Flying alone with a baby for the first time can be a daunting experience, but with some careful planning and preparation, you can have a smooth journey.
In fact, traveling with your baby can be a lot of fun. For babies and toddlers, everything is new, and therefore more magical. Babies are like little sponges absorbing everything they experience. But traveling can also be a huge challenge, particularly if you are flying alone with an infant. Have no fear, though.
Whether you’re a single parent or just traveling alone with your baby, this guide to flying alone with a baby or toddler walks you through the process, step by step, and includes the most helpful tips for flying solo with your little one.
My experience flying alone with a baby the first time
The first time I traveled alone with my baby, I booked a tight connection, had a delayed departure, missed a flight, and didn’t get home until the next morning. It was a long, miserable day for both my baby and for me. I was unprepared, overwhelmed, and afterwards, never wanted to fly alone with a baby.
In retrospect, there were some things that were simply out of my control, but there were also a few things I could have done to make the situation easier.
Tips for flying alone with an infant | Step-by-Step Guide
There are a few things I learned after my first experience flying alone with an infant. It isn’t easy, but it isn’t necessarily rocket science either.
My first experience was a nightmare, but the next one was easier, partially because I learned from my mistakes. Hopefully, this guide will help you avoid many of the headaches and stresses that I dealt with during my first solo flight with a baby.
Before the flight | How to prepare for your first flight alone with a baby
Half the battle of flying alone with a baby is won before the flight. In fact, there are preparations you can make before you even leave for the airport to help ensure a stress-free trip.
Choose the right flight
Opt for flights that align with your baby’s schedule, preferably during their naptime or bedtime, if possible. If your flight involves a connection, you will also want to allow for extra time during the layover.
Navigating a new airport with a baby adds an extra level of stress. Having more time to work with helps you minimize the risk of something going wrong, a missed connection, or forgetting something on the plane.
Although long layovers make for a longer travel day, they aren’t necessarily a bad thing. There are a lot of things to do during a long layover to help pass the time with your little one.
Be sure to specify that you will be traveling with a lap infant when you book your flight! It’s important to note that some airlines require you to call to add a lap infant to your ticket rather than booking online.
Book an aisle seat
My daughter loves to look out the airplane window. When we travel as a family with a lap infant, we usually book a two-seat row, if available. That gives us access to both the window and the aisle. However, when flying alone with an infant in your lap, you have to choose one or the other.
In a solo situation, I recommend the aisle seat with your lap-baby. It allows you to get up and walk if your baby is fussing, needs a scenery change, or in the more likely scenario, a diaper change is necessary.
Additionally, on longer international flights, if you book a bulkhead seat, you can also request a bassinet that attaches to the bulkhead area, allowing your baby to sleep more comfortably during your flight.
Pack all the necessary supplies such as diapers, wipes, formula or breast milk, extra clothes, blankets, and pacifiers in a small baby carry-on bag that will fit under the seat. You’ll want those items readily available at arms’ length rather than stored in an overhead compartment.
While you will want to have all your baby travel essentials for your trip, some of those items, like baby gear, can go in your checked bag or larger carry-on bag.
Anytime you are flying with a baby or flying with a toddler, you’ll want to pack extra supplies, but don’t go overboard! Consider buying some items – like extra diapers – when you arrive at your destination.
Choose a Backpack style Diaper Bag
Your diaper bag does not count against you as your carry on or your personal item. But you’ll want to be strategic with what type of carry-on bag for your baby that you bring.
When flying alone with a baby, a backpack or a diaper bag with straps you can wear as a backpack, like this one, is an ideal option. This allows you to be hands-free when navigating the airport, accessing your flight details on your phone, or messaging family back home or at your destination.
At the airport | What to plan for upon arrival to the airport
Your second battle when flying alone with a baby will be won upon arrival at the airport. Here are a few tips to make the arrival and check-in process easier.
Have someone drop you off
This might not always be an option when traveling alone with a baby, but when possible, have a friend or family member take you to the airport and pick you up.
This typically saves you from having to find a parking spot, embarking on a long walk from the parking lot or a shuttle ride to the terminal, and makes the overall arrival process quicker, safer, and less stressful.
Plan to arrive at the airport earlier than you typically would. Give yourself plenty of extra time before the flight to check-in, go through security, and get settled. This allows you to handle any unexpected situations calmly.
Babies are sensitive to your emotions. If you remain calm and composed, it can help soothe your baby and make the journey more enjoyable for both of you.
Even if traveling with a larger carry on, you may want to consider checking it, particularly if flying on a smaller plane or aircraft type.
Many airlines require larger carry-on bags to be gate checked, which adds one more thing you have to do when getting on and off your flight.
If you end up with a tight connection, not having to wait for your gate-checked luggage could make all the difference between making your connecting flight and missing it.
Check your car seat through to your destination
If you are flying alone with your infant, the last thing you want to do is haul a bunch of baby travel gear through the airport.
But, if you are going on a trip where you will be renting a car, or visiting family members or friends that do not have a car seat for your little one, you’ll need to bring one with you.
Plan to check your car seat through to your destination, along with your luggage.
Luckily, if you are traveling in the United States, checking car seats for air travel is free and does not count against your allotted number of bags.
Going through Security when traveling alone with a baby
You’re packed, you’ve planned, you’ve checked in, and you’ve arrived at the airport. Let’s get you through security with your baby with ease.
Consider getting TSA Precheck
TSA Precheck is a program offered by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the United States that allows expedited security screening for eligible travelers.
You can go through dedicated lanes that are typically shorter and faster. The reduced waiting times can minimize the stress of traveling with a baby.
Additionally, you can keep your shoes on when passing through security and do not have to remove electronics from your carry-on bag, which means fewer steps during the security screening process.
Wear your baby in a carrier
This is probably the number one thing you can do to make flying alone with a baby easier. I am such a believer in babywearing at the airport that I wrote a full post about it.
There are so many different types of baby carriers on the market that you don’t have to spend a fortune on one, but I promise you, if you plan to fly solo with an infant, a baby carrier is an investment you won’t regret.
Using a baby carrier rather than a stroller can be extremely helpful when flying with a baby, especially during security checks and when you need your hands free. You typically do not have to remove your baby from a soft-bodied carrier when going through security.
A baby carrier also provides a familiar and soothing environment for your little one and keeps them close and safe next to your body.
READY TO INVEST IN A BABY CARRIER? CHECK OUT OUR POST ON THE BEST BABY CARRIERS FOR TRAVEL TO FIND THE BEST ONE FOR YOU.
Wear slip-on shoes and dress comfortably
Going through security isn’t particularly hard with a baby, especially if you wear them in a carrier. But taking off and putting back on a sneaker or a boot by yourself while holding or wearing a baby is an entirely different story. Avoid the hassle, and wear shoes that easily slip on.
I like these ballet flats by Dr. Scholl’s. They are stylish yet comfortable. And they have an extra layer of memory foam padding inside which makes all that airport walking a bit easier on your feet.
You’ll also want to opt for loose clothing for you and for your little one. This not only keeps you both comfortable but loose clothing allows easy access for diaper changes.
At the gate | What to do while waiting for your flight with a baby
You’ve made it through security! One more step closer to a successful flight alone with a baby. Hopefully, you still have plenty of time before your flight boards.
Make a Bathroom Stop and Snack Run
During this time, make a point to go to the bathroom and buy snacks for your flight.
Airplane lavatories are very small, so use the family restroom at the airport before you board to go to the bathroom and change your baby, if needed.
And while you may have packed plenty of snacks for your little one, you need to take care of yourself, as well. Traveling and parenting is exhausting, so be sure to fuel up on snacks to keep you energized during your flight.
Let your baby explore or play
Your baby is going to be cooped up in a cramped airline seat for the duration of your flight, so take the opportunity before the flight to let your baby out of the carrier or your travel stroller, if you brought one.
Your little one can use the time before your flight to burn off energy, explore, play, and hopefully tire out so he or she will sleep on the plane.
This is especially important if traveling with toddlers or babies 12 months old or older, who like to move around and explore a lot.
Ask the gate agent for an empty row
While you’re waiting at the gate, glance at the seating chart or ask the gate agent if there are any empty rows on the flight.
If so, ask if you can move to the empty row. This will give you some extra room or at least an extra seat for your little one to move around if flying with a lap infant.
This is also beneficial if you plan to nurse during take off and landing. I’m all for nursing in public, but no one particularly enjoys nursing right next to a stranger in a cramped row on an airplane. An empty row gives you a little more privacy while you nurse your baby.
If you prefer, you can always bring expressed breastmilk or formula with you when you travel.
On the flight | In-flight tips for flying alone with a baby
You have officially made it to the part of flying alone with a baby that you are probably dreading the most – the actual flight! Don’t stress. These tips will help you tackle your first solo flight with your little one.
Pack toys, books, and other small items to keep your baby engaged during the flight. A new toy that your little one has not seen before may also keep their attention longer than their toys that they have already grown tired of.
Favorite comfort items can also help them feel more at ease in a new environment.
And, while this might seem strange, when my daughter would get fussy on a plane and her toys, books, and snacks were not helping, I would pull out my phone and play videos I had recorded of her. She loved watching videos of herself, even at only a few months old!
Nurse or bottle feed during take off or landing
Changes in air pressure can affect babies more than adults. Offer a pacifier or a bottle during ascent and descent to help relieve ear pressure.
You are allowed to fly with formula or expressed breastmilk in reasonable quantities. If you exclusively breastfeed, nurse right after or during take off.
Feeding your baby during these times helps equalize the pressure in their ears, which can alleviate discomfort and a baby with a full belly is typically a happy or sleepy baby.
Bring food pouches and snacks
You’ll definitely want to come armed with snacks anytime you are traveling with kids. But if you’re playing man-on-man defense and flying alone with an infant, food pouches are definitely the way to go.
Skip the spoon and squeeze it directly into their mouth because it’s just easier when you are balancing a kid on your lap.
Feeding a baby one-handed while holding her with the other, and trying to keep her from grabbing everything on site is a delicate dance that traveling parents become pros at after just a few flights.
As for other snacks, Gerber Puffs or Cheerios are a great way to keep a squirmy baby occupied during your flight.
See what else is in our carry-on bag for kids here.
Make friends with those around you
Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance from a flight attendant or another passenger if you need help hoisting your carry-on into the overhead compartment when flying alone with a baby.
On one of my last flights alone with my daughter, the lovely woman sitting next to me even offered to hold her for part of the flight.
As parents who travel frequently, my husband and I have also helped a woman traveling solo with her kids. We even gathered and carried all of her checked luggage outside to the car where her husband was waiting to pick her up.
Most people will take sympathy on you if you are traveling alone with a child or multiple children, so don’t be afraid to make friends with those around you.
How do you use the bathroom on an airplane when flying alone with a baby?
Bathroom breaks in the airplane lavatory may be one of the most awkward things about flying alone with a baby. If you have to go to the bathroom during your flight, you have a few options, and none of them are honestly ideal.
Your first option would be to ask an airline staff member to hold your baby for you while you quickly go to the bathroom. A trustworthy passenger that you have made friends with on the flight might be a second option.
The final option, and the one I have chosen more than once, is to strap my baby into the baby carrier and go to the bathroom while wearing my baby. It’s a bit awkward, but doable. The loud sound of the toilet flushing in the lavatory may scare your little one though. So, be prepared for that.
Flying alone with multiple kids? Check out these great tips and tricks before your flight.
At your destination | Tips to make traveling alone with a baby easier upon arrival
You’ve made it! At this point in the process, the hard part is over.
While the most challenging part of your solo flight with a baby is behind you, here are a few final things to plan for upon arrival at your destination.
Arrange for someone to pick you up or take a taxi instead of public transport
Public transportation, like metros and buses, adds yet another layer of confusion or stress to a trip. When you arrive at your destination you and your child may very likely be tired.
When possible, arrange for someone to pick you up at the airport, or plan to take a taxi or rideshare service to your hotel or Airbnb.
Buy items when you arrive
Some essentials like diapers can be very bulky when you consider the average baby goes through 8-10 diapers a day.
Rather than bringing several dozen diapers or more, plan to bring enough for 2-3 days and buy the rest when you arrive at your destination. This will help tremendously when trying to pack light.
Having traveled to more than 30 countries as a family, we’ve never had any trouble finding diapers in any of the destinations that we have visited.
Take your time and travel slow
Whether you are solo traveling with your baby to a new and fun destination or visiting family in another state or country, anytime you travel with a baby, give yourself extra grace and extra time. Pad your itinerary with a few more days, if possible, try not to fit too many activities into your trip, and take things slower than you typically would with a partner or without a baby in tow.
Slow travel will ultimately make your trip a more enjoyable and less exhausting experience.
Have a comment or question about flying alone with a baby? Drop us a comment below and let us know your personal travel tips or questions you have.
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This guide to flying alone with a baby was first written in January 2016 but was most recently updated in June 2023 for accuracy and current information.