Flying With a Baby Checklist
So you want to fly with a newborn? Or, perhaps, due to an adoption, family emergency or relocation you have to fly with a newborn. Whatever the reason, you need a checklist to pull this planning off in the midst of the final stretch of pregnancy, birth and the fog that surrounds those early (but sweet) newborn days.
TPG has an entire guide devoted to helping you prepare for a child's first flight, but if your flight companion is a true baby (as opposed to a crawler or toddler), we are going to start you off with a shorter checklist because you don't need tablets, Goldfish and a Mary Poppins-style bag of tricks. Truth be told, in some ways, flying with a baby is easier than flying with a toddler, though there are a few nuances to address before hitting the sky with a newborn.
Get Cleared to Fly
Many airlines have restrictions on how old a newborn must be before they can fly. Just as airlines' rules for flying while pregnant vary, so do the rules for flying with a newborn. Generally speaking, the major airlines require a baby be at least 2 to 8days old before hitting the skies. Those who do permit babies under 7 days old to fly, generally ask for a medical release or physician's note stating that the baby is cleared to fly.
While not an exhaustive list, here are some current airline rules for flying with a baby.
- American Airlines: American Airlines accepts infants as young as 2 days old, but American's policy states that if you're traveling with an infant less than 7 days old, your physician will be required to fill out a passenger medical form before your flight. American states that a special assistance coordinator will send the form directly to your physician, but if you have trouble obtaining that form, I would bring a note from the baby's physician clearing them for flight.
- Delta: Infants less than 7 days old may not travel without an approval letter from their physician.
- Frontier: Infants must be at least 7 days old to fly.
- Hawaiian Airlines: Infants under 7 days old require a doctor's note -- dated within one day of travel -- that states the child will not require any extraordinary medical assistance during the flight dated within one day of travel.
- JetBlue: Infants between 3 and 14 days old must have, in the form of a letter, their doctor's approval to travel.
- Southwest Airlines: A medical release for travel is required for any infant under 14 days old.
- Spirit: Infants must be at least 7 days old.
- United: Infants younger than 7 days old are not accepted for travel.
To give you a flavor for requirements around the world, on British Airways infants must be at least 48 hours old, Air Canada requires babies to be least 7 days old and ANA sets the bar for babies as at least 8 days old.
To Ticket or Not to Ticket
If you have the luxury of choice, I advise against planning flights for a newborn before they are born. Every baby and birth is unique, so assuming things will be going well enough to fly with a baby in those first few weeks is a gamble. Take this advice from someone who had a seemingly healthy newborn life-flighted at 4 days old and then (because we are slow learners) five years later, paid change penalties to push back a trip for a 6-week-old when we were frankly still far too exhausted to go anywhere.
However, sometimes you simply have to fly in those early weeks, so you'll need to decide whether to book your baby a seat or hold them as a lap baby. If you are 100% set on your baby's name, you might be able to book a flight before they are born. In other cases, I've heard of airlines allowing families to book flights for Baby YourLastName, but don't expect this process to be simple or foolproof.
The easiest way to fly with a newborn may be to simply keep them snuggled close to you. If you are nursing, they may be happiest doing that through much of the flight anyway.
On the other hand, there is something to be said about the secureness of a car seat, especially in the event of severe turbulence or a hard landing. And because nothing is simple once you become a parent, keep in mind there are also studies showing that leaving infants in car seats for more than 30 minutes might be dangerous. In other words, if you are flying with a baby, talk to your doctor, your partner and then go with your gut in terms of what is best from a seating perspective.
If your journey with a newborn is an international flight, brush up on lap infant fees, which can range from inconsequential to exorbitant. On a longer or international flight, you may also wish to request a seat assignment with a bassinet, especially for a younger baby who will still actually fit in one. (Here are the pros and cons of booking the bulkhead seat when traveling with a baby.)
Your baby needs a folder with all of his or her travel-related paperwork started ASAP and then plan on carrying that folder with you when you fly. If you are on domestic flights (on a carrier other than Southwest), you may very well never be asked for any documentation for your baby but it is better to be over-prepared than end up in this situation. While it isn't necessarily fair, this documentation advice is especially true if your baby has a different last name than you, appears to be of a different race or if you are an LGBTQ family. To give context, airlines are sometimes one of the front-line defenses against child trafficking, so they are on the lookout for anything that raises a red flag when it comes to flying with newborns.
Additionally, Southwest Airlines in particular is known for requiring birth certificates to prove that lap children are indeed under 2 years of age, even in cases where the baby is clearly a newborn. If you don't yet have a birth certificate for your baby, bring the documentation you do have from the hospital and/or physician's office to verify the child's age.
If you are flying internationally with your baby, you must have a passport for him or her. Getting a passport means you need to have the child's birth certificate, passport photo, etc. This process can be rushed a bit if necessary, but allow time if you can so that you aren't worrying about passport details the moment you deliver.
Unlike with TSA PreCheck that allows children 12 and under to piggy-back through the line with their parents, even babies officially need their own Global Entry for the family to make use of that service. Make that Global Entry "interview" appointment as soon as you can (yes, even for babies), and pay the application fee with a credit card that covers Global Entry application fees.
Pack Light: Milk, Diapers and Clothes
The paperwork process of flying with a baby (especially internationally) can be a drag, but thankfully the packing process is much easier. A true newborn is pretty simple to pack for as they really only need breastmilk or formula, diapers and wipes, clean clothes, a blanket and you. If you use a breast pump, remember that is considered a medical device, so it can be brought onboard without counting against your carry-on allowance.
Once your baby is a few months old, he or she will appreciate some small toys and things to do in-flight. But in those first few weeks, you can keep the extras to a minimum. Just pack enough to keep them clean, warm, fed and snuggled. (And then pack a little extra of all of those things ... just in case.)
The TSA permits you to bring a "reasonable quantity" of formula or breast milk through security. Ice packs, freezer packs, frozen gel packs and other accessories required to cool breast milk are also allowed in your carry-on. If these accessories are partially frozen or slushy, they may also be subject to additional screening. If you are traveling internationally with breastmilk, you'll want to do a bit of research on the local rules and regulation as it can vary. Here's how to fly with breast milk in the US.
You might want to bring a stroller for your baby, but honestly for a newborn who probably doesn't weigh more than about 10 pounds, a sling or baby carrier of some sort might work even better than a stroller.
Travel does not end when you have a baby, but it does change quite a bit. We are here to walk you through each step from your baby's first flight to traveling with tweens, teens and beyond. Even if we haven't written the article you are after just yet, check out our TPG Family Facebook Group that is full of more than 12,000 traveling parents from families of all ages, shapes and sizes.
Did we miss anything on your traveling with a baby checklist?
Here are even more resources for flying with a baby:
- The Best Airline Seats, Suites, Lactation Rooms and Lounges When Breastfeeding
- No, Your Lap Infant Will Not Earn Miles for Paid International Tickets
- How to Fly Around the World With a Baby
- Tips for Flying With a 3 Month Old Baby
- Tips for Flying with a Six Month Old Baby
- Traveling With a Baby: How Young Is Too Young to Fly?
Image courtesy of Klaus Vedfelt via Getty Images.