Traveling with Baby
Smoothing out the bumpy ride to Walt Disney World
Tuesday, March 8, 2005
by Lani Teshima, staff writer
You are now a proud parent, and you want to take your young
one to Walt Disney World to share in the magic! It will be your child's
first airplane flight, and your first time flying with a young one, too.
Perhaps you're an experience traveler, but now that you regularly schlep
around diaper bags and car seats, how do you fly and still manage to a
There are many who believe a child should be well into grade school before
a visit to the Magic Kingdom, but for the purposes of this article let's
set that debate aside and look at how best to experience air travel to
Walt Disney World with very young children.
In addition to clothes and toiletries, if your child is not yet potty
trained, there is the issue of traveling with diapers (and all that comes
with having to change your baby). Why lug a box of Huggies when you can
purchase all the diapers you need at your destination? Of course, that's
easier said than done if it means having to make a stop on your way to
your hotel from Orlando International Airport. The errand may be simple
on your own, but with a baby in your arms all of a sudden everything becomes
a task. Having the freedom to make your own stops requires that you rent
your own car, or hire a more expensive limo service (since most shuttle
services do not provide grocery stops).
Some hardcore travelers actually mail their necessities ahead of time
to their hotel. In the case of diapers (which, while not too heavy, are
large and bulky), however, you might consider a shipping service. One
such outfit is Jet Set Babies (link).
Founded by two moms from Minnesota who got tired of having to lug too
much stuff when they traveled, Jet Set Babies allows you to order a variety
of needs for baby, including diapers, wet wipes, formula, baby food, sunscreen,
and other items.
In addition to boxes of diapers, Jet Set Babies offers a couple of very
convenient itemsan on-the-go travel feeding set (a travel bowl,
take-and-toss spoons, take-and-toss sippy cups, bibs, and wet wipesenough
for your whole trip for $24.99), and a hotel day pack (a day's worth of
diapers, wipes, changing pads, swim pants, sunblock for $8.99). The hotel
day pack even comes packaged in a single resealable plastic baggie so
you can just toss it into your diaper bag and head out for a day at the
pool or park. Although these cost more than if you were to pack them yourself,
they provide thoughtful convenience, and more room in your own luggage
for other items.
There are other things you need on your trip that you probably didn't
need before you were a parent. Planning on warming up baby formula or
food in your hotel room? You need to check to see if you can rent a microwave
during your stay. Some hotels provide mini refrigerators, but some of
them are filled with booze and soda, leaving little room for baby food.
In order to travel light, you might be considering a collapsible stroller,
even though you would prefer a sturdier type. Keep in mind that you can
rent strollers in the parks, but you cannot remove them from the parks,
and you have to check out a new stroller if you hop between parks in a
One option is to rent this equipment during your trip. There is a special
service called A Baby's Best Friend (link),
based out of Orlando, that offers rentals of all types of baby needs for
your vacation. A Baby's Best Friend provides everything from full-sized
cribs (with a four-inch mattress and linens) to rocking chairs, security
gates, microwaves, and strollers. They provide free delivery and retrieval
for your hotel stay, so you don't have to worry about transporting the
equipment for your trip.
Buying a ticket for baby
You may have heard that babies under 2 can fly for free with a paying
adult. Unfortunately, those babies are considered lap babies,
and the airlines expect you to place your baby on your lap (unfortunately,
flight attendants also refer to lap babies as missiles and
footballs because babies can get tossed around during severe
turbulence or a very rough landing). And although the chances of such
extreme turbulence are slim, most parents would rather provide the baby
or toddler with a separate seat if they could.
Depending on your financial situation, do seriously consider purchasing
a separate seat for your baby. It is the only sure way you can guarantee
a seat for your baby. This is especially helpful if you have a long flight.
Although you can let the airline know that you have a baby traveling with
you and that you would like a seat available next to you, the airline
does not make any guarantees.
If you are an elite frequent flier (over 25,000 miles in a calendar year)
and you have some seat-assignment privileges with your airline, they may
be more inclined to place a hold on the adjacent seat. However if they
sell all their seats on your flight, they will assign that seat to another
Fortunately, many airlines provide discounts for babies. For peace of
mind, purchase a separate seat for your baby. Your lap will thank you.
And in the case of severe turbulence (of the type where a plane may suddenly
lose thousands of feet in altitude), you will be glad your baby is strapped
into a car seat.
If you choose not to purchase a separate ticket for your baby, talk to
an airline reservationist and make sure there is an empty seat next to
you. If you are flying with another adult, the two of you can secure the
window and aisle seats, leaving the middle seat open. Middle seats are
the least desirable, and are often the last to get assigned. If you volunteer
to be seated in one of the last rows of an aircraft (considered the least
desirable), you increase your chances of being able to keep that empty
seat, as well (and you will be closer to the lavatories, as well as the
galley where you can have baby bottles warmed up).
Bring a car seat for the flight, even if your baby has no ticket. If
the adjacent window or middle seat is empty, you can strap your baby in.
If the seat is taken, you can ask the flight attendants to check the car
seat in for you. In this case, the last checked in, first unloaded
rule should work, so your car seat should arrive not at baggage
claim, but at the arrival gate. Airlines do this routinely for strollers
Be aware that airlines do not allow you to use booster seats, but only
allow FAA-approved car seats.
MousePlanet reader Wendi devised a clever way to carry everything by
herself: She puts her son in a stroller, turns his car seat upside down
and hangs it over the back of the stroller and uses it to push. She then
wears a backpack, and pulls her wheeled luggage behind her. She then gate-checks
her stroller, and puts her son in the car seat on the airplane. Another
reader loosens the car seat straps as much as possible, then wears them
like a backpack.
Be aware that some airlines do not officially announce preboarding for
parties with babies and young children. United Airlines stopped this practice
some years ago, to the chagrin of many parents. For such airlines, you
can ask at the gate, but it is up to the discretion of the gate agent.
[United's policy does not make sense to me.]
What to take on the plane
What you carry on with you depends on the length of your flight, time
of your flight, and age of your child. Hopefully, your baby or toddler
will sleep through the bulk of the flight (another reason a familiar car
seat will be helpful). Make sure to take some toys, although you want
to limit the number of items you take. As a bare bones list, the moms
at Jet Set Babies recommend the following for a toddler or child:
- Scotch tape Dispensed in small amounts, they keep little ones
busy. Plus it's not messy, noisy, or bulky.
- Twizzlers They are fairly non-sticky, do not make crumbs, melt,
or scatter when dropped. In addition, if you offer Twizzlers during
take-off and landing, it will help your toddler's ears equalize. If
you have ever heard a baby or toddler scream during take-off and landing,
it's usually because their ears are in pain from the change in cabin
pressure. If Twizzlers poses a choking hazard, consider fruit roll-ups.
If your baby isn't eating solids yet, consider nursing her. It's the
swallowing motion that helps equalize the ears.
- A small notebook with three crayons or washable markers Coloring
books and a whole box of crayons are unnecessary, according to the Jet
Set Babies moms.
Older children may be enthralled with a Game Boy or a portable (read:
small) DVD player.
Make sure you take in your carry-on a full set of clothes for yourself
and your child, and basic toiletries in case you lose your luggage or
your young one has a spill on the clothes he is wearing.
Although the Transportation Security Administration does not require
you to provide an ID for your children, consider bringing a copy of your
baby's birth certificate. And if your baby is not traveling with both
parents, consider obtaining paperwork that allows you to travel with your
baby alone. This is especially important if you are traveling from overseas,
as immigrations officers are wary of any potential custody issues (abduction
by non-custodial parents). The immigration officers can be much stricter
and ask you nosey questions. Have the non-traveling parent write and sign
a letter stating that you are authorized to travel with your baby. Having
it notarized will also be very helpful.
You will be required to pass all of your baby's items (including car
seat and stroller) through the X-ray machine at the security checkpoint.
Items that are too large for the machine have to be hand-inspected.
Believe it or not, the TSA airport screeners do not discriminate by age;
everyone must undergo security screenings individually. Amazingly, this
includes your infant. For babies who are not yet walking on their own,
you actually hold them out ahead of you and have them pass through the
walk-through metal detector before you can step forward. And if your toddler
is already walking and weighs too much for you to do this, TSA requires
that the child walk through the walk-through metal detector by herself!
Although TSA agents are accustomed to screening young children, it may
be a bit of a challenge. Although I can attest to having seen extraordinarily
kind TSA agents gently coax toddlers through the walk-through metal detector,
it often means your child has to walk through ahead of you, leaving you
behind to walk towards a uniformed stranger. For this reason, I strongly
recommend that you give yourself plenty of time to get through airport
security before your flight.
Since you are traveling with a young one, be extra careful to avoid getting
flagged for a secondary screening procedure (which I discussed in a
previous Trip Planner article). The procedure is an annoyance on your
own, but it could become extremely inconvenient if you have a young one
You may already be aware that I advocate traveling light and maintain
a Web site for light-travel information (link).
And when traveling just for yourself, you can easily avoid having to check
any luggage in when you fly. Is it possible to do so while traveling with
your infant or toddler? It's not easy, but not only is it possible, it
has been done. Perhaps you're not ready to give that a try... and with
the new Magical Express shuttle service (link)
that Walt Disney World has introduced for its on-property guests during
Disney's 50th anniversary celebration of Disneyland, Disney has eliminated
some of the pain of dealing with check-in luggage.
If you are traveling with a young one, it's quite possible that the savings
you get from staying off-property becomes offset by hidden costs, such
as the need for a rental car, and the extra time it takes to tote baby
in the car to the parks. It may be better to splurge a bit and stay on-property
and take advantage of Disney's complimentary shuttle service. Better yet,
consider spending the extra money for a stay at one of the monorail hotels
(the Polynesian, Grand Floridian, or Contemporary) and get whisked to
Travel with a baby or toddler can be a challenge. But with some careful
planning and preparation, you can ease the inconvenience and focus on
providing your child with a wonderful introduction to the Disney theme
parks. See you there!
Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Lani here.
Contact Lani Teshima if you have any travel tips or questions about trip planning.
A Hawaii ex-patriate, Lani is a technical writer for a San Francisco Bay Area software company.
When Lani is not managing the copy editing tasks here, you can usually find her at the gym, slogging away those slow miles on the treadmill as she trains for the WDW Marathon (held in January). She also maintains her internationally recognized Travelite FAQ.
In the occasional spare moment, Lani and her husband, Alexour MousePlanet CEO and MouseAdventure event coordinatorattend baseball games, and drive down to Disneyland in their 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid (which gets 50mpg).