If doing something over and over again makes you an expert, then I will proudly call myself an expert at changing diapers on airplanes. From six-week-old to a three-year-old, I have wiped a lot of butts at 30,000 feet. That said, when people ask for advice on this topic, I am hesitant. Is there a right way to change diapers on an airplane? Have I been doing it wrong all along?
The answer is: NO. There is no *right* way. I’ve done research, and I’m pretty sure everyone is just making this up as they go along. The one obvious fact is: If you are lucky enough to be on a plane with a lavatory that has a changing table in it, and it’s available to you, use it. When present, these usually fold down from the wall over the toilet. It will be very crowded in there and you will want to wash your kid’s hands thoroughly afterwards and then soak them in hand sanitizer, because the lavatory is so small the baby will be able to touch everything in sight. But it is definitely better than changing diapers in your seat.
But…what about during take-off or landing or one of the other millions of times you can’t get up out of your seat? What if you are on a tiny plane and there is no changing table? What if there is a terrible poop-splosion and you are by yourself with a lap infant? Or what if your baby is simply too small for the lavatory changing table (it really wasn’t safe for my six-week-old) or too large for it (yes, I have a giant toddler)?
You are going to have to be creative, but you can do it!
First, plan ahead. Pack the following:
- At least two extra outfits. Maybe more. It’s very possible that your child will get food all over one outfit and then promptly leak through the next one, even if you’re only on a on a 90-minute flight.
- A changing mat plus blankets. You could easily contaminate the changing mat on the first use; also, for toddlers it’s often too small. Plus you will probably need a blanket to pad your child’s head on that hard airplane changing table.
- More diapers than you think you will need. Like, lots more. I have a serious phobia of getting trapped inside an airplane without enough diapers.
- Same with wet wipes.
- Plenty of plastic bags in which to stow dirty diapers and/or dirty clothing. Learn to double or triple wrap dirty diapers so the smell is as contained as possible.
- Hand sanitizer. A tiny bottle that the TSA trolls will let you take through security.
Now, you are ready to fly. Make sure you change your child’s diaper right before boarding the airplane to minimize diaper changes. Chances are, however, that you will eventually have to change your child on the plane.
If you do not have access to a changing table in a lavatory, here are your options:
Change the diaper on your lap.
This is easier if you are traveling with another adult, but in my opinion it is preferable for a tiny infant. No, your seat mates do not want to see or smell poop. But a tiny breastfed baby doesn’t make much of that; use your discretion. I also think it is just fine to change a wet diaper in your seat, although I know other people disagree with this.
Change the diaper on the floor of the plane somewhere.
You can ask a flight attendant where would be best. I’ve done this with a toddler who is just way too big for lap change, but truth be told there’s not much floor space on planes these days. I would never do this with a small infant, no matter what anybody says — airplane floors are gross and I’d be afraid somebody would step on their head. We all know toddlers are pretty gross anyway so an airplane floor shouldn’t matter to them. I mean, they probably just ate fruit snacks off that floor anyway.
Change the diaper with your child standing up.
Totally doable for a toddler with a wet diaper. Don’t try it in any other circumstance, though.
Do NOT change diapers on an airplane tray.
This is just unsanitary. People eat on those.
As you can see, the airlines have yet to adequately address this issue for us parents. I’m also waiting for them to solve the “potty training toddler in underwear who desperately has to go poop as we are taxiing towards take-off” problem. Super disgusting things happen on airplanes. But with enough wet wipes and hand sanitizer, you can get through anything.