Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Traveling with Your Baby/Toddler: Flights

Post 1 of 6 on Traveling with Your Baby/Toddler

Scheduling flights:
Go direct: Direct flights are so worth any additional money you pay. Not only are transfers tiring, you spend more time in transit, and have a higher chance of a delay or cancellation and higher chance of lost luggage. These events are especially catastrophic when traveling with a baby.

For flights longer than 2 hours, we like flying red-eyes. But, this definitely has pros and cons. HB will sleep on the flights as long as it’s during her normal sleep time. So if we travel at night, she sleeps and it is much less work entertaining her than if she were awake. As she gets bigger and bigger, she sleeps less soundly sitting on our laps. For this reason, I highly recommend getting an extra seat for the baby and bring the car seat on board. This is especially easy if you have the sit n’ stroll (see gear section below). Another plus to the red-eye is that they are rarely ever full. So, you are more likely to score an extra seat. The cons to this approach, is that you arrive at your destination with a rested baby and completely exhausted parents. If you are visiting family, you can dump the baby with the family for a couple hours upon arrival while mom and dad grab a nap. It’s more difficult if you don’t have help at your destination. In these cases, we designate one of us to baby duty on the flight while the other one sleeps, and switch duties upon arrival.

If you aren’t flying red-eyes, then fly in the morning. Morning flights are more likely to be on-time. Also, most children are better behaved in the mornings. As the day wears on, they get crankier and less adaptable. Some people try to time their flights to the child’s nap times. I’ve found this to have limited success. Most kids will not nap at their usual time due to the stimulation and strange environment. Also, you can’t be guaranteed that your flight will be on time. Regardless of the flight time, for little babies, you can sometimes get them to go to sleep at takeoff if you give them a bottle and run through as much of their bedtime routine as possible.

If your flight is delayed, be aggressive about getting re-booked. You can scan the monitors to see if another flight is scheduled for your destination. It is even OK to ask for them to transfer you to another airline. The gate agent has the authority to do this, but they will only do it in extreme circumstances, or if pressed. Use the baby sympathy card.

Choosing seats:
Book seats over the wing or towards the back. The engine noise is loudest here and it drowns out other noises in the plane and makes it easier for the baby to sleep. You are also more likely to score an empty middle seat in the back of the plane since these seats are usually filled at the front first.

If you bring a car seat on board, it has to be a window seat. So, if you book a ticket for the baby, you need to book a window. There are different ways to book the seats depending on how many adults are traveling and whether you are booking the baby a seat or going with her on your lap. Here are the different scenarios:

1) One parent, pay for baby’s seat
Book the window for the baby and the aisle for the adult. If someone ends up in the middle seat, you can trade their middle for your aisle. If no one ends up in the middle seat, you’ve scored a whole row!

2) One parent, baby is lap child
Book a window towards the back of the plane and hope that no one gets assigned to the middle seat. When you check in, ask if the flight is full. If it is not full, ask the agent to hold the middle seat for you. Then you can bring the car seat on board.

3) Two parents, pay for baby’s seat
Book the whole row. Put the baby’s car seat at the window.

4) Two parents, baby is lap child
Book a window and an aisle towards the back of the plane. When you check in, ask if the flight is full. If it is not full, ask the agent to hold the middle seat for you. Then you can bring the car seat on board. If your middle seat is occupied, but there are other middle seats open on the plane, the person assigned to your middle seat will gladly take a different middle seat to not have to sit next to the baby. If the gate agent is super cooperative, they will page the person and re-assign them. If the gate agent is not cooperative, you can negotiate the trade as you board the plane. But, you may not be allowed to bring the car seat onboard. If the plane is completely full, you can switch your aisle seat with the person in the middle.

If you are traveling with the baby as a lap child, you should let the airline know as soon as you book the ticket. If you book online, there is usually no place to indicate a lap child. You should book the ticket and then call the airline afterwards to add the lap child. This does not cost any extra money. When you register the lap child, many airlines will place a temporary hold on the seat next to you. That is, the seat next to you will be the last one sold. So, unless the flight is full, you will get a seat for the baby.

Whatever you do, make sure that when you check in, the lap child is listed on your boarding pass. You will not be able to take the baby through security unless they are specifically listed.


  1. Josie--you are my new hero and my first favorite person of 2009!

  2. @ Tracy - *blush* Thanks!

  3. In 2007, when I traveled with Lil'bug and my mother (from NJ to HI) we booked both aisle seats, leaving the seat between us empty, hoping and praying that no one would book it. The airline would not let us take Lil'bug's car seat on the plane unless we paid for the seat. Different airline, different policy, I guess. I ended up glad that we didn't. It gave us more elbow room and her room to move/stretch a little. I would've hated lugging that thing to the back of the plane, too. I was carrying too much as it was, that would have put me over the edge.

    Excellent post. I look forward to reading the rest.

  4. @ladybughugs - wow! In all our travels, I've never encountered that policy. Every time we've flown, they have always let us take the car seat on board as long as the seat beside us was empty. Thanks for the warning to not assume they will do it.


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