Flying with a baby inspires anxiety in some parents. As a mom who has done it over 50 times, I can assure you, it’s not as bad as it seems. But what about flying SOLO with a baby? That’s a different story, but again, it can be done, and it doesn’t have to be miserable.
I’ve flown alone with my one year old several times throughout his life – a few times when he was 6-8 months old, and once right around his first year. Here’s everything I learned about flying alone with a baby in a step by step guide:
When Booking – Does Baby Get Their Own Seat?
One of the first questions to ask yourself is whether or not you want to spring for your baby’s own seat. It’s the safest option and is recommended by the FAA, but that doesn’t mean it’s always the right choice for every parent, especially if it’s a particularly expensive ticket you’re buying. I go through all of the considerations of getting a baby their own seat — or not — here.
In a nutshell, if they’re quite young and will sleep in a baby carrier for the flight, I typically opted for that when my son was up to six months old. However now that he’s a highly mobile and squirrely one year old, he gets his own seat when we’re traveling alone. That goes double for if it’s a long haul flight.
For one thing, he’s long, and he would most definitely encroach on the space of the person next to us if he were on my lap. He is also constantly trying to stand or look out the window, and putting him in an FAA-approved car seat is the best way to make sure we both survive, both physically and mentally.
If baby will be on your lap and it’s a longer flight, check if you can possibly get a seat with a baby bassinet, assuming your baby is young enough to be within the weight requirements. Some airlines reserve these for parents, like Singapore Airlines and Emirates, while others, like Southwest, United, or Japan Airlines, do not, and will tell you to ask at the gate. Try to book the bulkhead seats whenever possible, as these are the ones with bassinet access, when the plane is the type to have the hookups.
Either way, you’ll need to print a ticket for baby before proceeding through TSA. Mobile tickets don’t work for lap infants (for whatever reason) so print the boarding pass when you check in.
How to Survive TSA Screening
Give yourself extra time when traveling with a baby, especially solo. Chances are you will have liquids over the limit in order to have enough milk or water for the trip. Or your car seat might not be able to fit through the x-ray machine. For many reasons, you might be subject to extra screening.
Keep in mind that you’re allowed to have liquids over the limit in the form of drinks and baby food. You can also bring a baby through TSA Precheck if you have it, which will mean you don’t have to remove shoes or laptops. It just makes life easier, so if you don’t have precheck, try to get it before your solo flight. Read more about TSA with a baby here.
How to Carry Everything Yourself
For my first solo flight with my son, I checked the car seat as hold luggage in a travel car seat bag and opted to use my Artipoppe baby carrier with him as a lap infant instead of getting him his own seat or bringing a stroller. He was about seven months old and still did quite well traveling in a baby carrier. We were only traveling between states and although there were many delays, the journey in theory shouldn’t have been that long. With only the baby on my front and the diaper bag on my back, it was pretty simple.
Now that he’s older and much heavier, I always bring a stroller and either a car seat or a CARES harness. For a flight I took him on solo when he was one year old, I used his UppaBaby Mesa car seat and brought along the Ergobaby Metro+ stroller.
The Ergobaby does have car seat hookups you can order separately, but I didn’t know until we were about to take off that he’d gotten his own seat (a client booked the seats for me and it’s a long story), so I didn’t have the hookups and had to wear the car seat on my back in the car seat carrier bag and push him in the stroller with the diaper bag strapped to the stroller handlebar. We made it work, but the less you can pack, the better.
You’re still going to need a full diaper bag of baby formula or milk (easier if you’re nursing), plenty of ultra absorbent diapers, baby food, a couple changes of clothes, potentially a portable bottle washing station, and a portable diaper changing mat.
Bring a Stroller that Fits in the Overhead Bin
My biggest tip is to bring a stroller that you can wheel onto the plane and be sure to board first when they offer family boarding! We had to run between flights when one was delayed which meant I boarded late and there was no overhead bin space near our seat anymore by the time I got on, which made things a bit complicated. Thankfully someone in a row behind us offered to help.
My method is to wheel him on in a stroller that can fit in the narrow aisles and into the overhead bin, which the Ergobaby does (read my full review of the stroller). Then I quickly install the car seat, transfer him to the car seat, fold up the stroller, stick it in the bin, and hope I haven’t held up the line too much. If your baby is big enough, a CARES harness can also work, eliminating the need to install a car seat. However you will still need to attach the harness to the seat, so it’s all about making sure your baby doesn’t fall or have issues while you’re doing all of that.
Why bring on a stroller? I like having somewhere to dock my baby while I install the car seat. It’s also much easier to put him in the stroller when we de-board than having to figure out how to carry him, the diaper bag, and the car seat. I don’t even know how it would all be physically possible.
I like that the Ergobaby is narrow enough to fit into the aisles – the Joolz Aer, as much as we love the bigger canopy and one handed fold, is just a bit too wide. However the Ergobaby is harder to fold since it requires two hands, which means I’m putting my baby down on the floor to do it. I have yet to find the perfect stroller, but I’m still looking!
How to Pee, Eat, and Other Basic Human Needs
When I was sharing about a solo flight on my Instagram stories, I got a DM asking, “but how do you pee?”
When he is in a baby carrier, I keep him in the carrier when I pee. Do yourself a favor and don’t wear a romper or anything else that’s difficult to pull up and down.
When he’s in a stroller, I look for a family restroom and either keep him in the stroller or strap him into the changing table while I pee. On a flight, I will often just hold him on my lap or on my hip while I go. It’s not ideal but it works!
Food-wise, in the terminal it’s easy. Some lounges and restaurants even have high chairs. Otherwise, he hangs in his travel stroller. On flights, if he doesn’t have his own seat, it’s tough to accept the flight meals as he will get into it on the tray and make a huge mess. If he has his own seat, it’s much easier as I can have him in the car seat while I eat.
On long haul flights, I’ll admit it’s tougher to do all of the above. This is when it’s key to have them in their own seat so you can have some space. On a recent solo 40 hour travel journey between the US and Africa, we thought having Garrett in a business class seat with Felix as a lap infant would be the best case scenario, but in hindsight it made it tough for him to eat and sleep well. Two economy tickets might have been the better call.
If you’re traveling solo internationally with a baby, you may need to prove that you have the other parent’s permission to bring the baby out of the country. When I took my baby on an Alaska cruise with grandma (and not daddy), I read that I would need a birth certificate copy, a copy of his dad’s passport, and a signed statement that I had his consent to travel with our baby solo. I brought all of this along despite never being asked for it, but you never know what customs agent you’ll get and how much of a stickler they want to be.
Research your destination ahead of time to see if this will be necessary for you. And as an added bonus to make it easier to get back through customs when you get home, seriously consider signing your baby up for Global Entry. They don’t need their own TSA Precheck, but they DO need their own Global Entry. Even if you have it, if they don’t, you’ll have to use the normal line. It’s a bummer that the US still hasn’t adopted the expedited family customs lines that so many other countries have.
Traveling with a baby alone has its own set of challenges, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible or awful. I’ve had some lovely experiences flying alone with my little guy, and if I wasn’t willing to do it, we would have missed out on some amazing adventures. So don’t worry, with a little extra consideration, it’s totally doable.
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