Within the babywearing world, one of the most frequently asked questions is about the ins and outs of air travel and babywearing. The goal of this post is to give you some tips to comfortably combine your babywearing with your jet setting lifestyle, or at least to give some basic guidelines to make your travel experience easier.
First things first:
The Official TSA Guidelines can be found here. This covers all of the official details for getting through security. Short version:
-Everything must be x-rayed or passed through a medical detector.
-If you are babywearing, you must bypass the Advanced Imaging Technology scanners (the ones made infamous for showing all of your nooks and crannies) and use the metal detector instead.
-Your hands will get swabbed for chemical residue after you pass through your screening.
-You may request a pat down instead of the metal detector if you have concerns.
And the official Federal Aviation Administration stance regarding children/infants on airplanes.
-Short version: The safest place for a child on an airplane is in an approved child safety restraint system. Not on a lap, not in arms, not being worn.
This post will cover why you might want to babywear while traveling, some options for convenient babywearing while cramming yourself and your wiggling bundle of joy into an airplane bathroom, and options for babywearing on-board an aircraft. Please note, this is not supported by the FAA but it is also not prohibited, and in the United States most airline carriers allow “lap infants” up to the age of 2 and do not require the use of an approved safety restraint system (though most recommend it).
Have baby, will travel – Getting through the airport:
Babywearing can be a convenient, hands-free way to navigate an airport. It allows for easy nursing and feeding, keeps little ones close and safe, and no worries about toddlers running off in the sometimes chaotic environment of an airport. It can also be a great tool in your arsenal for encouraging that mid-flight nap. Though strollers also have their place, some families (ours!) find them bulky and cumbersome to navigate through an airport. Granted, they have the advantage of being able to carry bags, but this post is about babywearing and air travel.
The things you want to consider when choosing a carrier for air travel:
1 – Something you can get on and off easily. In my experience, this is the time to leave things with long tails or straps at home or in your carry on. In case you do have to unwrap at security, or if your stewardess asks you to unwrap for take off, shorter wraps, mei tais, ring slings, and soft structured carriers (SSCs) are much easier. Consider what you would be able to use easily while standing in the aisle of a plane, and then decide on what to wear. You can always pack your long pretties in your bags for your destination.
-If using a mei tai, tie any of the knots that you normally tie behind your back off to the side. That way you don’t have a knot digging in your back while you are sitting.
-If using a SSC in a front carry and heading to the bathroom, be sure that that webbing on the waist buckle is wraped/folded/tucked somewhere out of the way so it doesn’t take a dunk in the toilet. Same with mei tai straps. If this does happen, copious amounts of hand sanitizer come in handy and didn’t do any damage to my webbing (wash thoroughly upon arrival).
2 – Generally, avoid metal. This mainly applies to ring slings and half-buckle mei tais with rings at the waist. Metal will set off the metal detector and you will likely (but not always) be asked to take the carrier off and x-ray it separately. However, if you use something without metal – a shorty wrap, a SSC (be sure to clear change and keys out of the pocket, ring sling with vinyl/plastic rings, a mei tai – it is generally no problem to wear your wrapped baby though check-in, security, and into the waiting area.
3 – As mentioned above, as long as you don’t have any metal on you, you should have no problems going through airport security. But be aware that as you leave the metal detector, a nice TSA officer will ask to swab your hands for chemical/explolive residue. It only takes about 10 seconds and is completely non-invasive. You will be asked to take off your shoes, so choose footwear that you can easily get on and off while babywearing.
4 – This depends on the airline and on the flight crew, but some airlines/flight crews will ask you to unwrap your baby during take-off and landing. “Take off” is defined as the child cannot be buckled, tied, or otherwise affixed to the caregiver’s body. This means, out of the ring sling, out of the front carry, out of the mei tai, out of the SSC.
You can re-insert the baby after take off, so consider your carry/wrap based on poppable carries. If you are wrapping, poppable carries like a front cross carry or a short cross carry are easy for ins and outs. If you are using a mei tai, consider a front carry tied under bum – loosed the straps to lower the body panel for take off and then do some awesome airplane-seat-yoga wiggling to get the baby repositioned after take off (also: don’t tie the waist knot behind your back, tie it at your side so you don’t have to sit on it all flight long). Ring slings are easy for ins and outs. SSCs really shine in air travel – loosen the shoulder straps until the chest clip is at your neck, unbuckle and take off the body panel, leaving the waist band still on your body. After take off, put everything back on and tighten the shoulder straps until comfortable.
5 – Consider bringing a receiving blanket or your carrier’s hood. If you have a baby who likes to sleep while being worn, the airplane’s noise and vibration (world’s biggest white noise machine) combined with a familiar carrier can be the perfect setting for sleep. It’s even more helpful to be able to shut out the visual stimuli by pulling up the carrier’s hood, or using your tail or a blanket to shade your co-traveler.
6 – What if you are babywearing in the airport but also plan to use a child safety seat (FAA approved car seat)? You have two options.
Option 1: check the car seat at check-in with the rest of your luggage. Advantage: you don’t have to lug the darn thing through the airport. Disadvantage: can’t use it on the plane, and if it gets lost you won’t have it for the car when you arrive at your destination.
Option 2: Carry the car seat through the airport and use on the plane OR gate check at the gate. There are several options for making this easier with a wheeled cart or tote, and this blog post reviews several of them. From personal experience, we love our Brica roll and carry car seat bag. Why? You can fit several more carriers/wraps on the seat, safely confined in the bag! Even better, because it’s gate checked, they don’t weigh the darn thing. So if your checked bag or carry on is at weight limit with clothes, toys and diapers, you can stash you 8 lbs of wraps in with the car seat.
Finally, bear in mind that each air carrier has similar, but slightly different policies regarding travel with infants. We strongly recommend that you check with your carrier prior to arriving at the airport and ask them any questions you might have. Here is a short list of common American carriers and their policies regarding traveling with infants:
Written By: Kelly, VBE, BWI Tucson