Never let your baby fly the plane.
Woman traveling with her baby
Credit: Getty Images

Four years ago, Kristiana Choquet was nervous about taking her then 3-month-old on her first flight. It would be long — 11 hours from Johannesburg to Paris — and like many new parents, she wasn’t sure what to bring. “I packed a backpack of her own with diapers and wipes, a messenger bag with extra clothes and a rolling suitcase and stroller,” says the luxury travel advisor with Ovation Vacations in New York. “Our friends were like, ‘You’re never going to need all this stuff.’”

Since that momentous first trip — which Air France made easy with a complimentary bassinet — Olivia has visited four continents, and her mother has gotten smarter about packing. “Now I only fly with just one backpack for both of us,” she says, laughing. We asked Choquet and other experts for their best advice on how to travel with a child under 2. Here’s what they told us:

Before the Trip

Check With Your Pediatrician

“If the family is traveling internationally, it’s always a good idea to check with the pediatrician at least two weeks before to see if the child would require any extra immunizations,” says Dr. David Fagan, vice chairman of pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York. Depending on where you’re going, your child may need to have certain vaccines earlier, like measles, or to take a particular medicine. The Centers for Disease Control’s online Traveler’s Health section is a great place to research.

On the Flight

Consider a Rear-Facing Car Seat

Yes, it’s a hassle, but it’s still the safest place for your infant, insists Fagan. If you’re traveling by car, it’s a must. Check with the airline to determine specific policies, but you might need to spring for a separate ticket. And be sure to take the infant out of the seat every couple of hours. “This allows them to stretch out and move their legs,” Fagan notes, and they’ll probably need a diaper change anyway.

Bring a Collapsible Baby Stroller

Choquet swears by the popular Babyzen Yoyo stroller, which folds neatly and can be slung over the shoulder like a tote bag. It’s also recognized by most airlines as carry-on luggage, so throwing it in the overhead bin and navigating plane or train aisles is less of a headache. The only downsides: the price (over $400) and the fact it’s not recommended for travelers under 6 months. You’ll also lose basket storage. Another space-saving option is a baby carrier like an Ergobaby, says Choquet. “A lot of times baby falls asleep on your chest,” and if baby’s a lap child, or under the age of two, this can alleviate the stress of a stroller.

Ask for a Bassinet

Heading abroad? Call ahead to see if the airline offers a bassinet, says Choquet. These are typically complimentary on international flights, though they’re subject to availability. Delta advises to check ahead, especially for domestic flights, while United Airlines provides a limited number of bassinets on international flights only.

Keep Them Entertained

Always aim to keep your little one busy, says Choquet, who advises packing “snacks, puzzles, coloring books" or "anything you can stuff in your bag that’s not bulky.” Load the iPad with games and kid-friendly movies and stock up on favorite snacks so you’re not at the mercy of the food cart. Backpack too heavy? Old-school hand-clapping games like Patty Cake are always a hit and don’t require extra toys.

Deal With Changes in Air Pressure

“Most children are usually okay with changes in air pressure during takeoffs and landings,” explains Fagan, but since infants can’t swallow, pop their ears or yawn, the only alternative is sucking. Breastfeeding, a bottle or a pacifier are good, especially during the initial descent, when the biggest change in pressure occurs. Ask a flight attendant to let you know when the descent is about to begin.

At the Hotel

Check for Safety

Safety standards vary by country, so be sure to do a thorough inspection of the hotel room, says Fagan. “Parents should be comfortable with railings and check that the child can’t slip through,” he warns, and be aware to check for “exposed electrical wires and peeling paint chips.” Parents of toddlers who walk should be especially vigilant.

Ask for Baby Amenities

Why pack a bottle warmer or car seat when you can get them at the hotel? Marriott offers baby-proofing supplies like outlet covers, while every Rosewood property comes fully equipped with diaper pails, baby baths and monitors. At St. Regis hotels, parents can borrow strollers and stock up on diapers. “I’ve never really had to travel with a stroller,” says Choquet, who advises calling ahead. Just remember to thoroughly check cribs and strollers for safety — visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website for current rules — especially if you’re staying abroad, urges Fagan. Hotels not up on the family amenity trend? Diapers, wipes, formula and bottles are usually a quick click away if you’re in the U.S., Choquet advises.

Arm Against Mosquitoes

You wouldn’t let your child drink tap water — choose bottled, says Fagan — so don’t let them skip wearing mosquito repellent. In tropical climates especially, long-sleeved shirts and pants are best, but also consider lotions with DEET, which is safe for children over 6 months. (Never spray an infant due to the risk of inhalation.) Placing mosquito netting around a crib is another good idea, says Fagan, but check with your pediatrician and the CDC to hear your options.