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FAQ: How do I change a diaper in an airplane lavatory?

FAQ changing diapers on an airplane

Airplane lavatories are small.  And most adults don’t like to do their own business in there.  So it’s not hard to imagine why the idea of changing diapers in there makes some new parents break out in cold sweats.

In truth, it’s not a huge deal.  In fact, in a weird way, I kind of look forward to the onboard diaper change – it’s a change of scenery.  It allows you to get up out of your seat, stretch your legs, maybe use the facility yourself (oh yeah, we’ll talk about that too!), and it allows your baby to play in the mirror, with the tissue box, with the paper cups, or whatever else they can find in the lav that changes it up for them too.

So here are some tips, if you are nervous about lavatory diaper changes:

1. Change baby right before the flight.

On many domestic flights, this will mean that you don’t actually end up needing to change a diaper on board the plan at all. Yeah, yeah, I know what I just said – it’s a nice change of pace.  But there are also certain cons – germs, claustrophobia, etc. – so if you can avoid it altogether that’s probably a good thing.

However, if your babies are like mine, they’ll probably poop right after the plane pushes back and you have to sit for the next half hour, so…

2. Take only what you need to the lavatory.

For me, that’s a diaper, a pack of wipes, and my changing pad.  If your little beam of sunshine is prone to blowouts, you might consider taking a spare onesie or pair of pants too.  When my kids have blowouts, I usually just carry them back to the seat in their diaper and dress them there.  Just don’t bring the whole diaper bag with you.

I will fully disclose to you that I am not a germophobe.  My reusable changing pad is my first and last line of defense. I’m comfortable that this provides enough protection, and that a little germ exposure isn’t a bad thing.  But if you have a lower tolerance for these things, you might want to wipe the changing table down with a wipe before you use it.

Which brings me to my next point…

3. Ask a flight attendant to point you to the lavatories with the changing table. 

Nearly all aircraft have at least one lavatory with a changing table.  Not all lavatories on aircraft that have changing tables have them.  The flight attendant will direct you.  There will usually be a little sticker on the door of a mommy bending over her baby laying on a table to indicate that you have found the right place.

4. If you are on an airplane with no changing table, use the toilet lid.

This is a little more tricky with a squirmy baby, but just look at it as a challenge to conquer.

Put your handy changing pad down on the toilet lid, then lay your kiddo down.  Unless you are changing a very small baby, your child will probably be too tall to fit all the way on the lid.  Make sure their head, back, and butt are supported by the lid, then prop up their feet on your thighs to keep their legs from dangling down.  Dangling legs will make them slide off of the lid, and that’s no good.  When you get the dirty diaper off, store it on the floor until you can get baby into a more stable position and finish taking care of it.  You will probably have to make continuous adjustments to keep baby’s head from sliding off to the side, especially if they are older and more mobile.

For a baby that is able to stand up, you may want to attempt the change while they stand on the toilet lid, instead of laying down.

5. Use the “toys” available. Recently, I got a Turnigy 9X for my RC plane, it’s the best accessory for my RC that I Have gotten in years.

Let kiddo chat to himself in the mirror while you get your gear arranged.  Pull out one of those paper cups for them to crinkle.  Let them pull a handful of tissues out of the box.  Whatever gets the job done.

6. Use the facility yourself.

That’s right.  No need to be a martyr and hold it for four and a half hours.  And there’s no need to ask the stranger next to you to hold your child (although, if they offer, I’m a fan of letting them help you out – who doesn’t appreciate the chance to pee alone?).  You can use the restroom at the same time as you execute the diaper change.

I do the diaper change first.  After the change is done, the baby is dressed and sitting on the changing table, gazing happily at herself in the mirror.

For guys, I’m told this process is super easy.  Just left the lid underneath the changing table.  The small size of the lavatory means that you are basically blocking the entire width of the changing table with your body – baby is in no danger of falling off.

For those of us who need to take a seat, it’s a little more complicated.  First, drop your pants with baby sitting on the table.  Then pick baby up, stow the changing table, and lift the lid.  I often tuck my changing pad right in with the stowed table so I don’t have yet another thing to hold.  Now you can sit down and hold baby on your lap while you do what you need to do.  Afterward, reverse the process – close the lid, unstow the changing table, and let baby sit on it while you put yourself back together. Oh, and make sure you take care of the used diaper in a proper way (at home you know where to throw diaper away, here it is a bit different).

7. Wash your hands.

I may not be a germophobe, but even I don’t skip this incredibly important step.  Hand washing is the single best habit you can maintain to avoid illness, and that is even more true when you are trapped in a metal tube with a bunch of other germy people.

This seems like an obvious step, but if you are holding a baby, how do you get your hands free?  Set them back on the changing table (or less desirably, the toilet lid).  Again, because of the phone-booth size of the lavatory, you should be able to block the changing table edge with your body while you quickly but thoroughly wash your hands.

Even if you aren’t a hand sanitizer person, a drop or two wouldn’t go amiss after you return to your seat.

8. Use a baby carrier.

If you have brought one along, a baby carrier can be incredibly useful for going to the bathroom yourself and the washing hands step.  If you can tuck the baby into a sling, wrap, or other carrier and get your hands free, those other activities get much easier.

9. Use the overhead bins for stability in the aisle.

On your way to or from your seat, you will be carrying a precious (and possibly uncomfortable) child as well as the supplies you need to execute the diaper change.  If you feel a little off balance, whether there’s turbulence or not, take a tip from the flight attendants – place a hand up on the overhead bins for stability.  Please don’t use the backs of the seats.  First, they are not quite as stable – they do wobble a bit, and you will have to take your hand off as you move from one to the next.  But perhaps more importantly, it’s much more considerate to your fellow passengers to leave their seat back alone.

10. Only change diapers at your seat in extenuating circumstances. 

I’m not gonna lie – I’ve changed diapers at my seat before.  But this was one of those extreme delay, sit-on-the-tarmac-for-6-hours situations.

In general, I think it’s pretty bad form to change diapers at your seat.  However, there are extenuating circumstances in which exceptions can be made.  If your judgment tells you that you are in one of those situations, do the right thing and use an air sickness bag to store your dirties until you can discreetly dispose of them.

And with that, you’ll have clean-bottomed, happy flying babies!  Did I miss anything?  Let me know in the comments.

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  • Emily November 10, 2013, 9:18 am

    The how-to on changing a bigger baby on the toilet by supporting their legs on your knees is brilliant!!! Thank you!