This post is part 3 of my 6-part series on air travel with a baby. If you have missed the others, be sure to check out my post on what NOT to pack when flying with a baby and my post on tips for getting through airport security with a baby. This post is going to focus more specifically on things you can do when booking your flights that will ultimately lead to a more stress-free travel day with your baby.
I’ve mentioned this angle in the other posts, but it is worth repeating here: traveling with a baby does not need to be stressful. It is only stressful if you let it be. Now, that may sound idealistic or out of touch, but I promise you that taking some of the right steps to prepare properly for your trip can really make it stress -free. We began flying with our little guy when he was two months old, and we have yet to have a stressful travel day with him (fingers crossed).
I am a fiend for booking trips. I get a high off of booking flights, hotels, activities, and more, and looking for the cheapest available flight has always energized me. You can read all about that in my post on finding cheap flights. Anyway, my point is just that I don’t take posts like this one lightly; I know that I am an expert at finding and booking flights, and I want to give you my best tips for booking flights that will make your day with your baby easier when it is all said and done.
5. Fly Early, But Not Too Early
Flying early is often one of the best ways to fly with your baby, as they tend to be less active in the morning than they are in the evening. Timing your flights around your baby’s typical nap times is one of the best ways to avoid stress when flying with them, as a sleeping baby is always easier to handle than one that is awake! Naturally, your baby is not going to sleep from the moment you get in the car to drive to the airport until you land in your destination, but having them sleep through the baggage checking and security portions can eliminate a lot of stress.
If you can time things to where they wake up while you’re waiting at the gate, you may even be able to get them to fall back asleep while feeding during the plane’s ascent. This is what we try to do, as our little guy passes right back out after eating and sleeps through most of the flight.
Now, I said to fly early, but not TOO early. This is because depriving yourself of sleep will make any day stressful, so trying to get to the airport on time for a 5:00am flight is probably more detrimental to you than beneficial. It’s great if your baby is sleeping, but running on just 3 hours of sleep yourself is going to lead to a pretty stressful travel day and should be avoided if possible. Additionally, the distance you live from the airport plays a role in how early you should fly, as living two hours from the airport makes a 7:00am flight much more difficult.
To me, the perfect flight leaves at 7:30 am. I live 30 minutes from the airports that I like to use, meaning that leaving around 5 leaves me plenty of time. If you live further away from the airport, I’d add an equal amount of time to that 7:30 number. Basically, aim to leave home as early as possible without robbing yourself of sleep, and also don’t create too tight of a window for yourself. Remember, we’re trying to eliminate stress, not create it!
4. Fly With Baby-Friendly Airlines
In this day and age, pretty much every airline is a baby-friendly airline. Even Spirit, Allegiant, and Frontier are all friendly to babies. Still, you want to read the fine print and make sure that the airline you book on is accommodating to the things that you may need when traveling with a baby, like strollers, carseats, diaper bags, and more.
I haven’t seen anything recently about an airline in the United States being difficult when it comes to traveling with babies. Most, if not all, airlines allow you to gate check a carseat and a stroller, bring a diaper bag, and fly for free with an infant under two years old as long as they travel as a lap child. Still, the fine print might have some nuances, and it is best to know exactly what your airline requires when you fly with a baby.
Some airlines require that the baby is added to the flight reservation several days in advance, while others allow you to add them to the reservation at the luggage counter. Some airlines require strollers and carseats to be checked at the counter or the gate or vice versa while other airlines are fully flexible and allow you to do as you please.
Basically, just make sure you read your airline’s fine print about traveling with a baby, either as a lap child or ticketed passenger, to make sure that you are in the clear and can get through the airport without any hassles.
3. Check Baby Identification Document Requirements
By law, all airlines are required to know exactly who is on the airplane at all times, and your little one absolutely counts as a person! Just like you need to show your driver’s license or passport at the check in counter or security line when you’re in the airport, your little one needs to have some proof of identity too.
The rules and their enforcement definitely vary by airline, and your experience can be drastically different. Some airlines don’t really care much about proof of identity documentation for someone who is obviously under 2 years old, while some require at least a photo copy and others require a real, certified document. For example, we flew with a 3 month old on Allegiant and they required a birth certificate or passport. We thought they wouldn’t enforce it because our baby was OBVIOUSLY less than two years old, but at every checkpoint, they checked. It would really be a bummer to not have your baby’s documentation and wind up having to go all the way home or buy them their own seat, depending on the airline’s rules. Make sure to check the rules and avoid this headache!
2. Avoid Layovers If Possible
This piece of advice is the polar opposite of what I say to people that are traveling without children. I am typically a budget traveler, and flights with layovers are often cheaper than direct flights. I typically will say that it makes the most sense to buy the cheapest flight, as long as the flight route isn’t absurdly long. Yes, flights that require an overnight layover to save $50 are not worth taking to reap such small savings.
With a baby, though, my advice fully shifts. If avoiding stress is your main goal, you want to cut the travel time to be as short as possible. Direct flights will obviously always be shorter than flights that have a layover. While the quick travel time is a great benefit, it is not the only reason to book a direct flight with a baby…
The even better reason is that direct flights only go up and come down once. Babies often have a tough time with takeoffs and landings, as the bones in their ears are not fully developed yet and have a tough time adjusting to the changes in pressure. This can be painful or stressful for them, and is the main reason they will cry on an airplane. Having a layover means that your child will have to go through this pain at least 4 times, which is twice as bad as a direct flight. Watching your kid cry is stressful and hard as a parent, and opting for a direct flight minimizes the pain or fear your baby will feel to get to your destination.
1. Do Not Buy a Seat For Your Child
This might sound like the budget traveler in me talking, but there’s more to this than just money.
But first, yeah, money is a reason. For domestic flights within the United States, all infants under the age of 2 can travel for free as long as you hold them on your lap the whole time. Holding your child on your lap the whole time might not sound like a blast depending on how old the child is or their temperament, but when you factor in the hundreds of dollars that you are saving, it might look a little more alluring. Most airlines don’t offer a child rate. You’re either taking the free option or paying full price, which in most cases is going to be several hundred dollars. Out of principle, I will never buy a plane ticket for any of my kids until they turn 2. I just can’t come to terms with spending that money when I don’t have to!
As I said, money isn’t the only reason, though. The other reason is that your baby spends so much time cramped up in their carseat throughout the travel day, especially if you bring your stroller through the terminal, and the flight is their chance to stretch out and relax. We mentioned earlier that flights are often stressful for babies, and there is no place a baby likes more than in mom or dad’s arms. If you book them a seat, odds are you will hold them in your arms over half of the flight anyway, especially on shorter flights.
We actually prefer flying over driving with our baby, because he tends to get frustrated after a while in his carseat and on a long drive, we can’t just take him out of his carseat. On any other means of transportation, including flights, we can just hold him and make all his discomfort go right away.
Thanks for reading my post how to book a flight with a baby. Hopefully these tips help to remove some stress from your flight day with your baby! If you have any questions, send it as a comment below.