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Updated on
June 13, 2024

Yes, You Should Use a Car Seat When Flying With Baby + Other Travel Tips

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Yes, You Should Use a Car Seat When Flying With Baby + Other Travel Tips.
Photo by @cocoscaravan
Yes, You Should Use a Car Seat When Flying With Baby + Other Travel Tips

There’s no way around it—flying with a baby can be intimidating. Whether it’s your first flight or your fifth, taking your baby on a plane can feel pretty overwhelming and leave you with a lot of questions.

We’re here with answers. We’re breaking down some of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to babies + air travel (including the most updated guidance on car seats on planes), plus sharing the best, most helpful products to make your time in the friendly skies a little bit easier.

Flying with Baby: Your Frequently Asked Questions

Can you bring breast milk or baby formula on a plane? What about baby food pouches?

Yes. (Phew!) Although the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has pretty tight restrictions on what can and can’t make it past security for adults, those rules don’t apply to children 12 years old and younger.

Formula, breast milk, juice and other liquids (a sippy cup filled with water, for example) are permitted in “reasonable quantities” through the security checkpoint (here’s more on what you need to know about flying with breast milk). Same goes for gel teethers and baby food in cans, pouches or jars. Ice packs, freezer or gel packs and other accessories needed to cool formula or breast milk are also OK.

These items don’t need to follow the usual liquid restrictions and don’t need to be in a quart-sized bag. As you approach the security line, you’ll want to remove these items from your bag and inform the TSA officer that you’ll be bringing them through so they can screen them separately.

Check out the “Traveling with Children” section of the TSA website for a full rundown of rules and procedures. And please note that these rules apply to domestic U.S. flights only; if you’re traveling out of the country, you’ll want to do some research around international travel regulations.

Do you need to buy a plane ticket for a baby?

Not if your little one is under the age of two. Most airlines allow babies under two years old to fly free on domestic flights on your lap (alongside one paying adult—always double check with your airline to make sure.) But should you fly with your baby on your lap? More on that below.

Does a baby need a car seat on a plane?

While you technically don’t have to put your baby in a car seat while on a plane, our advice is a very strong yes, you should definitely use a car seat on a plane for a variety of safety reasons. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics are both strong proponents of this, and recent reports of turbulence on flights that have injured or killed passengers (and reports that turbulence may be becoming more common) have put the issue of car seat usage in the air top of mind. The bottom line is that a car seat is the best way to protect your child.

“The safest place on a plane for a baby or toddler is always an age-appropriate car seat that fits them correctly,” says Rebekah Kimminau, Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST). “In the event of severe turbulence, a car seat will ensure they are securely in their seats. In the event of issues during take off or landing, a car seat will again make sure they are as safe as possible.”

Though it may sound alarmist, the advice to have your baby safely confined in a car seat has been the prevailing guidance for years. According to our own baby gear editor, Jen LaBracio, who has interviewed countless car seat safety experts, including CPSTs (trained car seat safety experts), safety industry leaders, prominent online voices in children’s car seat safety like the Car Seat Lady and many more, “every one of them has recommended that babies and toddlers fly in a child safety restraint.” She notes that you can use either an FAA-approved rear- or forward-facing car seat or airplane harness device (if your child meets the usage guidelines).

Former flight attendant and current Babylist team member Kim Militello recalls that in flight, the crew “has to secure everything in the galley during turbulence. Why wouldn’t I want to secure a child in the safest way possible if I’m keeping metal containers latched in?” She reminds parents that the alternative—holding baby on your lap—can put both of you at risk in a dangerous situation. “If there was an emergency and oxygen masks came down from the ceiling, how would you put on your oxygen mask while holding onto your lap child (you should always put your mask on first, BTW!)? In an extreme situation, you’d have to choose between holding your child or putting oxygen masks on.”

Bringing a car seat on a plane introduces two other issues: you have to lug a large piece of baby gear with you on board and you have to buy a plane ticket for an extra seat for baby. If you fly frequently, it may make sense to buy a car seat specifically made for travel, which can help alleviate the first issue (we can’t help with the additional plane ticket for your baby).

“The car seat I recommend the most for airplane travel—and travel in general—is the Cosco Scenera Next.” LaBracio says. “It’s lightweight—11 pounds—and extremely affordable. Install does take a bit of practice, so I always tell parents to watch an installation video and practice a few times before their first trip, but it’s by far my favorite seat to use on the go.”

There are other pros to bringing a car seat on board, including your child’s comfort. “It’s something kids are already familiar with—their safe space,” Militello says. And if you’re dealing with a toddler who tends to try to get up and explore, a car seat “keeps them from climbing all over chairs and trying to run down the aisles.”

It also solves an issue when you land. “Flying with a car seat means you don’t have to worry about getting one at your destination because you’ll have one to use already,” says Militello.

Do you need to bring identification for baby when flying?

If you’re flying domestically, no. TSA does not require children under 18 to provide ID when traveling with a companion within the United States. However, if you’re flying with a lap infant, an airline may ask you to present proof of age. A birth certificate, passport or immunization record will do the trick.

If you’re traveling internationally, your child will need a passport.

Can you bring your stroller on a plane? Does a stroller count as luggage?

A large stroller cannot be brought onto a plane—it needs to be checked either with your luggage or at the gate. Some travel strollers fold up small enough to fit into the overhead compartment, in which case it’s fine to bring them on board. (They may or may not count as luggage, though, so be sure to check with your airline.)

We recommend gate-checking your stroller. Your little one can stay in their stroller all the way to the door of the plane; just ask a gate agent to give you a tag beforehand so you can tag it before you board and retrieve it after you’ve deplaned.

How do you change a diaper on a plane?

Patience, dexterity and a little bit of good luck.

We kid, we kid. (Um…sort of?) Changing your baby on a plane isn’t ideal, but it’s definitely doable. And while we recommend always doing a quick diaper change before you board, sometimes nature calls and you’ll be forced to change your little one’s diaper in-flight.

The best place to change your baby’s diaper on a plane is in the bathroom. Ask your flight attendant which bathroom is equipped with a changing table, and bring along a portable changing station stocked with everything you might need.

Tips for Traveling with Baby

There are a few things to keep in mind when you’re traveling with a little one in tow that will make everyone’s trip a little bit easier.

  • Get organized. Now isn’t the time to toss a few things into a bag and hop on the plane five minutes before takeoff. Make a packing list of everything you think you’ll need, and keep the essentials like wipes, diapers, snacks and a change of clothes close at hand. (We recommend a change for you and your little one!) Build in plenty of extra time to get to the airport in case anything comes up like an unexpected diaper blowout.
  • Get the right gear. A backpack-style diaper bag and an easy baby carrier to get on will help keep your hands free. Invest in a travel stroller if you think you’ll be traveling frequently enough to justify the cost. Keep a portable changing pad on hand for quick changes on the go.
  • Help with air pressure. Babies can have a tough time with air pressure changes on planes. Sucking can help, so consider feeding your little during takeoff and landing and keep a pacifier on hand if your little one takes one.
  • Keep ‘em busy. A few simple activities go a long way in keeping little ones, especially older babies and toddlers, entertained on a plane. Bring along some favorite toys and books, and hit Pinterest for creative plane activity hacks like DIY busy boxes, lacing cards, window clings and more.

Packing List Must-Haves for Flying with Baby

Our favorite travel essentials will go a long way in making air travel easier on you—and your little one.

A Backpack Diaper Bag

Gender neutral, roomy, comfortable and packed with compartments to store all your travel must-haves, this practical backpack keeps you organized and frees up your hands for wrangling your little one through the airport.

The Best Car Seat For Travel

Light and affordable, this is our gear editor’s top pick for a car seat specifically for travel—they’ll be safe and secure during takeoff, landing, and in case of turbulence.

A Comfy Carrier

Speaking of keeping your hands free…pop baby in this carrier (either front, back or on your hip) and pack your stroller with all your bags as you make your way to your flight. The breathable fabric will keep you cool and the lumbar support will keep you comfortable.

A Lightweight Stroller

Sturdy enough to use when you reach your destination yet compact enough to fit into the overhead bin when folded, this travel stroller should come along on all family adventures.

A Problem Solver

The jack of all trades when it comes to baby products, a swaddle works as a blanket, a nursing cover, an on-the-go changing solution and so much more.

A Germ Killer

We’re not huge germaphobes, but when it comes to planes and babies, it’s another story. Throw these travel-size wipes in your diaper bag for a quick wipe-down of the plane seat and tray table.

A Change of Clothes

A change of clothes is a must when traveling with a baby, and we love this easy on, easy off one-piece footed romper. (Don’t forget to pack yourself a change too.)

A Snack Keeper

Truth: you can never have too many snacks on a plane. This container has three compartments for all your little one’s snacking needs, and can also be used to store formula.

An Ear Reliever

A pacifier helps relieve ear pressure caused by changes in air pressure, especially during takeoff and landing. The pack of two measns you have a backup when one inevitable falls on the airplane floor.

A (Quiet) Distraction

This oversized activity book may take up a little extra room in your bag, but it’s worth it for the interactive, hands-on fun it will provide for your little one during a flight.

Babylist Team

This information is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. We do not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here. Babylist may earn compensation from affiliate links in this content. Learn more about how we write Babylist content and review products, as well as the Babylist Health Advisory Board.