I have a one-year-old son who has been on 14 flights so far (domestic and international) with another long haul flight coming up next week. And just one week ago, we flew across North America with him to visit family — this isn’t the easiest age to travel with a baby but it doesn’t have to be terrible either, trust me!
This is a comprehensive guide with all of the information you need to make your long haul flight with your budding toddler smooth and more enjoyable. There are no guarantees when traveling with a baby/toddler but we can do the very best to increase the likelihood that we’ll have a great flight! Let’s do this!
In this guide, you’ll find the following topics covered:
- One-Year-Old Babies Fly Free (Unless you want your car seat on board)
- Where to Sit on the Plane with Your One-Year-Old
- Documents You Need for Your One-Year-Old to Travel
- How to Pack for You and Your One-Year-Old for the Flight
- Gate Check Your Stroller and Car Seat for Free
- How to Navigate the Airport with Your One-Year-Old
- Tips for Boarding the Plane with Your One-Year-Old
- How to Keep Your One-Year-Old Baby Entertained on the Flight
- How to Get Your One-Year-Old to Sleep on the Flight
- How to Spend Your Layover with a One-Year-Old
One-Year-Old Babies Fly Free (Unless you want your car seat on board)
First, you’ll have to decide whether you’re going to buy a seat for your baby or if you’re going to have them sit in your lap for free (or for a fraction of the regular price). Until babies are 2 years old, they count as a “lap infant” and you don’t have to buy them their own seat.
If you’ll be buying a seat for your baby, you can either have them sit in the seat or bring their car seat on board for free. *Car seats also get checked for free on most major airlines.*
If you’re going to bring your baby on board as a lap child, the obvious advantage is that it’s cost-effective, but there are a few things to keep in mind.
First of all, you won’t be able to bring your car seat on board. You can ask if there are any empty seats on your flight, in which case the flight crew might accommodate your car seat, but there’s no guarantee. You’ll have to be prepared to have your baby in your lap the whole flight — which can be challenging for a long haul! But doable!
For take off and landing: On many international airlines, you’ll be asked to put a baby lap belt on, which is a seat belt extension that loops around the adult seat belt and then around your baby’s waist. Babies have to be seated in your lap facing forward and wearing this lap belt for takeoff and landing.
On US carriers, they don’t do infant lap seat belts– Instead, you’re asked to hold your baby facing toward you for takeoff and landing.
Where to Sit on the Plane with Your One-Year-Old
There is great debate between travel moms about where is the best place to sit on an airplane with a baby or toddler, which I wrote about and highly recommend you check out to figure out which seat and part of the plane are best for your family specifically.
However, the consensus seems to be that the window seat, the bulkhead row, and the back of the plane are the best places to sit when flying with babies or toddlers. These areas offer the most privacy, space, and safety, according to many moms who travel with their littles ones.
The bulkhead row is the row usually located in the first row (or the first row after a separator), faces a wall and has a bit more legroom. This row is great to choose for babies because you can request a bassinet if you want.
There is an age/weight limit for some airlines so check with them first. Our son was 22 pounds and over a year old when he last used one.
I’m not sure how much I love the bassinet to be honest. I’m sure some other babies sleep very well in them (especially younger babies), but my son lasted about one hour out of our entire long haul flight. The rest of the time, the bassinet was just kind of awkwardly in our way — although it was useful for holding a bunch of our stuff!
I do like the bulkhead row for the extra room and not having anyone in front of us to disturb. The cons of the bulkhead row are that you can’t put the arm rests up, and there is no underseat storage in front of you. All bags need to go in the overhead bins for takeoff and landing.
The window seat with a baby is obviously great for using as a distraction and to have something to lean against, especially if you’re breastfeeding. The big con is having to ask the person/people sitting next to you to move every time you need to change a diaper, walk up and down the aisle with your baby, etc.
The back of the plane is a popular place to sit as well, because it tends to be quieter, darker, and if the flight isn’t full — less populated. It’s also usually closer to the bathrooms.
On my most recent long haul flight with my one-year-old, we opted for the bulkhead row with the bassinet. But in hindsight, I think I would have rather had a row near the back instead. Here’s why:
Our flight wasn’t full so we could have had a whole row in the back to ourselves to put the arm rests up and stretch out. It was much quieter and darker back there. Sitting in the bulkhead, there was so much noise and activity with the flight attendants preparing food and coffee and assisting other passengers. Our baby had a tough time sleeping through all the noise and light.
If your child is a lap infant, the options for sleep are:
- They sleep in your arms
- They sleep attached to you in a baby carrier (but it can’t be used for takeoff and landing)
- They sleep in the baby bassinet in the bulkhead row
- They sleep lying across you and your partner’s laps
- You are lucky and have an empty seat next to you so you can lay them there or use your car seat!
Documents You Need for Your One-Year-Old to Travel
To fly domestically within the United States, you officially don’t need to bring ID for your baby but I would recommend bringing your baby’s birth certificate anyway just in case, for two reasons:
- You may need to prove your baby’s age for them to qualify as a lap infant (under 2 years old)
- You may need to prove that you are the legal parent (not likely but I have heard of rare cases)
You may also be asked for a physician’s note with a clean bill of health if your child is a newborn. Many airlines don’t allow you to travel with a baby under 7 days or 14 days without a note from a doctor.
You may need a boarding pass for your child — or at least to make sure that your child is connected to your boarding pass (basically, the airline needs to know that a baby will be coming on board, even if they are a lap baby).
We started traveling with our son when he was 3 months old and the same documentation that we needed then is needed for him at one-year-old. It will depend on your exact circumstances, but here is a list of the 6 documents that you may need for traveling with your baby:
- Birth certificate
- Boarding Pass
- Vaccination record
- Physician’s note
- Notarized parental consent letter
Not every document will be necessary on every flight. To find out the details and exceptions for each item, please read the article I wrote all about baby flight documentation. This all applies to infants who are US citizens, but much of it is relevant to babies from around the world.
How to Pack for You and Your One-Year-Old for the Flight
We have to bring so much more stuff with us than we used to now that we have a baby. But I have to say that we’ve gotten MUCH better at packing with a baby than we were when we first started traveling with him at 3 months old.
We’ve streamlined things for sure, and this process takes some trial and error just because every family and baby’s needs are a little bit different. We’ve personally become better at leaving a lot of stuff behind and then hitting up Facebook marketplace for items that we need in our destination (or going without).
There are also rental companies that you can just rent baby items from (like high chairs, toys, etc.) if you don’t want to lug everything with you.
In total, we usually pack (TO CHECK):
- Our car seat (to gate check)
- Our stroller (to gate check)
- A larger suitcase with mom and baby’s clothes/stuff (to check)
- A large backpack with dad’s clothes/stuff (to check)
And we usually pack (TO CARRY ON):
- A diaper bag (usually doesn’t count as one of our carry-ons, but depends on the airline)
- A carry-on backpack for mom
- A carry-on backpack for dad
- A baby carrier to use while navigating the airports (our son has always really liked being “worn” and still does at one year — much more than the stroller)
I’ll go a bit more in depth for what to pack in your carry-on bags below.
As far as checked luggage, this will probably depend on your destination (will it be hot, cold, rainy, etc.) and how long you’re staying (how many pairs of pants, shirts, etc. will you need).
My recommendation would be to pack as light as possible where you can still be comfortable and happy with the clothes you’ll have (easier said than done, for sure!).
Carry-on Packing Checklist for Your One-Year-Old
For a PDF version of this checklist and a detailed explanation, please take a look at my complete guide to packing for you and your baby.
Make sure the activities you pack for your baby are something new (can be dollar store objects). I also have a list of 20+ cheap and easy activities for one-year-olds on an airplane that you should definitely read before you go!
Here is what I pack for my one-year-old in his carry-on bag/diaper bag (after many flights of trial and error!):
- Diapers (x8)
- Wipes (1-2 packs)
- Changing pad
- Diaper rash cream
- Socks (x2)
- Pajamas (x2)
- Light hoodie/sweater
- Baby blanket
- Light, breathable muslin blanket (to cover up for breastfeeding)
- Pacifier (x2)
- Pacifier/toy leashes
- Portable sound machine + extra batteries
- Water bottle
- 1 sippy cup/bottles
- Baby Tylenol
- Hand sanitizer
- Baby nail clippers
- Snack catcher
- Lots of dry snacks
- Mini first aid kit
- Ziploc/wet bag for soiled or wet clothes
- Activities for the plane
- Basic mini travel size toiletries (baby soap, toothpaste, toothbrush)
- If walking, soft stretchy shoes
Carry-on Packing Checklist for You
It’s equally important what you pack for yourself on the plane. This list is what I always pack in my carry-on bag when flying with my baby.
You probably won’t have much time to sleep on the plane, if any, so make sure you’re packed days in advance so that the nights before traveling you can just concentrate on getting some REST before the big day.
- An extra outfit (including underwear)
- Headphones/ear pods
- Phone charger
- Adult Tylenol
- Plug converters for your destination
- Lap top/tablet
- Camera + batteries
- Snacks for you
- A folder with all of your important documents (passport, visas, birth certificate, copy of your travel insurance, etc.)
- Ziploc bags
- Baby monitor
- Breast pump (handheld)
- Basic mini toiletries (soap/shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush, glasses/contacts, etc.)
- Fanny pack (to wear in the airport)
Gate Check Your Stroller and Car Seat for Free
As I mentioned above, most major airlines will check your stroller and car seat for free. If you absolutely know that you don’t want your car seat or stroller on the plane, you can plan to check them right away when you arrive at the airport.
If you want to try to bring your car seat on the plane for your lap baby (in hopes that there will be an empty seat next to you), you can carry it to your gate and then gate check it if it doesn’t work out.
Remember that if you’re going to be carrying your car seat through security and through the airport all the way to your gate, I recommend having a plan for carrying it along with all your stuff and your baby. It can be overwhelming trying to juggle a bunch of stuff, and trolleys aren’t allowed starting at the security line up.
We usually use our stroller as a trolley! And then we simply gate check it before we get on the plane.
How to Navigate the Airport with Your One-Year-Old
Think about how you’ll be carrying your baby through the airport (stroller, carrier, etc.) and how you’re going to carry/move your carry-on bags as well. This is especially important when you’re traveling solo with your baby.
I made the mistake of not thinking this all through beforehand exactly ONCE — the time I first flew solo with my son. I ended up having to carry way too much stuff on my own through the airport and it was tough. It’s much more manageable of course if you’re flying with another adult who can help.
Here’s what we usually do:
- Check our car seat right away (we don’t bother trying to use it on the plane because our son has never liked sitting in a car seat anyway)
- Carry our baby in our wearable front baby carrier (we’ve always loved our Lillebaby carrier)
- Put all of our carry-on bags that will fit into the stroller and push it through security to our gate!
- Gate check our stroller
Tips for Boarding the Plane with Your One-Year-Old
We’ve tried boarding a couple of different ways and the best way to board has ended up being this: Split up! Usually my husband boards early when they ask for families traveling with young kids to board. He takes all of our bags, stows everything away, and sets up our seat.
I try to get my baby tired out until the very last minute and board with the final group — the plane door shutting behind us!
This usually works out really well for us, as we can avoid our baby being stuck in a small contained space for too long. Also, if the timing is right, he falls asleep just in time for takeoff.
While you’re waiting for your flight, it’s so helpful to find an airport playground area for kids and get your toddler’s energy out as much as possible before boarding!
How to Keep Your One-Year-Old Baby Entertained on the Flight
Keeping our one-year-old baby entertained on the flight has become more challenging as he’s gotten older. A newborn baby is actually easy peasy on the plane in comparison! But you also don’t have to overthink it.
I’m going to make some recommendations below for what to bring, based on my own experiences (and the advice of many other travel moms I surveyed). But please rely heavily on your gut when packing, because you know your child best as to what is likely to keep them entertained.
Some great activities for a one-year-old on the plane:
- Sticker books
- Masking/painter’s tape
- Dollar store (cheapy) toys
- Pill boxes filled with snacks
- Sensory/busy boards
- Buckle pillow
- Downloaded videos on a tablet or phone + toddler headphones
- Coloring book and crayons
- Empty spice containers + pipe cleaners to pull through the holes
- Old wallet or travel wallet filled with plastic “credit cards” (old memberships cards, bus passes, etc.)
- Pipe cleaners and uncooked pasta to string
- A small empty water bottle with the bottom cut off + colorful pom pom balls to put through the hole
- Anything with zippers or strings
- Window cling stickers
- Window suction spinners
- Magnet toys
- Water Wow books
- Mobi Zippee Silicone Pull Toy
- Pop it or fidget toys
How to Get Your One-Year-Old to Sleep on the Flight
Ah, sleep. It’s hard enough to come by on normal, non-travel days with a baby so how are we supposed to get our one-year-olds to sleep on a plane?
Again, I’ll offer some advice but your baby is their own special little person so remember that different tricks work for different kids, of course!
Some tips for getting your one-year-old baby to sleep on a flight include:
- Bring your car seat on board if they’re used to sleeping in it.
- Ask to be seated in the bulkhead row and request a baby bassinet
- Bring an inflatable baby travel bed on board and place it in the seat next to you
- Bring a light muslin blanket to block out light
- Bring a portable sound machine to block out announcements and other passengers
- Walk the aisles to put your baby to sleep (with your baby in a carrier if you use one)
- Tire them out before boarding and try to fly at their nap/bedtime
- Bring their comfort items (stuffed animal, blanket, pacifier, etc.)
Every baby is different. We’ve walked the aisles with our son, put him to sleep in his carrier, and more recently he falls asleep while breastfeeding only (when on the plane). And I find that a comfort item (his blanket) and playing lullabies very quietly on my phone has helped a lot to put him to sleep.
I would say mimic as closely as you can what you might do at home to put your baby to sleep — as far as sounds, light, motion, and comfort items.
How to Spend Your Layover with a One-Year-Old
A direct flight, however long, is probably ideal for most people traveling with a baby. But that isn’t always an option, unfortunately. If you have a long-ish layover ahead of you, I have two recommendations for making it more enjoyable for you.
The first one is a bit fancy. We’ve done this twice with our baby and that’s to use one of the priority lounges. You can basically go hang out in a nicer part of the airport with comfy seats and “free” food and drinks. It’s awesome.
We have a certain number of passes that come with our credit cards every year. Or you can just buy a pass for the day. If you can swing it, it makes your layover experience with a baby MUCH more enjoyable, especially after a long flight… on your way to another long flight!
My second recommendation is to bring items in your carry-on bag to camp out. Bring a couple of blow up camping mats, lightweight blankets, snacks, and “camp out” in a dim area on the floor of the airport. When you’re prepared for this, it can actually be kind of cozy and fun to hang out in your little “spot” for a few hours.
Choose a spot near a kids area/playground or plan activities for your airport time for your baby as well (not just for the plane).
If you can, take this time to trade off getting some lay down rest — Or try to get your baby to sleep and ALL of you get some rest before your second flight.
Good luck! YOU GOT THIS! 🙂