Dear Mr. Dad: We just had a baby and are eager to introduce her to my parents. But they live quite far away and are too old to travel. How soon is it safe to fly with an infant?
A: Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule. Some experts advise waiting until the baby is at least six weeks old before flying, largely because airplanes are essentially giant, germ-filled tubes. Others say that if the baby is healthy, there’s no need to wait. Ultimately—assuming there are no health issues—you should hold off until you feel comfortable with the whole idea of traveling with an infant.
Personally, I think that four to six months is a great age to introduce babies to flying. They’re generally pretty happy to be held for hours at a time (once they start crawling, all bets are off), they sleep a lot, and don’t need a ton of stuff yet (especially if you’re breastfeeding).
Before booking your flight, have your pediatrician clear your baby for take-off. If she was born prematurely or has any respiratory conditions, she may be grounded for a while because of the low-oxygen environment in the pressurized cabins. Also, if your baby is sick, you’ll probably want to postpone the trip.
Next, check with the airline. Some have policies against newborns flying until they reach a certain age, such as 7 days old. Most airlines allow babies to fly as a “lap child” (meaning they fly free but don’t have a seat and need to stay in your lap) until age two. However, the FAA recommends buying a seat for all infants and bringing your FAA-approved car seat on board so your baby can be strapped in (rather than on your lap) because that is the safest place. (If you hold your baby, put the seat belt around your waist, and hold the baby outside of it).
A warning: Traveling with an infant is infinitely more complex than traveling solo. A delayed flight or sitting on the runway for an extra two hours may have been annoying before, but with a baby, it can be torture. Here are some tips to smooth out some of the potential bumps:
- Pack at least one diaper for every hour of travel, plus a few extras (there’s no such thing as too many diapers).
- If your baby is formula-fed, bring twice as much as you think you’ll need. The TSA’s 3-ounce restriction for liquids doesn’t apply to infant formula or pumped breast milk (as long as you are traveling with your baby) so you should be able to carry-on as much as you’d like. But get there extra early, in case you have to educate the screeners.
- During flight, if your baby is in pain–especially during take-off and landing—it’s probably due to changes in ear pressure. Breastfeeding or sucking on a bottle or pacifier might help.
- The air on planes is dry so feed your baby often to avoid dehydration.
- Bring lots of extra clothes in case of diapers leaking, spit-up, or worse (bring some for the baby too) and a changing pad (airplane lavatories often have a tiny changing table, but it’s often easier to do it at your seat).
- Skip the early boarding. Send one parent ahead to set things up while the other waits until the last possible second to bring the baby on board.
- Find out the airline’s policy about gate checking strollers and car seats. Most won’t charge you, but that could change at any moment.