Tips For Flying with an Older Lap Child

Flying with a lap child that is 0-6 months seems so easy you wonder why people think its hard. Then you fly with a crawler and you start to see it get harder, but they are still small. Then you hit the walking/toddler stage and the fun really begins. It’s hard to justify the cost of an extra seat (On domestic airlines in the US there is no child rate; its a full price ticket) when your child can travel for almost free (albeit in your lap). So you suffer through in the hope that this will be an easy flight.

Recently a friend who is new mom emailed me for tips. She and her husband are taking their 1 year old baby girl to Hawaii (a 10 hour flight from the East Coast). First I want to say congratulations! It’s a brave but worthwhile venture to take your child on a long trip, and and I’m excited you are rising to the challenge. I figured you weren’t the only parents who could use this information so I’d turn it into a post.

Tips While Flying

  • Reset your expectations for the trip. Pre-baby the flight was a time to read a book, catch a nap, watch a movie, etc. There may be none of that on this trip. Your little one will be right at the age where they want to move and you and your partner will be the entertainment.
  • If possible, try and schedule as much of your flight during the child’s sleep time as you can. I always do a red eye back east and the last flight of the evening back west so it overlaps with their sleep times.
  • Check you baggage so you have room in your carry on for your essentials. Of which there are a lot. To me, essentials include:
    • Plenty of snacks. Make sure one or two is a new food they have never tried (and of course, not allergic to), and some are favorites. That adds a novelty factor. My kids loved Pirate’s Booty (Puffed Rice and Corn snack) at this age
    • Double as many diapers as you would normally need during that time. This is in case of delays.
    • Sippy cup or bottle. You can bring a “reasonable” amount of milk, juice and water for the baby through security, its not subject to the 3oz rule.
    • Change of clothing for the baby
    • A comfort toy like a lovey
    • A few brand new toys or items they have never seen before. Some people even wrap them as presents to make it more exciting (and keep their attention just a little longer)
  • Bring a baby carrier such as a Baby Bjorn or Ergo. This allows you to enter and exit the plane with both hands. Added bonus if the baby is used to sleeping in the carrier.
  • Attempt to get the bulkhead row. People have mixed results in this. Some airlines have the bassinet they can attach (call and ask your airline if they can do this) which gives you a place to put the baby. However they usually have weight limits and at one she might already be past it. (My son was very close to it at 9 months). But even without the bassinet, the baby has more play space on the floor.

The bulkhead has much more floor space to play

  • Do not forget about all the entertainment on the plane. My son was fascinated by the safety card and my daughter loves opening and closing the windows. And walks up and down the aisle are good for both of you to get some circulation.

Don't underestimate how fascinating ordinary plane features can be for a toddler

  • Sucking helps with the ear pressure. Pacifiers or thumb sucking works. Make sure to have a bottle or sippy cup ready for take off and landing if they won’t self sooth. If the child is already asleep DON’T wake them up. They don’t notice in their sleep.
  • I’ll bring up the Benadryl option. People have different opinions so its really up to you. I will say I have used it, usually a low dose to take the edge off and insure they sleep. HOWEVER, if you go this route, try it at home first. It makes some kids more active so its always best to try before you are trapped in a plane.
  • Bring your car seat with you to the gate. Occasionally they have a free seat you can have. And if they do, you might be able to install the car seat giving you a secure place to strap in the baby. Even if they don’t, items that are gate checked are treated with more care, and you don’t have to worry about how banged around your car seat is. (Remember once a car seat is in an accident it needs to be replaced. Who knows how many heavy bags are dropped on it in checked baggage.)

Tips for Security:

  • If the airport has one, use the Family and Medical Liquids line. It’s always shorter and they are used to dealing with the extra liquids, getting the stroller through the x-ray machine, etc.
  • Take out all your extra liquids (milk, bottles, etc) and put them in a tray. Saves your bags from being opened.
  • Your child can wear their shoes and you can carry them through in a baby carrier, you no longer have to take either off.
  • If you have a baby they can not send you through the body scanner and they do not give you the intrusive pat down. Know your rights.

An Ergo or Baby Bjorn can help you be hands free for security or boarding the plane

My closing advice is to bring plenty of patience. Unfortunately we currently live in a society that is not very forgiving of parents. You’ll likely get stares, dirty looks, and possibly even a “control your child!” from your fellow passenger (I’ve gotten them all). You will get a lot of “helpful” advice from well meaning people who have been there. Some of it may even be good advice. But know in your heart you are doing what is best for your child and you are the best judge. And remember, the likelihood you will ever see these people again is slim so who cares what they think!

Best of luck and I hope you have a calm, drama free trip.

Ever flown with an older lap child? What other tips do you have for this couple?


This post is part of Travel Tips Tuesdays, hosted by Suitcases and Sippy Cups and Walking On Travels

13 thoughts on “Tips For Flying with an Older Lap Child

  1. Good tips. Great that you don’t have to remove them from the carrier and that you have special family lines over there!

    Definitely agree about the night flights. When I flew first time with a 1-2 year old I asked opinions and everyone said to do a day flight so as not to mess up the sleep schedule. These people were nuts or ignorant or I’m not sure. Night flights all the way.

    The other thing I’d say is rehearse a polite protocol for difficult or unreasonable requests. Young and inexperienced staff have asked me to keep a child this age on my lap for the entire flight (even when seatbelt signs are off/at bulkhead), not accompany my newly-trained child into the toilet – well let’s not go on.

    Bringing an older staff member in often works well as they’re more likely to have experience with children (and flight attending!) and may even have their own. Nowadays I try to wait for an older flight attendant if I need to make a request.

    • Great tip! I once had a flight attendant tell me children couldn’t be in the galley. That was a complete lie because I had always gone to the galley with the baby before and after that flight. But that same attendant later elbowed my son in the head after he finally fell asleep then had the audacity to give me a dirty look when he started screaming as opposed to apologizing. The flight attendant can make or break your flight.

      • Yeah, the galley is always a good expedition for us, too. I’ve never been told I can’t be there with the kids, but I have been warned by staff that they might pick up some unsavoury language!

        My favourite one was the flight attendant who told me I absolutely couldn’t take my 3yo to the toilet when the seatbelt signs were on. Alright, we all know that’s the usual policy, but the seatbelt sign had been on for over three hours and he did NOT need to pee and he was already having trouble holding on. I waited for the next flight attendant and she took one look at him and worked out a solution (she took him to the business class toilets for me as they were at a section of the plane which was apparently experiencing less turbulence). As an aside, the first attendant was later seen having a loud argument with an elderly passenger over the exact same issue – some problems affect all of us, not just kids!

  2. I agree with you and Bronwyn, night flights and vaby carriers! And plenty of running around before boarding. Snacks in small bits so that eating takes a long time (I know, desperate). An attitude were you embrace the opportunity to spend a lot of hands on time with your child 😉 I’d prefer toys that are easy to play together with and in a number of different ways instead of a lot of simple new stuff.

    • Snacks in small bits is not desperate, its smart. Anything you can do to extend their interest.
      And thank you for the tip about tiring them out before the flight. So necessary!

  3. Great tips! I never knew about the bassinet option. The family security line is great – usually the TSA employees are very helpful. Obviously having more than one adult so you can switch off is great if possible. I just tried window gel clings on a recent car trip – I think they would work well on a plane too.

    • The bassinet option is only available on long haul flights. I’ve used it on our trips to India. I figured a flight from the east coast to Hawaii should have one.

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