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If the thought of baby's first flight leaves a pit at the bottom of your stomach, don't worry—you're not alone. Flying the friendly skies with littles can feel super stressful & overwhelming, even for the most seasoned of mamas. (I mean, even George & Amal Clooney had some pre-flight anxiety!) Does baby need their own seat? What will I need to pack? How will I carry it all? And what if they cry the whole time?
We feel you, mamas. But with a great game plan and a tried and true, been-there-loved -that hit list of our absolute favorite flight essentials, we promise you'll be boarding that plane with confidence on your next adventure. Masks are still a good idea and hand sanitizer is a given but what else?
Here are 15 products every mama needs for baby's first flight:
“Does my baby need her own seat on an airplane?” It’s the question we get asked again and again when it comes to air travel + little ones. The technical answer is no. In the US, infants under 2 years of age may be carried free of charge when traveling with an adult. But the answer that we always give? 100% yes.
As one of our favorite sources for all things car seat safety, the Car Seat Lady, says, “Simply put, it’s much safer for a child to ride in a child safety seat on an airplane. You aren’t allowed to hold a coffee cup during takeoff and landing. All bags much be stowed. This is because anything not secured is liable to fly around if a problem were to occur…Doesn’t your child deserve the same protection as you—or your suitcase?” We couldn’t agree more.
A simple, lightweight car seat is a must for air travel. Our all-time favorite for value + portability is the Cosco Scenera NEXT. The NEXT can be used rear-facing from 5-40 pounds or forward-facing from 22-40 pounds. It doesn’t have a ton of bells and whistles, but it’s certified for airplane use, easy to install, and easy to clean. (And you certainly cannot beat the price.) And weighing in at a light 10.4 pounds, it’s light enough to sling over your shoulder at the airport and while on the plane.
If you decide to bring a car seat on the plane (or gate-check it), even if you grab a lighter travel car seat like the above pick, it’s one more thing to lug, among the now many things you have to lug because you’re flying with a kid.
We recently flew with our regular car seat, which weighs a whopping 20 pounds on its own, but this car seat strap—just a couple of straps and clips—made it seem like it wasn’t even with us. In just a couple moves, you can strap your car seat to the front of a rolling bag (it even worked with the super heavy seat and a smallish carry-on bag), and voila, your most annoying, bulky (but necessary) piece of gear feels like it’s barely there.
There’s no denying that traveling with an infant or toddler also brings with it a wholllle lot of stuff. A roomy, backpack-style diaper bag is a must to wrangle the chaos and prepare for whatever your travel day may throw your way—all while having your hands free. One of the most brilliant? The Getaway Bag & Travel Bundle from newcomers No Reception Club. A rugged pack that has literally thought of everything, this is the only bag you need for an adventure with little ones. The innovative design is loaded with features that only an actual parent could have come up with including:
- A flexible organization system inside the main compartment with movable shelves (yes! shelves!) and easy access along the side of the bag
- A built-in wet bag compartment at the base of the bag for those inevitable messes
- A removable fanny pack for when you only need the essentials or split off to divide and conquer
- A spill-proof insulated lunch bag for snacks and small water bottles
- Tons of pockets for both kid and adult needs
Ready to get out there? Us too!
If you’re going to be schlepping your littles through the airport, a travel crib that’s lightweight, compact, and easy to carry on the plane or check with your luggage is a no-brainer. Enter the BabyBjorn Travel Crib Light: our absolute favorite travel crib, ever. Yup, it’s that good.
Weighing in at only 13 pounds, this crib is perfect for any family adventure. The travel cribs folds up easily into a tiny carrying case, making it perfect to take on the go. (You could even put it in a large suitcase if you’d like!) Setup is super easy (truly—once you get the hang of it, it takes about one minute), and the mattress is much more comfortable than any other travel crib on the market that we’ve tried. The mesh sides allow for great air flow, and the crib works for kiddos up to 35 lbs.
Any mama knows the benefits of a good swaddle, but this multi-purpose workhorse of a baby product may not immediately come to mind when you’re thinking about flying with your baby. Well, think again, because the swaddle for air travel is where it’s at, mama!
Need to do a quick diaper change on your lap while the seat belt sign is on? Throw a swaddle over your legs. Need to breastfeed or pump mid-flight? Use a swaddle for privacy. Little one seems chilly from the cold airplane air? Toss a swaddle over her to warm her up. It’s truly the gift that keeps on giving when traveling with baby. We 💜 Little Unicorn’s options for their soft, breathable fabric and over-the-top-adorable patterns + styles.
If you’ve ever tried to make it to your gate with a toddler in tow you know that, 1. you’re not moving very fast and 2. that gate is farther than you think. This genius product is for use with kids ages two and up. Just attach it to your suitcase and they’re ready to roll. Literally.
Strollers are a travel must-have, but they’re also big, bulky, and cumbersome—not exactly what you’re going for when you’re ready to board a plane with your family. But this stroller changes all of that; it boasts the conveniences of a larger stroller with some insane portability capabilities.
Weighing 10.6 pounds, the stroller features an impressive fold that transforms it down to a compact 7.1″ x 11.8″ x 13.8″—small enough to easily fit in an overhead airplane bin or tote bag. It maneuvers easily thanks to double swivel wheels that master all kinds of terrain, and can even be popped over curbs while you’re out exploring.
Want some more options? Check out 10 lightweight strollers that will change the way you travel with kids
If you’re looking to leave the stroller at home during your next flight, you’re going to need another option for keeping your hands free at the airport, and a baby carrier is the perfect option. Baby carrying is a great way to keep baby close while you’re going through the always fun process of luggage hauling, checking in, security, and boarding.
For summer travel especially, the LílléBaby Complete Airflow Baby Carrier is our carrier of choice. The Complete Airflow will keep baby comfy with six carry positions, and mom or dad comfy with a wide, padded waistband and a soft mesh fabric that allows for breathability and air flow for those sticky summer days. The Complete Airflow works from seven to 45 pounds (from newborn to toddler!), so it will be around for lots and lots of family adventures. Bonus: The carrier has been acknowledged as “hip healthy” by the International Hip Dysplasia Institute.
Air travel can wreak havoc on the ears, especially for a little one who’s even more sensitive to changes in air pressure and altitude. One way to remedy this and prevent ear popping is through sucking & swallowing, two motions that help equalize the ears and relieve any pressure.
Feeding baby during takeoff and landing is always a great option, but if it’s not time for a snack, a pacifier is our go-to. We love this 100% natural rubber option that’s made without chemical softeners or colorants, BPA free, and totally adorable.
We realize we’re not telling you anything you don’t already know here, but we can’t reinforce this one enough. Babies have blowouts. And spit-up. And food spills. The list goes on. And being trapped on a plane with a poop-covered baby? No thank you.
Rompers are a gender-neutral, all-in-one, easy on/easy off outfit that are perfect for airplane travel. They won’t take up a lot of space in your diaper bag and they make a great backup outfit. This one is especially soft + stretchy but will hold its shape over lots of wears, and your little one will look as cute as ever rocking the modern, trendy design. And because it’s made from breathable organic cotton, it will help keep them feeling just-right temperature-wise. Just layer on top! (Pro tip: in addition to packing a change of clothes for your little, pack one for YOU, too! Trust us.)
You can never pack enough things to keep your little one busy during a flight, but you’ll also need to consider that you’ll be in a tight space and wanting to create as little of a mess as possible. Water Wow reusable water painting books for the (mess-free) win!
These sturdy, spiral-bound books come with four reusable pages and a “paint” brush that stores right in the cover. Kids love them, and we promise they’ll buy you at least a few minutes of peace and quiet during your trip 😉
Whether or not screen time is your thing, we subscribe to the idea that when on a plane, all the usual rules go out the window. If you have a toddler who’ll watch a few shows or play some games on the iPad, then we say go for it. 👍
To make sure you’re not bothering other passengers, though, you’ll need some kid-friendly headphones. We like these for their affordable price, great color choices, and built-in volume control. They even feature a sharing port so multiple kids can link up and listen all at once!
If you want to forgo the iPad, interactive books are an educational + fun way to keep your littles entertained on a flight. Anything tactile is always a hit with the younger set, which makes this board book the perfect choice for little fingers. It’s filled with twists + turns and zigs + zags that will keep tiny hands very busy!
Snacks are a mom’s best friend, especially on a plane—but the last thing you want to spend your flight doing is picking smashed up puffs out of the crevices of your seat.
This stainless container features silicone flaps that make it easy for little hands to get in but tough for snacks to fall out. There’s also a flip top that seals to keep your snacks fresh while on the go.
Last but certainly not least, meet the everyday item that is truly the mama gift that keeps on giving: the Ziploc bag. Don’t leave home—for a flight, or any other time, either!—without a few of these stashed in your diaper bag. They are perfect for organizing, for snacks, for separating wet + dry items, and of course for stuffing that adorable outfit in after your babe spits up all over it.
A version of this story was published March 25, 2021. It has been updated.