Flying tips

Change Diapers Before Boarding — & Strap on an Overnight Diaper

Yes, even if your only option is the discolored changing table in the crowded public restroom right off the airport’s busiest security checkpoint, it’s better than triaging a poop emergency in a shuddering toilet closet at 35,000 feet. Ahead of coast-to-coast or transcontinental flights, strap your slightly older baby into an overnight diaper — a heavy-duty nappie designed to absorb ungodly amounts of urine. That should be enough to get them through 10 to 12 hours of routine liquid elimination. Unfortunately, overnight diapers don’t vaporize solid waste, so hope your baby holds it together until you’re on the ground. Newborns and babies still on all-liquid diets aren’t likely to make it across an ocean without going No. 2, of course.

Utilize Airport Lounges Wherever Possible

Airport lounges are godsends for families fed up with cacophonous terminals, packed restaurants, and standing-room-only gate areas. They’re great for quiet feeds for Baby, quality meals for parents, and unhurried diaper changes. Though most lounges charge hefty admission fees ($30 to $60 or more per traveler), many travel rewards credit cards offer free or discounted lounge access as a value-added perk. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card (see our Chase Sapphire Reserve card review) offers complimentary access to more than 1,000 lounges in the Priority Pass Select network. The Platinum Card® from American Express (see our Platinum Card from American Express review) does the same for the Global Lounge Collection, an even more extensive network. The savings add up quickly. On three separate European lounge visits, our Sapphire Reserve card saved our party (Mom, Dad, and Grandma) some 270 euros in entry fees — about $300, double the card’s net annual fee after subtracting its $300 annual travel credit. The lounges’ generous buffets kept us away from overpriced airport restaurants too. Conservatively, we avoided $150 in out-of-pocket food and beverage purchases on those three visits, pushing the total savings to $450.

Locate & Use Family Restrooms at the Airport

Before your trip, study a map of every airport you’ll visit. Locate the family restrooms nearest security (at origin airports) and your departure gates (at origin and layover airports). Blowout emergencies and ridiculously long lines notwithstanding, it definitely pays to wait for family restrooms to free up. Unlike chaotic public airport restrooms, they’re quiet, private, and equipped with excellent changing facilities, the importance of which any parent familiar with the ordeal of a bathroom floor change is well aware.

Tag-Team Airport Security

Getting through security is a lot easier when two adults are along for the ride. Our family has the routine down pat. I go first, binning up my electronics and liquids and pockets and shoes, then free our son from his stroller and wait to carry him through the metal detector. Behind me, my wife bins up her stuff, separates the resealable bag of baby food — which always draws additional scrutiny — and then folds up the stroller and places it on the belt. She often has to go through the metal detector with me, but if not, she generally makes it through the magnetic scanner before I clear. When you’re traveling solo, you don’t have the luxury of tag-teaming security. You’ll have an easier time if you’ve presorted everything TSA requires you to remove from your luggage — baby food, liquids, large electronics — and placed it in separate bags or bins and kept your pockets empty. If your kid is still in a car seat attachment, keep them there until the last minute after you’ve folded up any stroller you have. The process is easier once your kid can stand or sit and it’s no big deal to deposit them on the ground for a minute.

Plan to Arrive Early

These days, we find we need about 15 extra minutes at the airport — not much in the scheme of things. Our first two flying vacations were much more taxing. We gave ourselves an extra hour on either side of both journeys and wound up needing most of the additional time. Expect your airport transit to include extra steps like:

  • Checking or gate-checking special items, such as strollers and car seats
  • Waiting for special screening at security — you have to go through the metal detector with your baby and may require a pat-down
  • At least one diaper change before boarding, which may involve waiting for a family restroom
  • At least one feed before boarding, though this may coincide with adult eating time

Pack Extra Bottles & Snacks for the Airport & Flight — but Make Bottles After Security

Our rule of thumb: Baby drinks and eats twice as much during air travel as at home. What can we say? Travel makes everyone hungry. But before your kid is on solids, don’t make bottles until after security unless you’re comfortable risking already-made bottles. TSA agents don’t automatically throw out breast milk or liquid formula over the 3-ounce liquids limit. But they will subject bottles to closer scrutiny and certainly don’t guarantee they won’t dispose of baby food. If you’re exclusively breastfeeding, pack a few pouches of liquid or frozen pumped milk to supplement your supply on the flight. If your baby is eating solids, bring a combination of healthy snacks and liquid food pouches. Sequester all baby sustenance in a separate resealable bag for ease of screening. Plan to feed your kid during takeoff and landing to mitigate painful air pressure changes. Otherwise, feed as needed — or whenever Baby threatens to melt down.

Leave the Jogging Stroller at Home

I love our jogging stroller. It’s capable of navigating everything from ankle-deep snow to clay mud to leaf-strewn trails. Sadly, since our son was old enough to sit up on his own, our jogging stroller hasn’t joined us on vacation. Its replacement is a perfectly capable umbrella stroller that’s several inches narrower, about half the weight, and far more maneuverable. It also folds into a 4-inch-diameter cylinder. It shined on the hilly, narrow sidewalks of Seattle and Paris. Of course, if your baby needs a car seat attachment, an umbrella stroller isn’t in the cards. Instead, you can:

  • Bring your heavier-duty stroller
  • Commit to wearing your baby whenever they’re not in the car seat
  • Use a special travel stroller system, like the Britax B-Lively and B-Safe Gen2 Whatever stroller you bring, your best bet is to take it through the entire airport and gate-check it as soon as you arrive in the boarding area. Don’t check your stroller at the ticket counter unless you’re hankering for an arm workout. While you can wear your baby most of the way through the airport, you have to take them out and hold them through security.

Don’t Be a Cloth Diaper Hero

Cloth diapers are better for the environment than disposables, but they’re a nightmare on travel days. After flirting with continuing our son’s cloth diaper regimen on his first flying vacation, we scrapped the idea as unworkable — too many extra bags with too high a risk of leakage. If you’re more creative and committed than we were, more power to you. Otherwise, use disposables on vacation and switch back to cloth upon your return.

Pack More Than 1 Baby Outfit per Day

Baby clothing is compact and lightweight enough to overpack without drastically increasing your total baggage weight. Take advantage of this. Even after starting our son on solid foods, we found that blowouts were more common away from home — probably due to a combination of factors, like unfamiliar foods, irregular sleep, and a higher share of dietary liquids on travel days.

Consider Driving to the Airport

Our son is a pro on public transit, not least because he loves attention. But that doesn’t mean his parents love riding buses and trains with heavy bags and strollers and car seats. Since his birth, we’ve driven to the airport every time, despite living a short bus ride from the airport train. With regard to ridesharing services, for trips shorter than five days, it’s cheaper for us to drive and park in the discount lot than take a Lyft both ways. Your break-even could be longer or shorter — it depends on how far you live from the nearest airport and how much that airport’s parking authority charges for long-term parking. Plus, when you drive your own car, you can leave the car seat in your vehicle to be replaced by a rental at your destination if needed. Be sure to price out airport parking ahead of time. Our home airport charges about 50% more for terminal parking than on-site discount parking, and off-site discount parking is cheaper still. The 10- to 15-minute free shuttle ride is well worth the savings.