Flying with a Baby and a Budget

We are so fortunate to have the Detroit International Airport (DTW) close-at-hand. For moms on a budget, we are even more fortunate that the DTW houses a budget airline!


My family in Wisconsin has a yearly reunion and as the mother of the first grandbaby, I got a lot of pressure to make the trip this summer. We did the math, and since my husband would be unable to attend, and our baby was small enough to travel on my lap, it was actually cheaper for me to fly than to make the drive. But, I was nervous about what it would mean for me to take a 5 month old on an airplane by myself.

Everyone has heard complaints about screaming babies on airplanes, and recently, a British journalist (and mother) went so far as to say that parents who bring their children on airplanes are selfish and that babies should be banned! After our latest trip, I could not disagree more.

This is my story:

When planning the trip, I looked on the usual discount websites and found that Spirit Airlines consistently had the lowest prices. Since my schedule was flexible I didn’t mind that there was only one daily flight scheduled to my destination. Having traveled on similar discount airlines, I knew that the low price meant a few things: No, and I mean NO, extras: no free carry on, no free checked bag, no free peanuts, no free water. Everything has a price. It is not a high price, but something that you need to plan for.


Each passenger is allowed one ‘personal item.’ I used my diaper bag packed with a few extras: a breastfeeding cover, my own toiletries and medication, a few more pacifiers, diapers, and baby outfits than normal, small toys with quiet, pleasant sounds, my wallet, boarding pass and phone. I brought travel sized diaper cream and hand sanitizer in a zip-loc bag for easy removal during security check. I also chose to check one bag instead of using a carry-on to save a few bucks.

Here are some ways to avoid those extra costs:

  • Follow the instructions there is little ‘hidden’ as long as you keep your eyes open– print your boarding pass early; say “no” to extra insurance
  • Bring a reusable water bottle it has to be empty through security, but you will save at least $2.50 by using the water fountain to fill and re-fill rather than purchasing at a vending machine or on board.
  • Pack healthy snacks fruit, string cheese or trail mix. Its faster than fast-food to skip the lines and eat at the gate. 

On my way home from the Minneapolis- Saint Paul (MSP) airport, a baby-wearing mom stopped me from entering security with some beautiful words, “Checkpoint 6 has a family entry.” I followed her there, and like celebrities, the security personnel lifted the cordon and let us past the long lines to the front of the line. I had to turn my head to hide my huge smile from the stand-still we walked past. 

Once at security, I watched the well traveled mom and followed her moves: she left her baby in her front carrier, but had to remove the wheels of her stroller so it would fit through the x-ray machine. I was asked to put the carseat upside down and send it through the machine. I carried my baby through the walk-through x-ray area, and showed the TSA personnel my empty hands. We had no problems, but with my arms full, I walked past two families waiting to get the results from a chemical test of the formula in their baby bottles.

By giving myself extra time and letting go of expectations on how we would be treated, we had no problems. 

leg room

The next thing I did was find my gate. Once confirming that the flight was on time here is what worked for me:

I attempted to stay as close to our regular schedule as possible. For me this meant driving to the airport at baby’s nap time and going through the bustle of security when she would normally be awake. I was surprised to find that my 5 month old loved the lights and action of the airport, and since babies are practically minor celebrities, I had plenty of conversation to pass the time.

  • Change baby’s diaper this is a lot more fun to do on land than in the air if possible! Find a family bathroom for a little extra room and less pressure to get out of someone’s way. Some have diaper dispensers if you are in a pinch.
  • Feed baby (optional) it easier to breastfeed in the waiting room than elbow-to-elbow on the plane, but you may also want to wait until you are on the plane. 
  • Make sure your stroller or carseat is tagged and ready to be left at the entrance to the plane to be put below.
  • Board early, one of the perks of flying with children, and ask a flight attendant to help you put your baggage up if needed.

This was the fussiest time for my baby. She loved to wiggle in the empty seat next to me while possible.

***Pro-Tip: If you can swing it, sit at the front of the plane! Spirit Airline tickets are cheap and it only cost me $20 extra to sit in the extra-wide, extra-leg room seats: a huge perk since baby was in my lap. Plus, with an aisle seat you have easy access to the bathroom if needed, or just space to bounce or pace as your baby requires.

Once seated and buckled, I tried to distract my baby, but the best thing was some food. She fell asleep while eating and remained that way for the entire flight!

sleeping on a plane

Although I boarded and disembarked first, I did have to wait on the hot bridge for my car seat to be hand delivered. From there I said goodbye to the fabulous flight attendants (who love babies, by the way!) and found the baggage carousel. We attempted to save a few extra dollars by skipping the parking garage, but it made this the hardest part of our journey. Everywhere I went, people looked sympathetically at a mother flying solo with her baby. So, instead of being tough and trying to be super-mom, I  let them help and pick up my bag off of the rotating belt.

Between kind words, helping hands from fellow passengers, and smiles from airport and airplane personnel, I had a fabulous experience. As long as you give yourself some extra time and grace flying with a baby can be a good experience, even on a budget!

What tips do you have for flying with babies? 

**This review is my opinion. I was not contacted or compensated for the article. 


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