So, you’re a new parent and freaking out about traveling with an infant for the very first time. Or, have you had a few ‘mishaps’ on recent trips and are looking for some better ways of making air travel with your baby a success? You know that you will probably over pack, lose some sleep, and get out of the sacred routine that you have worked so hard on, but you know the day has come when you must attempt air travel with your precious cargo.
If you have had the opportunity to travel more than a handful of times, you know that it is not always the easiest endeavor, especially with kids. Travel teaches you all sorts of things: patience, flexibility, quick decision making, patience, communication and negotiation skills, packing skills, and patience. Throw in some kids in the mix and you get to learn of a whole new level of, you guessed it, patience. Don’t get me wrong, travel is exciting, full of adventure, and an education in and of itself. However, without the right knowledge or skills, it can quickly turn into a disaster.
I have also noticed that many parents really fear traveling with their kids and hold off on flying out of fear of the unknown. And many, many times, the first flight goes off without a hitch, and the weeks of anxiety are just not worth it.
We have had the extraordinary privilege of taking our kids on lots of airplane adventures. It did not take us long to make Southwest Airlines our exclusive airline of choice for traveling with an infant and kids. Their customer service, value of family, ‘transfarency’, open seating, and fleet of airplanes made this our one stop shop for air travel. If Southwest does not fly to our destination, well, we just don’t go. Actually, that’s not true. But, it does make a significant impact on our decision making.
Here are my step by step tips for traveling with an infant on Southwest Airlines:
Before You Travel:
- You do not have to purchase a ticket for kids under 2 years old. They are considered a ‘lap child,’ which means they do not have their own ticketed seat. If you do not want your almost 2 year old to be squirming in your lap for that long 4 hour flight, it might be worth purchasing them a seat.
- Be sure you have packed the appropriate amount of items. Don’t overpack but don’t skimp on essentials like diapers, wipes, and formula/food. Always bring a change of clothes on the plane!!
- If you want your stroller or car seat to be bagged, be sure to bring this from home. If not, Southwest sells bags for about $15 or you can choose to go without.
- Check in 24 hours before your flight. I have found that early bird check in is not worth the added expense when traveling with young children. You get to board in family boarding after the A group anyways.
- If you child is NOT ticketed, be sure to track down a copy of your child’s birth certificate or some other form of age/identity proof.
- When you get to the airport, if you have a ‘lap child,’ you have to go through the full service lane (not the express bag check lane) to get your lap child a boarding pass. Additionally, curb side check in can handle this for you. Because of this, I rarely print our boarding passes, because they would have to reprint them anyways. The ‘lap child’ boarding pass is stapled to your boarding pass.
- Bring a copy of the child’s birth certificate to prove the ‘lap child’s’ age/identity.
- Have your drivers license, and any travel documents in an easy to grab location.
- I always bring our infant car seat/stroller to the plane and do not check them here.
- If the airport has one, be sure you are in the family lane (many times faster!) at the airport security screening.
- You are allowed to bring water, formula, breastmilk, and baby food through security. Just be sure to notify one of the TSA agents at the screening area that you have these items. They will have to pull them out separately to test them, so it will take a couple of extra minutes to get through. Don’t freak out. They aren’t poisoning your babies milk and you are not about to be charged for terrorism.
- Right now, kids do not have to take their shoes off but adults do. Laptops have to be out of the bags but everything else can stay in, including iPads/tablets.
- If you don’t need a car seat or stroller at your destination, a baby carrier is great. Just be prepared to take the baby out during screening or at take off and landing. It did not happen every time, but sometimes the flight attendant would request this.
- If you do need a car seat or stroller at your destination, a snap-and-go stroller is the best option with your infant car seat. It’s small, lightweight and easily folded down. You do not need your infant car seat base. It is legal to put that in the car with a seatbelt without the base. Seriously, leave the base at home. Nothing makes you look more like a novice traveler than carrying around an infant car seat base.
- All of your items (car seat, stroller, etc) all have to go through the X-ray machine so you need to fold them down. If you are traveling by yourself, practice doing this at home so you are not overwhelmed with how to do it. First take the infant car seat (with the child still strapped in) and place it on the floor. Then fold down your stroller and put it on the conveyer belt. Next get all of your belongings in the bins (notifying the TSA agent of your liquids), and then take your child out of the car seat, hold them, and place the car seat on the conveyer belt. Ours always had to go upside down on the conveyor belt. If it won’t fit through the x-ray machine, notify TSA and they will check it separately.
- You do not have to go through the Backscatter Millimeter Wave Scanner with the baby, so be sure to wait for TSA to walk you through the metal detector.
- Once you are through, put your child back in the car seat and then get everything else set up. Don’t hesitate to ask for some help.
- TSA will take your bag to a table to do the additional screening of your liquids.
At The Gate:
- If your child is a lap child, go to the gate agent and ask if there is any extra room on the plane. If there is, they will allow you to bring your car seat on board. It must be next to the window.
- Be sure to ‘gate check’ each piece of your stroller/car seat at the Gate Counter before getting in line to board. This means that each piece has it’s own tag and it will be placed under the plane.
- I always waited to nurse or feed my kids until the plane because it supposedly helps their ears at takeoff and landing. I did however, try and get a diaper change in before the plane.
- If you are in the A boarding group, line up according to your number in line when asked to do so. If you are not A, form a line in the preboard area by the jetway door (don’t crowd in but be close enough to claim your spot in the family boarding line.)
- After the A group boards, the gate agent will call for A list and active military and then families. Now it’s your turn to board.
- Once you are at the far end of the jetway, look for the door that leads to the outside. This is where you leave your stroller and/or car seat. Just fold everything up in the same way at security and leave it out of the way by the door.
On The Plane:
- I recommend sitting beyond the Emergency Exit row if you want to be in the more kid-friendly zone of the airplane. Most people in the front of the plane are business travelers and are not always the happiest sitting next to kids.
- If you have a car seat, it must be by the window. Buckle it in just like you would in your car (rear-facing for infants.)
- I highly recommend nursing or feeding during the take off and landing if possible. It can be uncomfortable trying to do that with someone right next to you but a good nursing cover and some confidence will do you some good.
- At this time, the diaper changing station is in the front bathroom only. There is a little latch release on the wall and a table folds down. If you have a stinky diaper, feel free to ask the flight attendant for a bag to seal it up in so that everyone’s noses are better off.
- If you need help, ask a friendly flight attendant to hold your child.
- Never underestimate the fascination of a plastic cup with your developing infant. Southwest has plenty.
- If your child screams, get up and walk around or nurse them again or let them cry it out. If everyone is giving you the evil eye, just take a deep breath and realize you will probably not ever see most of them again.
- If you have Southwest drink coupons, you can give them away to the people sitting next to you as a way to appease them.
- Be sure you have your stuff together, but also realize that once you arrive at the gate, the wait to get off of the plane can feel like an eternity with a temperamental baby. Try and time your ‘packing up’ to be when your baby is most content.
- Once you are getting off the plane, stop to the side by the jetway door and wait for your stroller and car seat if you checked it at the gate. Ask someone to help you get it all set up.
- Head to the restroom if needed and then to baggage claim. If it took you a long time to get out of the terminal, your bags may already be at the Southwest office. Just ask a Southwest employee at baggage claim to help you locate your bag.
- If you checked your car seat or stroller at the ticketing counter (not the gate), those items may be with the oversized luggage at a separate baggage claim area than your suitcases.
You Did It!
There you have it. Your step by step guide to traveling with an infant on Southwest Airlines. You can read more about traveling with infants and children on Southwest’s site. Be sure to check out the latest security information before you fly, and be sure you have signed up for Rapid Rewards. If you purchase a ticket for your child, they can be a Rapid Rewards member too and start earning points toward free flights.
Be sure to share this with any new parents that you know!
Join The Conversation: Do you fly with your baby? Do you have any other tips or tricks for air travel with an infant? You can leave a comment by clicking here.