Do you have family or friends in another country? Have you traveled with an infant on a flight that was 8 hours or more? We’ve put together what worked for us in this Traveling Tips: Infants, Airplanes & International Travel post. If you also have a toddler, check this post out: Tips for traveling with a toddler are here.
We decided that after our little one was born we’d travel to Italy so that he could be introduced to his bisnonna (great grandma), prozia (great aunt), cugino di secondo grado (second cousin)…you get the idea. Some people thought we were nuts, our pediatrician thought we were awesome and we weren’t sure what to think.
Traveling Tips: Infants, Airplanes & International Travel
I’m not gonna lie – the idea was daunting and the closer it came to “take off”, my anxiety levels increased. Worrying about forgetting something (we did!), having the baby cry on the plane (happened!), and people not being helpful (check!) were some of the scenarios that I’d play out in my mind. To give you some background: we’re a family of 3 with a 5 month old, I was exclusively pumping, we weren’t supplementing with formula, we were going to be abroad for 14 days home-based with family. The biggest challenge we had was carrying everything we needed. Even though they give you extra time to board the plane, you need to be ready with your items for gate check. This can be hard if you’re in the middle of a feeding or rushing between gates.
Here are some things that helped us on our travels…
Booking Your Flight: Seating
We didn’t buy an extra seat for our babe until he became mobile. I don’t mean standing, but full on walking and running. Most international flights will still charge you for the baby’s ticket even if you’re sitting them on your lap, but at a reduced rate. This was typically listed as 10% of the adult fare. As you’re booking, make sure to tell the airline agent that your child is an infant because for some airlines it makes a difference on their roster if they’re listed as a “child” instead of an “infant”. You’re probably thinking, “If I give them the DOB, won’t they know how to classify them?” Nope! Assume nothing! One gate agent had a fit when she found out that our kiddo wasn’t classified correctly and had to make changes to the roster before letting us board. She muttered that it wasn’t our fault and proceeded to lecture us on the rules of their specific airline. All the while, we were thinking, “Take it up with the booking agent!” So much for early boarding!
Some airlines will provide the option to reserve a bassinet for international travel. Always read the fine print on their website! Keep in mind that if you have a multi-leg flight, this will only count for the international part. In our case, we had a flight connecting in New York, so the bassinet wasn’t available until we boarded in New York with final stop to Rome.
In order to be eligible for a bassinet, we had to book a Bulkhead Seat. This was a little more than a regular sardine seat, but it provided my tall husband extra leg room. Also, it was good to be able to stand up and move around with the baby without having to roam the aisles. Being able to book a window seat provides more support and privacy for pumping, feeding, etc. Downside, there’s no seating in front for carry-on storage. Be sure to place all your items in the overhead bin. This shouldn’t be an issue if you’re able to pre-board. If you have people’s stuff in that area, don’t be afraid to ask the flight crew to help you jockey items around so you can get to your goods.
Keep in mind that all airlines will tell you that this will not guarantee you’ll get a bassinet. It’s on an availability basis, so let the flight crew know that you’d like the bassinet as soon as you board the plane. They might ask you if your baby is able to sit up on their own. If they are, they will not issue you the bassinet.
We made the mistake of propping our son in the seat as we situated our bags. When I let the attendant know that we needed a bassinet, she looked at us and said, “Oh! You don’t qualify! He’s already sitting on his own! And he’s so big!” After traveling for 8 hours, the crazy in me came out – we read the airline fine print about length and weight restrictions for babies using the bassinets. If you can, print this information from the airline website and keep it with your travel documents for cases like this. Our son met the criteria and I had to explain that we propped him up and that he wasn’t able to get himself into a seated position on his own. She continued to insist that he was too big. In the end, we used the bassinet and it was glorious. You can also research the flight on Seat Guru.
Stroller Organizer & Stroller/Car Seat Transport Bags
We took our own gear because we didn’t know the condition of the car seats (paranoia) and it was a “light weight” stroller system. These two items were the bane of my husband’s existence, but helpful once we reached our destination. Check them at the gate as soon as you can. Our seat/stroller bags are still in great shape after multiple international flights and the stroller organizer is amazing. We still use all three items. The 5th option below is if you have to order bags for an umbrella stroller and car seat together.
I used a neutral colored old school Ergo. We made sure it was one that had the storage pouch in the front and I ordered two sets of teething pads so that the straps wouldn’t get saliva logged with baby spittle. I could swap out a dry, clean pair when needed. This was especially helpful if they got dirty when I set the carrier down for a breather. The pouch in the front made it easy to grab an extra pacifier if I needed a new one and I could store a small pack of wipes and lip balm in there too. The carrier adjusts to three positions and is a comfortable fit on me at 5’1″ and my husband at over 6′. I also bought a teething necklace that worked nicely. These are what we used:
I made sure to carry this bag along with the baby. This made it easier when we were going through security. They asked one parent to carry the baby and the baby’s belongings. We had no issues with the frozen breast milk, ice pack or other items in this backpack. If the breast milk isn’t frozen, it will go through a different type of screening. We had 2 bottles so that a clean one was always available. The less bottle parts to clean, the better! That’s why we like the Avent bottles below. We had one too many accidents early on where a piece to a three or more part bottle went missing or wasn’t assembled and milk would be all over us and the baby. Cleansing wipes to sanitize bottles, pacifiers and pumping equipment in case we weren’t able to get to a sink that didn’t gross us out were fantastic. This saved us from cleaning anything in the crammed airplane bathroom.
Given that we were traveling for over 12 hours, I packed three 8 oz. bags of frozen breast milk in a soft carrier that had freezable walls and an ice pack. The ice pack proved to be wonderful in Europe – there was no need to find ice trays (rare commodity) and baggies to keep milk cool when we were on the go. Remember how I told you that I forgot things on this trip? One of them was the manual pump. I went into full panic mode, but was able to make it work by pumping at the airports. When we arrived at our destination, I purchased a Chicco hand pump and it was AMAZING. Worth every penny. Wish they had these more readily available here. I included an Avent hand pump in case you like those better. Be sure to include breast feeding covers not only for feeding, but to help shield out cabin lights. These are the items we used:
Power Adapters – These are more for your final destination than the airport. We kept them in the backpack for when we needed them. Also, we made sure to have more than one just in case the adapter went bad. We didn’t want to be stuck without a back up and the headaches that come with that situation. It was also great for charging phones, cameras and pumping. When I shopped at local stores, the better deal ended up online. This is what we ordered:
We ordered new luggage. The fact that you can roll these without having to tilt them and they don’t have to be pulled behind you made things a bit easier for us. We got them in this purple so they would stand out on the conveyor belt.
This was a lighter backpack, but had important items. Diapers, wipes, cream, medicine (just in-case), bibs, two extra set of zip up PJs with feet, nasal spray & a Nosefrida Aspirator. The last item sounds gross, but our pediatrician said it was one of the best things on the market when it comes to helping little ones with congestion. His recommendation was spot on! We also had a few shopping bags rolled up in case we had to get rid of trash or needed something to separate soiled clothing from other items in the backpack. Don’t forget the bibs – one for bottle feeding for when he spit up and the other for solids. Both sets have held up well! The last things we crammed in here were a small blankie and toy. This is what we used:
Knowing that planes and airports can be cold or we could get some bodily fluid splattered on us, we packed for the occasion. The baby was donning his zip-up pajamas with booties. I was in a cami, scarf and a lightweight cardigan. Because I was carrying the baby, I didn’t have to take the scarf, cardigan or shoes off. The scarf turned out to be something interesting for the baby to look at and chew on. My husband had a shirt with a dark undershirt. We kept the shoes comfortable and easy to slip off and on without bending over. Skip wearing the belts and jewelry. The less to remove when you’re going through security, the better.
Research the Airport
If you have time to research the airport you’ll be flying through, do it. We scoped out areas like family lounges, play areas, and family bathrooms. Subscribe in the top or side bar of this page to receive a list of U.S. and International airport maps for free! I’ll include what there is to do at those airports and baby gear rental resources available on and off site.
- Don’t worry about the baby adjusting to the time difference. Most likely, it’ll be easier for them than you!
- Wearing your baby means you won’t have to take them off when going through security. This was a time saver and freed up my hands to do other things!
- Book travel times best for your baby. In our case, we took the red-eye for the 8 hour part, so our kiddo was sleeping for a majority of the time.
- When booking, leave enough time to do what you need to do. We made sure to book with a minimum of a three hour layover – it gave us time to get through immigration, feed/change child, get to our gate in time to pre-board and scarf down food.
- If you have a medical condition such as asthma, you should consider requesting for help when booking your travel. Could come in handy if you’re having to rush from one gate to another.
- Don’t waste your time with the check in crew for bassinet questions – the only ones who are able to do anything will be the actual flight crew.
- Put all travel docs in an easily accessible envelope. The person not carrying baby should be in charge of pulling those items out when needed.
- Know that in some airports/countries, lines are formed width-wise instead of single file. Be ready to stand your ground, give the stink eye and push your way forward.
- Airplane changing tables are crammed and leave you with the feeling you might accidentally drop your kid in the toilet below. Use sanitizing wipes before and after! If you can wear a hazmat suit before stepping in, do so.
- Antibacterial wipes – keep them handy to wipe down trays, arm rests, windows, bassinet, etc.
- For take-off and landing, be ready to slip the baby out of your carrier. Keep the carrier strapped to your waist and be prepped to slip baby back in when you’re no longer taking off or landing. All airlines we flew provided us with an insane belt adapter that you slip onto your belt. They tell you to make sure the baby is facing forward. Yeah, depending on what your little person is doing, good luck with that. Don’t purchase baby/infant/toddler belts online – they’re not FAA approved and chances are the flight crew will not allow you to use it.
- If you’re able to rent baby equipment (car seats and strollers) at the airport, do it. The baby carrier will do wonders for the most part. But if you’re going somewhere warm, you and baby may not want to be that close for long. Good to have options.
- Pack a couple universal all in one power adapters – especially if you’re pumping.
- If you have a trusted brand, use diapers from home to pad items in your checked-in luggage and for later use at your destination. This saved us some extra time and potential blowouts, if we couldn’t find what we knew worked.
- Skip bringing unnecessary items like sound machines and monitors. The plane will be loud enough to act as white noise and when you get to where you’re going, use your phone as a white noise machine.
- Download an app like Google Translate – you have an option to speak into it and it will crudely translate for you. Also, there’s an option to run your phone over items like menus and signs and have the texts translated too.
Looking back at the experience, our baby handled it pretty well. We’re not sure if it’s because we prepped, stayed flexible, or if we forgot about some of the shenanigans that went down. Looking back at photos and videos, we have no regrets in having embarked on the adventure. In fact, we decided to take another international journey with him to Ireland when he was 1. Click on this sentence to read!
What advice or questions do you have about traveling with an infant? Comment below!