Air travel can be a stressful endeavor, from the long security lines to flight delays to cramped seats, rude passengers and a host of other inconveniences. When you add a baby to the mix, the anxiety only grows: now you're navigating all that while trying to keep your little one safe, comfortable and entertained. Not an easy task!
Flying during COVID-19 comes with its own set of concerns: namely, how to get to and from your destination while minimizing your family's risk of contracting the virus. Although air travel is considered relatively low-risk due to masking requirements and ventilation systems used on planes, which often circulate through hospital-grade HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters, other aspects, such as eating in airport restaurants and standing in a crowded jet bridge, can raise concerns.
In addition, children under 5 cannot yet be vaccinated and children under 2 cannot wear face masks. So it's understandable that some parents may feel uncomfortable flying with their little ones (or decide not to travel by air for the time being).
We've asked parents to share common sense tips for flying with a baby now – ones that will get you through the COVID era and beyond.
1. Show up at the airport earlier than before the birth.
"No matter how organized you are in your day-to-day life, navigating an airport with a baby is likely to throw you off your game. Arrive about 30 minutes earlier than you did before the baby was born. Consider spending a little more money on a trusted travel program like TSA precheck, which dramatically reduces the time you spend in the security line. For example, the TSA precheck benefit is automatically passed on to the child when he or she reaches age 12. The baby is under the age of 18.
The program allows you to seamlessly glide through the security lines without removing electronic devices or taking off your shoes, leaving parents hands free to care for their baby instead of juggling their luggage." – karen L. Gentile, pediatric nurse practitioner at national jewish health
2. Check to see if there is a TSA lane at your airport for families with young children.
"When you arrive at the airport, ask about the expedited TSA line for families with babies. Most airports allow immediate access through TSA if you are traveling with a baby in a stroller." – katrina morrison, owner of mocha travel
3. Think twice before you book a red-eye.
"Don't believe the hype about red-eye flights! Some people will say it's good to fly overnight with little ones so they sleep during the flight. Unfortunately no one slept on the first try and we literally slept all day the first day at our destination. I've never been one to enjoy sleeping on a plane, and neither do my children. There's no perfect time to fly with kids. It's very different from flying alone, no matter what time of day it is. My advice is to pick a time when you're at your best so that no matter what comes, you can handle it." – gina mcmillen, illustrator at @ginsasdrawingclub
4. Early morning flights can have some advantages.
"It reduces the possibility of flight delays, especially during peak travel periods." – morrison
5. Consider taking your car seat on board with you.
"Flying with your baby under 2 is free, but they have to sit on your lap. Certain airlines will allow you to use an empty seat to secure the baby in the car seat as long as the seat is not purchased by another customer. (think airlines with flexible seating.) at these events, I ask the gate agent if there are any seats available on the plane, and if so, I will use my FAA-approved car seat to "secure" that seat. My baby. Flying in a car seat is the safest place for baby in turbulence. [note that if you want to guarantee a spot for your car seat, you'll need to purchase a seat for your child. Check with the airline for their specific policies regarding using car seats on board.]
In addition, the car seat is a familiar place for the baby and keeps him in a safe germ-free "bubble" even on the plane. Once baby reaches 22 pounds and can sit up unassisted, the CARES harness is an easy-to-stow, convenient and safe way to secure your baby in his or her own seat." – gentiles
6. Keep loose items like pacifiers on you or your baby, or use packing cubes so they don't get lost or dirty.
" Between arrival and departure is sure to lose a sock or stuffed animal. Avoid toy sterilization anxiety (another type of TSA) by making sure any gadgets, teething rings or pacifiers are attached to you or your baby to keep them away from dirty airport surfaces. For other loose items like the endless contents of your stroller b basket, pack everything you can in cubes to make the security check less of a hassle." – caroline hershey, blogger at jet with A set
7. Doggie poop bags can come in handy.
"For wet wipes, leaky grocery bags, and in some cases dirty diapers when you're doing a rogue change, dog poop bags are perfect to attach to your stroller or carry-on and have ready to clean up the mess when there's not a trash can in sight." – hershey
8. Feed your baby during takeoff and landing.
"Breastfeeding, bottle feeding or sucking on a pacifier can reduce the pressure little ones experience when going downhill. However, you may still experience temporary discomfort. It can be very stressful, but try to stay calm and do everything you can to comfort your baby." – morrison
"Always have some of their favorite snacks on hand. Babies tend to be happy when they are eating or snacking." – gentiles
9. Choose a window seat if you want some privacy.
"As a mom, I've flown with kids both window and aisle side, and I preferred the window seat when my little ones were tiny. I breastfed most of the trip and found that that little bit of extra space between the window and the armrest was nice, as opposed to getting your elbow hit by a drink cart. Plus, it felt a little more private than an aisle seat. Have you ever had to avoid eye contact with half a dozen strangers for six hours? It gets old fast." – mcmillen
10. If your baby is more active, it may be worth paying for extra legroom.
"If it works in your budget! The very first seats on the plane are the best because there is no one in front of you. Your little one may get restless and want to be sitting or standing on the floor, and the extra space gives them the room they need to wiggle around!" – lina forrestal, parenting blogger and host of "the new mamas podcast"
11. Focus on maintaining your routine rather than having an exact schedule.
"Your baby's feeding and nap schedule is bound to get messed up during the flight, so check your fears at the gate and don't worry about the clock. Instead, focus on sticking to your normal routine as much as possible, whether it's putting on pajamas to signal it's time to sleep, using the same familiar setting on a portable sound machine, or walking up and down your daily aisle. " – hershey
12. Pack some new toys in your diaper bag.
"I always have new games, toys and books that my child has never seen before. Little ones love to explore and play with something new and novel; even their favorite toy or stuffed animal may not be exciting when they get on a plane. Make sure the game or toy is quiet so as not to disturb your neighbors, but with fun lights or textures to really engage baby. Keep these items handy so you can grab them quickly in case of an emergency." – gentile
13. Watch out: there's a small changing table in the lavatory.
"Yes, the tiny airplane restrooms have a tiny changing table. I was worried about changing my little one on our first flight, and for some reason had never thought to check if flights had changing areas or not. In most airplanes, there is a small section that pulls down just above the lavatory seat; it extends the counter to create a tiny but usable changing area." – mcmillen
14. Consider bringing your stroller and checking it out at the gate.
"I took my huge uppababy vista V2 on our trip and it was great to have a place for my toddler to sit and relax until the flight. The stroller went through security and was seamlessly checked at the gate. Most airport employees are familiar with strollers and know how to fold them!" – forrestal
Answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.