Mayo Clinic Health Library

Question

Air travel with infant: Is it safe?

Is air travel safe for an infant?

Updated: 01-14-2012

Answer

Air travel is appropriate for most infants. Before you fly with your baby, however, consider:

  • Your baby's age. Generally, age doesn't affect an infant's ability to handle air travel. Your baby's doctor might discourage unnecessary air travel shortly after birth, however.
  • Your baby's ears. Changing cabin pressure during a flight causes temporary changes in middle ear pressure, which can trigger ear pain. To help equalize the pressure in your baby's ears, encourage your baby to suck on a bottle or pacifier during takeoff and landing. Ear infections and ear tubes aren't thought to pose problems during air travel. If your baby is ill, however, you might ask his or her doctor whether you should postpone the flight.
  • Your baby's breathing. During flight, air pressure in an aircraft cabin is lower than air pressure on land. Although this temporary change in oxygen level doesn't seem to pose problems for otherwise healthy babies, your baby's doctor might recommend supplemental oxygen if your baby has an underlying respiratory condition. If your baby was born prematurely and has a history of lung disease, your baby's doctor might recommend postponing air travel until age 1 or later.
  • Your baby's safety seat. Most infant car seats are certified for air travel. Although airlines typically allow infants to ride on a caregiver's lap during flight, the Federal Aviation Administration recommends that infants ride in properly secured safety seats. If you choose not to purchase a ticket for your infant, ask about open seats when you board the plane — in case one can be assigned to your infant. For the most room, choose bulkhead seats if you can.

If you're tempted to give your baby an over-the-counter medication to encourage sleep during the flight — such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl, others) — be cautious. The practice isn't generally recommended, and sometimes the medication can have the opposite effect. If you still think that medication might be the best option for your baby, talk to your baby's doctor first. He or she might recommend a test dose at home to be sure the medication has the intended effect.

It's also important to think about how you'll occupy your baby during the flight. You might bring on board a teething ring, pacifier, special blanket or stuffed animal, and age-appropriate toys and books. If your baby is fussy while you're in the air, take occasional breaks to walk up and down the aisle — as long as the crew approves moving throughout the cabin.

In addition, be prepared to feed your baby during the flight. Baby formula, baby food, expressed breast milk and juice are allowed on board in reasonable quantities, according to the Transportation Security Administration. You can take your baby out of his or her safety seat for nursing whenever the crew approves moving throughout the cabin.