Flight Plan: Tips for Flying with Babies and Toddlers
Traveling with little ones can stress out and overwhelm even the most unflappable parent. How to make it less of a bumpy ride? Check out these top travel tips.
Treat each trip as a unique journey, with an established starting point and a finished goal line. What happens in the middle—and how you get there—will be full of surprises. (You can bet on it!) If you lower your expectations, you might just see the dreaded obstacle course of packing, checking in, security checkpoints, boarding, flight protocol, and landing as a test of endurance, or at the very least a new Olympic sport. As always, it helps to have a game plan in place.
Probably the greatest factor in determining an easy journey is your attitude. Staying calm and flexible and having a sense of humor will help you deal with any snags, crying jags, and delays from the get go. Remember: Your child can sense tension or alarm from you and may mimic how to react.
Booking Your Flight
Although airlines will allow children younger than age 2 to be held on an adult’s lap and fly for free, consider buying a separate seat for your infant or toddler (trust us—you’ll both be more comfortable).
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommends that the safest route is for parents to secure children in car seats or appropriate child restraint systems when traveling by airplane. You’ll know you picked the right kind of seat if a sticker or label states “this restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.”
Many airlines offer a special discount fare for children younger than 2, so investigate this when making your reservations.
Other Seating Considerations
By federal law, young children are not allowed in emergency exit rows (infants aren’t even allowed in the seats directly in front and behind the exit row), so when traveling with your baby, be sure to keep that in mind when booking your seats. Trust us—you don’t want to have to deal with moving when on the plane.
If you’re bringing a car seat, be sure to ask for a window seat so you won’t block anyone, and consider sitting in the bulkhead row. The bulkhead row (situated directly behind a wall, partition, or curtain) is roomier, and offers more wiggle and leg room than regular coach seats. Unfortunately, sitting in the bulkhead row also means you lose precious cargo space and won’t be able to stash any carry-on luggage under the seat in front of you. But, you can always use the overhead bins.
Packing Your Carry-On Diaper Bag
Consider bringing a backpack-style diaper bag—it’s easier to carry and frees up your hands while schlepping through the airport. Organize all snacks, toys, and extras in clear, gallon-size re-sealable bags (easy to see at a moment’s notice), and be sure to bring extra bags for holding dirty clothes, diapers, and wipes.
We all know that little kids + food = a potential big mess! So along with bringing enough snacks for the flight, bring plenty of wipes. You’ll use them for everything, including diaper changes, wiping hands and faces, wiping down seats—you name it.
What else do you need? Find out what to pack when traveling with a baby.
Going Through Security
Give yourself plenty of time to go through security checkpoints. Keep your identification, passport, and tickets in an easy to reach pocket, purse, or lanyard. (This way, if you can’t remember where you put the super important documents, you’ll be relieved to find them hanging around your neck.)
You will be expected to declare any exceptions to the liquid, gel, and aerosol rule in your carry-on bag such as breast milk, formula, juice, and liquid prescriptions, to the security officer. Learn more about how new airport security rules affect flying with your baby.
Slip-on shoes, loafers, and Velcro sneakers are easy to slip on and off at checkpoints and will save time. Some parents explain to their toddlers what will happen and practice taking off their shoes, putting their favorite toy or blankie in the X-ray machine, and putting their shoes back on. Or, just tell your toddler you are playing a game of Simon Says, and he has to do everything you do as quickly as possible.
Pre-Board … or Wait?
Parents who choose to pre-board (if allowed by the airline) find that it gives them extra time to find their seats, install car seats and restraints, get the kids settled, and stow away the carry-on bags.
To other parents, the prospect of spending even more time cooped up on the plane with their fidgety toddlers is a nightmare. These are the parents who prefer to let their toddler run loose—and board last, so they don’t have to spend one more second on the plane than humanly possible.
If you decide to use this second option, and are traveling with your spouse, send your spouse ahead to figure out the seat arrangements and storage so that you and your toddler can spend quality time staring at the planes land and take-off from the terminal and run around.
Bring the Cheap Stroller
That’s right. Leave the pricey wheels at home. Lugging an expensive stroller will make it that much harder to leave behind when it breaks or needs repair. A compact stroller that you can collapse or open with one hand will work well at airport checkpoints. And you will have no qualms about forgetting it at the carousel or tossing it when it breaks.
At the airport, the umbrella stroller will also serve as a makeshift luggage cart. Make sure you check in your stroller at the gate, so that your stroller/luggage cart will be waiting for you at the arrival gate when you get off the plane. If you don’t have a separate ticket for your child, but lugged along a car seat in the hopes of finding an empty seat, you will want to gate-check the car seat as well. This way, if a seat becomes available, you can put your child in the seat.
At the gate, the agent will give you a tag for your stroller and a claim ticket, but hold on to your stroller until you actually step on to the plane. Make it as easy as possible for you!
This is the part of the journey that separates the amateurs from the pros. If you are one of those organized and prepared mommies who pack toys, snacks, amusements, finger puppets, books, crayons, coloring books, stickers, and puzzles when you travel, you’re all set.
If you don’t, then invent funny games and tall tales—for the entire duration of the flight. Sometimes speaking in a funny voice, playing with a hat, or singing a new song can be enough to hold your baby’s attention. The in-flight magazines and air-sickness bags can also provide some entertainment—at least a few minutes.
String a bunch of Cheerios together and make a necklace for your child. Surprise Baby with it on the flight, and he/she’ll be occupied with slowly munching each piece, hopefully giving you and your fellow passengers a few moments of peace.
More In-Flight No-Nos
You will have the everlasting gratitude of your fellow passengers if you DO NOT:
1. Change your child’s diaper in the seat, and then stash it in a plastic bag under the seat of the passenger in front of you.
2. Speak and serenade your baby or toddler very loudly and clearly in a sing-songy voice the duration of the trip.
3. Ask them to hold the baby while you eat your meal in peace and then go check out the seats in first-class.
And there’s more…
And More In-Flight No-Nos
4. Give lectures in your itty-bitty baby voice about how “the little tubes in baby’s ear means he feels the pressure changes in the cabin a lot more than the mean grownups on this flight do.”
5. Sit there and sigh, “There’s nothing I can do. There’s nothing I can do.” And let your child terrorize the other passengers.
Most likely, your baby or toddler will cry and possibly scream at least once during the flight. Consider this a perfect time to put your apologizing skills to good use. The nicer and lovelier you are, the more polite your fellow passengers will have to be.
Just remember: Every journey has a beginning and an end. This trip, too, will not last forever.
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