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Staying Sane on the Plane With Your Child

Staying sane on an airplane with a small child is no small feat.  I have taken 16 international round trips with either a baby, a toddler, or both, and I have learned a few things along the way.

Other People:

You would be surprised how many people will either be rude or offer to help. Let’s forget about the first bunch and focus on the second bunch. If someone offers to carry your bag so you can tug your toddler, always say “yes”. Now is not the time to look like a super hero.

Your child probably loves looking at other people’s faces. If you have a lap child, prop them up so they can chat and smile with the person behind you. This might only last 5 minutes, but that is 5 fewer minutes of unhappiness.


Always, always, always. If you have a lap child, approach the desk at the gate, child in arms, and beg for a seat with an empty seat next to it. Most airline employees are very understanding and will switch you if they can. If you do get the extra seat and you have a car-seat snapped into your stroller, take it with you. Now you have a place to strap your child. They will feel like they are in the car, and what do they like to do in the car? Right, sleep.

Food and Drink

Having a small child gives you some leniency on the allowance of liquids. You may bring a bottle for your baby and some water to mix formula. Check with the current rules before you travel.

If your child eats solid food, bring 4 different kinds and twice as much as you think you will need. Remember that any fresh produce, nuts, seeds, cheese, or meat will need to be consumed before going through international customs.


In your carry on, you will need a change of clothes for yourself, for each child, a few diapers, wipes, a plastic grocery bag (to wrap up a diaper), a blanket, a few NEW or forgotten about toys, and a lot of snacks.

Most airlines give lap children a carry on diaper bag and a checked bag allowance. If your child is allowed a diaper bag, congratulations! If you also have a roller bag and a personal item, how are you going to carry all of that? Easy. You bring a stroller. Your stroller is gate checked for free, you hang the diaper bag on the handle, put your roller bag in the seat, and the personal item in the basket. You can now put your child in a sling or have them walk, and you have 1-2 hands to push the stroller.

Ticket Tax

If your child is a lap child and you are traveling internationally, remember 2 things:

  1. You must get the child a ticket, it is not like a domestic flight where they just tag along.
  2. You must pay the taxes on the ticket, even though the ticket is free.


When traveling alone with your child internationally, it is a good idea to carry notarized permission from the other parent and a copy of the child’s birth certificate. Even if you think the country you are going to and from does not require this, an airline agent has the right to ask for anything if they suspect that a child is being abducted. My children don’t share my last name and I was once asked for a birth certificate to prove that they were mine. Luckily I was able to pull up a copy from my email.


If your child has been potty trained recently (within the past 3 months), consider having them wear a diaper or pull up just in case. You can explain that there might be times that they are not allowed to get out of their seat on the airplane and they might not be able to hold it.

If you cloth diaper, I commend you, but go disposable for airplane days. Been there, done that, trust me.


Getting to the airport, security, waiting, flying, waiting, maybe another flight, baggage: it’s enough to drive anyone nuts. There is a lot of sitting involved, and kids need to move- even babies. Whenever you can, let your child move around, whether it’s walking up and down the aisle, running around the terminal, laying on a blanket on the floor, or sitting in their own seat- movement will help make everyone happier.