After two kids and too many plane flights to count, my husband and I have changed dozens of diapers aboard airplanes in our travels. Luckily, I’m finally out of the diaper stage with my kids! So it’s time to pass the torch to other families with babies and toddlers to get you through the diaper travel years too.
Let’s face it: changing diapers on a plane can be a tricky endeavor. Between tiny (or non-existent) changing tables and diaper explosions that always seem to happen during the worst turbulence, the challenges are real. But for parents who know what to expect and come prepared, it’s totally possible to hack even the most challenging of airplane diaper changing situations.
Here are my 11 best tips for how to change a diaper on a plane and best master the messy business of diapers during air travel.
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11 Tips for Changing Diapers on a Plane
1) Research your airline & plane type before travel day.
Before any flight, I highly recommend doing a little airplane reconnaissance. Not all airlines and airplanes are created equal when it comes to ease of diaper changing. If at all possible, try to find out what your diaper changing setup will look like before the day of your flight.
Only some US airlines have changing tables aboard every flight. When I first started flying with my oldest child domestically within the US, a lot of older and smaller planes in airline fleets were without changing tables. I personally experienced one United flight from SFO to ORD (4 hours!) that didn’t have a changing table.
Thankfully, the situation continues to improve for family travelers as newer planes are rolled out. The first airlines to have changing tables fleetwide were JetBlue and Southwest, so family travelers can always count on them. The old Virgin America planes (now being flown by Alaska Airlines) universally have changing tables as well.
Nearly all cross-country flights will have at least one changing table on every plane. For international travelers, you can take comfort in the fact that I’ve still yet to encounter a transatlantic or transpacific flight without a changing table. Whew.
I still keep hoping that the website SeatGuru will add information about changing tables to their aircraft amenity and seat map, but no luck yet!
2) Always change your child’s diaper before boarding a flight.
Because changing diapers on a plane can be so tricky, I recommend minimizing the number of changes you need to make on any given flight. To do this, make sure to schedule a diaper change as close to boarding as possible in the airport before you board your flight. Airport lavatories have much larger changing stations and more room for you to operate.
Just be sure not to miss boarding times, especially if you are planning to pre-board with children or take advantage of family boarding on an airline like Southwest. Domestic flights within the US can board as early as 40 minutes beforehand (although 30 minutes is more standard). And international flights board even sooner – often an hour or more.
3) Consider using overnight diapers on airplanes.
One hack I’ve used with success to minimize diaper changes on board flights is using overnight diapers. For only wet diapers, you can buy yourself a little more time with overnight diapers because they are more absorbent and can hold more liquid. Remember to add a little extra diaper cream pre-flight if your baby is prone to diaper rash. Of course, if your baby has a soiled diaper, you likely shouldn’t and can’t wait too long to do a change. But this trick does help!
4) Check with the flight attendants to find hidden changing tables.
Some airplanes have only one lavatory out of several on board that has a changing table. Depending on which cabin or section of the plane you are seated in, you might not find it. Always check with a flight attendant to ask if another lavatory has a changing table if you strike out. I often even ask as I’m boarding or during the drink service so I don’t head for the wrong bathroom in a time of need.
5) Have a small “to go” diaper kit so you don’t need to bring your huge diaper bag into the lavatory.
Airplane lavatories are very small and there is simply not room for you, your baby, and a large diaper bag in there. In fact, airplane bathrooms have only gotten smaller on many new airplane designs in the past few years. Many travel diaper changing pros recommend bringing a small removable diaper kit with you. It doesn’t need to be fancy. A Ziploc bag with a few diapers, travel-size wipes, and perhaps some diaper cream will do.
6) Outfits that you don’t need to take off over your baby’s head are best.
My children always managed to have some of their worst diaper explosions at 30,000 feet. This meant we had to change their clothes in addition to diapers while in the air. If you’ve ever tried to remove a soiled onesie or t-shirt over your squirmy baby’s head, you probably know that it can get quite messy. Trying to do this in a cramped airplane bathroom is risky.
The best way to avoid this potential mess is to use outfits that snap all the way up the front (like footed sleepers or front-snap creepers) and that do not require over the head removal. Even onesies with wide necks that can pull down can be messier than is ideal on a plane.
7) Bring a small toy to keep baby’s hands busy during diaper changes.
Airplane bathrooms aren’t known to be the cleanest places in the world. In order to prevent your baby from touching every surface he or she comes into contact with, it is a good idea to have something to keep little hands busy (especially for older babies and toddlers). Make sure this toy or distraction is fully cleanable in case it gets dropped. Better yet – have something disposable.
8) No changing table? Do a diaper change on top of the lavatory toilet seat.
Thus far, many the tips we’ve provided here assume there is a changing table on board. But that’s not always the case. If you find your airplane does not have a changing table in any lavatory, it’s time to get creative.
And let’s clear one thing up first — I do NOT recommend changing your baby’s diaper at your seat area. I’ve seen some parents give us all a bad name by doing a diaper change on their tray table (yuck!) or even on an empty seat. These choices are inconsiderate to other passengers and not really sanitary.
So what’s a parent in a pinch to do? The next best spot to lay your baby down to change a diaper is on top of the closed airplane toilet seat. Flight attendants occasionally may make a blanket available but don’t count on it as blanket become less and less common. I instead pack a few large disposable changing pads for this purpose and throw them away.
The toilet seat is very small, so this method only works well with infants. For older babies and toddlers, I recommend a standing diaper change while balancing your little one on top of the closed toilet seat. Practice at home first!
9) Change your baby’s diaper on the floor of the airplane galley.
Sometimes diaper changes on top of airplane toilets aren’t possible, and you’ll find yourself looking for other hacks. On a few occasions, a flight attendant has directed me to change my child’s diaper on the floor of the plane in the airplane galley where there is a little extra room to operate. A dirty floor isn’t exactly ideal, but it works in a pinch. This is another situation in which having a disposable changing pad is important, so pack a couple before your trip to give your baby a clean space to lie down.
Just be sure to inquire before doing this, as flight attendants are truly all over the map on whether this is acceptable. Some have insisted on it and others have said it’s expressly prohibited. So who knows what the rules actually are!
10) Change your baby’s diaper in your lap.
My method of absolute last resort when there isn’t an airplane changing table is to change my baby’s diaper in my lap. To be clear, we’ve done this only on occasions when we were stuck in our seats due to extended turbulence and the diaper changing situation became dire. Otherwise, it’s almost always better to wait.
This method is hard to do with larger babies, although two parents working in tandem and spreading a child across two laps can get it done. Ideally, reserve this for wet diapers only. Trying to do this with a soiled diaper could mean a major mess on your own clothes or lots of smelliness for your neighbors. Of course, desperate times can call for desperate measures, so evaluate the situation and do what you have to do.
11) Dispose of dirty diapers properly.
Last but certainly not least, get rid of diapers in a way that minimizes their impact on your fellow passengers. Disposing of a soiled diaper in the airplane lavatory trash can really stink up the place. If you use cloth diapers, you also need some way to contain and carry soiled diapers without smell (although I know a lot of cloth diaper families will switch to disposables when in transit because of this extra challenge).
It is good form to travel with plastic bags to wrap diapers up first before disposal. Ziplocs again work well, as do special diaper disposal bags. If you forget or run out, ask the flight attendant. Flight attendants are usually happy to provide you with a plastic trash bag from their supply.
Share your other airplane diaper changing tips in the comments. Have you had any airplane diaper changing horror stories or successes to report?
Also, if you are planning to fly with a baby for the first time, be sure to check out my post Top 7 Tips for Baby’s First Flight. If toddler travel is in your future, check out my tips for flying with toddlers. And if you are trying during the post-diaper stage, here are my potty training travel tips!