Flying Internationally with an Infant: The Complete Guide

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I think you will agree that the prospect of traveling with your little, let alone flying internationally with an infant, can be scary, overwhelming, and downright daunting. I do not want to discourage you from flying internationally with your children.  However, I want to be honest and encourage you to work through all your trepidations and not to be hindered by your fears. This is because traveling, and specifically traveling with your children, is so magical and inspiring and personally it feeds my soul.

Flying Internationally with Infant-pinterest image 1-with url

Let me preface this post with this: Initially, for me, flying internationally with my infant was extremely overwhelming and anxiety provoking.  I still have some of that anxiety but I have been able to travel through it and I live for the next trip. I want to encourage you to try it and experience traveling internationally with a baby for yourself.  My hope with this post is to alleviate your anxiety and consolidate a lot of useful resources into one place. This post WILL make flying internationally with an infant easier and more palatable for you.

I have found that international plane travel with an infant is all about preparation and managing your own expectations.  Before my son turned two, I flew with him 18 times (9 round trip-trips). Four of those trips were domestic and five were international.   I did one domestic trip on my own and I did four of the ten international legs by myself.  So, I understand all of the questions and preoccupations that you may have, whether flying with a companion or on your own.

I have organized this post into seven parts, I hope that you read the entire post, but feel free to jump to the part that interests you!

Booking Tickets for an International Flight with an Infant

Lap Baby vs. Buying a Ticket

When considering how to fly with your baby, you generally have two options.  (1) If your child is under two, they can fly as a ‘lap infant.’ This means that you would not have to purchase a full-priced ticket for them and they would fly sitting on your lap.  Although you may have heard that lap infants fly free, they do not; you will typically pay 10% of your fare (or full price fare) for your infant.  Generally, you will need one adult per lap child.

The main benefit of having your child fly on your lap is that it’s a lot cheaper. The primary downside is that it can be cramped and it is less safe than purchasing them their own seat. If you gate-check your car seat then before you board you can ask if there are any empty seats on the plane. Provided that there are empty seats on the plane many airlines will let you bring your car seat on board and basically ‘give’ you a seat in which you can install your car seat (and your baby).  On many overnight flights, airlines will have a bassinette option (this is still part of the ‘lap infant’ option). Typically, you would purchase your ticket on the airline’s website and then have to call in to select the bassinette seat.  I will discuss the bassinette in more detail below, but this is a great option if available.

(2) The second option is to purchase your infant his or her own seat.  If you do this then you will pay the full price for your child’s seat, regardless of their age. Some airlines have ‘child’ fares; however, these are generally more expensive as they are typically refundable. If you purchase a seat for your infant then you will be able to bring your car seat on board and secure it to the seat with the seat belt.  Your car seat must be FAA approved.  This is beneficial as it is the safer option and your child will have their own space and you obviously will too.

Here are some considerations in deciding on whether to purchase a seat for your child or not:

  • The duration of your flight.
  • Whether you are flying alone or with a companion: If I am flying with a companion, if we purchase two seats, we will potentially have an entire row to ourselves. If I am flying alone, I might be crammed into a window seat, with my baby on my lap and have very little room.
    • One trick here is: if you are flying with a companion, select the window and aisle seats and leave the one in the middle open.  People are less likely to select the middle seat and if someone does, they will gladly switch with you on the flight.
  • The temperament of your child.
  • Cost.

While my son was under two, I never purchased him a seat; he always flew as a lap child.  This was because I was cheap.

Documentation That You Will Need for an International Flight with an Infant

If you are flying internationally then you will need a passport for your baby. (Note: if you are flying within the United States you will not need a passport for your infant).  Flights to Hawaii, Alaska or one of the U.S. territories do not require a passport for your baby.  If you are traveling to a far-flung (American) destination and you have a layover in a foreign country, you will need a passport for your baby.   When you apply for your child’s passport you’ll want to get a U.S. Passport Book NOT a U.S.  Passport Card!  You cannot use a U.S. Passport Card for international air travel. You can use the Card at certain land and seaports, but I would recommend just getting the Book.

Here is a link to the U.S. Department of State’s website which contains information for applying for a Passport Book for children under 16.

Here are some notable considerations when applying for your infant’s passport:

  • Baby’s eyes CAN be closed in photos: Don’t listen to what the lady at the post office is going to tell you, your baby’s eyes CAN be closed in his/her passport photos. The photo just needs to be of the baby, with a white background.  When we had our son’s photos taken the employees at Walgreens were so patient with us. He was asleep, and we just laid him on the counter, on some white poster board and took the photo from above. It worked perfectly! Some other tricks are to bring a white sheet and put it under baby, or even lay a white sheet or towel in the car seat and take the photo while baby is in the car seat.
    • Social Security Number: You will need your baby’s SSN before you can apply for the passport. Here are the average wait times, by state, for parents who have applied for their baby’s SSN in the hospital.  (We live in Illinois and it took us 2 weeks to receive our son’s social security card).
  • Birth Certificate: You will need your infant’s birth certificate to show that they are a United States citizen. Contact your county’s office for vital records to inquire about how long it takes to receive your infant’s birth certificate.
  • Both parents must authorize the issuance of the child’s passport. The easiest way to do that is for both parents to apply together, in person. Typically, you will apply at the United States Postal Service, unless you qualify for one of the ‘exceptions.’

Other Things to Consider when Booking Tickets for International Flight with an Infant:

  • No Layovers: I avoid layovers at all costs. I know that sometimes they are unavoidable, or it may be financially advantageous to book them but particularly with an infant, it’s just not worth it.
  • Scheduling/Flight Times: I try and schedule my international flights (well, any flight really) around my baby’s sleep schedule. And what I mean by that is, for example, the Chicago → Dublin flight has two departure options, 3:50 pm and 8:20 pm. I once chose the 3:50 pm flight, with the idea that once we boarded, settled, ate dinner and the lights dimmed, that would be about time for bed.  Well, that backfired on me; the baby was so overstimulated that he just cried the entire time and I ended up bouncing him in the aisle for four hours, so as not to wake the baby in the next seat over. So, I always book the 8:20 flight now; he sufficiently tires out by the time we get to ‘bedtime.’
  • Bassinette Option: Call the airline and ask if there are bassinette options; all other things being equal, an airline with an available bassinette seat may tip the scales.
  • Baby Meals: Call and ask about baby meals. The only experience that I have with this is on Aer Lingus- they have baby meals (I saw another family get one). The next time I flew I called and requested one and the operator told me that those did not exist.  I pushed back and told her that they did so she went and spoke with someone and when she came back I magically had a baby meal!!
  • Note: There may be other things particular to you that are important. I cannot overstate the importance of asking questions and advocating for yourself and your child. You can do this in a calm, measured, and constructive way.  Do not be afraid to do it!
  • Good Resource: Have a look at Seatguru.com for airplane layouts; you can double check your airline’s site for plane models and then check ‘seat guru.’ This can be handy if you want to see if your airplane has a bassinette row and if so, where they are located.  You can also check out things like where the bathrooms are, where the Galley(s) are, etc.…  Please note that these are not always accurate; airlines do change out planes without notice (however, I have only had that happen to me one time).

  • Here is an example of what I am talking about:
    • This is British Airways flight 294, Chicago → London, you can see where the bassinet options are (sometimes they can be spread out throughout the plane); there appear to be four in aisle 28.
    • Please note that many times there are more than one version of a plane; you can check the different versions for bassinet seats (and other amenities) on seatguru.com. In our example above, version one appears to have four bassinets and versions two and three do not appear to have any. In this situation I would call the airline to verify my particular flight/date.
  • Also note: I am not affiliated with Seat Guru, in any way. It’s just a great resource that I use often.

How young can baby fly?

Many airlines have policies on how young babies can fly; however, these likely will not be a problem for international travel as it will take as long to obtain your baby’s social security card and get their passport.  If you are flying within the United States you will only be bound by your airline’s policy (as you do not need a passport to fly domestically).  The other consideration that I have had has been that a lot of babies receive many of their *first* vaccinations (for example, in a series of vaccinations) at the two-month checkup.  If being un-vaccinated or under-vaccinated is a concern for you (it was for me) while flying on a plane, I would recommend that you speak with your pediatrician about your concerns.

Planning Your Stay and Packing: the most important thing is to plan ahead, even if you are the fly-by-the-seat-of your-pants type

Packing

So, when flying internationally with an infant, you need to consider three different packing situations:  (1) What food/drink are you going to pack for the flight?; (2) What items are you going to pack for on the flight (carry-on/diaper bag/personal item)?; and (3) What are you going to pack for your arrival at your destination? The third question is heavily dependent upon what your destination is (hot, cold, rainy, etc. …) and with whom you are going to stay (friends/family, hotel, will you be able to do laundry, etc. …).

Food & Beverage for the Flight

The Transportation Security Administration’s website will tell you what consumables you can and cannot bring on a plane and is found here: https://www.tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures/traveling-children.  In this article, I am just going to cover food and beverages, as it pertains to children.

The first thing to know is that whatever you thought you knew about TSA rules— as they pertained to your childless-self—no longer apply.  Keep in mind, though, that the same old rules still apply to you (no jug of water for you); on the other hand, you can pretty much bring anything through airport security for your child.

Below is an overview of what you can and cannot bring on the plane, for an infant and a toddler:

According to the TSA website, “an infant is defined as a child who must be physically carried by an adult throughout the screening process. A toddler is defined as a child who receives assistance in walking by an adult throughout the screening process.”

The most important thing to note is that liquids for the infant are exempt from the 3.4 ounce/100 millimeter limit.  In other words, you can bring liquids for the infant, in larger quantities, than is normally permitted.  The website states that you can bring these items in “reasonable quantities,” so don’t go crazy.  Just bring what you will need for the flight; any excess foodstuffs, you can pack in your checked bag. The website specifically mentions formula, breast milk and juice, however, I have also brought pouches and other ‘liquids’ that were larger than 4 ounces and not had a problem. You can also bring your sippy-cup with water through Security. They will test these items for explosives.

You should inform the TSA officer that you have these items with you and set them aside. I ‘pack’ all of my food and liquid items in a brown paper Starbucks handle bag and then when I get to Security I just hand that over. You do not want to be fishing out food items from the depths of your diaper bag with 50 hostile-looking people behind you.   You can also tell the TSA officer if you do not want your formula, breast milk or juice x-rayed or opened.

Honestly, this process usually goes so fast that I have never seen them open my food/beverage items. I’ve never seen it but it could have happened.  Sometimes items will come up positive for ‘explosives’ and they will re-test them and then they’ll come back clear. This sometimes happens with pouches; it must be something in the packaging (EEK). Just make sure to leave extra time to get through Security.  Below, I’ll discuss how to get through security without a hitch!

In Flight: Carry On, Diaper Bag, Personal Item

This may or may not be an overnight flight. If it is an overnight flight, you will have slightly different items than a daytime flight.  I cannot overstate this: DO NOT OVER PACK. I always over pack and it’s always horrible.

Here are the basics of what you need on the flight: a new toy, book or sticker pack—whatever— just something new and novel. The $1 bin at Target is great for this!  If it’s an overnight flight I bring a stuffed animal or something from baby’s crib, to put in the bassinette, so they know it’s for sleeping and that it’s something familiar.

If you are flying to Europe (or Eastbound), the 1st leg of the flight is easy for entertainment as it’s usually an overnight flight and it’s shorter.  The return flight is trickier as it will likely be a daytime flight and you will have to entertain baby for a longer period of time (the flight will take longer because of the Jetstream and headwinds).  I am a huge proponent of the Amazon Kindle; I have one and I bring it everywhere.  Everywhere.  Even if you are not a proponent of your infant or toddler watching TV, I’d still recommend a Kindle for this situation. You can also download books and baby games onto the Kindle. In fact, it comes pre-loaded with a Sesame Street drawing game that is great for little hands.  Also, it is very durable. Here is a picture of my kid in the Dublin Airport, right before he launches it at the ground.  PJ throwing KindleThere are many items on the plane that can be used for play; a few ideas are magazines, the throw-up bag, and plastic cups.

In the diaper bag, for an overnight flight, I bring anti-bacterial hand wipes, two changes of clothes for baby, a pair of pajamas for baby, and a change of shirt for me.  People often overlook bringing themselves a change of shirt, but spit-ups happen, spills happen, body odor happens— it can’t hurt.  Also, if your child is prone to blow-outs, bring an extra change of clothes.  Additionally, I bring a muslin blanket—this has two purposes: if you are breastfeeding this can be used as a cover and when baby goes to sleep it can be used as a blanket.  Muslin is great because often at beginning of a flight, it is sweltering on the plane and then it can get quite cold during cruising. Muslin is a great lightweight, breathable fabric for those conditions.

Then you’ll also need diapers and wipes. I cloth-diaper my son but on long-haul flights I use disposables. I just bring one diaper for every 2-3 hours of total travel time the (from the time you leave your house until you will arrive at your ultimate destination)— if it’s an overnight flight, I’ll leave kiddo in the diaper for the ‘night,’ which is usually about 5 hours.

Packing for When you Arrive at Your Destination

What you will pack, for when you arrive at your destination, is largely dependent upon the weather and where you are going. Things to consider are: will you have access to a washer and/or dryer (lots of places around the world have washers but no dryers), duration of stay, access to a grocery store or corner store (example: I buy wipes when I get where I am going because they are heavy; however, if I were going somewhere with no store, I’d bring them).

My advice is to pack the bare necessities and buy the rest when you get there.  If you are on a budget, many times things will be cheaper at your destination.  If you want to save money and you think that bringing certain items with you will save you money, then get very specific about the quantities that you’ll need and pack accordingly.  Bags can get very heavy very quickly, especially when traveling internationally with an infant. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been that lady in the airport with her bag open, re-arranging stuff.  An overweight checked bag will result in a very heavy and overly stuffed carry-on bag. (unless you want to pay for baggage overweight fees—and who wants to pay that?)

General Note on packing food/beverage items

There are certain places in the world that will not permit you to bring certain food items into their country. So although you can bring these items on the plane they will not permit you to bring them into your final destination country.  One example is New Zealand.  New Zealand is very remote and they do not allow certain fruits, vegetables and seeds into the country.  This is to prevent the introduction of invasive and foreign agricultural items into their eco-system.  Check with the Customs section of your destination country to see if there are any country-specific restrictions on food items.  I’d hate for you to spend hours making the perfect trail mix and then have to pitch it when you arrive at your destination.

Planning Where to Stay While Internationally Traveling with a Baby

In deciding where to stay once you reach your destination, there are lots of considerations that you did not have pre-baby.  The first one that comes to mind for me is safety; the second is quiet.  You need to find somewhere that is safe and secure (read: a lock on the door).  For me, I also need somewhere quiet, as baby needs a good nap and/or a good night sleep. So, staying at the party-all-night hostel is no longer an option.  On our honeymoon, back in 2011, my husband and I backpacked around New Zealand for a month and we stayed in some dodgy hostels. Don’t get me wrong, those establishments have their time and place in the antiquity of my travel history— just not any more.

Other possible considerations are proximity to public transit (or other mode of transit), access to washer/dryer, air conditioning/central heat, closeness to children’s activities and whatever else is important to you.  I did not realize that air conditioning was important to me until we stayed with my five-month old in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Shenandoah National Park, in September, when it was 90 degrees and our air conditioning went out.   Now that’s a priority for me.  Also think about how you are going to get around. If you have a rental car, great, but do you want to have to park that in downtown Paris?  Or perhaps you’ll take the Metro from place to place; if so, you may want to look at options near public transportation.

But everyone is different; evaluate what items are indispensable to you and those that you would like to have but could do without and go from there.

Another thing that I learned the hard way is that if you book a standard (one room) hotel room, then you are pretty much going to sleep when baby goes to sleep.  If you are the type of person who likes to read, watch tv, have a night cap or just not go bed at 7 or 8, then I recommend getting a hotel room with a separate bedroom or looking for an Airbnb.  A hotel with a separate bedroom is a good option, as you can put baby to bed and then retreat into the room and not disturb baby. The downside to this is that these can get pricey, fast.  Another thing that I have heard of is to put the baby’s pack-n-play in the bathroom; however, this means that you will have to use the lobby bathroom.

Another great option is using a service like Airbnb or HomeAway.com. When we do this, I put ‘minimum 2 bedrooms’ as a search-filter and go from there.  These are usually cheaper than hotel rooms and they usually offer more options. There are similar services available, depending on what country you are traveling to, so Google your destination to see if they have any ‘house sharing’ sites available.

Navigating the Airport & Boarding the Plane with an Infant

WEAR THAT BABY!!!  I cannot understate the idea of baby-wearing your infant to and around the airport.  Whether you bring a stroller or not and whether you gate-check the stroller or check it at check-in, my advice is to wear that baby!!  When you wear the baby that allows you to have your hands free and your child contained, which are the two most important things at this juncture.

Checking In

They will issue a ticket/boarding pass for the baby, even if you did not book a ticket for him/her.  (for example, on Southwest you book nothing for a lap child; you just show up with the child and proof that they are under 2).

Stroller and Car Seat

Stroller: the question is to check your stroller during check in or to gate-check the thing? Personally, I always gate-check my stroller because I can’t afford to buy another one if it gets damaged or lost during transit. I also advocate gate-checking the stroller because you can always plunk the kid into it or use it to carry your bags through the airport (diaper, personal and/or carry-on).

Car Seat: this is a bigger question. The first question is whether to bring one at all or get one from your rental car company.  The second question is: if you do bring one, do you bring it on the plane, do you gate-check the thing or do you check it during check-in?

  • To bring or not to bring your own car seat: I always bring a car seat because you have no idea what the car rental agency will have and I have seen car rental agencies have only forward-facing car seats.  You also do not know the history of the seat that you are given; you do not know if it has been in any accidents or if it has any structural deficiency.  With an infant car seat this may be an easier question as you can usually click into the stroller.  For the convertible car seat we purchased the Cosco Nextera convertible seat that we use just for traveling.  Here is a link to the seat that we have for traveling.  It’s light, it received great safety reviews and it was inexpensive enough that if it gets damaged, we can afford to replace it.
  • Taking your car seat on the Plane: This is the ideal scenario, for safety. You can install the car seat directly into the plane seat, and secure your child into the car seat.  This is the safest thing for your infant and also the safest option for the car seat.  If you have booked a lap infant this will not be an option, unless there are empty seats.
  • Pros to Gate-checking: if you gate-check the car seat, there is a lower possibility that your car seat will be damaged (than if you check it at check-in). It’s the kind of thing that you need when you arrive at your destination because you’ll need it for whatever car/taxi, etc… that you get into. If it is damaged, you will have to replace it prior to leaving the airport, which could be a PITA. Chances of this happening are low, but you never know. For the car seat, we put the car seat in this bag, whether we gate-check or regular check.  And for the stroller, we use this bag.  The bags are big and red so our items are easily identifiable.  If you gate check it or check it at check-in, always inspect it thoroughly for damage upon arrival.
  • Downside to Gate-checking: you’ll have to lug it through the airport. If the car seat clicks into your stroller, like if you have a stroller/car-seat system, this is less of a consideration. This is more of an issue when you have a convertible car seat (vs. an infant/baby car seat). When our son was an infant the travel system that we used for everyday use was clunky.  The stroller was big and handled like a tractor-trailer and we did not want to lug it on an airplane; we opted to get this smaller, cheaper stroller frame for flying and just attached our infant car seat into the frame.  It worked very well and if the stroller got damaged, no biggie.  With a little bit of research, you can find a cheapie frame to snap your car seat into.
  • Checking the car seat at check-in: In my opinion, this is the least preferable option. If you check the car seat at check-in, the likelihood is higher that it will be damaged in transit. If you do check it at check-in, you should inspect it thoroughly for damage upon arrival.

Getting through Security with an Infant

Navigating security can be an overwhelming experience.

  • If you are baby-wearing, you can wear baby through Security and you do not have to go through that X-ray machine (as an aside: you can opt out of that big scanner machine even without a baby).  The website states that you should remove your baby from the carrier; however, I have never been asked to do that.  Under no circumstances should you be separated from your child.
  • Wear shoes that you can easily slip on and off; children under 12 are not required to remove their shoes.
  • You should collapse your stroller, if it will fit through the baggage X-ray machine. As an aside, you should know how to collapse your stroller (security is not the place to figure it out) and preferably be able to do it with one hand.
  • You should have your liquids/food/sippy-cup, etc. … in a separate bag (even a plastic grocery store bag), so you can just hand that over to the TSA agent.
  • As soon as I get through Security I usually let my son out of the carrier so that he can run around and stretch his legs.

Boarding with an Infant

Families usually get to board after first class-boarding. But every airline is different. Another consideration is sometimes you will have to obtain a gate-check tag for your stroller and/or car seat, from the gate attendant.  When I get to my gate, I always ‘check in’ with the desk to ask when we get to board and if there is anything else that I will need to gate-check my items. If you have a lap infant this would also be the time to ask if there are any empty seats and if so, can you bring your car seat on the plane (if you want to).

Flying with an Infant

You should be able to board fairly early and thus get settled into your seats.  If you’ve gotten a bassinette seat you will most likely be along the bulkhead, which typically has 3-5 seats across.  You will have a lot of leg room in this row and typically two bassinettes can be affixed to the wall, side by side.  I have gotten the bassinette seat for every international flight that I have taken; however, my son has only slept in the bassinette once.  Nonetheless, I strongly believe that even if your kid does not use the bassinette to sleep, it is still a great amenity.  You will have a lot of leg room, in which they can play, or roll around, etc. … You can also use the bassinette to put your things into.  It just gives you an extra area to use.

Notes on the bassinette seat:

  • You will be the primary seat holder with the ‘bassinette seat’; the seat next to your seat is your ‘companion’ seat. If you are flying with another adult you can reserve this seat for him/her.
  • When the bassinette is installed, it can come down into your personal space.   This can be problematic for a few reasons: (1) you may not be able to open/close your tray table or release/hide your television and (2) you may be confined to your seat.
  • In the bulkhead row your tray table generally folds down into your arm rest and the in-flight entertainment (television) folds down under the seat (these are generalizations; every plane is different). You should check to see if these things can be deployed while the bassinette is installed; if not, make sure to get them out if you will want them before the bassinette is installed.
  • Typically, the two other seats in the row are occupied by a family or are empty. On occasion the airline will sell these seats to adults.  On one trip to Dublin there were three adults in the row, along with myself and my baby.  That was awkward. On the other hand, the guy next to me ended up being wonderful!  He had kids himself and was very empathetic to my plight.  By the end of the flight, people thought he was my husband– HA!

Crazy baby contained in the bassinette!

PJ biting pillow

On Board for the Long-Haul

  • Using the bathroom on board: If you have managed to get your baby to sleep, you will not want to use the bathroom. I try and avoid beverages, at all costs, when I know that I’m going to be putting baby to sleep. On one occasion BB passed-out in my lap, and I was stuck for 4 hours with my legs jammed against the wall to support him. There was no blood flow for the last 3.5 hours of that experience!  If you are alone, and the baby is awake, do not be afraid to pawn that baby off onto a flight attendant or some random passenger.  I mean, read the person, but most people love that sort of thing.  Long-haul, monotonous flight… who doesn’t want to play with your bouncing bundle of joy for 5 minutes?!!
  • Crying baby on board: Don’t worry about it, seriously. I don’t subscribe to the “bring treats” school of thought.  Most people are so nice, generous and comforting, more than anything else. You’ll get way more pity than eye rolls if your kid is bawling their eyes out.  There will be some grumps on the flight but generally just be positive, smile and wave at people and they’ll smile and wave back, even if your kid is crying hysterically.  The only time I *worried* about it was on an overnight flight to Ireland and there was a family next to me who had managed to get their kid to sleep in the bassinette.  I DID NOT want my crying kid to wake up their kid and then we’d have two crying babies. So I stood in the aisle for 4 hours and bounced my kid up and down, which calmed him down (although did not put him to sleep).

Don’t get me wrong, when my child cries on a plane it stresses me out to the nth degree and it makes me very anxious. What I mean by ‘don’t worry about it’ is try not to worry about what other people will think or about disturbing other people.  Because you know what? You really have no idea whether your child is disturbing them or not and all you can do is what you can do. There’s no sense in putting more stress on yourself for something that you have absolutely no control over.

  • Breastfeeding on a Plane: My approach to this (if there is someone sitting directly beside me) is to just politely tell them, at the beginning of the flight that I will be breastfeeding my son at some point on the flight. No one has ever had anything negative or nasty to say.  Honestly, most people are a little caught off guard by it but most people say something like, “Oh, my wife breastfed our children until they were 2” or something comforting about some relation they have, who breastfed.  I imagine they are trying to relate, but it’s actually reassuring to me when someone says something positive as their response.

Disembarking

When disembarking I usually wait until everyone else has disembarked (unless I am in the front bulkhead of the plane). You likely have a lot of stuff, or at a minimum, it’s going to be awkward for you to get your stuff down and off the plane.  When you do make it off the plane you will likely have to wait, with all your stuff, just outside the plane doors for your stroller and car seat (if you gate-checked either of them). It gets real awkward real fast when folks are streaming off the plane and you are standing there with another human being strapped to you and 2-3 ‘smallish’ bags. I just wait.

I fly Aer Lingus pretty regularly; occasionally, with that airline, the gate-checked items do not come up to meet you at the gate (another reason to wear that baby!!). If you’ve been waiting a while, politely ask an airline official and they’ll give their best guess as to where your items are (read: they’ll tell you if you are standing there in vain). If it becomes apparent that your items are not going to come to the gate, the stroller and/or car seat will likely show up in the oversized baggage section, near baggage claim. This can be a little unnerving because typically, once you reach your baggage, you have already cleared customs, etc. … and there is no going back for your long-lost stroller or car seat.  Not to worry or get in a panic state (which I have done a few times); just talk to customer service and they’ll tell you where you’re likely to find your items. If they don’t appear, in say, 15-20 minutes, check back with customer service so someone can hunt these things down!

Jet Lag with an Infant

I have written a separate post on jet lag because there is not enough time here to go over all of my experiences with this beast. Also, check out the ‘Tales from the Trenches’ section of the website to read actual people’s accounts of dealing with jet lag with their infants!

But some notable things to remember are: if you are flying east (USA to Europe) when you arrive in Europe your infant will likely wake up for the first few nights at 11 pm and think it’s party time. You will have to just go with it for a few nights. Also, if possible, try not to have to be anywhere important the day after you arrive.  Everyone is exhausted and if you need to be on some sort of schedule, it’s going to be tough to convey that memo to your infant.

Another thing that I will note: on every international trip with my infant, it has been my experience that if baby is on 2 naps (for example) then he is going to want two naps, no matter what time they are.  For example, if your flight gets in at 9 am but baby has only slept 4 hours, if he sleeps for another 4 in the car to wherever, when he wakes up at 1 pm, he is going to think that he just woke up for the day. And he is going to be looking for 2 naps before his next ‘night sleep.’

What this means practically is, when you put him down for bed at 8 pm, he will wake up at 10 pm thinking that he just had his last nap. How you deal with this will vary by baby and by age.  You can try to coax him back to sleep or you can get him up for a few hours and then try to put him down for the night. For me, personally, I have found that the younger the baby, the more difficult it is to disrupt this rhythm.  The older my baby has gotten, the more easily I can coax him back to sleep at whatever ungodly hour.  Most important thing is to be flexible and just roll with it!!

Notable Considerations for Flying with an Infant

  • Ask Questions: ask all questions you have and then ask some extras. There are no stupid questions! I still ask questions and I’ve done this a bunch!
  • Ask for help!! Especially if you are on your own. People are happy to help!!  Read people; you can get a good sense of someone by making eye contact.
  • Give yourself extra time. For everything. This is key. You already know that things take forever with an infant and they’ll take even longer when you’re on the road.
  • You won’t be able to use the bathroom. I’m going to reiterate this one. In the airport, if you are wearing your baby, you can wear him or her to the bathroom. But on the plane, once the kid falls asleep, you may not be able to go.
  • Visas- this will vary from country to country and depend on the nationalities and citizenships that you hold, but be sure to know whether you need a visa to get where you are going. And even if your infant flies as a lap infant, he may need a visa to get wherever you are going.  If you need a visa to enter your destination country and you don’t have one, they will not issue you a boarding pass or let you on the plane, so plan ahead on this one.

 

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3 thoughts on “Flying Internationally with an Infant: The Complete Guide

  1. Great article with lots of helpful info! I love when friends and family visit us from Canada with small kids, it’s the best way to meet Italians.

  2. This guide is so complete! There are so many things I never thought of in it. I always check seatguru, though… everytime we fly. This guide is wonderful for anyone with a baby that needs to fly, especially internationally. I wish we could do non stop flights, but we need to connect just to get out of the US.

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