Bringing Bébé: Part 3, Babies on a Plane

Part three in a small series on the practicalities of traveling with a one-year old

Quick review: Michael and I decided to bring our one-year old on a 2.5 week trip to London and Paris this past December. This series is all about what we learned as new parents during this adventure. If you missed part one, here’s the link to the post on what to pack. Part two was all about selecting accommodations and hopefully getting to sleep in said accommodations.

The topic at hand today as one element of the trip we were nervous about...the dreaded “baby’s first flight.” We took two daytime flights to and from Europe so I wasn’t even too worried about a crying baby disturbing people. I was more concerned with having to keep a very curious, active toddler occupied for a length of time in a confined space.   

Here’s a few things that helped make the plane ride actually go smoothly:

Baby’s own seat

Children under the age of 2 are able to ride a plane on an adult’s lap for no extra charge. While this of course is a way to save some money, we opted to buy a seat for little man. The flight was too long to hold a little wiggle worm, plus carving out a little more space on a cramped plane sounded like a good idea.

The verdict was that having that extra seat made a huge difference. Baby J had room to move between us, and when nap time rolled around, he had his own quarters.

Car Seat

Along with making sure little man had his own space, we also made sure he had his own seat. We carried on his infant car seat (that made its last hurrah since he was at the limits of outgrowing it). We might have gotten J to fall asleep on one of us, but having the car seat made things immensely easier. He was able to snooze comfortably on both flights which was a big win for us parents!

Everyone had their own seat and space on the long flight to Europe, which made a huge difference!

Extra Leg Room

We upgraded our economy seats for extra leg room in anticipation of needing a little more space with a little one. (As you can see, small children require ALL THE THINGS.) What we hadn’t thought of was the space the infant car seat required - if we hadn’t upgraded, it wouldn’t have fit between the chairs! This fact just reveals yet again how cramped “standard” seats are getting on airplanes, which I think is ridiculous. Thus it turned out to be a good call on Michael’s part to opt for more room.


One thing we learned about on the flight is that many airlines have a bassinet that can be installed if needed. Apparently you can book your seats (an extra seat for baby is not needed) and then call the airline to request the bassinet. If you’re the first to do so, you can use it. You get bumped up to extra legroom seats for free and have access to the fold-out bassinet. J was too big for this to even be an option, but it’s good to know for those traveling with younger babies. [Note that we flew United, but fellow parent friends said other airlines offer similar options.]

Take-off and Landing

We were advised by many people ahead of time that babies experience great ear pain during take-off and landing as the air pressure changes and they are unable to pop their ears for relief. The solution is to get them to swallow at these points in the flight (similar to why some people chew gum during the flight). J nursed once and for the other times, cheerios did the trick. He happily munched away and had no problem with discomfort (as far as he expressed). If you go the cheerios route, just make sure you have enough - we almost ran out during one long landing!!


I detailed here a little about what we packed for the voyage. We found that just a handful of toys and a book or two did the trick on the flight. J enjoyed playing with the above, standing up and moving on his seat, playing a little peek-a-boo with any willing passengers, and pressing buttons on the in-flight media consoles. If he were a little older, a tablet might have been handy too but at this point the attention span isn’t quite there.

Playtime is serious business!

I should note the muslin blanket seen here - this is a great thing to have for nap time. We draped it over the carseat to block out visual distractions to help J settle down.


We made sure we had a sippy cup on hand with water, as well as lots of provisions for our growing boy. Cheerios and baby puffs were essential at take-off and landing, and applesauce and fruit puree pouches held him over when he got hungry. Since he had his own seat, he was entitled to airline meals as well. Michael reserved a “kid’s meal” in advance, and each time his food looked more appealing than ours! Might have to request my own next time…

Changing table

Now for the biggest challenge of the flight - the dreaded diaper change. The good news was that on our United Airline flights, there were lavatories marked that had changing tables that folded out over the toilet. The bad news was that baby J was afraid to lie down on the said table, screaming and flailing about...and I can’t really blame him. Airline bathrooms are always a bit suspect. As you can imagine, there’s barely enough space for one person to move normally never mind to wrangle a stubborn we (and by we, I mean mainly Michael) somewhat perfected changing a diaper “airplane style.” This is when the baby remains standing on the table for the duration of the diaper change and as you can imagine, is an exercise executed with great speed….you understand the stakes at hand… All I can say that we made it through incident free, and on the way home even put J in one of his overnight diapers to try to buy a little time until the traumatic change became really necessary.


All that to say that the ominous baby’s first flight wasn’t bad at all! He was a little champ and even made some friends around him. Having his own seat and being prepared with plenty of food seemed to be key elements to a successful flight, and I’m sure pure luck was at play too. I hope this encourages parents who are hesitant about flying with a little, and just remember - if it doesn’t go well, at least it’s only for the determined duration of the flight and then it’s over.

Any tips or advice to add that you’ve done yourself, or seen other people do on the plane?