Although babies can fly soon after birth, parents should consider various health and safety concerns.

By Michela Tindera and Nicole Harris
Updated January 08, 2020
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Having a newborn doesn’t necessarily hinder your travel plans. But whether you’re visiting grandma or going on vacation, there are some factors to consider before bringing a baby on a plane. Here’s how old a baby can fly, with tips for making the plane ride goes smoothly.

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How Old Can a Baby Fly?

Most pediatricians believe that a 4-6 week old baby can handle airplane flights, says Elizabeth Berger M.D. But this only refers to healthy babies who get the go-ahead from the doctor. Premature infants, as well as those with respiratory or other health issues, may fare better on the ground.  (What’s more, doctors may recommend a longer rest period for moms who had delivery complications or C-sections). 

It’s also smart to check your airline’s policies on newborn travel. They might have a minimum age requirement, ranging from 2 days old to 2 weeks old. In some cases, newborns won’t be granted permission without a doctor’s note. You might also need proof of your baby’s age. (If official government paperwork hasn’t arrived, you could possibly use vaccination or hospital forms.) International travel isn’t possible until your baby receives an official passport. 

If you're feeling queasy about the idea of spending a whole lot of money on an airline ticket for a baby, ask your airline for a discounted fare. Many airlines offer discounts of up to 50 percent for children under age 2.

Considerations for Newborn Air Travel

Although air travel is generally safe for newborns, Dr. Berger says parents should consider the following factors. 

Germs and illness. Many planes use recirculated air, which means that if one person has a cold, his germs are broadcast throughout the plane by the ventilation system. That's no problem for adults, whose mature immune systems can fight off germs. But an infant's immune system is no match for some of the viruses and bacteria that float around on airplanes and in airports. Make sure to wash your hands regularly, and avoiding sitting near sick passengers.

Air pressure and ears. Ordinary cabin pressurization can cause intense pain to infants' ears. This can be helped, somewhat, by having the baby suck or drink during ascent and descent, says Dr. Berger. 

Breathing problems. Since airplanes have lower air pressure, some babies may have trouble breathing—especially if they were premature or have heart, lung, or respiratory issues. If your baby fits the bill, talk to your doctor for more information. 

Fussy behavior. The unfamiliar setting of an airplane, as well as painful ear pressure, may lead to screaming, crying, and general fussiness. Make sure you’re prepared to handle the worst. 

Where Should My Baby Sit?

While in-flight deaths are rare, a recent study has found a pattern among children who did die. Most were healthy children under the age of 2 who were sitting in an adult's lap during a commercial airline flight, according to research published in the journal, Pediatric Critical Care Medicine. The study tracked recorded incidents on thousands of medical emergencies on airlines from 2010 to 2013.

While this study is the first of its kind, research suggests that lap infants were at a greater risk of dying due to in-flight environmental factors, such as sharing a seat with an adult and dangerous co-sleeping arrangements, said Dr. Alexandre Rotta, lead researcher on the study and chief of pediatric critical care at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland. 

It is also possible that lower oxygen levels on planes could harm infants' immature respiratory systems, Fox News reports. The study also noted that there could be another factor that is causing these deaths that has yet to be identified.

So how can you keep Baby safe? Buy her a seat. Airlines allow babies and young children to ride on a parent's lap for no fee, but that's not a safe place for them if the plane hits turbulence, has to make an emergency landing, or if you’re trying to sleep. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), parents should secure children in an "appropriate restraint." Most car seats fit the bill.

Before you fly, check your car seat for a label that identifies it as certified for use in planes. If there is no label, look at the seat's instructions or contact the manufacturer. A car seat should fit into most airplane seats if the car seat is no wider than 16 inches. If you have questions about whether your car seat will fit, call the airline and ask.

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