Does a Diaper Bag Count as a Carry-On?- What and How to to Pack for Baby

One of the questions new parents, friends and family who are less-frequent fliers so often ask me is: I’m flying with a baby – can I take a nappy bag AND my own carry-on bag?

The truth is it really depends. Every airline will have different restrictions on what is counted as a carry-on or not. Many airlines allow infant bags on for no extra charge, while some airlines classify a changing bag as a personal item, but not your normal carry-on. 

While travelling with a diaper bag can make your trip very comfortable and convenient, many airlines still have stringent rules concerning luggage limits. It is therefore vital that you understand the guidelines for carrying diaper bags when flying with an infant. 

Diaper bag, Personal Item, Carry-on… what’s the difference?

A lot of the confusion around an infant’s hand luggage allowance comes from understanding what different terms mean in reference to luggage. Let’s start with the airline’s point of view:

The Carry-on is your traditional hand luggage allowance on most airlines. This is normally allocated to each passenger holding a ticket with a seat allocation and is restricted in size to fit in the overhead lockers on most aircrafts. See our Hand Luggage sizing chart by airline for more details.

A Personal Item is a small item of hand luggage, one that usually fits underneath the seat in front of you. Rough size of this is 16 x 10 x 9 in/ 40.4 x 25.5 x 23 cm. Some airlines allow one in addition to your carry on. (On the other hand, some budget airlines, like WizzAir only allow a small item on for free- 40 x 30 x 20 cm ( 15 x 11.8 x 7.8 in).)

A Diaper Bag is a piece of luggage with items needed to care for your baby during your flight. The size and weight of these vary hugely from passenger to passenger….and now you see why airlines have different policies.

Are Diaper Bags Considered as Carry-Ons?

Most airline companies do not have clear-cut rules on whether diaper bags are regarded as carry-ons. There is a pretty large split between three main ways of handling changing bags:

  1. They are free of charge and do not count as carry-on luggage
  2. They do take up the ticketed individual’s carry-on allowance
  3. They are treated as a “personal item” – normally given to a backpack or purse- of the parent.

There seems to be no rhyme or reason in which airlines offer which solution to diaper bags. In light of this fact, it is important that you check with your airline ahead of time to find out their particular policy on diaper bags.

Some airline companies also put diaper bags in the same category as personal items such as purses, laptops, and briefcases. While these items are allowed on airplanes as a “secondary carry-on” of sorts, they are typically subjected to a size limit which may vary greatly depending on the airline you are flying with.

If you intend on carrying a lot of essentials for your infant, therefore, it is advisable to enquire about the exact requirements and other regulations that you may be required to adhere to with your airline. (Check their policies by following our handy list.)

TIP: One certain way to ensure you have luggage allowance for your infant is to purchase your infant a seat. Though, in most cases, this would cost more than purchasing an additional checked bag.

Diaper Bag and Carry on Policies for Major Airlines

As mentioned earlier, different airline companies typically have specific regulations when it comes to diaper bags and baby luggage on a flight. Here are some of the diaper bag policies of major airlines. 

Air France 

This airline company allows passengers travelling with infants to carry a diaper bag which should not exceed 5kg in weight.

Alaska Airlines

Unfortunately, when flying Alaska, the diaper bag will count as one of the ticketed passengers carry-on bags. Standard carry-on restrictions apply to size.

Allegiant

Allegiant allows each passenger with an infant to take a diaper bag with them, and it will not count as a carry-on or cost extra. No restrictions listed, but it is safe to assume it should be the same size as a standard carry-on bag.

British Airways

The company allows baby baggage in the cabin which is capped at one bag weighing under 23kg per infant, at no extra charge.

Brussels Airlines

Brussels airline allows passengers to carry diaper bags of standard size at no extra charge. 

Air Canada

They allow you a diaper bag at no extra charge with your infant. There are no set-in-stone restrictions on sizing for this.

Delta

With Delta, a diaper bag is counted as the ticketed individuals personal item in terms of size and total allowance for your family.

Emirates

You are allowed to carry a diaper bag weighing not more than 5 kg when flying with Emirates. 

Frontier

Diaper bags sizes are listed by frontier under personal items. Though not explicitly stated as personal items it is implied that your diaper bag will take up your personal item spot.

Jetblue

With Jetblue, your diaper bag is allowed free of charge, not taking up any of your carry-on allowance. 

Rynair

Ryanair accepts one diaper bag per infant on flights. However, they should not exceed the maximum weight limit of 5kg.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest does not have a policy on their site for this (as of now), however reading the community forums it is assumed that a diaper bag would fall under “speciality item” and will not count towards your carry-on limit.  

Spirit

Infant bags do not count towards the parents’ carry-on limit when travelling with an infant. 

United

With infants on United, you are allowed most necessities, including a diaper bag, in addition to your normal carry-on limits. 

Do You Really Need a Diaper Bag When Traveling with an Infant?

Considering the size limits and the confusion imposed on a baby’s carry-ons, you might be wondering whether you really need a separate diaper bag when flying with your little one. The simple answer is no, you do not need a separate diaper bag, but you obviously need baby essentials easily accessible for changing your baby.

If your baggage allowance does not cover infant bags, you may have to pack their essentials in your bag anyway.

Keep in mind that looking for something inside your regular bag when your baby needs it urgently can be incredibly frustrating and time-consuming. To avoid this, consider getting a small bag for the essentials that can fit in your bag – this way you can grab it all out at once when needed. If you have a bag that has compartments or areas to separate your stuff from your babies things, then size the baby’s changing bag to slot inside this.

What to Pack on the Plane In My Baby’s Diaper Bag?

Part of deciding how to pack and travel with a baby is what to bring on the plane with you. There are essentials, and there are niceties. Depending on the airline you are flying, and if you are able to take a diaper bag, will help make these determinations. Here is a list of the things I suggest you take on the plane with you. I have included a separate list of things to take if you have the space for them.

Essentials to take on the plane for your baby:

Preferred things to take on the plane for your baby:

  • Bibs
  • Toys- 2-3 small things maximum
  • Teething Rings
  • Lotion
  • Nasal Aspirator
  • Plastic Bags
  • Blanket

Factors to Consider when Purchasing a Diaper Bag for Travel

You probably don’t need to go out and purchase a diaper bag specifically for travelling, but if you don’t already have a practical diaper bag, here are some things to consider when purchasing.

Don’t buy a bag…buy an insert or a packing cube

Consider having a grab bag -using zipped bag insert or packing cube- packed inside your or the baby’s hand luggage. This way you save yourself the headache of another item.

You could split the contents into 2 packs even- one for changing the baby, one for all other incidences.
Take both of them out of the hand luggage before you stow your carry-on in the overhead locker.

Unisex design

Perhaps the most overlooked, but most important factor is a unisex design. I mean who says the baby can only be changed by the mum! A good unisex design will help dads’s street cred in carrying the bag and taking more of a role in the dirty diaper business. 😉

Size

Size is without a doubt one of the most important considerations you need to make when shopping for a diaper bag for travel. A large diaper bag allows you to carry a lot more items, and may seem ideal. However, larger diaper bags may fail to meet standard carry-on limits, and also could make moving around with an infant a lot more difficult.

When it comes to purchasing diaper bags, therefore, balance is key. The right diaper bag (or grab bag) should be large enough to carry all the essentials that you need for your trip and small enough to carry conveniently without obstructing your movement and that of other passengers.

Comfort

If you are planning to purchase a diaper bag for travelling, you need to ensure that your product of choice is well-padded and comfortable. You will likely be carrying the bag over on your shoulder for prolonged periods of time, as well as holding an infant. Therefore, you want a diaper bag that will not weigh you down unnecessarily and cause strain on your shoulders. Carrying a heavily packed diaper bag with poor straps can lead to neck, shoulder and back pains which might make your trip unnecessary tiring and unpleasant. 

TIP: Consider a backpack as your changing bag choice.

Easy to Open and Close

When buying a travel diaper bag for your trip, you need to select one which is easy to open and close. You want to be able to quickly dip your hand into the bag and pull out a toy or treat to distract your little angel. It is also helpful to have an easily accessible diaper bag when changing a diaper on a plane – there is already limited room. 

Enough Space and Compartments

Another important factor you need to take into account when selecting the right diaper bag is the number of pockets it has. A diaper bag which has more compartments offers you more convenience since you can organize your child’s essentials. Just make sure there aren’t so many compartments that you end up forgetting where you put things and having to rummage for ages to find things.

Budget

Don’t go over the top on how much you spend on a diaper bag! If you choose the right changing bag that is versatile for different purposes then you will get a lot of use out of it. However, as we mentioned in our first point, you actually don’t need a separate diaper bag, just a couple of pouches to store the baby’s belongings in an easily accessible way.

Changing bag essentials to have at hand on a flight

We’ve created a quick list for you to download about what to pop into your changing bag.

Do you have any questions or any hints and tips of your own about diaper bags on a flight? Please comment below and share!

Monika Roozen

Monika is a mum of 3, an avid traveller, who grew up travelling the world and has continued travelling ever since. She holds a degree in animal sciences, nutrition and business administration and has consulted for several years for the hospitality industry and customer service departments. Monika loves slow travel- taking time for immersive experiences in culture and nature- sailing and snowboarding. Her personal adventures are chronicled in Inspireroo Family Travel Magazine . (Click to see their family mad ventures)

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