Baby on board

For many of us, there comes a day when diaper changes become more frequent than the flier miles. But with a little research and a lot of planning, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Set your family up for success by planning ahead. Use this step-by-step guide to prepare for your next adventure with your little one in tow.

Before the flight

Getting a ticket. While most airlines do not require a ticket for children under 2, Chicago-based American Airlines recommends a seat be purchased and a safety seat be used for maximum safety during the flight.

Strategic flight selection. A good night’s sleep and planning around nap times will help, since it is hard to count on an over-stimulated child to nap onboard. Also consider flying at off-peak times (mid-morning to mid-afternoon) and on less busy days (mid-week or Saturdays).

Packing for the flight. Make sure you have diaper bag necessities, including snacks and activities, ready for the flight and possible delays. Be sure to leave anything that makes noise at home.

At the airport

Checking in. Ask for an infant boarding pass at check-in. Not all airlines require them, but I have been turned back at security for not having one. Also check in your car seat, unless it snaps into your stroller or has its own wheels.

Security. Plan to put everything you have on the conveyer belt, from the stroller to the blanket your child is attached to. All shoes need to come off and all liquids need to be put in bins for screening. Currently the Transportation Security Administration allows each passenger to carry on one quart size bag with liquids under 3 ounces, but allows some exceptions for traveling children. A reasonable amount of baby food, formula, breast milk or juice is allowed, but must be declared by placing it separately in a bin.

With ever-changing airport security regulations, be sure to look for updates at

At the gate

If you did not buy a seat for your little one, it doesn’t hurt to ask the gate agent how full the flight is and if you will have an empty seat next to you. You may be able to carry on your car seat if there is an empty seat next to you if you didn’t check it with your bags.

The gate agent can also provide a stroller tag before boarding begins. This allows you to leave your stroller in the walkway just outside the plane and have it delivered back there at your destination.

In flight

Once on board, get yourself situated with your diaper/activity bag on the floor in front of you. Make sure you have a bottle or sippy cup easily accessible.

“During takeoff and landing would be the best time to give them a bottle,” says Dr. Mark Rosenberg, a pediatrician with Children’s Healthcare Associates in Lincoln Park. “It basically does the same thing as yawning or chewing gum. If they start crying, they open their mouth and that does the same thing-it opens up the Eustachian tube in your ears. “

Very few aircraft models have fold-down changing areas in the lavatories, so in-flight changes require a little creativity. I’ve changed diapers on a blanket on the floor at the back of the plane or in the empty seat next to me. I also have changed one while on my lap in a middle seat, though I’d only recommend that if it really can’t wait.

Lastly, don’t forget to relax throughout the whole process. There are no guarantees a baby will be perfectly serene on a flight despite your best efforts. When it comes down to it, you will get to your destination whether the baby cried or not.

Jessica Powell Sieburg works full-time as a consultant and lives in Chicago with her husband and 2-year-old daughter.

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