Holiday Airport Travel with Infants and Toddlers

Mom unzipping Weekender Bag with baby daughter sitting in her lap

More than 100 million Americans will travel this holiday season. And, for many of the smallest travelers, this will be their first flight!  

If you are making a trip with a little one at your side, check out these helpful guides to make your trip through the TSA and onboarding just a bit smoother.

What to Pack in Your Diaper Bag for a Plane Ride

A well-packed diaper bag is essential for a smooth flight. Pack anything you would normally use for your child on an outing + a bit extra. If your flight is delayed or your luggage is lost, an extra change of clothing, a few extra diapers, and snacks on hand will cover you during the gap.

  • Change of Clothes: Older children may only need one back-up outfit in the event of lost luggage. But, babies or potty-training children should pack more than one outfit, just in case spit-up, accidents, or other normal messes. Don’t forget a sweater or swaddle blanket, in case the airplane feels chilly. 
  • Snacks & Food: Pack a little more than you think you need. In the event of a flight delay, these extra snacks will come in handy. You may not always be able to find baby food or snacks your child likes at the stores in the terminal. 
  • Diapers & Wipes: Just like with your snacks, pack a few more than you would normally need for the number of hours you’ll be traveling. If you run out, it may be hard to find additional diapers on the plane or in the terminal.
  • Comfort Item: Pack their favorite blanket, stuffed animal, teether or toy. If your infant uses pacifiers, make sure to pack a spare or two in case one gets lost or dirty. 
  • Sanitizing Wipes: Pack a few sanitizing wipes to clean your seating area prior to take off. Most airports can only do a cursory tidy-yup between flights. Hand sanitizer for before snacks and tissues for messy noses are also helpful.
  • Infant Wrap or Carrier: Traveling can really throw off your child’s nap schedule. Holding them in a carrier can give them a quiet place to cuddle up and snooze. Carriers also keep baby close with freeing up your hands to pull along luggage in the terminal.

Can I take My Diaper Bag as a Carry On? 

TSA regulations limit carry-ons to one bag and one small, personal item. Most diaper bags fit well within the TSA’s size limit for carry ons and small, personal items. If your child has their own ticket, they are also afforded a carry on and personal item. However, lap infants are not given a carry-on luggage allotment. 

So, plan on your diaper bag being your personal item. Most airlines will include diaper bags in your carry-on allowance. However, United Airlines, Jet Blue, and American Airlines currently allow diaper bags as a bonus item, in addition to your carry on allowance. 

Prior to flying, call ahead or check each air carriers site for their most updated policy. 

United Airlines: United Airlines has one of the most generous carry on policies for families with infants. Your diaper bag and breast pump/milk storage may be brought onboard in addition to your carry-on bag and personal item. If overhead space does get full, you may be asked to gate check your carry-on bag.

American Airlines: Diaper bags, soft-sided cooler bags with breast milk, child safety seats, strollers and medical or mobility devices don’t count toward your personal item or carry-on.

JetBlue: JetBlue has a generous policy for diaper bags and baby equipment. If you’re traveling with a lap infant, you can bring aboard a diaper bag in addition to a permitted carry on and personal item.

Spirit Airlines: Spirit Airlines only includes one free personal item with each fare. They make an exception to this policy for diaper bags. You may bring one diaper bag per paid seat in addition to your personal item, for no extra charge.

Delta: Delta includes your diaper bag counts as your carry on or personal item. However, your breast pump and associated cooler bag is allowed as an additional item (in addition to your carry-on allowance). If this bag is also your diaper bag, it may be best to call in advance and clarify their policy so you don’t have any surprises at the gate. 

SouthWest: SouthWest includes your diaper bag counts as your carry on or personal item.

Alaska Airlines: Alaska Airlines includes your diaper bag counts as your carry on or personal item.

Can I Bring Formula or Breast Milk on a Plane? 

Yes, you can bring formula and breast milk with you when you fly. Because they are considered medically necessary liquids, formula, breast milk, toddler drinks, and baby/toddler food are not limited to the 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters carry on liquid restriction and do not need to fit within a quart-sized bag.

You will need to declare that you are traveling with breast milk or formula in your carry-on luggage at the security checkpoint. The TSA recommends that you bring enough formula or breast milk for your child's entire flight, as well as some extra in case of delays.

You may bring a small, personal cooler with formula and breast milk through the security checkpoint. Your child or infant does not need to be present or traveling with you to bring breast milk, formula and/or related supplies.

If you are traveling with powdered formula, water for mixing formula must be declared at the security checkpoint and will be subject to additional scrutiny.

For a faster, easier security screening process, remove these items from your carry on bag at the security checkpoint.

Can I Pump on a Plane or at the Airport? 

Your breast pump is considered a medical device and you may bring it through the security checkpoint and onto a plane. Most airlines will not count it toward your carry-on allowance.

Once through security, you may pump in the terminal. Some airports even offer lactation rooms for breastfeeding and pumping.

If you must pump on the plane, please plan ahead. Not all planes have electrical outlets, and you may need  to have a battery powered or manual pump. There are no dedicated lactation facilities on planes, so you will need to pump in your seat or in the bathroom. Bring portable pump cleaners and wipes, as the tap water on airplanes is often not potable and shouldn't be used to clean your pump.

Freshly expressed breastmilk can be stored at room temperature for up to six hours. If your travel will extend past this time, be sure to have a cooler and ice packs on hand. Most airlines are unable to provide refrigeration, even for breastmilk or medications.