the flight. Now you can let the fun begin! After you grab your stroller outside the plane, follow the signs to baggage claim. Sometimes your car seat will come out with all the other luggage, but frequently it will be placed in the “oversized luggage” area along the back wall. You’ll then exit the terminal and find transportation. I highly suggest renting a car through Turo, check out my post all about it here.
Have so much fun. I hope you feel more confident and ready for your baby’s first flight. Things might not go exactly according to your plan, but they also could go better than expected. Take a deep breath. You’ve got this 🤍