After taking about 30 flights with my baby son, my husband and I have lots of experience changing diapers on a plane and I’m here to share my best tips and tricks with you today. I’ve also included a video below from our travel channel on YouTube in case you’re a visual learner (just scroll to the bottom of this blog post). In a nutshell:
An airplane diaper change is done in the airplane bathroom, just as you would do in any public bathroom. If your baby is too large to fit on the airplane bathroom changing table, your best options will be a standing change on the closed toilet lid or lying your baby down on the floor of the bathroom with the door open.
More details on how this works exactly are outlined below! This is my full step-by-step guide for changing a diaper on an airplane (for a baby or toddler) based on my personal travel experiences with my family.
First let’s start with what you absolutely should NOT do when changing a diaper on an airplane to avoid a nasty faux pas or even a potential nightmare scenario. If you have any questions, send us a message on Instagram @wayfaringhumans.
What NOT to Do When Changing a Diaper on a Plane
Don’t Change Your Baby at Your Airplane Seat
Don’t be tempted to do a quick change on your airplane seat. Even if there is any empty seat next to you. Just don’t do it!
It seems very natural for us as parents to change our babies anywhere, anytime, but changing your baby at your seat is unsanitary for the other passengers and will not make you any friends. It may also get you into trouble with the flight attendants.
I am a bit embarrassed to admit that we’ve done a quick pee diaper change at our airplane seats before, when we couldn’t get up because the seat belt sign was on. But I do NOT recommend this. In extreme circumstances, it might be okay (like, for example, you can’t get out of your seat and your baby has had a massive poo explosion — then I could understand!).
Do not, under any circumstances, change your baby on the tray tables. I know you wouldn’t think of doing this, dear reader! But I have to say it anyway because I HAVE heard of a parent who did this! It’s where people eat, for goodness sakes!
Don’t FLUSH THE TOILET With Your Baby in the Bathroom
Is there anything scarier than an airplane toilet flush noise?! For a baby or toddler, this sound can send an otherwise calm and happy baby into hysterics — and make it difficult for you to ever get them back into an airplane bathroom again.
So just… don’t do it! Change your baby, throw their dirty diaper into the trash, and get out of there.
Don’t Dress Your Baby in Snaps or Buttons
I would say NEVER dress your baby in snaps or buttons, period, if you can avoid them. But definitely don’t dress your baby in snaps or buttons for a travel day. You have enough on your mind and enough to manage without having to do up a bunch of snaps on your baby’s onesie after a sweaty diaper change in a cramped bathroom.
Opt for onesie pajamas with zippers. Always zippers. You can read more about what I call “the perfect airplane outfit for babies” here.
Don’t Try to Change Your Baby’s Diaper When the Seatbelt Sign is On
A diaper change isn’t a good enough reason to leave your seat when the seatbelt sign is turned on. For your own safety and the safety of your baby, remember to wait until the seatbelt sign goes off before taking your baby to the bathroom for a diaper change.
That means no diaper changes during takeoff or landing. Plan to change your baby before boarding and during your flight (if necessary) before landing procedures begin.
What Do Airplane Bathroom Changing Tables Look Like?
Every plane is different, but you can expect to see something similar to the pictures down below. Here you can see it’s simply a changing table that folds down over the toilet.
As you may already know, airplane bathrooms are SMALL and there isn’t much space for you or your baby to move comfortably in them. I am 5 foot 7 inches tall and I have felt cramped in every airplane bathroom I’ve ever been in.
Taking my baby son in there with me, closing the door, and pulling down the changing table is a tight squeeze. However, it does do the trick and really isn’t all that bad.
If the cramped space really bothers you, ask the flight attendant if you can leave the door open as you change your baby’s diaper.
How to Change a Diaper on an Airplane: Step-by-Step Guide
1. Change Your Baby’s Diaper at the Gate RIGHT BEFORE You Board
You’ll help yourself out 1000% by being prepared before the moment of truth occurs (i.e. a big poop on the plane).
So before even boarding the plane, make sure and do a final diaper change at the gate. If your flight is short, there is hope that you won’t even need to change your baby’s diaper on the plane at all.
We’ve been on several flights with our son that were 1-3 hours long where we never had to visit the tiny, cramped airplane bathroom. This is the ideal travel scenario and it is achievable with a pre-flight diaper change and a bit of inflight cooperation from your little diapered monkey.
Just before boarding is called, change your baby’s diaper in the closest airport bathroom (on a bathroom changing table) with a changing pad (make sure and pack one in your carry-on or diaper bag). Wipe down the changing table with a wet wipe before laying your baby down if you’re concerned that the area isn’t well-covered enough.
My son once pooped MOMENTS before boarding a flight and it was one of those gate situations where they checked our passports and tickets and then put us in a holding area to wait in before being taken by bus to the plane. My son chose this moment to poop, in the waiting area, with no access to a bathroom.
I quickly ran to a gate agent and explained the situation. She told me to run to the bathroom (a few minutes away) to change him, and then come find her to let us back through. Remember: in emergency diaper situations, look around for sympathetic-looking flight attendants and gate agents who will help you out!
2. Prepare a “Grab Bag” of Essential Changing Items that is Easily Accessible
This is also part of the “preparation” stage, before the big pee pee or poo poo moment arrives. In a separate, EASY-to-access compartment of your carry-on or diaper bag, keep these items together:
- several clean diapers
- your changing pad
- a small bottle of hand sanitizer
- a few doggy poo bags
- diaper rash cream
Ideally you would keep these items in their own small zip up or Ziploc bag. That way, in a diaper-change emergency (either at the airport or on the plane), you can QUICKLY grab this separate little bag from its compartment and run to the bathroom to change your baby’s diaper — without having to take your ENTIRE diaper bag with you!
Another idea is to keep these items in a fanny pack during your travel day.
I’ve been in a situation or two on a travel day where a diaper or wipes were out of place (i.e. not in this special, separate compartment like they normally are), and it was SO FRUSTRATING. Like, more frustrating than is logical, but this is how it can feel when you’re in the high-pressure situation of dealing with an emergency travel-day poopy diaper!
The doggy poo bags — or plastic shopping bags, large Ziploc bags, and/or reusable wet bags — are to put dirty diapers in (and soiled clothes if necessary).
Before throwing a poopy diaper in an airplane bathroom trash, you should wrap it in a plastic bag (a doggy poo bag is best) so that it doesn’t completely stink up the small bathroom, especially on a long flight. The other passengers will thank you!
3. When Boarding, Locate the Bathrooms & Befriend the Flight Attendants
Once you’ve boarded the plane and have found your seats, you’re going to want to look around and make sure you know exactly where the bathrooms are.
This is part of being prepared, and you’ll be glad you know exactly where you need to go when the big moment arrives. And if one bathroom is taken or has a long line up, you know where your backup option is.
It’s also in your best interest to be friendly with the flight attendants right from the time you board the plane.
Not only is this the courteous thing to do in general, but it will make your flight much more enjoyable with your baby if you have a good rapport with the staff and can rely on them for assistance. I can’t tell you how many times having a pleasant and kind flight attendant has saved a flight for us.
It’s likely that the flight attendant, or maybe more than one of them, will introduce themselves to you personally. Usually when I’m with my baby, especially if I’m flying without my husband, I have a flight attendant tell me their name and offer their help throughout the flight. Most flight attendants are very aware that it’s not easy flying with a baby and want to make your life easier.
They also usually tell me where the bathroom is and (especially) point out the bathrooms that have (or don’t have) a changing table.
I would take a little peak inside the bathroom before takeoff, if you have a chance, to make sure you can locate the changing table. Sometimes they’re a bit hidden, depending on the airplane — ask the flight attendant if you can’t figure out how to unfold it.
4. Enter the Plane Bathroom & Put Your Baby at Ease
If your baby needs to be changed on your flight (either #1 or #2), you’ll need to use the airplane bathroom. Enter the bathroom with your baby and your “to-go” diaper change items from step #2 above.
Make sure your baby is comfortable before beginning the diaper change. If you’re changing a tiny baby, this probably isn’t very necessary.
But a slightly older baby or toddler who is aware of their surroundings may need a little bit of comfort, a soothing voice, and some silly faces in the mirror, to put them in a good mood before you change their diaper in an unknown strange little room. Try to keep things light and playful.
I highly recommend bringing a small toy or any kind of item to place in your baby’s hands during the diaper change. This will keep them from grabbing at the unsanitary walls, buttons, and knobs of the cramped airplane bathroom.
5. Locate the Changing Table and Sanitize the Area
Prepare to change your baby’s diaper by locating the changing table (ask for help if you can’t find it). Use your wet wipes to sanitize the changing table and the surrounding area that your baby might touch.
6. Change Your Baby As You Normally Would
Lay out your changing pad (reusable or disposable) and gently lay your baby on top of it. Find a surface to place your changing items if necessary. Change your baby just as you would anywhere else.
- Unzip their outfit on the bottom.
- Place a clean diaper underneath their dirty diaper (to reduce risk of the changing pad or clothing getting soiled in the moment between removing the old diaper and putting on the new one).
- Remove the dirty diaper and clean the area thoroughly.
- Roll up the dirty diaper and place it in a plastic doggy poo bag or Ziploc bag before placing it in the bathroom trash.
- Fasten the new diaper. Zip your baby’s clothes back up.
- Wash your hands, and your baby’s hands if necessary.
What to Do If Your Baby Does Not Fit on the Airplane Bathroom Changing Table
Airplane bathrooms are very small and the changing table is smaller than the average public bathroom changing table. Some older babies and toddlers simply won’t fit on them, or will be uncomfortably cramped on them lying down.
On a recent flight, my 1.5-year-old son was too tall for the changing table and had his feet sticking straight up in the air, perpendicular to the changing table. Not ideal for a diaper change. So what can you do?
You can first try lying your baby on the closed toilet lid, covered with your changing pad. If it’s a pee diaper change, another option is to do a standing diaper change, either on the changing table or by having your baby/toddler stand on the closed lid of the bathroom toilet.
I recommend practicing standing diaper changes at home before your travel day. Make sure your baby/toddler is wearing socks if they’re standing directly on the dirty change table or toilet lid.
Note: It’s also important to have extra outfits packed in your carry-on bag for both you and your baby in case the standing diaper change goes wrong (or there is a blowout, or any number of inflight messy baby situations).
If it’s a #2 diaper change, your best alternative may be to lay your baby on a changing pad on the floor of the bathroom (I know — ew… it’s not the most glamorous option) and leave the bathroom door open while you change your baby.
Speak with a flight attendant first, explain that your baby doesn’t fit on the change table, and ask for their advice. They may advise you to do the diaper change in the galley area or in another part of the plane with a bit more space.
How to Prevent Diaper Blowouts on the Airplane
Jetlag and the inconsistency of travel days can wreak havoc on the whole family’s digestive system, including your baby’s. Be prepared to deal with midflight diaper disasters with these tips:
Double Up on Diapers
Consider putting two diapers on your baby for travel. If one leaks, you have a back up ready to catch the overflow before you can get them to a changing table.
Consider Using Overnight Diapers
I don’t love this idea, because I don’t like keeping my son in a diaper longer than he needs to be — but this may save some parents out there. Just be sure to use rash cream. Diaper rashes are not pleasant. Overnight diapers might help prevent horrible blowouts on a long or red eye flight because they are more absorbent and able to contain your baby’s waste more efficiently for longer.
Line Your Lap (or Car Seat) with a Blanket
A light muslin blanket to place on your lap (if your child is flying as a lap baby) or to line your baby’s car seat can make cleaning up a blowout MUCH easier. Simply gather up the blanket and throw it in a wet bag or plastic bag to wash later. Which leads me to my next tip which is —
Don’t Forget to Pack a Wet Bag or Plastic Bag
I mentioned this tip above in the grab bag section, but it’s worth mentioning again. If your baby has a blowout, clean up is easy peasy with a wet bag or a large plastic bag (preferably a Ziploc) that you can just chuck all your soiled items into and worry about washing later on.
What did I miss in this article? Here’s our video describing how to change a diaper on an airplane, for anyone who would like a moving visual 🙂