Baby On Board: How to Fly +1

By Tiffany Hawk

When I told my pediatrician that my son isn’t in daycare, the doctor, astoundingly, said, “He’s not seeing very much of the world then is he?”

As a travel writer and a former flight attendant, I cringed. Not seeing the world? Because he doesn’t go to daycare?

I promptly booked flights to visit family and friends, then, just as promptly, began to panic. I would be that mom. You know, the one carrying armloads of overstuffed bags, the one venting noxious odors into the cabin, the one subjecting an entire plane to the ear-piercing screeches of a teething five-month old.

A few weeks later, I rolled up to the gate with my brave-face on and instantly saw that I wasn’t alone in my fear. Instead of oohing and aahing and fawning over my oh-so-adorable infant like people do at the park or the mall, these folks were staring us down.

Fortunately for all, I had a flurry of flight-attendant mothers to tap for advice. Armed with their suggestions, I was determined to be model passengers. You’d hardly know we were there.

Okay, maybe you would, but these were still great suggestions.

Buy a ticket and bring a car seat.

You know how they say firefighters respect fire? Well, flight attendants respect turbulence. They know that a bad air pocket can throw everything that isn’t belted down into the ceiling, including co-workers and three-hundred-pound beverage carts. Although many parents take advantage of free lap fares for children under two, all of my airline friends buy tickets. That’s all the convincing I needed to splurge on an extra fare. In the end, we only experienced mild turbulence, but between spit-up, a catastrophic diaper malfunction, and a 12-hour travel day, I was happy to have my hands free to read a book while my son napped in his seat.   

Ask your airline about stroller restrictions.

Most airlines will check your collapsible stroller at the gate and bring it up to you between flights, but there may be fine print. American Airlines, as I discovered, won’t gate check strollers over twenty pounds, which includes most jogging strollers. I’m thankful that, at only 17 pounds, my ultra-light City Mini made weigh-in or I would have collapsed while trying to carry my son and his car seat through three terminals.

Turn your suitcase into a stroller.

I couldn’t try this because my son is still in a rear-facing infant seat, but several moms I know swear by either the Traveling Toddler or the TOTEaTOT. Retailing for between $15 and $35, these tools allow you to strap a car seat to your rolling suitcase so you can wheel your little one from gate to gate without bringing a stroller. If you aren’t taking a carry on, you might want to try the GoGo Kidz Travelmate, a set of razor wheels attached to a telescoping handle that will keep your car seat rolling along.

Carry a backpack instead of an over-the-shoulder diaper bag.

Tested and approved. I easily sped down narrow aircraft aisles while balancing a baby, a car seat, and a Jansport packed for every imaginable contingency — from breastfeeding to blowouts to boredom.

Resort to bribery.

Before traveling, my more enterprising friends stock up on cheap toys from discount stores and dole them out periodically as rewards for good behavior. Seriously, I can’t wait until my son can be bribed!

Bring earplugs to pass out to seat mates.

At the recommendation of Sara Pinto Keagle, mom and flight-attendant blogger extraordinaire, I stuffed one of the side pockets on my backpack full of foam earplugs. Even when my son stayed quiet, the Girl Scout in me relished the peace of mind that came with being prepared. Then, on the last leg of our flight, fussing gave way to crying, which quickly turned into inconsolable wailing. When the man next to me began huffing and puffing and slapping his forehead in frustration, I whipped out my trusty earplugs. He laughed and waved them off, but it lightened the mood and he appreciated that I recognized his pain. As I learned in my flying years, that’s all most people need.

Throughout our 10-day trip, there were moments when I thought the TSA would be wise to ban infants along with liquids and weapons. Just try changing the monster of all diapers while the plane is rocking, you’re both strapped in because the seat belt sign is on, the baby is screaming, and the people around you are covering their ears and plugging their noses. (So much for being model passengers.)

But, you know what? When we landed, I walked away with the confidence that can only come from facing the worst and making it to the other side. After all, it will always be easier to stay home, but then my son won’t see much of the world, will he?

Tiffany Hawk is a writer and new mom who can’t shake her love of air travel. Love Me Anyway, her coming-of-age novel about flight attendants, will be published next spring by St. Martin’s Press. Follow her on Twitter @tiffanyhawk or on her personal blog,


  1. Susan D
    United States
    November 27, 2013, 12:48 am

    At 2.5, my son and I have taken on over 2 dozen flights… alone. The early years are the easy ones because you can simply wear your baby on your front and strap yourself in. No need to buy an extra seat. That’s a complete waste of money and forces you to lug around extra equipment that’s not needed.
    If you don’t baby wear, you can also spend $25 on something like a Baby B’Air Flight Vest instead of hundreds to thousands of extra dollars in buying an unneeded extra seat.
    Another tip. Wait til the last person has boarded before you board. Then you can see if there are 2 empty seats available. There was never a trouble with us taking one of those.

  2. JIM
    Los Angeles
    May 19, 2013, 6:47 pm

    A good place to check for airport delays is It shows current airport delays around the world.

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  4. shivangi tomar
    January 22, 2013, 9:17 am

    hats of to all of u who travel with small babies. Now when i m a mother to a 3 months baby…… i find it next to imposbl to take her out even to a neighboring mall………earlier i used to think that it vil b easy for me to travel wd baby….bt nw whn baby has finally arrived…….i m very scared to take her out coz whn i tk her out she starts crying inconsolably……..

  5. Jane Boursaw
    United States
    November 9, 2012, 9:46 am

    Good for you for traveling with a little one, despite the perils!

  6. Cheryl Anne Harper
    New York
    November 6, 2012, 10:18 pm

    I so admire a woman who really bonds with her baby. And goes out of her way to make that baby comfortable. Babies are not burdens. They are HUGE blessings. Thanks for sharing your story Super-Mom!

  7. cyberdavid
    October 30, 2012, 6:35 am

    The tips are outstanding ….. thank you for sharing these tips:)

  8. Joanne
    October 28, 2012, 11:44 pm

    My first flight alone with my little one was when he was 3 months old on a five hour flight. I put earplugs and lindt chocolate in a ziploc snack bag with a note that said “Just in case” and put them on all the seats around me. At the end of the flight the guy behind me asked if he had to give the chocolate back because my little one was so good.

  9. Eden
    October 6, 2012, 2:05 am

    These tips are great. I worry about what your doc said about your kid not being in daycare, lol. How old was that Dr? Lol

    I first travelled with my son when he was 6 months of age; and it went off without a hitch. I’ve always been a light traveller; however, because I have a home in the Caribbean, I sent ahead items to the house, so as to make my travel lighter and easier. Upon checking in all I had was my son, stroller/car seat and my bag/diaper bag which held everything. He’s now 5, and travels with his own little suitcase to hold his fave stuffed toy, blanket, and goodies.

  10. Nikole Fairview - ExploringLifesMysteries.Com
    Washington, DC
    September 23, 2012, 10:38 pm

    I have never taken my child on a plane, but many of these tips are universal. Great article and let me tell you, a backpack will change your world. Diaper bags are so obsolete once you start using a $10 backpack. It makes carrying all that baby stuff around so much easier, and yes I use bribery when I’m shopping. There has got to be some toy that your little one likes to play with or even just likes to gaze at if he is over the age of 6 months old that you can use. The dollar store allows you to be really creative. I love the ear plug idea. I think I will just carry some of those for others in case of a tantrum. I also never knew you could turn your suitcase into a stroller. Thank you for introducing me to those inventions.

  11. Zsuzsanna Kapas
    Montreal, Quebec
    September 22, 2012, 7:09 pm

    Traveling is for grownups (so may be very important), not for babies. Babies need stability, predictability, security. That pediatrician is out of touch with what babies need. Daycare is also for adults’ convenience, not for children’s needs. Infants should not have to fend for themselves – they need the familiar!

  12. Ted
    September 19, 2012, 11:25 am

    My son (who’s 2 years 1/2 now) already has 17 flights under his belt, from 1 hour hops in regional turboprops to 10 hours on 777s.
    #1 tip for peace and happiness – give the little one something to drink while the plane climbs and descends! His/her ears would get stuffy and poppy otherwise and kids will start crying almost always.
    There are a few more tips that can help when kids are a little older:
    – colored pencils & paper to draw on (triangle shaped crayolas roll less and are less likely to fall from the tray table); kid’s books, a few toys (but ones you wouldn’t mind if you forgot on the plane)
    – get a window seat for him – even if it’s “ooh, look at that cloud” or “let’s look for another airplane” or “let’s try guessing what goes on on the ground 7 miles below us”, it’s a source of peace & quiet for you and the people around.
    – while long haul flights have personal tv’s with cartoons & shows for kids, you can also take a portable dvd player/tablet/laptop with his favorite shows to watch.
    – be prepared for delays! Delays happen, so always have in your carry on food & drink for the young one (as well as extra diapers), even if it’s supposed to be a short 30 minute hop.