Monday, April 22, 2013
As a flight attendant for thirteen years with two companies, I learned a lot about traveling with babies by just watching what worked and what didn't with passengers, but the real lesson was ahead of me. Now I'm usually flying alone with my own three between Europe, where I now live, and California, where I'm originally from about every six months. We've also taken quite a few flights within Europe, the Middle East and domestic flights in the States. I've actually lost count of how many, and now we can claim we’ve done stand-by, full fare, low cost, charter, etc.
Some of this information might seem obvious to you, especially if you've flown a few times both with or without your children. Some reading this have never been on a plane themselves, or it's been long time ago, so please keep this in mind.
Also, to be clear, this article is not a legal document and can't be used as proof of any of the laws or rules I refer to throughout. Check the FAA websites or other relevant agencies to confirm any statements I make. I try to provide links when I can. Be aware, also, that airlines often have their own policies which might be stricter than their own governments' laws. Most of the employees you encounter do not have the power to change or make exceptions to any rule. They simply must follow them, even in cases where logic or safety is questionable. Now that I've covered my backside...
Flying with babies? For me, it's definitely a means to an end. I loved my job. I love traveling, but actually flying in the plane with my little ones, I just try to get through it as smoothly as possible. If it helps, calculate how much of your total trip will actually be spent on the plane. A mom flying halfway around the world wrote me to tell me that thought helped. Even for a short visit, the actual proportion of the time spent in the airplane and airports will be short.
One of the worst mistakes to make is to assume that the last time you flew, everything went great so it will again. Also, how much your little one(s) have flown has little or no impact on how it will go. Not too many kids have flown as much as mine have, and I've stopped predicting whether they'll have horns or halos during the flight, while children who have never been on a plane can be complete angels. It's variable. The purpose here is to keep make it as easy as possible. I usually expect that everything will go wrong. If any mishaps occur, well, stuff happens. That's a given. If everything goes smoothly, I quietly celebrate my victory...
I have tried to organize this article in sections so that parents can skip over and get to the parts that are relevant. For example, if you already have your tickets booked, you can pass over all the sections on buying tickets. It can also be a bit much reading all this in one sitting so parents have told me that they find it helpful to bookmark or copy it, coming back to the sections they need as they come up.
If you are at the stage of considering a journey, look into what documents you need for your child as soon as you can organize it. Obviously it's impossible to cover this subject thoroughly, but make sure you have what you need. There are too many horror stories of families being turned away at the airport, if not prevented from booking in the first place.
For international travel, your child probably needs a passport. There only very few exceptions like using E.U. national ID's to travel the European Union. Passports are required by more and more countries, especially post 9/11. There is a new U.S passport card but it is only good within a specific area and only for land and water ports of entry, not for air travel. The system of putting children in their parents' passports is less and less common and now every member of the family has to have his or her own. Because of the worldwide security situation, many countries which used to let nationals of neighboring countries visit without, are now requiring passports.
For domestic U.S. travel, if a child is traveling with a parent, they don't have to have any kind of identification. No proof even that the adults are the parents is necessary. Some airlines will require a birth certificate or other ID to prove that the child is under age 2. This is due to the FAA regulation that lap babies cannot have had their 2nd birthday. Most won't ask if the child is obviously under that age but some airlines require if of all lap babies. Check your airlines' website to be sure.
A big stumbling block to getting a baby's first passport can be the photo. Taking children's pictures is not always easy in the best of circumstances and getting a little one to cooperate within the requirements of an official document, even less so. Many insist on pure-white backgrounds. For a U.S. passport, both ears must show and the eyes must be open. A helpful trick to share with the photographer or if you're doing it yourself is to put a small baby in a bouncy seat covered with a white sheet. There can also be issues with photo sizes. Get this information clear and don't risk your file being refused or delayed for some petty problem with the photo that could have easily been adhered to if you had known ahead of time.
As a reminder, U.S.citizens with other nationalities cannot enter the country on any other passport with no exceptions for children. If living internationally, it may be easier to obtain your child's other passport, but this will not be accepted by U.S. immigration. If you are American and are reading this in anticipation of an international adoption, your agency will give you the information you need, but the child can enter the U.S. on his or her original passport, as long as his American nationality has not gone through yet.
If you or your children are eligible for the nationality of the country you're visiting, check the requirements. Some have the same rule as the U.S. does, others are less strict.
I take our passports with us, even when visiting a third country. I have had to travel for family emergencies and I want to be able to head to the nearest airport, and not have to return to France to pick up my U.S. passports. This is an extra precaution.
I also want to recommend that anyone with loved ones beyond their borders keep a valid passport at all times just in case of the unforeseen, even if a journey is not planned in the near future and even if they wont be living there long.
It's also a good idea to regularly check passports for expiration dates. Remember that some countries require not just a valid passport but one that is for the next 3 or 6 months.
Someone reminded me to bring the medical records. This is a great idea but I have to confess, this is a case of do what I say, and not what I actually don't do. My kids' French health records are large and bulky--a feeble excuse I'll admit! This is especially important if there could be language issues or if your child has any specific health concerns.
If you are not flying with the other parent, you might need to have a permission letter. With a U.S. passport, the other parent signs the passport documents, this gives the other parent permission to travel alone with the child but the letter might be required at your destination, or even transit country so check. This is especially important if you are visiting several countries, for example on a cruise or tour.
Do not just write up a letter for the sake of it. Confirm that a letter from the other parent is required and exactly how they want it written, which language, what it should say, if it needs to be notarized, etc. Canada and Chile, for example, have instructions on their tourist and official sites, including instructions for those with sole custody.
If you are flying with someone else's children, even if related to you, please make sure you have both power of attorney (in case of emergencies) and a permission letter from the parents. Find out if any of these letters need to be notarized and/or have a time limits.
When you book your flight, a few tips can make the trip easier.
Flying off season is not always possible, but booking a few days forward or back can be dramatically different in price and how full the flight is. I once saved a lot but simply leaving on the earlier flight. Look at a few flights, if your itinerary is flexible, with the agent or on the net. This can take a little time, but it might be worth punching a few extra buttons to have a bit more peace in the air.
I actually do better for both price and convenience by buying with an agent than over the net. Also, look at both the airlines' own sites, as well as discount sites when shopping around. Basically, I try everything...
Some of the sites wont let you book a child under two in his or her own seat, automatically making them "lap" babies. Luckily, more and more airlines now give a "on lap"/"own seat" option for under 2's. Look carefully as this isn't always obvious. I hate to tell you to cheat, but if you want a seat for your baby and there is no way around the booking, add a year or two to the birth date. You are not trying to "get away" with anything, in fact, the airline is making more money off of you. It is simply to get around a computer glitch. If you're not comfortable with this solution, another option might be to take the fares and contact the airline. Tell them your dilemma and ask them to "match" the Internet price ticket, and then you will purchase from them.
It's a good idea to check the school vacations both where you are and where you're going. I and many I know, have saved major amounts by leaving a few days before school lets out, when the prices go up. If you're not bound by school schedules yourself, this might be a good way to save some money.
Recently, I was informed that there is at least one airline which will allow you to purchase a seat for your child and will reimburse you if the flight is not full (and therefore you can use a free seat). Be wary of that because they might fill the flight with stand-by's, the airline employees or others (perhaps missed flight/bumped passengers) and if your baby does not have a ticket, they will go back on your lap and someone will occupy that seat. So if your airline does this, be sure to ask about the standby list and only do this if the flight is really empty.
Check all connections yourself, especially on the net. Make sure they're reasonable and there isn't some nasty surprise, like having to change airports or having a really unreasonably long stopover. Remember that if you're flying into the States, you must clear Customs and Immigration at your "first port of entry" with no exceptions. If you're connecting, the process is straightforward. There are agents to help re-collect your bags and there are usually a lot of people doing the same thing. Having children in tow can slow you down and there can be some long lines in high season. When you reserve, be sure you have time to complete this process.
Remember that a 'direct' and a 'non-stop' aren't always the same thing. Always double check that the same flight number doesn't stop and even change air crafts. With a "direct" flight, it can. Often these terms get confused and people think they're the same, sometimes not realizing until they board.
Only let an agent convince you that a connection of an hour and a half is enough time if you're mostly;
-staying within the same country or connecting in a country that doesn't require re-claiming your baggage (within the EU is an example)
-to a connection point that has a lot of flights going to your final destination
-staying in the same terminal (preferably with the same airline)
You still have very little "jiggle" room if your first flight is delayed. If not all of the above applies, give yourselves two hours minimum, adding time for changing terminals, changing airlines and getting through security, immigration and customs (for international). This might be excessive to someone flying without kids, but remember that you can't just jog through the airport anymore, like you do/did on solo business trips. Everything with children will take more time. By contrast, I can easily pass three hours in almost any airport with my kids when that would have been a horribly long wait in my pre-baby days.
This is general information on connections; if changing airlines, ask if they have "one stop check-in" so that you wont have to repeat the process. Some "code shared" airlines have "seamless" check-in where you get all your boarding passes at one time. Other times, you'll be checked in but will have to collect your boarding passes at the connection point. This isn't the end of the world and often can't be avoided. Just find out what steps your connection involves so that you're not standing in line for nothing or run into problems because you were supposed to do something that you didn't. I don't think this is a criteria for which route or airline to take. I have chosen flights based on connections and airport changes but whether you can get your boarding passes right away is really only a detail, albeit a nice one if you can get it!
Don't change airports if at all possible. Watch out for this, especially on the net where the airports might be listed in tiny lettering. Look carefully at each airport code before hitting the "enter" button. I did this once, which was rectified by a very nice reservations agent. I was "saved" because I called right away and there was room on the flight I really wanted. Don't make my mistake or you might not be as lucky!
You'll hear a lot about which airline is "best" for traveling with children. I discussed car seat use later, but in general, I really don't suggest digging into the subject unless you absolutely have no other criteria to consider. By the time you look at prices, availability and routing, I doubt there will be much choice. To be honest, from someone who worked out of countless airports, your experience might depend more on the crew on that specific route than on the airline itself. When someone gives their opinion on the subject, it's really only relevant if they flew on the same exact flight at the same time of year. I'll have someone rave on about a certain airline to learn that the flight was half empty. The fact they got great service is not a big surprise.
These (often) new companies are making air travel more affordable, but some of the rules are slightly different than flying with regular companies.
First of all, they often fly into really remote airports. In fact, objections have been raised over what cities they supposedly serve and even ended up in court. Some airlines even list their airports by different cities than for which they were originally named, for example, one company claims to fly to "Barcelona" when it is really Girona, quite a distance away. Occasionally, they actually use a more convenient airport or perhaps they land closer to where you're headed but find out exactly in which airport they use. Do not simply go by the city on their list.
I recommend never mixing same-day travel between low-cost and "mainstream" companies. They don't have agreements (another cost-cutting measure) and there are other complications with totally separate reservations, including using different airports and having to transfer and check in again even if staying at the same airport.
One way they sell tickets cheaper is that they don't always handle connections. Check to be sure but tickets are often sold "point to point". This means you arrive at the connection point, you get your bags, pass through arrivals and head for initial check-in and do it all over again, even though it's the same airline. I've managed it alone with three children and it wasn't actually that terrible. It's usually obvious when you book that you're buying two separate tickets so this shouldn't come as an ugly surprise. Your baggage tags should have the right airport code and for many reasons, it's a good idea to know the code of your destination and check the tags going on your bags anyway. Schedule with lots of transit time. I gave it three hours and kept it sane and stress-free. We actually sat down and had a meal in between, bought some books and made a few calls.
For the record, the company itself will probably advise against this. We were once on a very delayed flight. A family waiting with us lost their next flight entirely, since they had another ticket for the same day. The airline offered no compensation and were very unsympathetic.
If they offer "priority boarding" at a cost, it's a good idea with children. Ask but they probably don't pre-board families at all or board them after those who paid to get on first. This "priority boarding" is usually not expensive but a silly thing to actually pay for. We end up simply getting on the first bus out to the aircraft. With open seating, you might have to really fight to seat the family together. One experience doing that convinced me that the small fee per person was well spent to get on slightly ahead of the rest. This is especially important for a parent flying alone with more than one child.
Find out if you can simply board earlier by using the on-line check-in service, if offered. Read about boarding on your airline's website because this process can be very different than what you're used to and policies can change from the last time you flew with them.
Some low cost airlines do offer reserved seats, again, if you pay a fee. I recommend paying this fee too, unless the flight is completely empty (a fact you may not be able to check). The problem is that if your family is split up, you may be in a position where you are asking other people to move to accommodate you. They may have paid for their reservation and are now inconveniencing them because you didn't.
Check that there are no restrictions to flying with more than one child under age 2. At least one foreign airline does not allow one adult to fly with two under-age two children since seats cannot be purchased for them.
If you want to use a car seat and you are not flying with a U.S. company, make sure that this is allowed. U.S. companies cannot ban car seat use on board but other nationalities can and do. Individual airlines can also impose their own rules.
I've learned that Southwest (WN) allows parents with babies to reserve a seat for their baby but can get a refund at check-in if the flight is not full. This is a nice option and I don't know of any other airline which offers this. Be sure though that there are not 40 standby passengers trying to get on your flight. It may not be reserved full but once the parent has given up their ticket, the airline can then fill it with a standby passenger, even an airline employee and the baby will have to go on the lap. Ask at check-in not just if the flight is full but how many are trying to get one (they usually know this too).
"Low-cost" companies in most countries usually don't serve meals and when they do, they're overpriced, limited and usually not the best quality. Meanwhile, you are often welcome to bring a whole picnic on board if you want. In the terminals where low-cost companies fly, often there are plenty of food stands which are conveniently placed by the boarding area, after the security points. So head for your gate as soon as you can and stock up for you and your kids. If you bring food from home, most security companies are more concerned with drinks and will allow most food through. Show the security agents directly any item that you have questions about and if not allowed, it will simply be taken away.
Be very aware of checked bags. It's usually cheaper to pay for your luggage ahead of time. It might be better to over estimate your number of bags because if you add one later, or worse, show up at the airport with more, this might mean paying a steep fee. Extra baggage at the airport might mean waiting in another line and dragging out the check-in process. When you fly with kids, do everything possible to keep check-in smooth and quick.
But before booking, do the math. The cost of transport to an out-of-the-way airport, especially early in the morning, might not be worth it. I've learned twice that these airlines don't join alliances so that means if there is a delay, you will not be switched to another flight on another airline. You have to wait until your specific flight is ready. Also, if you arrive in the evening, you might end up paying for a hotel an extra night, which you wouldn't if you took a more reasonably scheduled flight. The cost of checking bags is pretty heafty with some companies. Sometimes saving money is not actually saving much and your sanity is worth a price too.
"Bulkhead" seats are often recommended for families. We're talking about the ones with the wall in front. They are not necessarily in the front of the cabin, as many believe. It depends on the aircraft. I think they're ideal for toddlers as you avoid the problem of the child kicking the seats in front of them thus annoying the neighbors. You can also get in and out of these seats easier, as you will be doing that a lot with a toddler or baby. Plus, children can often play in that space on the floor, close to their parents and their seats.
Not everyone loves them though. There isn't much forward legroom (although sometimes they are comfortably set far back), and stowage is limited. If you have extra seats in that row, sometimes the armrests wont come up to let a child lie down (especially appreciated for older children without car seats). Of course with the newer entertainment systems, it's often not possible to put up the armrests anywhere, anyway. Some bulkheads are in front of emergency exits so only those over age 15 can sit there (among other restrictions and this rules exists in many countries). The other disadvantage cited is that if there is a large, pull-down movie screen, that could bother some children and keep them from sleeping. Obviously, this is not a problem on aircraft with individual screens.
Normally for bulkhead seats, you have to stow your bags just for take-off and landing. I've had reports that some foreign airlines require the bags be stowed for the entire flight. You may want to ask about this if you are flying a non-U.S. carrier. Otherwise, feel free to get your things down once the seat belt sign is off.
Some airlines will not reserve bulkheads ahead of time and state that they're specifically set aside for families. You are then put on a waiting list. If there is too much demand, they will determine at check-in who will get them. I found this to be a cut and dry process, depending on the age and/or number of children. If you run into this situation, don't insist, and make sure you have reserved as good seats as possible as back-ups. Also be clear on when and where they will announce the lucky winners.
I find it mega-annoying if I've been refused a bulkhead seat, only to step onboard and see all adults sitting there. As stated earlier, those over age 15 can be placed in exit rows, which have more legroom. I actually wrote and complained and they told me that they were reserved for frequent flyers. So children get to kick other customers' backsides, who will then be annoyed and swear they'll never fly that airline again. Tell the poor bruised-backsiders "Sorry, we requested bulkhead, but this airline's policy is..." If you endure this too, please write and complain as I did. Maybe if enough of us speak out...
Recently, I read one of those (un)helpful tips to nursing mothers to sit by the window for more discretion. Perhaps there is a certain logic to it, I will admit but if you're on a long flight, I can't imagine anything more inconvenient than having to crawl over two other passengers every time you need to get up. I picture this nursing mother trying to get over two businessmen with a crying baby who's just done a "blow out" diaper, lugging a gear-filled diaper bag. Not a pretty picture. Trust me, for the tiny bit more of discretion you'll get, the inconvenience outweighs it by far. I have breastfed all three of mine in bulkhead and/or aisle seats and I never suffered as a result. As someone who only owns one-piece swimsuits, I'm not one to flash my flesh when not necessary. Fellow breastfeeders, you have your own section further down...
Some airlines have bassinets which mount on bulkhead wall. These are useful if available but you'll usually have to be in a bulkhead to get one, which can be one of the airlines criteria of who gets to sit at the bulkhead (if the baby is small enough to use it). If your baby is more than four months old, ask about what weight limit is, which varies from company to company. The highest limit that I know of is a year (and that's just one company). Many parents with babies who meet the weight limit find their "tall" offspring wont fit lenthwise so be aware of this is you have a lean and leggy baby.
Some bassinets can be suspended from the ceiling for center seats. I have only heard about this and never actually seen one in action. American rules on these are strict and don't be surprised if you can't get one on a U.S. company. I also understand that Canadian airlines now require that only sleeping babies can be placed in any bassinet inflight. Again, lots of different rules and availability regarding bassinets.
A bassinet should not be seen as an option to avoid bringing a carseat. For safety, again, there is no replacement for a car seat. Sometimes too, you will be requried to remove the baby from the bassinet and hold him or her in turbulence. Never leave an unattended baby asleep in a bassinet. The bassinet has to be stowed for take-off and landing so the child will then have to go either in his or her seat or on your lap.
Families flying with at least two adults often book two (or more) seats in front and back of each other. This is an obvious choice on smaller aircraft which don't have four across together and any airplane which has two seat rows. Also, this could work if there are at least four or five family members flying together. The advantage is that the most active child can sit directly behind a familiar adult or a baby in a car seat and not kick the seatback of a stranger.
Some parents also like booking the window and aisle seats when there are two, plus a lap-held baby, or a solo parent and child with seat, hoping the center one is left empty. If not, they can simply switch with the person who gets the middle seat. No one ever wants the center so swapping isn't usually a problem. Still ask and let them choose.
Another version, an excellent tip sent in to me was an expanded version of the above. Perhaps a family of three is flying and the aircraft has four middle seats. The family will book three seats together and then skip a seat, booking the aisle. They then hope that no one sits in the middle seat. If someone does arrive, logically they wont mind swapping for the aisle seat. I suggest a parent be the one to switch in this case, if possible.
If you have a "stranger" in your row, the rest of the seats taken by your family, choose with care who is to sit next to them. I thought it would be better for me to sit next to someone once, instead of one of my children. Bad call on my part. I was getting up too often. A better pick would be perhaps an older, perhaps school-aged, child. Obviously, you wont want to place a small baby or toddler next to them if you can avoid it.
Look carefully at the seating chart. Sometimes, even on a bigger aircraft, there are some rows with just two seats. The back of a 747, for example. This is good if it's a solo parent with a child or a couple with a lap baby. No one else in their row!
I've also heard of one parent sitting away from the rest and the two switching off to give each other a break. This is often cited as yet another (un)helpful flying "tip". The few times I saw this, the "displaced" parent ended up hovering over the other members of the family anyway, annoying those around them. I talked about this with upgrading and often switching itself is not allowed if it's between classes.
Some families prefer to sit in different rows. They'll place the child most likely to kick behind another family member in the row in front. This also is good for large rear-facing car seats that may not allow the seat in front of them to recline. If one of the parents is in that seat, all the better for other passengers. Obviously this only works with two adults (or say a teen) can be seated in each row, depending on the ages of all the minors.
Some parents love to sit in the very back. They like being close to the galley and toilets and figured their children's noise is less likely to disturb others. Added plus, you can often stand up in the back without disturbing others when the seatbelt sign is off. If your children need or want to get up, this way they're not too far from their seats. This is perhaps a better idea for flying with older children and teenagers. Please note that the galley is not always located in the back, although the toilets usually are. I don't recommend the very back of the plane if your children have a tendency to get air sick. The back is bumpier.
If you can't sit together, try to get groups of seats together, that include an aisle. You can trade aisle seats the most easily, followed by window seats. Avoid all center seats as these are almost impossible to swap. Try to stay in the same section. Call the airline before flying to change the seating. If not, ask at check-in. If that fails, try to get it done at the gate (usually automatically if you didn't succeed at the front desk when you first checked in). If all else fails, then you will have to do it on board.
I am a big promoter of "to each his own" for both comfort and security for you, your child and those seated around you. Flying with a car seat is actually the only way to fly safely with a baby. Now that I've stated this, I have to qualify that commercial aviation itself is very safe and there's very little chance of anything going wrong. But if it does, your child is not protected.
The FAA recently clarified its policy on car seat use. They now state that any child under the age of 18 has the right to use one. While this may be amusing to imagine a teenager in one, many parents of children with disabilities (not all are obvious) now can relax and not have to "justify" the use of a very necessary seat on board. The FAA has always protected the rights of handicapped children to use car seats on planes but some children don't fit neatly into these categories.
Every child has to have a seat on or after his or her second birthday according to the FAA and most foreign air authorities.
Using a car seat on board is the recommendation of the FAA, the NTSB, the AAP and other organizations including the AFA Flight Attendant union.
With some foreign companies, it's possible to fudge on this and I get all sorts of reports of people getting away with it. Not only is there the safety issue but twice, I have had delays due to finding out that a child was over age two without his own seat. Don't risk it. The burden will be on you to prove your child is under two, and you might be charged the full fare one-way ticket if your child is not or even removed from the flight if there is no available seat.
Some air regulators allow children to fly back on the same ticket after their second birthday and/or within a certain time frame. Double check on this if your agent tells you this is possible. It wont be allowed on U.S. companies.
Those under two year olds are allowed on laps for commercial reasons. Airlines think they can sell more tickets, and there's little push from parents to change this since they save money. Chances are, their children will still arrive at the destination in good shape. So there is little incentive from parents, airlines and the rest of the traveling public for whom it doesn't affect.
If still undecided on the car seat issue, you may want to read this article;
In a car seat, the aircraft could turn upside down and it can still hold your child. There was recently a small aircraft accident in Canada where the only survivor was a three year old girl strapped into a car seat.
If your baby is in an infant "bucket-style" seat, these are easier for travel. More information in the section on getting car seats through airports but be careful of the weight and height limits on these. If this is a long trip, be wary of the fact your baby might outgrow the car seat during your visit, posing several problems. Make sure your child is well under the weight limit and his or her head is below the top. It should be lower than one inch (2cm). If it's close, better to switch to the convertible seat for your departure (unless you were specifically planning on buying a seat at your destination).
Yes, a child in a car seat is less likely to disturb others. Mine were much calmer and settled in their own, familiar seat. Rear-facing seats have the added advantage for the person in front who wont be kicked. There is also the risk of a toddler jumping up and running around during taxi. If you can't control your toddler during this crucial phase of the flight, the whole family can be off-loaded for "non-cooperation with crew member instructions". This rule existed before 9/11 but is much more seriously enforced after. If any passenger got up during taxi, we were required to call the cockpit who would then stop the whole aircraft. I had to do this a couple of times for pressing personal reasons. If it happens several times, you may find yourselves being brought back to the gate and "off-loaded".
As a mom, I had to strap a couple of unhappy toddlers in their seats for both take-off and landing. I noticed they usually quieted down once they realized this was a non-negotiable issue. While I don't like using force, once they were strapped in, I could concentrate on their unhappiness, comforting them, talking to them and holding their little hands, not chasing them or holding them down in their seat or on my lap.
Just a reminder to never use car seats provided by a car rental company. I had a bad experience once and unfortunately, this is not rare. The car seats provided by rental companies are at best dirty, worn and incorrectly washed (i.e. soaked straps). At worst, they could be expired, missing parts and could have been involved in a recall. Your children's safety is too important to take the risk of using one of these. Always bring your own or make other arrangements at your detination.
Another advantage to bringing one on board was that I could get up and attend to my own needs if my child fell asleep in their car seat. I didn't take any more time that necessary but it was assurance that my child was safe while I took much appreciated trip to the restroom or got a drink. I almost always fly alone, and this was especially useful. I knew that turbulence could start and my child was safe. I usually tried to tell a neighbor or Flight Attendant where I was going or at least in which direction I was headed (so that they could find me if the baby woke).
If I haven't made a strong enough argument for bringing car seats by this time, I'll describe what happens in an emergency.
Please stop reading if this will upset you, but in a "prepared emergency landing", we were instructed to have the parent wrap the baby in a blanket and place the little ones on the floor. I'm so glad I never was put in a position to have to give these instructions, but the parents were to hold the child to the ground during the emergency landing. This has worked and has saved lives...but not always. Again, it wasn't as safe as having the child in a car seat.
Usually, car seats do not count against your baggage allowance but always ask, especially if flying a very small aircraft and/or a low-cost company.
Car seats pose a few practical challenges. I go into more details on this subject under "Car Seat Policies" below.
Car Seat Alternatives
Some companies outside of North America still use "belly belts" or "supplemental loops". These are separate contraptions, made of the same material as a seat belt, that attach to the parents' belts. (Skip to next paragraph if squeamish) These offer no protection to the child, but their use is justified by other air authorities, citing that they keep the child from flying through the cabin on impact. Children are safer loose in the adults' lap. In forward thrust, parents have come down on their own child, crushing them. This is called the "human air bag" theory. For this reason, the air authorities in Canada, the U.S., Germany and elsewhere ban these devices.
"Travel" car seats are not allowed to be used on board. The car seat has to have a hard back or shell. As an extra tip, I recommend that you research these products carefully before buying. Many are not recommended by car seat technicians, even when allowed by law. They're simply not safe but by contrast, the "Rider Safe" vest does get good reviews... for cars. While they are a viable alternative to a typical car seat in the car, these vests need a shoulder belt or a LATCH hook, neither of which are available on aircraft. Although it's a good, safe product, unfortunately, it wont offer any protection on an airplane.
Booster seats (including car seats that convert to boosters that are no longer used with the integrated harness) are never FAA approved. They basically only position the shoulder strap, which airplane seats lack. Also, airplane seats collapse forward for use in an evacuation. For these reasons, only seats with hard backs and internal harnesses are approved. If you have a seat which converts to a booster, check your manual carefully. With the internal harness, it may be FAA approved but used as a booster with the adult seat belt, it wont.
Presently, there is only one item that can replace a car seat, the CARES harness.
It is not as safe as a car seat because it has no side protection nor crotch strap. The child can easily unattach the seatbelt and even if he or she meets the minimum weight, children have been known to slide down in it. I can't confirm whether that was just because the straps weren't tightened enough.
There are non-safety related complaints that they can't bend their legs and either have to point them straight out or sit cross-legged while flying. Some parents complain that their children don't sleep well in it. Some children slide down in them.
Your child has to have a separate seat to use this product. You can try to ask for an empty seat if s/he is under 2 and you didn't purchase a seat, just as you would if you were bringing a car seat, but having this item does not give you any priority or right to an extra seat.
This is a very useful item in certain cases, such as if you don't need or have a car seat waiting at your destination, but for approximately $75, it is expensive for something that can only be used in an airplane. Obviously, it is much easier to transport than even the lightest car seat.
What you do not want to do is to use a CARES harness on board while checking the car seat as baggage, which risks the car seat getting lost and/or damaged. If you only have one child and/or are more than one adult flying, transporting a car seat is actually not that big a deal as their website suggests. See the "Getting Car Seats Through Airports" section.
Some enterprising Ebay and Craigslist participants are actually renting these items. I also imagine that they have good resale value, once the youngest child in the family outgrows it.
A big plus with this item is that it is approved by quite a few air authorities. So far, it is allowed in North America, the U.K., Australia, Singapore and New Zealand, but European Union approval is still pending. This item could avoid the dilemma discussed earlier in the "Car Seat Policies" section of "will they let me use my seat?".
Be aware that that it is only a small age group that can use it. Your child has to be at least a year old and weigh between 22 and 44lbs. compared to a higher-harnessed seat which could go from birth to age 6 and can still be used in a car. I understand that a higher weight version is currently being tested, but it is not yet available. I have not been able to get information to confirm this.
If you have car seats organized where you are headed, such as if you are visiting relatives who have reliable car seats your children will fit, a CARES harness is a good idea. Be careful of renting and/or borrowing car seats. Most expire after 6 years so when borrowing or using other peoples' seats, you may want to ask. It's best to know the seat's history and never use any that has been in an accident.
If you are headed to a large city where you will be exclusively using public transport, a CARES harness would make sense in this case too. It's also a good alternative if you have several children close in age and physically can't take all the seats you need, especially if only one parent is with them. You will probably still have to find a way to organize seats at your destination, avoiding using rental seats and/or checking your seat. In certain cases, it may be a situation of choosing the least of the evils.
No other similar item is approved for flying. Be careful of mismarketing with other products. One item is a vest the child weares that is then attached to the adult's seatbelt similar to the "belly belts" described earlier. It actually advertises that it "meets and exceeds FAA standards" when in truth, there are no FAA standards for these products. It says in its small print that the item is only meant to hold a child during the flight itself, not on take-off and landing. Turns out they used FAA facilities to test but this doesn't translates to actual approval. One airline actually bans this product.
Car Seat Policies
Before deciding whether you want to spend the money on the seat for your child, find out what your airline's policies are, which can vary widely. Some of the same airlines which brag that they are "child-friendly" because of amenities actually fall short on actually allowing you to keep your child safe. They may hand out a lot of toys but when it comes to securing your child, they just don't come up to the bar. When booking, this could also be a deciding factor in which airline to choose. It is for me...
If you are flying a U.S. registered company and your child has his or her own seat and you brought their FAA certified car seat, it is your right to use it on board which is protected by law. The FAA recently clarified its position and now any child up to age 18 can sit in an approved car seat. This is welcome news, especially for the parents of children with special needs, who may need the restraint while flying.
Do not be intimidated by stories of Flight Attendants not allowing car seats on board in the U.S. Know that the rules are in your favor and stand your ground...politely. Print up some of the links in this article and bring your owners' manual. Ask nicely to speak to the purser before things get heated and you can also ask they they show you in writing where your seat is not allowed. Every Flight Attendant with any U.S. company has to have their manual on every flight. They do not have to memorize all the information contained in the manual but they are required to be able to use it and know where to find certain information at will.
If you are not flying a U.S. or Canadian company, your rights are not guaranteed, and the requirements can be very inconsistent. Check directly with the airline, not necessarily that country's air authority. Individual airlines in the U.S. are not allowed to override FAA regulations (although they can add to them) but elsewhere, an airline can simply decide to change the rules set by its national air authorities. For example, in some places car seats are allowed, and regulations set accordingly, specific airlines have decided to ban car seats entirely and none are allowed in the cabin. Be especially careful of "low-cost" companies outside of N. America. They justify this safety compromise by citing that it saves time during boarding.
Some airlines, by contrast, are actually very flexible and allow car seats with approval from multiple nationalities. For example, if you FAA approved seat, you can still use it on some non-U.S. airlines, especially in the Far and Middle East. Lufthansa German Airline allows FAA approved car seats (welcome news since many military families fly domestically in Germany). This fact is usually stated on their website.
A common rule found many places the world, but specifically in the U.K., is that the car seat is required to face forward, even for a baby under a year old. This rule has no safety logic and means that most infant seats, which are designed only to face backwards, cannot be used at all.
Be aware that infant seats must have a "lap belt installation" option. This means that they can be secured with just a two point lap belt. Many infant bucket seats sold in Europe need the shoulder belt to install, which is why they are not approved for air travel.
In addition, some airlines do not allow car seat use on take-off and landing for babies under six months old. Some even then require the use of the dangerous "belly belts" which put them at risk if there is great forward impact. This goes against all my Flight Attendant training, and I have no idea as to why a smaller baby does not have the right to be kept secure in his or her own seat and face the correct direction according to the manufacter's instructions.
Also, there can be age limits. Children are often prevented from using a car seat on his or her third birthday on some foreign companies, regardless of weight. If you have an approved car seat and plan to take it on board to use at your destination, too bad. You have to risk damage and/or loss by checking it. If your child is of small stature, that's also your problem. This could affect children with certain disabilities so check if there are local laws which override this nonsensical rule.
By the way, I have to say that these rules will continue if parents do not speak up. If you think that changes need to be made by your local air authority, please let them know. Why should children in the U.S. be allowed to fly more safely than elsewhere?
I have used the "wrong" nationality car seat for my child on many occasions. I simply board, install the seat and see if anyone notices. This has worked more times than it hasn't. The seats were approved for airline use but not by the "right" countries, but when they were removed, I simply handed it over and they stowed it on board somewhere. There was no penalty or punishment. I did have the purser brought over once and discussed it. He actually admitted that he was, indeed, forcing my child to travel less safely but his hands were tied by the rules. Another time, on another airline and nationality, they took it, told me they'd give it back to us and then simply didn't.
Some airlines are not inspected as often as others. I used to not check seats for the FAA sticker on purpose. I felt strongly that if the parents were conscientious enough to cart the seat on board and use it, I was not going to split hairs and give them any problems. Once I actually told a FAA inspector my sentiments. This same inspector was on several of my flights and contributed a lot of the information included in this article.
For the record, foreign car seats approved for airline use are allowed on U.S. companies. Check link in next section.
Remember that no matter how illogical and nonsensical a rule may be, worldwide, cooperating with the crew is required. Crew members cannot change rules set by their airline and/or national air authority. Overall, commercial air travel is very safe, and statistically, your child is still safer on board the aircraft, no matter how he or she is carried or held, than they were in the car on the way to the airport. The bottom line is that you purchased the ticket, it's up to you to do the homework if this issue is important to you.
If things are not resolved to your satisfaction, you must follow their instructions, no matter how counter-logical, do what they say and register a complaint directly with the airline later. Tips on this are in the last section, "When things didn't go as well as they should have..."
Car Seat Placement in the Cabin
Having a car seat rarely limits where you can sit in the cabin. Contrary to popular belief, car seats are not required to be at the windows. It does only if the aircraft has only one aisle. While this is a good place for a seat, it simply can't block another passengers' exit to the aisle. If you are on a larger aircraft with two aisles, you can place the car seat(s) in the center section, including center bulkhead seats. They can't be in aisle seats but in the center seats of the center section of the row.
If you have more than one car seat, you cannot have a person in between them. They have to be installed next to each other. Perhaps there can be an empty seat between them but not another passenger, not even the parent.
There are a few restrictions to placement. Of course they can't go in an emergency exit because anyone under age 15 is not allowed to sit there at all (car seat or not). On smaller aircraft, car seats and children in CARES harnesses are not allowed to sit behind (sometimes also in front) of an emergency window exit. The reason is that in an emergency, the door is completely removed and thrown aside, perhaps in the aisle so the airline prefer that all adults sit there. Please note that FAA regulated airlines are allowed to set their own rules on this matter, depending on their emergency policies. They have a right to add to the existing rules (but not the opposite) so even if you were allowed to sit somewhere on one airline, you wouldn't automatically be able to on another.
The CARES harnesses have fewer placement restrictions than car seats. They can go in aisles and placed in the middle seat at window rows.
If you are flying a U.S. company, there is a FAA document to back up this information. It may be a good idea to look it up, print it and even bring it along. This is "FAA Advisory Circular 120-87B" which some parents print up and take along. Look specifically at page 11 (at the bottom).
Please note that if a car seat is FAA approved, it does not automatically mean that the seat will fit on all aircraft seats. If you are worried that it will or won't fit, measure the bottom, or at the widest point, and call the airline. Have your exact flight number and they can look up the width of the airplane seat. A few airlines have this information on their websites. I can't recommend some of the general aviation web information sites since they aren't always accurate and recommend checking directly with the company.
Most of the time, if the car seat "spills" into your space, it isn't a big deal and you can usually adjust your armrests to get it into position. Your car seat's widest spot may not be at its base. Just don't panic if the measurements are just a little too large. It will probably still fit...
I really advise against using any upgrades if you have a baby or toddler. It sounds nice, a little more room to move, a better meal, etc. The truth is that the passengers in the front get really annoyed with young children very quickly. Some of them will have to disembark straight into meetings and presentations on arrival and need to sleep or work the maximum possible. Many of these passengers have justified paying the extra money specifically to avoid the noise in economy, including sitting near children and babies.
If you have frequent flyer points and a child under two years of age, your points are better spent getting an extra seat for an under-two baby in economy. If you have a bad back or other physical problem, having two seats in economy is still usually better for you than sitting in the bigger business seat, because you still having to constantly lift your child up every time you get out. You can still get "pinned" under a sleeping child in any class of service!
The atmosphere is definitely more welcoming for little ones in the back. There's a bit more noise, children are less noticeable and moving around is more acceptable. I had several small members of a royal family in First once and the other passengers weren't thrilled. For the record, both companies I worked for didn't allow their employees to fly with their own children in business class until they were at least 8 or 10 years old so they're concerned with small children in the front of the plane too.
But if you want to sit up in the front with your child and you have the money and/or points to do so, this is your right. Some parents are very confident of their child's behavior, or if their child cries, too bad for the rest of the cabin. If you have a "thick skin" and are determined, by all means go for it, especially if the child has a seat. On a really empty flight, it might even be a good idea. As a generalization, you may find your child is more welcome up front on a flight headed to a vacation, not business, destination.
Also, if you're not familiar with the business or first class seats of the airline you're flying, find out about them. Some have screens or other features that might may interacting with your child difficult, even seated next to you. Most seats can accomodate a car seat but not fully reclined. At least one airline has a cone over the top of the seat for privacy, which could get in the way with installing a CARES harness.
If your family is split and one parent is in business, make it clear to your children that they are not to go up to that class to visit the other parent. Many airlines have rules preventing passengers from walking into a higher class of service, even if related to someone seated in that section. You may not be allowed to swap either, so don't plan on doing this if you book the separate seat in business or first. Avoid having children sit by themselves in another section without at least one parent with them.
Some airlines actually allow this and if informed, can make boarding the children in a separate class easier. Check with the airline's website for more information.
I really advise against families splitting up in general. I've seen it go wrong on too many flights and I recommend for many reasons, sitting together in whichever cabin you choose.
Consider ordering special meals. Don't assume your child will like and eat the standard fare. To respond to complaints about bland airline food, some companies have gone exotic. Unless your child is used to sushi, pâté and quinoa, order some sort of special meal when you book. If you reserve on line, call the airline afterwards to let them know. Tell the reservation agent the age of the children if you choose children's meals, but sometimes it works better if the whole family is eating the same food. Some parents complain that the children's meals are too "greasy," and some airlines have cut them out due to budgetary constraints.
If your child has any food allergies, you may have meal options to accomodate your little one. Nut allergies are especially common and very serious if they occur inflight. Let the airline know and they should be able to inform you of their policy, whether it be with a special meal or if the airline has eliminated nuts from their menu (or even for that flight, if your child is especially sensitive). Ask your doctor what precautions and/or supplies you should take for your child when flying.
We usually order Kosher, which is usually pretty tame and almost always available when ordered ahead of time. It has the added advantage of coming in handy individually wrapped containers of which various units can be saved for eating later on. Since we're not religious, I ask them to remove the bulky outer wrapping ahead of time. You don't have to be Jewish to order it and for Moslem families, be aware that they could contain wine sauces (Kosher and Halal have similar principals but Jewish dietary rules don't excude alcohol). Kosher meals often arrive from the kitchen frozen so ask the Flight Attendants to check that it's completely thawed before serving.
Be aware that once you order a special meal, you usually can't change your mind and have a standard meal. If the flight isn't full and/or they are over-catered, maybe they can accomodate this request but don't expect or demand it.
Airline policies can vary but it's usually best to order these meals at least a few days ahead of time. Don't wait till check-in.
I really, really do not recommend taking anything onboard except things you'll need for the flight. Garment bags and children are an especially bad mix. If I have to bring evening dresses, they are now laid out carefully on the bottom of my suitcase, only slightly wrinkled but definitely worth not carting them along with my kids. If possible, do not pack delicate clothes with any liquid bottles in the same suitcase. My "best-woman" and my daughters' flower girl dresses were even transported transatlantically to my sister's wedding this way and arrived in excellent shape. Be sure to remove them and hang them up as soon after arrival as possible.
You and your little ones have to pass security points and may have to walk a long way. Even something small can easily be lost when you're flying with children and you may quickly regret dragging even a bottle of duty free liquor with the diapers.
Some airlines are charging for bags, but it's still worth paying the fee and carting less things to the gate. You run the risk that the staff will see your extra bags and you'll end up having to check them anyway. They are on the lookout for this! It's just not worth the headache. Just pay for the bags and don't waste energy and time dragging unnecessary bags on board and then trying to find room to stow it all!
If you are flying with more than one adult and more than one child, you may want to separate supplies for each child in case you end up sitting apart. If you have two diapered children, this is especially important. You may not need two separate diaper bags, although you could, but pack your carry-ons accordingly. This is a classic "twins" tip but applicable to anyone family with more than one diapered child.
I wont discuss the contents of checked in luggage since that's not that relevant to the topic. The one tip I do want to share is if you have any battery operated toys. Either turn them off and tape the switch in place, or better yet, remove the batteries altogether. It could be a security problem if the mechanical monster turns on while the bags are being loaded on to the aircraft. Also, any toy with a remote control is not allowed to be used onboard. You can bring the toy but put the remote control in the checked lugguage.
The only other tip about checked luggage I want to add is to pack equally sized bags which weigh more or less the same. Pick them up and make sure they are all about the same wieght if you do not have the time or opportunity to actually weigh them. This is a general tip but with kids, chances are you will have more gear than expected and wont want to waste time during check-in paying for oversized bags.
With carry-on items, when my children were still in diapers, I took a backpack, a sling and a diaper bag. I talk about slings and other baby carriers in a separate section. I do not take a purse but do use a small bag with the valuables around my neck. This means I don't have to dig or pull my backpack off when I have to show tickets and passports. Everything else goes in the backpack, more valuable items stuffed at the very bottom.
The backpack I use is bigger than a the standard sized ones but small enough to still go under the seat. These backpacks come up to my knee when placed on the floor. I like ones with a top handle and lots of side pockets. With more than one child in diapers, I also had the diaper bag, which had everything I needed up to the first part of the flight including the food and first aid items. I use the backpack for the extra diapers, the never-seen-before toys, the changes of clothes and my items.
Yes, I bring a complete change for all of us. Not enough room? At least bring a pair of shorts and T-shirt for each of you, just in case. I put everything in plastic and tie them up with lots of rubber bands to squeeze them down to take up less space. Like I mentioned before, I split the diapers into two packets and put one in each the diaper bag and the backpack.
Now that our baby bottle and diaper days are over, the diaper bag is ditched. Taking just the backpack might also work if it's a short flight and you only have one child in diapers.
For myself, I bring one small makeup bag with my toothbrush, floss, paste, face cleanser, hand lotion, lip balm and lipstick (for right before landing). Even with new travel restrictions, I manage to get all that through but I am prepared to throw any of it away. My hands and lips get really dry on the plane so I was happy to keep those items. I try to remember anti-bacterial wipes, which are good to wipe down the traytables, the taps in the lavs as well as for your and your children's hands. I found that moistened flushable toilet paper is now available in little individual packs, good news for recently-trained children. If you can't find them, you can put a few in a zip-lock.
Some people like to spray water on their babies to refresh them. If you want to do this, please use plain water (either in a commercial bottle or bring your own). You may want to go through security with the bottle empty. Please don't use saline water and this could dry out your baby's skin.
Each child also carries his or her own with toys they've chosen. I still take the food and the extra clothes myself. They generally started doing this once they could walk. My youngest at age two, didn't do too well with her bag so decide if your child can manage and wont lose or forget it.
I also suggest doing some editing of what goes in these backpacks. Avoid anything security won't like and anything noisy. Make sure nothing is so valuable it can't be lost or replaced. I keep new, never-seen toys and books with me until the "unveiling" onboard, and then they carry it, giving me more space in my backpack. Security doesn't like wrapped presents but put it in a colorful bag if you want the same effect. Some parents also leave one end open without tape for security.
I take my camera in my backpack. Another good tip I received is to take recent pictures in case the child gets lost. This is especially easy with a digital camera. You can simply snap as you leave for the airport, in the same clothes, if you have time. If these photos not worth keeping, they can simply be erased later on. If the your child gets lost, you have photos of exactly what they look like and exactly what they're wearing to show the airport personel.
Before leaving home, empty your bags, especially your diaper bag and to search for any forgotten gels or liquids now banned per the new security restrictions. There is no great risk or fear here. Security will simply confiscate anything they don't want you to take on board. It's annoying and time-consuming to have them remove items so do a ruthless clean-out just for the sake of getting through security with a minimum of hassle.
All liquids have to be under 3 oz. but there are exceptions for baby formula, milk and other liquids if you are flying with a child. They say you can bring a "reasonable quantity". So far, I have not heard any parents challenged on this.
Read up on it yourself before leaving if you are flying a U.S. company. Other air authorities have similar rules.
Here is an actual grid saying what's allowed and what isn't;
I couldn't confirm is whether the liquids have to be in the original containers. I suggest using travel packs of your favorite items, the type they sell in the bins at drug stores, including toothpaste. Bring new, unopened items, rather than for example, diaper cream you've been using, just to be on the safe side. The TSA, for example, doesn't allow half tubes of toothpaste.
I was always a big zip-lock fan, even before the TSA required them, and this is a classic travel tip, now required. Recommended quart-sized bags now even have a little airplane printed on them. Put all liquids together in them (called "medium" in metric-system countries). Whatever medicine, with the appropriate spoon can go together in one ziplock. All the bandaids in another. Even the wipes merit their own. Open my bag and it looks like an advertisement for ziplock. Not only is it easier to find stuff this way, it's cleaner (in case anything spills outside or inside. It's great if security has to go through your stuff. They wont actually have to touch anything directly and they can see what it is. It's also easier to put it all back together after they're done going through your things.
Rolled up in my back pack, I always have a cloth bag, the kind they sell in grocery stores as an alternative to plastic and paper. I also have plastic bags for anything nasty, but for this purpose, I go for cloth. It fits in my backpack, wont rip and doesn't make noise. Once onboard, I remove what I need for the next few hours such as wipes, a couple of diapers, perhaps my own toiletries, etc. and put them in this cloth bag, then get the rest of my things out of the way. Before, I used to drag the whole diaper bag into the lavs, but that didn't work too well and I looked like I was moving in. Now, I simply throw in what I need for that specific lav excursion (there will be lots of lavatory talk throughout, this features prominately when flying with children).
My backpack basically stays in the overhead bin, with the extra cloths, reserve diapers and anything else that will only be needed later on. The diaper bag, by contrast, went down at my feet after take-off (if seated in the bulkheads) or was stowed under the seat in front of me.
I was happily informed of a product specifically for carrying diaper supplies into restrooms. It was basically just a bag with a handle. I think a normal cloth shopping bag is just as good, although the rather expensive product was cuter.
I make sure everything, including the children, can be carried in more than one way. My backpack has a handle or can fit in the stroller, the diaper bag can go over my shoulder or, also, on the stroller and the stroller can fit all three children-obviously not at once! Again, the sling could fit both my younger two children for ages so I had a variety of ways to get through an airport. I see to many parents with sleeping children draped over their shoulders. Not a fun way to get where you need to go. More about baby carriers in a separate section.
Take snacks and again, don't worry about security. I've had no problems myself and no reports. Avoid bring snacks with peanuts in them even if your child is not allergic to them. Many airlines have elimiated them and people with peanut allergies can be so sensitive that even having nuts around them can set off a reaction. This could be a scary thing for a child to witness, not to meantion the guilt you would feel. Yes, this is highly unlikely (and those with this allergy usually bring supplies for their condition) but why take that risk? Also, peanuts are choking hazards. All the Flight Attendants know the Heimlich maneuvre but none of them need to practice on your child. Grapes are another choking hazard you'll find on flights. If you bring them from home, halve them (even for older toddlers) and look out for them with your meals.
Put luggage tags with your name and addresss on all your bags if possible while still at home. Those small ones the airlines give out are easily ripped off. You also want to write the address on a piece of paper and put that inside the bag.
Another "helpful hint" I read about had to do with bringing large safety pins and making a tent to give the child more "privacy." I have issues with this idea for a number of reasons. First, getting the pins past security. Second, bothering the people around you. What happens if those in front of you want to recline or raise their seat? If the seatbelt sign comes on inflight, the flight attendants have to check to make sure everyone is strapped in. This would be difficult with your child under that thing. The F/A's would probably wake them. Oh, and what about the wonderful inflight air, even staler under the blanket? Also, I don't really see the whole point. My advice, leave the pins at home!
Dressing for Flying
I don't recommend sandals for anyone, big or little no matter how hot it is or will be at your destination. If connecting, you might want to avoid high-top laced shoes since you might have to remove them a couple of times in security, although I don't think it necessary to pick your footwear specifically for this purpose as the TSA recommends. I wear what is the most comfortable, even if I need an extra second to lace them up after security.
I bring socks to wear onboard and remove all of our shoes as soon as we're airborne (not before take-off in case of an emergency evecuation). You can also bring slippers. Those baby shoes made completely out of leather work great. If not in a bulkhead, shoeless feet will have less potiential to kick the seats in front of you.
I prefer to dress my toddler girls in leggings, even in summer. I put my boy in light, loose pants. Avoid white and go for patterns. Often it's advised to dress children in bright colors, to be detected better in a crowd. Don't feel the need to dress for the weather either for your departure or detination. The airports and aircrafts are climate-controlled. Put the appropriate gear at the top of your checked luggage and throw it on, if necessary, before you leave the airport.
If your baby doesn't crawl yet, consider putting him or her in a full sleepsuit, preferably with feet out of a light material. Lots of babies travel that way and no one will think "Why is that kid still in pajamas?" If it bothers you that your child is garbed in sleepware for travel, or if the trip to or from the airport is too hot, change them once airborne. I used to pick out a specifically cute one for travel and for my ego, something clearly decorated for a boy or girl.
Bring a bonnet, even in summer, especially if your baby is bald. It can get a little chilly onboard. A warm cabin makes people dehydrated, sick and affects air quality so it's kept a little cool onboard on purpose. If it feels outright cold, tell a flight attendant. On some airplanes, it's still possible to adjust the air but this is less likely on the newer planes. Dress the whole family in layers so that you're comfortable at all points in the journey.
One recent suggestion was to bring a "travel organizer" to put on the back of the seat in front of you.
Obviously, this wont work well if you're in a bulkhead seat, but then again, it would be less needed. She said it kept her from having to dig in her diaper bag.
I always bring small bottles of water or a sippy cups for my children. Bring empty cups or be prepared to dump the contents in security. The water bottles also can be taken so we drink them before. I don't depend on getting enough bottled water onboard and I'm usually dying of thirst during the wait at the gate. There is usually NOT an unlimited supply of bottled water onboard. When I worked, we used to run out at the end of the first service. Don't depend entirely on getting bottled water the whole flight for your children. With the new travel restrictions, water too might be confiscated in security but it can be purchased now once past the checkpoint.
Unfortunately, I'm getting mixed reports from parents on this subject. If you're flying with a baby and "normal" baby bottles, there doesn't seem to be a problem with formula and water. Security is fine with letting that pass. Older kids' various drinking needs (i.e. boxes, sports bottles, etc.) cause more dilemmas. Sometimes cartons and boxes of milk and juice are allowed, other times not. One time they simply declared that my children were too old to get the water bottle exemption. I didn't argue but now they're ready to either drink up or give up before hitting the X-ray machine.
What was allowed out, may not be allowed back, especially when flying internationally. Try to get the skinny on the airport where you will be flying from and be aware that international and domestic sections might operate differently.
I still recommend bringing sippy cups for practical purposes to avoid spilling onboard and to transport whatever liquid you can. When the drink cart rolls around, I ask the F/A's to fill those up, instead of giving them open cups. Keep using them for as long as the child is willing to drink from them! Also, those disposable kind work well too as do sport-style bottle with spouts that can be pulled up. I also keep those plastic bottles with lids and straws for this purpose. These might be more acceptable options for older children who refuse sippy cups.
Once a child is aware of the experience, around ages two or three, it's best to discuss it ahead of time but in a very non-challant manner. Actually, children usually love to fly, and it's rare that they're scared. It's usually an adventure for them.
There are some good children's books on this subject. I actually recommend getting them from the library, unless you're sure you'll use them again.
What can be scary for children is going through security. Even my veteran flyers don't like this part. Here is a good page to read on the subject from the TSA website. Look at it even if you'are not flying a U.S. company;
Discuss the fact that they will have to put all their belonging on the X-ray machine belt, have to walk through an arch and perhaps take off their shoes, too. Make it clear that they will not have to separate from you but will have to go through the metal dectector by themselves. I walk through first and then coax my little one to follow. Tell them that you will be doing the same.
A good tip for parents of older children, please note that some of our offspring like to make running commentaries on what they're seeing, other people, etc. This can be amusing in the car, or at home, but in the airport and airplane, there will be plenty of people within earshot. This is especially important for bilingual families, whose offspring are used to no one else understanding one of their languages. The whole plane might be listening in when your offspring express their opinions on their fellow travellers and worse, might understand them. In any language, if you know your child has a habit of "calling it like they see it", perhaps have a talk beforehand.
Some flying tips say to go through the whole process step-by-step. This might be "over-kill," especially if your child has flown before. It also may only work with children with unusually long attention spans (I know I'd have trouble sitting through it all myself!) Usually, you have a few weeks, if not months, before leaving. Point out airplanes in the sky, airports, when you pass them and any airplane images you see on T.V.
Avoid any movies with scary airplane scenes. Most of these are so full of inaccuricies that we airline personel even find them amusing. Clueless Flight Attendants, terrorists able to bring an entire army's arsenal of weapons abord and other completely absurd scenes. Even if you point out such stupidities, you child will not necessary take that information on board and focus solely on the scary scenes.
Organizing Leaving and Arriving
These are somewhat general tips but when you fly with children, you have to be extra-organized with all aspects of flying. A slight oversight could cause a lot of avoidable inconveniences which are annoying when you're alone, but unbearable with your offspring.
A very unhelpful flying tip I've read is to not let a child sleep on the way to the airport. We live two hours from the closest major airport so trying to manage that with my own kids would be impossible. Having a cranky toddler during check-in, getting through security and boarding sounds like a nightmare, not to mention if there's a delay. I honestly can't see the harm in a quick nap in the car. I let mine sleep and I have never had a problem getting them to snooze in the air. Children can get over-stimulated and then not sleep because of all the excitement so this tip can backfire.
If someone is dropping you off at the airport, if at all possible, have them park and come inside with you. They can help watch your children during check-in and if they can still until the flight actually leaves, this is a good idea in case of a cancellation. Have everyone bring cell phones, fully charged before leaving for the airport, and make sure you have each others' numbers.
Before you leave, if you are being met at the airport at your destination, give the person meeting you your entire itinerary, not just the last flight they'll be meeting. Instruct them to check either the Internet or call the airline's reservation number before leaving for the airport to make sure that all flights were on time.
If you are flying standby, give them the information about the flight that you'll be trying for first. The code I used to use was that if I didn't call, that meant that I did make the flight, not the opposite. No news is good news. Many times, standby passengers are handed boarding passes and shoved on board last minute, without time even to call or SMS from their cell phone. By contrast, if you weren't successful the first time, you probably will have time to call and give the details of the next flight you'll be trying to get on.
If calling poses a problem because of time differences, organize this ahead of time. There are a number of solutions including having them turn their ringer or cell phone completely off when they go to bed. You leave a message in the middle of the night and they check their messages as soon as they're up. You could even call a "third party" who stay up later/get up earlier than the picker-upper, who would then pass on the message at a more appropriate time. Usually, if there is a that much of a time difference, the flight will be long enough to sort something out. If there is any change of plans, especially when flying standby, remember that airlines wont say what flight you're on for security reasons.
I've seen a lot of upset passengers on board after delays and problems with their journeys. These kinds of problems are inconvenient anyway but that much worse if you're stuck at the airport with cranky, hungry, tired children (when you're also cranky, tired and hungry) while waiting because someone didn't get the information they should have about their flight.
If you are planning to rent a car at your destination, you may want to consider renting the next day instead of right on arrival. Either have a car/limo arranged to meet you or grab a taxi instead, especially after a long flight. Getting to the car rental place, which might involve a long walk and/or shuttle bus, dealing with the paperwork, etc. with kids might not be too pleasant. It might save you a days' rental on the car anyway and a taxi ride could be less than the extra day of rental.
If there are two adults, one can go get the rental car the next day while the other stays at the hotel with the children. They may even be able to deliver the car to the hotel. Consider how much driving will you really be doing the first day after your trip. The only sight that you and your children will initially want to see, may be your beds.
People ask me which stroller I recommend for flying. I always say to bring the stroller you need for the entire trip, not specifically for the flight. Most airlines accept any stroller than folds and I've seen too many tiny babies slumped in rickety umbrella strollers in airports. There is no logic to compromising your baby's comfort.
Double strollers are usually allowed. Check your stroller's dimentions and look on your airlines' website to be sure. Parents report that they are able to fly with strollers that perhaps were just a tad over the allowed dimentions cited on the airlines' website. If your stroller folds well, but is perhaps a tad long, it will probably be accepted. Again, don't ask, don't tell!
For flying, I usually found it easier with three children close in age to use a single stroller and a baby carrier (more about those below). I could alternate between the ones who could walk, be carried and sit in the stroller but do what works for your family. For travel, if there are at least two adults, you may find two single strollers easier both for flying and also at your destination (i.e. tiny European sidewalks or anywhere with big crowds). It also means that dad can take one to get something to drink while mom stays behind with the other child or dad can wander with the older child while leaving mom stays with the baby sleeping in the other stroller, etc.
Never buy a stroller with the idea of bringing it on board the aircraft as a carry-on item. The only exception would be a completely folding stroller that fits in a diaper bag. I only know of one brand. I'm having trouble finding it on the net so anyone with a link please send it in! If you use this completely folding stroller, keep it open through security. The concern is if a security person decides that it fits the category of "could be used as a weapon". No reports but just be sure they can clearly see this is a piece of baby equipment and not a weapon! Fold it up and put it away as you enter the aircraft. You may want to do this out of view of airline staff, who need to impose a no-strollers-in-cabin rule.
Unless you are flying charter, low-cost or a very small regional carrier, the stroller you have will probably be accepted. There are a few foreign airlines that allow bringing strollers on board but I still don't recommend doing it. More later on why.
American Airlines has imposed a strict 20lbs limit on gate-checked strollers. Heavier ones are to be checked at the counter. This has been upsetting for parents of multiples and closely spaced siblings as there is no exception. If there are two adults flying, having each push a single stroller under this limit may be one solution. Yes, there are parents who are choosing other airlines because of this restriction.
Normally, the stroller does not count against your baggage allowance but again, ask to be sure. Check your airline's website first. If you have these sorts of specific questions, it's better to email the company than call. If someone says over the phone that your stroller is allowed, you wont have the handy printout of an email to show anyone at the airport who tells you differently.
Before leaving, remove all "extras" on your stroller like cup holders, toys and even the sunshade, depending on the model. This is especially a good idea if your stroller is large. You can either put these items in your checked bags or leave them behind. Not only can they impede your passage through security but can get lost in transit. Since you'll only use it in the airport, you wont need the attached gizmos.
If your stroller has foam handle covers, you may want to either remove them, if possible, or cover them up. These often do get ripped so if they don't come off, wrap them in bubble wrap (or just plastic if that's what you have) and secure with duck tape. You can just push it this way through the airport (not pretty but who cares?)
Usually, strollers are "gate checked" which means that you will given a tag on check-in but you can keep the stroller with you until you get to the door of the aircraft. Sometimes they give the passenger the tag to put on themselves. Some are a little complicated (the tags that are like stickers) so don't hesitate to ask them to do it instead, but show them where is a good place. Make sure it goes somewhere it wont be squished or hidden when the stroller is folded.
If you have a "travel system" (the stroller with infant bucket car seat inserted inside), the stroller and car seat portions will each need a separate gate tag, if you wont be using it on board. If you have a seat for your baby and you know that the car seat can be used on the flight, you will not need to tag the car seat. Do put the tag on it if you are hoping to get an empty seat and are not sure you will be able to use it. This will save time at the gate.
You will leave your stroller either at the door of the aircraft or at the bottom of the stairs if you do not have a jetway and are boarding outdoors from the tarmac. Never try to bring a stroller on board an aircraft unless instructed to do so by a crew member. Yes, I have occasionally stuffed a very small umbrella stroller into a First or Business Class closet but in economy, when the flight was half empty but this is the exception, not the rule. If this does happen, don't expect it on every flight.
Metal luggage carts and strollers are not allowed in overhead bins for safety reasons. Even if the crew doesn't notice, or shockingly with some airlines, it's allowed. Please don't even try this. First of all, this will not make you popular with your fellow passengers. Stowage space is often at a premium and taking up so much space with an item that you do not need for the flight, will not go over well with your neighbors. More importantly, metal objects have come crashing down on passengers' heads, especially during disembarkment. You will be careful because you know it's there but someone two rows back will be in a hurry, grab their bag, which will hook on your stroller and next thing you know, it's come down on some little old lady's head. Let's just keep that from happening!
When you leave the stroller, attach the straps and fold it yourself. Some passengers have amusingly left their open strollers for us to fold up for them. Some Flight Attendants will not be so entertained and you probably don't want someone fiddling with your stroller anyway who doesn't know what they're doing. So that your stroller is not mishandled or left behind, please make sure it's all packed up.
An excellent tip given to me was to bring a bungee cord and double secure it before leaving it at the door. This can be the same bungee cord you used to secure your car seat to the stroller. Most strollers are only held closed with a small latch, often one that is easy to flip open. Your stroller is more likely to be damaged by popping open en route than how it is treated. You don't want some time-pressed baggage handler trying to pack it back up.
I was alerted that a couple of airlines are banning these bungee cords. This is difficult to confirm but a bag would avoid this situation, or wrapping the bungee in tape or even a piece of material. You may also bind the stroller with another item that ties. It's the hooks apparently that are the problem.
The strollers are usually kept in the hold along with wheelchairs so it's supposed to be gentler to gate-checking them. It also, in theory, should be cleaner. I will say that I've never seen the strollers at the arrival gate in bad shape.
If you want to put your stroller in a bag at the gate, by all means you can. Make sure you have a gate tag on the bag or on a part of the stroller that sticks out. Some strollers actually have specific bags made for their models you can buy. I personally use a camping duffel bag, which works just as well and is sturdier than most the stroller companies sell. An excellent tip I was given was to use an old laundry bag. Slip it over the top with the dirty wheels sticking out and secure with the bungee cord. Not only is this cheaper than buying a specific bag but you wont care if it gets dirty or ripped. It also would be easier to put on and take-off than anything that zips.
Another tip I was given was to be sure to put a tag with your name and address, perhaps flight number, airline and destination, in case the gate-check tag falls off.
On larger aircraft, passengers disembark from more than one door but usually, strollers and wheelchairs will be placed at only one door. Either listen to the welcome announcement when the plane arrives at the gate or tell a crew member that you have a stroller and ask where to disembark to collect it. If you exit the wrong door, you may have to walk all the way around to find it. Finding out where to go may save you time at arrival.
If you are connecting, usually the stroller is returned between flights. Ask about this during initial check-in to be sure. Once, when flying alone with a newborn and two toddlers, one airline informed me that they wouldn't return the stroller at a major airport, forcing me to connect without one. I did ask that a supervisor be called and after a bit of negotiation, they only excepted my stroller because of its small size. I also pointed out that stowage wouldn't be a problem since it was a combination car seat which I used on board. For future flights, I avoided booking with this airline and haven't flown them internationally since.
Some airlines in Europe and the Middle East often let you bring the stroller to the gate of the plane but you do have to collect it at baggage claim. Again, ask and be sure to have another way of getting your child to baggage claim, specifically a baby carrier, especially if your child doesn't walk far yet. This can be a long slog after a long flight and even a walking child may not cooperate or be asleep when you land. If you fly these routes a lot with your children, you may want to look into the completely folding stroller.
Getting Car Seats Through Airports
If you have an infant bucket-style seat, it may fit in the travel system you already have. You can take the whole contraption to the door of the plane and gate-check the stroller, while bringing the car seat on board.
If yours' is not part of a travel system, you can use a stroller frame. Something like this (please note that I am not promoting any of the sites in this section. They are all simply examples to show you);
This can be gate-checked just like a stroller.
Most infant car seats do not need the base for installation on an aircraft but check your owner's manual to be sure. You can either carefully pack it in your checked bags or a better option might be to leave it at home. If you'll only be gone a short time and/or you wont be in the car much, the inconvenience of hauling the base around might override the extra gesture of installing the seat in the car each time with the belt.
Be sure you are comfortable with the seat belt installation before leaving, either way. Take the seat out to your car and try it at home first. Don't try to figure it out with passengers pushing by you and your baby crying during boarding.
Another option, expensive but convenient, if you fly a lot, is the combined car seat/stroller. I received this as a second baby gift;
I actually loved it but you have to really use it to justify the price tag. It was great for other kinds of travel. When we drove on vacation, we didn't have to pack a stroller. I used it a lot in cabs. I was also able to convince some foreign airlines to let me bring it on board since it collapses down small (not a problem on U.S. companies since it's FAA approved).
I could also use the tether when installing it rearfacing in the car.
There are some drawbacks;
-The price. At $200, it is definitely a luxury baby travel product.
-The top shoulder slots are very low, as is the back of the seat. Even though officially, it goes to 40lbs/18 kilos, your child will probably outgrow it a lot sooner.
-Some parents don't like the fact it rides so low to the ground in stroller-mode.
-Some car seat technicians are not happy with the install in certain cars.
-The basket is very small and you can't hang things off the handles very well.
-The back is not adjustable.
To sum it up, this should not be purchased in lieu of either a good stroller or car seat. Consider this if you either will really use it and travel a lot or simply, have money to burn!
For "convertible" seats, or those seats that go to 40lbs/18kilos or beyond, transporting might be a bit more complicated. You are not going to be able to take one of those large luggage carts, the kind you usually rent (i.e. "Smartcart") through security, even pleading that you have a car seat to take. Have a way to transport your car seat from the security point forward (where most airports make you leave the rented cart behind). You can take the large luggage cart up to the security line but I find it much easier to organize this while I'm checking in. There can be a lot of people outside security, saying good bye, etc. and I don't want to pfaff with my things at that point. Once my luggage is gone after check-in, I find these carts too big anyway and get rid of them there. I then roll the car seat to security, through the line and up to the X-ray machine.
A market for car seat-toting products has cropped up. This is not an exhaustive list!
These products attach the car seat to a suitcase with handle and wheels.
I have a few concerns (which some parents have informed me were not issues);
-The handle was probably not designed to hold the significant weight of a child and a car seat. If it breaks the handle in the middle of the airport, you will have the triple problem of how to transport your suitcase, car seat and child through the airport.
-I can't recommend bringing a rolly bag for a carry-on when flying with children. I prefer a backpack with or without a diaper bag. These types of suitcases are convenient for business people but not parents who need something they can put at their feet and get to what they need in a hurry. They usually have to go in the overhead and you might need to stow it quite a distance from your seat.
This is an often-cited solution;
The biggest drawback is the price. I've also heard complaints about the screws that attach the car seat, getting them in and out. Apparently the newer model doesn't have this problem. It also does not fit all models of car seats. I have seen this "in action" and it did roll very nicely, although I think it's overpriced for what it is. You can get an excellent luggage cart for much less and I'm leary of the plastic bottom. I'm also getting reports of it breaking at the wrong time.
There are also car seat bags with wheels which can be rolled through airports. The top can be unzipped and carry-on items inserted.
The obvious drawback is that is doesn't have the child-ride option. This might be a good product to use if you will probably have to gate-check the seat.
There are several versions of products that make the car seat into a backpack.
This is good if your child need to sit in the stroller for most of the time. If he or she walks, you can transfer the car seat into the stroller and give your back a break.
Some parents manage to attach the car seat to the stroller with bungee cords. Depending on the model of car seat and stroller, other alternatives include fitting the car seat into the seat of the stroller or even putting a folded car seat in the basket (especially with a double side-by-side stroller).
The only foldable FAA approved car seat that I know of is the Radian 65 and 80. I have the 65 and I simply attach mine to a small, all metal, foldable luggage cart. There are lots of different designs. Mine is a relic from the first airline I worked for. I recommend the kind that are all metal and have a telescopic handle. The handle is less important but avoid ones with plastic bases. They break too easily (experience speaking). This is the idea;
This is mine and it's lasted over 20 years of heavy use. Other parents have success with cheaper metal carts sold at major retail stores for much less (as little as $15).
I use an extra bungee cord but other parents get creative with the LATCH straps. My toddler can even ride in it. I will admit this is a better alternative for a child who will mostly be walking. If we have a stroller, I fold it up and check it or usually arrange to borrow one at our destination.
Basically, any convertible car seat can be strapped on to a small luggage cart. The first time I saw this on the net, I thought it wouldn't be secure and safe. You want to try anything out at home first. Make sure it works and wont come loose. The fact is that with children, you are usually walking at a pretty slow pace indoors, often on carpets. The risks are minimal.
A note about bungee cords; they come in different sizes and some are easier than others to use than others. Some are hard to pull and others too stretchy for this project. Don't use a brand new cords the day of your flight. It's also a good idea to slip an extra one in your carry-on bag, just in case one breaks or gets lost during your adventure.
A parent recommended "flat" bungee cords, which she said were easier to minipulate. Again, I'm just plucking this off the web because of the photo;
Whatever mode of transport you use to get your car seat through the airport, try it at home first. I walked circles in our garage, pulling my Radian. I found the easiest way to strap it on with the bungee cord. Go out on the sidewalk, weather permitting. Make sure it works and you're comfortable assembling and disassembling it. It wont take long to get the hang of it and you'll be glad when you face the airport and crowds the day you leave.
Probably the best-kept secret to making flying, traveling and quite frankly, parenting easier is to have a good baby carrier. The selection today is huge and asking someone what their favorite carrier is, is like asking them their favorite toothbrush or perfume. A good carrier by definition should go to age 2 or 3. It's highly personal but there are some features that make flying specifically much easier with some models.
When I worked, I saw too many babies draped over parents' shoulders as they exited the plane. Also, never leave a baby (not matter how well he or she sits up) alone sitting on a luggage cart while you get your bags off the belt. It's virtually impossible to push a stroller and a luggage cart at the same time through customs, although one mom described pushing one, then the other... Sometimes babies cry in the air and they just need to be walked around the cabin a little bit...without straining your arms and back. A good baby carrier is the answer to all of the above.
The whole subject of carriers is well covered on the Internet. This is a good site which has comparison charts and products from a variety of companies.
Other "real life" resources include local La Leche groups or other breastfeeding support organizations. I found some once at a women's health clinic. There are also "baby wearing" organizations offering support and information on this subject. It's a nice luxury to touch and try on the products. There are many work-at-home parents producing them at reasonable prices if you are looking for something unique and want to support a good cause.
Note to those of you who already use these products; if you have more than one, think carefully which one will meet your needs best when you fly. It may not necessarily be the one that you use daily. Same goes for your prettiest and/or most comfortable. I found that one that slips on and off was useful. The best carrier for travel might not be the best for your lifestyle in general.
Please note that the following reviews of carriers are specifically geared towards the parentflying with a baby, not the overall merits of these carriers in daily life.
Here is an overview of your options;
Ring Slings-I think they're ideal for flying and what I used. A good sling can also serve as a baby changer, sun shade, a breastfeeding cover-up and a blanket. They're easy to take off and on. Some have padding along the sides which makes them easier on bigger babies and toddlers (doesn't cut into their legs) but makes the sling more bulky. Unpadded slings fit well into backpacks but some padded slings can still be pretty compact. Some parents don't like the one-shoulder carry but it's possible to shift to the other shoulder. There is also a definite learning curve so you need to be comfortable with its use before traveling. I could slide a sleeping child easily between a car seat, stroller and bassinet, leaving it behind as a blanket.
Examples (just for the photos, there are many other brands!)
Please note that there was recent controvery surrounding the use of "bag" slings. Mine was made of one piece of material, which I was able to pull and better position my babies. The slings involved with the warning were of a very different design with just a strap over the shoulder and the baby is held in a sort of bag. Not only is this type of sling uncomfortable for the parent but potientially dangerous for the baby. Avoid buying this type of sling;
Pouches-Similar to slings but instead of rings, they are basically just tubes. Similar advantages to a ring sling and they are also one-shouldered. The fit is very important. Some are adjustable and others sized to order. The "look" appeals to some more than a sling and some parents feel that they are slightly easier to "master".
Wraps-I loved my wrap and found it more comfortable to wear than the ring sling but I didn't use mine for flying. It was more complicated to remove and put on. Wraps are simple, just a long piece of material but there's definitely a learning curve so it's not the product to buy two days before you fly. If this is what you are used to using and you want to take it on a flight, by all means do so, but be really comfortable with it before approaching any aircraft.
Front packs (like a Bjorn or "Snugli")-These are dire and I see far too many parents wearing their children this way. They tend to be expensive and heavily marketed. The problem is that the child is held in one rigid position (facing forward or backwards), basically hanging by its crotch. The weight pulls on the parents' shoulders making these carriers very uncomfortable quickly. They often have many fiddly straps, snaps and buttons, making transferring the child into a car seat, stroller or bassinet very difficult. Breastfeeding is virtually impossible in this and when it can be managed, isn't very discreet. I had one of these with my first child and it was in the closet by the time my son was six months old. I wish I had been warned what a poor value they were!
Some of the newer, more expensive, Bjorn designs mimick those of the products described below and therefore are more comfortable.
Mei Tai's, Ergo, Becco and other carriers with straps- These are much more logical options to front packs. They look similar but the way they hold the child is entirely different and much more comfortable. Most last until at least age two and can carry a baby on the parents' back (who can hold up his or her head). Babies can sleep in them and they can be used for breastfeeding. I have no direct experience but I get plenty of recommendations and positive reports from other parents who have used them for flying.
I should also add that if you don't have a carrier for an older baby or toddler but you do have a sewing machine, you can actually put together a Mei Tai in very little time. It's also easy to get the hang of, if you are flying very soon.
Baby Backpacks-I'm talking about hiking-style backpacks with metal frames. If you have a older baby or toddler, are not flying very far and need the backpack at your destination, this might be a practical option. They are difficult to put on and take-off so they are mainly for the airport and not the flight itself. The child can't sleep in them very well and when not in use, they tend to be bulky and hard to put away. Using it on board could also avoid checking it as luggage, since it is a delicate, easy to damage item.
I did opt for this once when flying to London in summer, where I used it instead of a stroller. I recommend removing the sunshade and packing it in your checked bags. It's much easier to have the kind that can stand on their its on the ground, than those you have to balance on your knee while putting it on, like what I had. Some even have wheels and the option of being pulled. This could then be used occasionally instead of stroller.
Just as a reminder, if your child is flying in your lap, never have him or her attached to you in any way. They are safer loose in your lap. Many of these carriers easily detach from the back. As a Flight Attendant, I simply had the parent lean slightly forward and I was able to unhook or unsnap the carrier. With a sling, I could simply loosen it and flip the back part over the head. It's not necessary to completely remove a carrier from around the baby but simply to make sure it's not attaching the baby to the parent during those two phases of the flight. For an emergency evacuation, you would not need it and it could complicate a quick exit.
This is covered in the security section but sometimes you can wear your baby through the security check, sometimes they will ask you to remove him or her. I personally found that the younger the baby, and whether or not s/he was sleeping were factors!
Here's some information more for those of us flying with slightly older children.
Before leaving home, make sure anything electonical is fully charged. It's rare that these items can be recharged onboard, although this is possible on the ground while waiting for a connection. If you are flying internationally, make sure you have a converter for whatever type of plug is at not only your destination but also any layover locations. For example, if you are going from Europe to Australia and stopping in U.S., make sure you bring the plug converter for both North America and Australia. These are small, not very expensive items and you may be very grateful you don't have a sad-faced child staring at you, unable to play his favorite game because you couldn't recharge his gadget while you were on the ground. You usually don't need a transformer even if they electrical current is different.
Portable DVD players are popular for all ages. Because they are expensive, I'm hesitant to recommend them. I waited until my youngest was 3 1/2 before I used one for the first time. I imagined my children fighting over it, dropping it, spilling drinks on it, etc. I honestly don't think they're necessary for any flight three hours or less.
Very young children aren't good about wearing the headphones, which is the biggest hurdle. My children prefer the kind that have a stiff band over their head. You want one with an adjustableband, needless to say. Some are even marketed specifically for kids. Decide if that will make your child more willing. The small ones that stuff in the ear don't work very well with children (often called "buds"). Experiement at home to see if your child will wear the head phones for extended periods. Another option is having the child watch the imagines without sound. Even if you turn the sound down low, this will annoy neighboring passengers so make it clear this that the headphones must be used on the airplane. You may want to never play the sound out loud on your portable DVD player so that your child is not aware that the sound can be played through the speakers at all.
Another option is to use one of the smaller devices like an iPod or iPad. The plus is that you don't have to drag along a bunch of CD's. Download movies directly but sometimes the children's selections are limited (apt to change). No speaker option on them so the child must wear headphones (please correct me if this is not the case with some but those I've used/seen). The other drawbacks are the battery life and if you have more than one child, it's difficult for them both to see the small screen. The solution might be to get another one!
Be sure to check the volume from time to time. Some doctors object to very little children wearing earphones at all. I wont debate this but their complaint is the noise level, since the background noise in an aircraft cabin is already pretty significant. Just make sure your child isn't blasting his or her eardrums out.
A portable computer can serve the same purpose. It's heavier than a DVD player and you may have conflict if the adult wants to work on something while their child is clammering for Barney. The battery life too, isn't usually good on them but check your equipment before deciding either/or to bring.
If flying with a toddler, and still shopping for a DVD player, look for a feature that folds the controls away from fiddly fingers so that they only can see the screen. For long flights, get one with a good battery life, at least 5 hours. In the store, they explained to me that it was possible to order a second battery so that they could be exchanged when the first one runs out. You may need to order a second battery ahead of time since this may not be an item they stock (and have to order from the manufacterer). You can also look into this option if you already have a DVD player with a short life. Either way, learn to turn the light down to save battery time (ours' calls it "night mode") and don't be surprised if the battery doesn't last as long as it's supposed to, just like car mileage...
I bring a brand new video they have never seen before. This once backfired when it turned out to be too scary for my youngest so try to go for a sure winner, and not make my mistake.
Our DVD player has plugs for only two headphones so I had to buy an adapter allowing a third (although it's rare all three watch together, especially if the film is scaring the little one!). Check how many plugs you have and even if it's unlikely all your children will watch at once, be prepared for an older child to watch a "baby" video simply out of boredom. Plug adapters are not expensive, lightweight and easy to lose. I highly advise having at least two "splitters" and at least one extra headphone if you are flying with multiple children (including any companions on the same flight). The headphones the airlines for their inflight entertainment use are usually incompatable with personal electronical products. The headphones easily drop to the floor where little feet can crush them. Be ready to whip out another one!
Before leaving, we talk about the fact that while we're watching the video, we try not to laugh out loud or to poke the other and make comments. We also don't sing along to the songs. We bring sippy cups so that there are no "open" drinks sitting on wobbly tray tables next to the portable DVD player. A sports bottle can work if sippy cups are no longer used by your offspring. All rules are discussed before each and every flight. I don't assume they remember every rule for each journey.
For international travel, a portable DVD player or computer is a good idea if you are going somewhere that the DVD's are "zoned" differently. They can still watch their favorites from home while away, without having to de-zone anything. If you're going somewhere with a different language, children's television options may be limited and they can still watch their DVD's instead. You may want to explain that they have to watch their DVD's from home only on the machine you brought and not on your hosts'(or hotel's) DVD player. They're also useful for the car, if you have any long road journeys planned while away. Pack the lighter recharger in your checked bags if that's the case.
Remember too, that anything with a remote control wont be allowed onboard. Any remote for the DVD player is simply not necessary stuffed in a small airplane seat. Those robots, cyber dogs and dinasaurs are delicate, and checking them is probably not a good idea. My son wasn't the only one with one tucked under his arm in the airport once. The remotes were all in the checked bags. Many have of these toys have a switch which makes them move automatically. Not as fun as having the remote but they still were able to play with it onboard (once the seatbelt sign is off). Just please don't turn it on if it barks or roars.
If your child asks why all electronical products have to be turned off for take-off and landing, here is a simple explanation. The only problematic electronical items are actually those which draw in outside signals. Originally, when I started flying, we were told to look out for these specific products. Well, all electronic items became more and more sophisticated and complex, taking on more and more tasks. Most Flight Attendants do not have Master's degrees in electronical engineering and basically, we didn't have time to analysize each and every product the passengers bring on board. Basically, simply for practical reasons, it's just simplier to ban all items during take-off and landing. Assure them that it's not for very long and no arguing with the Flight Attendants, who are just doing their jobs!
If your child has a cell phone, double check that this is shut off or in "airplane mode". This allows all applications which don't use an "outside" signal. Your child may want to play games, listen to music or use other applications that are permitted on board. Know their product and what you need to do with it, unless your child is willing to just keep it off the whole time.
For gameboys, DS machines and other electronical games, make sure your children shut them off to save battery life when not being used and again, that it's clear that they are to be played silently, or with headphones onboard. Leave the really small electronical toys which don't have the option to turn off the sound and changing batteries is problematic. So many electronic gizmos out there, take a look and see if something will intrigue your little person, if you have no practical or moral objections to them.
Come up with a system for keeping the games themselves safe, as well as the electrical product itself. These small game chips can be expensive and easy to lose on an airplane. Either you the parent keep them and/or put them in plastic cases when not in use, etc. Whatever procedure you can manage, depending on the age of your child(ren).
Decide what you need to do to keep things safe. Perhaps you keep them, or don't allow them out unless the child is seated, or at all until on the aircraft, etc. Come up with a plan, based on your child's age and level of cooperation, that works for you.
Check seat pockets yourself before leaving the aircraft or oversee your children while they do it. This is a good routine to do while landing. Apparently putting personal items in the pockets is no longer allowed for landing. As one Purser on Southwest announced, "Make sure you have all your electonical items or the next time you see them may be on Ebay!"
First, a quick explanation on airport organization. The check-in area called "landside" as opposed to "airside," or once you get through security. You remain airside until you leave the baggage area or Customs, if flying internationally. Landside is a totally public area. Children usually have energy at this starting point of their adventure and often want to run while you are stuck sitting in line.
I really suggest bringing someone to the airport and have them stick around and help you watch the children. Airport parking is expensive, especially the temporary lots, but this is not the time to skimp on this expense. Have them occupy the children while you wait in line or trade this duty off between the adults. Make sure they rejoin you at the desk when it's your turn because especially for international travel, the agent will want to verify all your travel documents.
Be careful if you are alone and flying with your little ones when help is offered. Do not let anyone landside ever stay alone with your child(ren). By all means, accept help but direct the Good Samaratin to a duty which doesn't involve taking direct care of your children. Most people are genuinely helpful but don't take chances.
Try to put off any restroom stops until you're past security, especially if you're alone with your children, unless someone is with you on the other side to help.
I understand that curbside check-in still exists in some places. Since I don't have experience with this, although I remember it as a child and remember my mother was able to do this once, I do understand it can be great for families with children. Just becareful of the traffic outside while handing over your bags. This is one of the first casualties when stricter security levels are brought into force so don't assume this service will always be in effect.
Go early. Shoot for a half-hour more than they recommend. This helps cut down on the wait, which is especially grim with children. People show up bam the minute they've been told. Try to go for when the check in desk opens. This might mean you go straight to the counter (unless you're flying charter!). I've finished checking in to see a huge line behind me.
If you have any seat "issues", either you don't have assignments or you have requested a change, try to get that sorted at check-in right away. If it's still unresolved and you might get new boarding passes at the gate, ask exactly when you would be called to the desk at boarding. Ask also if you have to line up there (probably not but be sure). Be clear about both the procedure and the timing so you can organize yourself and your kids, i.e. "We have half an hour to sit and relax..."
In winter, while checking in, I take the coats and jackets and put them together at the top of one of the suitcases. On arrival, I can just pull them out and don't have to carry them around or stow them for the flight. Ask if you have to board from outside before deciding whether keeping the jackets. I thought this was a handy tip, until I got some complaints. Some parents pointed out that if they miss a connection, they could easily find themselves in Chicago, in winter, without their coats. It was also wisely pointed out to me that the coats make good covers and cash-strapped airlines are removing blankets from a lot of flight. This is definately access-your-own-situation tip!
When you check in, ask if they can 'block' the seat next to you to give you some more space, especially if you don't have a seat for your lap baby. Bring the carseat to the aircraft, even if you haven't booked a seat and the carseat can be gate-checked if they can't manage an empty place beside you. They'll also only use it if they really need it and very likely if someone is it'll be one of us airline employees travelling on a really reduced-fare ticket.
Getting and Accepting Help
Generally, the airlines do not offer assistance to families with small children. I used to call for some passengers and ask anyway but my request was almost always refused. The truth is that staffing can be tight and passengers with mobility issues are priority. Even if the parent only needs help for a few minutes, the problem could be just positioning personnel. They may be needed for another flight right away in another part of the airport, etc.
Some airport still give out gate passes, allowing someone not flying to accompany the passengers to the gate. I've never been so lucky but they are usually granted only in situations such as minors traveling alone, passengers with special needs, or active duty military. I've also heard that sometimes they give them to frequent fliers so mention this if you think it could help. They are not usually granted to help a parent with small children, but it doesn't hurt to ask.
Sometimes I was able to "piggy back" a family if there was a handicapped person being helped. The helper would push the wheelchair with a family in tow. Some airports use electric cars and if there is a little extra room, they can squeeze in a mother and her baby if going the same direction.
But generally, you have to plan on not getting any help through the airport. The Flight Attendants can help those with small children on and off the aircraft, especially if they disembarked last, but once off the aircraft, they usually can't continue. They are usually headed somewhere else.
Other passengers might offer assistance. By all means, take them up on the offer but use common sense. Never leave them alone with your children or let them take your children anywhere. You may find that your usually outgoing child will be a bit more clingy in the airport so don't expect them to go to anyone else or even take a stranger's hand. Have the Good Samaritan push a cart or carry a bag while you stay near and take care of your child(ren) directly.
Be especially wary if you are in the "landside" area of the airport. On leaving, this would be before you pass security and arriving, after passing security or customs. "Landside" is th public area. "Airside" or in the secure area, the only people allowed are usually either employees or other passengers. It is "sealed" and difficult to exit. You may be more comfortable accepting help while in this section of the airport.
I recommend thinking in advance. If someone offers to help, what can you ask them to do? That way, you look organized and perhaps the offerer has no time to reconsider. "Oh thanks. Here's my diaper bag..."
The most likely time when I both most need help and when it's more likely to be offered is at baggage claim. I'm torn between keeping an eye on my children and watching out for when my bags show up on the belt. Sometimes my children end up playing with other children and one of the parents offer to watch all of them while I get my luggage.
Children typically love to run in this area. They've been cooped up in an airplane and the big, empty space is perfect for letting off steam. It's not realistic to make them stand like statues so I'll often show them the "allowed" area. "You can run between this pillar and... but no further than..."
For even little veteran fliers, this can be the scariest part of flying. Even if your children have done it before, it's best to discuss the security each time. They may have forgotten (little memories can be short) and it may seem very different to them than even just a few months ago.
Discuss that all toys and backpacks have to go on the belt. Children now don't have to put their shoes through (although the parents still do). Explain that they will have to walk through the metal detector arch one by one but they will never be truly separated from you.
Please note that recently I've been getting feedback on the new "body scanners". So far, I have no experience with them (which probably will change soon as we have three big trips planned in the next few months). The debate rages over the possible dangers from radiation but also, the "creep out" factor for parents. A lot of people don't like the idea of the way their children's bodies show up on the screen, dispite claims that the images are not stored or shared. From what I understand, passengers can opt to be "patted down".
Please don't panic. Find out if the airports you'll be flying out even have them first and if so, do your homework. Would love feedback on this subject!
Kids can be funny in security. Even mine, who basically never remember not flying, will occasionally throw a curve-ball. Once my children were a little rattled by just hearing a different accent. Even though the security agent was very nice, they had never heard an Irish brogue before. They had just connected so had been through security at another airport earlier that day! I was shocked to see them clinging to their stuffed animals as he coaxed ever so gently to place them on the belt. So even a small change, you may see a different reaction than before.
Many security agents are now well-trained in how to deal with the public, especially in special circumstances like with small children.
Even if you are not flying to, in the U.S. or even on a U.S. company, you may find this link from the TSA helpful (which I think I've posted above);
They now even have videos. The only small detail that I would suggest is that I put my stroller first on the X-ray belt while they suggest it go through last. I do that so the I can place my bags on the stroller as they exit the X-ray.
Please note that I do not have experience with the new scanners. Some parents are concerned about the detail they show on the screen. Ask about the option of having your child hand searched instead if this doesn't sit well with you. I will assure you that the hand search is done professionally, although a bit difficult for those of us who are ticklish. The machine itself, is supposedly not that different from the normal X-ray machines now used.
In some airports, they are experimenting with specific "family" lines. Are these more convenient? better? The jury is still out. I have only been through one once when the airport wasn't very busy so I don't feel my experience was valid. I like the idea of not having a hurried businessperson pushing behind me but then again, it would be frustrating if there were a disorganized family in front of us, slowing us down. If you are not short on time, this might be a good idea to try it out (and let me know what you think later on!)
We have also been taken out of the normal line and guided towards the handicapped security station. Only do this if you are invited to do so and be on the lookout because the offer might come quickly and quietly.
The first item I put on the belt is the stroller and/or car seat. Then I place my bags, the last of which is that with my valuables. Then I get the children to place their things. By the time I get through the metal detector, my belongings are usually waiting for me. I push them all the way to the end of the belt to get out of the way of other passengers and also to make it easier if they want to do an extra security check. I put the small bag with the valuables on first, grab the stroller and/or car seat and then start to put my things together.
Flipping the car seat upside down is usually easier to get it through the X-ray machine.
If the security people want to do an additional check of any of our bags, I insist they come over to where I am. They have always cooperated since logically, I'm clear of the busy area already. The passenger is required to be present for the inspection but don't feel obligated to stop doing everything else. I can easily open the stroller and start hanging bags of it while staying close to the agent. I just need to keep looking at them from time to time and watch they are doing. Some security people start by taking things out of the bags try to replace the items back in after the inspection. I realize they're trying to be helpful but I actually find this more time-consuming. I offer to empty the carry-on at the beginning. This way, they can look at everything and then I chuck it all back in myself, since I know where it goes and how to make it fit better.
If removing our shoes was necessary, putting them back on at the end is my last priority. Often there are chairs placed at the end of security for this purpose. I have everything organized and move it all near those chairs before we all put them on together. Some flying tips suggest you pick footwear specifically for the Security check. I personally would recommend practical, comfortable shoes for everyone, even if they take a minute more to put back on. Airports involve a lot of walking and wearing the wrong shoes for the sake of saving two seconds getting through security doesn't seem logical to me. My pumps would be the easiest shoes to put back on but I have no intention of ever flying with them on, now that I am no longer required to do so for a living!
A lot of people worry about bringing liquids. I cover formula-feeding later on but the TSA allows a "reasonable" amount of any liquid intended for a baby or small child. While I've never heard of the "reasonable" amount challenged, the age of the child could be. So in other words, if you have a baby, they will probably not question the amount of formula you are carrying but an older toddler/young child could have his or her water bottle or juice box taken.
The TSA in the U.S. has come out and said that formula does not have to be tasted by the parent.
While this is an effective way to make sure it is not a dangerous chemical, there are some practical problems. Outside the U.S., even now, there are some countries making parents taste-test. If asked, to be honest, you have little recourse. You can ask for a supervisor to confirm but security does have the upper hand in this.
To not "contaminate" the bottle, shake some of the formula out on to your hand and lick it. This should be acceptable to them. Some also allow the child to drink some.
I strongly recommend powdered formula, especially if you are flying outside the U.S. and/or it will be a very long flight. Security operations abroad have made parents open each can of formula brought on the aircraft. This means that it will not last a very long flight and certainly not make it for a layover. If you have a long flight ahead of you, get your child used to powdered formula or at least bring some that he or she is used to as a back-up.
Airport Lounges and Children
This is a subject I don't know well as I don't fly with one company enough to join one frequent traveler program. As an airline employee, we were not allowed in them and the one time we were given a tour, it was a mausoleum-like place where people were working and quietly relaxing before their flights. Not exactly a welcoming atmosphere for families with small children!
Apparently, things have changed in the past 20 years. Some lounges actually are equipped for small children with play areas and snacks. If you are eligible to use these, at least look into it.
Even if it's a "quiet" (probably smaller) lounge, bringing a small baby or an older child who will read or play games is fine. If you have an active toddler, try it and see. Be prepared to make a fast exit if necessary.
One big advantage that parents mention is the bathrooms. No lines or waiting, restrooms which are clean and roomy... Parents also really appreciate lounges when there is a delay.
Don't expect your child to be served a full meal there. Apparently, most only have snack tables but don't plan to actually feed your child there.
Many of the airlines allow non-members who are flying with you to join you in the lounge. Spouses obviously, but your Au Pair girl or mother-in-law who is coming may also be allowed to enter. Find out the actual rules and don't discount using the lounge if you're with a bigger party.
You may want to find out about the lounges you can use en route. If they involve a long walk and you don't have that much time to kill, it might be better to just wait at the gate. It all depends on the airport, your children and the journey you're making.
I recommend trying to feeding, changing any babies and visiting the restroom between security and boarding. It might be a long time before you get the opportunity again. Be aware that some boarding areas do not have any facilities so think of these issues while walking down the hall, before arriving at the gate. Some airports have additional security checks right at the boarding gate and usually, you can't pass back out once you've gone through it. Once, I was directed to an ajoining boarding area where we were not restricted but could still see what was going on at our gate.
Because of these extra security checks and the fact that boarding gates can be further than expected, giving yourselves enough time to get to there. As you pass each television screen with the boarding gates listed, check again and again. Airlines reserve the right to change gates at any moment and it's the passengers' responsibility to get to the right one. Yes, they often announce it as well but you not hear it for a number of reasons. Just glance at each one as you walk by. This small gesture could save you a big headache, as I learned the hard way once...
There are three types of boarding procedures. If you are flying with a medium or large aircraft from a bigger airport, you'll probably use a jetway and simply walk directly into the airplane. If you are taking a smaller plane, sometimes even from major airports, you may be boarding directly from the tarmac using "air stairs". In smaller airports, you could walk directly from the terminal but that's not that common.
In any cold and/or wet weather, you need to keep your coats. Usually, a bus takes you to the aircraft. Even if it's only a few hundred yards, they will make you take the bus and often stuff them to the brim with passengers. I have had to walk down stairs to get to these buses, which isn't convenient with a stroller and babies.
When you ride these buses, you wont be going very far or very fast and they don't have seat belts so there is no need to install any car seats. Try to keep your family as close together as possible since it's easy to loose a child in the crowd. This is not especially dangerous since you know the child is still on the bus but could be scary for them. I put my youngest on my lap and keep the other two close. If you have a stroller, you may want to fold it up at this point to get it out the other passengers' way. Sometimes you can keep it open but be prepared to fold it.
Once the bus stops, you then have to get yourself and your child up often very rickety air stairs. Don't let older children go ahead. Keep everyone together. They will probably have you leave your stroller at the bottom or the stairs, perhaps on a cart. There are personnel there to direct you. Throw your bags over your shoulder, put your baby in a baby carrier and try to keep your hands as free as possible. Hold on and take your time getting up. It serves no purpose to rush since there are probably more busloads of passengers coming. If it's open seating, grab the first group of seats you want as soon as possible, throwing your bags and children to "hold" them. Don't wander around looking for better seats. It's not worth the effort and you could end up separated.
If you are flying with more than one adult, many parents split up getting on the aircraft. This is a more practical option if you are boarding directly from the terminal with a jetway. I would not recommend it if you are being bused to your aircraft, although circumstances might make it easier. This is not recommended if there is open seating. It's too hard to "hold" the seats from other passengers.
It works like this; one parent gets on board with the bags, car seat, etc., first, usually with the crowd. They then install the seat (if they have one), put away a few bags and at the end of boarding, the children arrive with the other parent, everything sorted and they only have to take their seats. This allows the child(ren) to have a bit more time to run in the terminal and reduces the time they have to sit. The early-boarding parent also gets to organize things without being distracted by their children. Another plus, if there is a seating problem, the early-boarding parent can perhaps sort it out before the rest of the family arrives.
If you decide to do this with a diapered child, have the parent staying with the child keep the diaper bag. They might need it if something happens in the interim and the child has to be changed before getting on the aircraft.
Do not board last minute if you are flying alone with your children. If there is a seating problem, it might be too late to sort it out. Also, you do need the time to sort out your things and child(ren).
Once you get into your seats and have put away your things, some parents take antibacterial wipes and wipe down the entire area. I've never done this myself but it can't hurt, especially if you're concerned with cleanliness.
Installing the Car Seat
First you need to figure out if you have to carry your car seat down the aisle or if you can get it to your seat on whatever wheels you are using. If you used the stroller, you have to that leave outside the aircraft so automatically, you know the car seat has to be carried. If using some sort of wheels, your seat might be too large to fit down the aisle, especially if you're seated in economy. Only the skinniest seats will make it. Anything wider than 18 inches at any point wont go and will have to be carried.
Remove the child and/or any carry-ons before getting on board. The seat on wheels might sail through business class but get stuck between economy seats. Even if it fits through economy seats, it might get wedged trying to get by the galley. Decide if it's just easier to carry it the whole way instead of having to stop and pick it up. Depending on the kind of wheels you're using, you may have to remove them or pick the entire thing up as one unit. It's better to do this outside the aircraft first, than to get jammed en route and hold up other passengers.
If you are carrying the car seat, turn it upside down in a "L" position and place it over your arm. Never carry a car seat by the internal straps (that hold the child) but you can do this with the tether strap, which is designed for this kind of stress. Some people find it easier to hold the tether strap over their shoulder and carry the seat on their back (just down the aisle, not through the airport!) Please be careful of the hook on the end, which could fly free and hurt someone or get caught. You may want to adjust the strap accordingly ahead of time.
Once you get to your seat, as mentioned earlier, you should be familiar with the seat belt installation of the car seat. Have your manual handy. Remember that your seat does not have to go by a window but it can't block another passengers' access to the aisle. If there is a problem with this, immediately contact a Flight Attendant if you're not able to resolve this yourself.
Most seats install better if you start with leaning the seat back. Push the button and push the seat back as far as it will go. Then, look for the seat belts. They often get caught on the side so make sure they are pulled all the way out. Pull the buckle (often refer ed to as the "female" part) to it's maximum. Now thread the belt through the path of your car seat. Make sure the straps are flat. Pull the belt and lastly, put the seat back into the full upright position.
Airplane seat belts are designed differently than those in your car so you can run into problems with the buckle placement. First, try flipping the buckle upside down to make it flatter. If that doesn't work, it might be a good idea to ask for a seat belt extention. These are the belts they use for larger passengers, similar to the one the Flight Attendants use during the safety demonstration at the start of the flight. The buckle may not line up the same way as it does in the car. For example, it may fall on an awkward area on the side of the seat or the child can feel the buckle in his or her back even if this never happens in the car. The extension gives you two buckles which you can adjust and reposition as needed.
Remember to stow whatever cart you used to transport the seat either on the floor or in a closet. Please don't place them in overhead bins as they have caused some serious injuries when other passengers have removed their things from the same bin, especially at the end of the flight.
If installing the car seat rear-facing, you may encounter objections from the person in front who then cannot recline their own seat. One solution I cited above in seating is to put a family member (or someone from your group) in the seat in front. If there is a free seat in the row in front of you, try to install your seat behind it (or arrange with those in front of you to leave the seat in front of your child free). I actually coordinated with those in front of us once and they were happy to cooperate. I placed it behind the empty seat. Install the seat first and have the person in front try to crank his seat back. Often, it does actually work anyway. Infant bucket-style seats are usually not a problem but "convertible" seats, those going to 40lbs. or beyond, might be more the culprit when installed facing backward. You may also encounter more problems on charter flights or smaller aircraft with very close pitches between rows.
The FAA recently clarified its position on rear-facing car seats so if your child usually rides rear-facing in a convertible, you may actually want to print and bring this along;
There is a solution which I consider to be a "desperation" measure and not exactly condoned by car seat technicians (although they haven't jumped on me yet!). If it's a long flight, you may consider turning the seat forward-facing for the "cruise" portion of the flight after take-off and then turning the seat around and reinstalling it backwards for landing. In my opinion, this is not a huge safety compromise because the biggest threat in the air, unlike a car, is turbulence, not forward impact. Airplanes usually bounce up and down in turbulence and rarely jerk forwards. I would only recommend switching the seat if you are faced with the true wrath of the passenger in front of you on a really long flight. Remember according to the new FAA "clarification" cited above, which supports the right to install a seat backwards on an aircraft. The seat must be moved if it's impossible to install where booked.
More and more children are wisely being kept rear-facing in cars for longer and longer to keep them safer and reducing any injuries. It is five times safer than having the seat face the front. Some parents do not want to turn the seat forward facing in airplanes on principal because that their children are accustomed to always facing backwards. Flying is really a different situation and the only time I turned the car seat around for this reason, my child did not object when I re-installed the seat rear-facing for landing and later, she was fine facing backwards again in the car.
If your child is very young, about six months or less, you need to pay attention to the angle of the seat. Most small babies fly in infant seats and this does not apply. This is specifically if you are flying with an infant in a convertible seat which can be used to toddlerhood. Sitting too straight in the forward position could restrict his or her oxygen intake and remember that the oxygen contentent of airplane air is already reduced. Some seats have a guide (usually a colored bent bar on the side with a small metal ball inside) to maintain the right angle for rear-facing babies. Consult the owner's manual for your seat and your child's pediatrician before opting to do this with your younger baby.
Issues, Conflicts and Disagreements Onboard
When things don't go accordingly, and you are flying with children, things can heat up even faster than if you were alone for a number of reasons.
Some issues can be avoided by asking and making requests in advance. Be sure of your seating arrangements. If your agent couldn't sort it out, contact the airline yourself, several times if necessary. Make sure you don't leave the check-in counter without confirming any bassinet, special meal and seating requests.
If it's a seating problem that hasn't been resolved before boarding, try to sort it out yourself. Passengers tend to refuse seating requests made by Flight Attendants. When they are actually talking to the inconvenienced passenger, with their little ones, it can be difficult to refuse. Once, while asking about a seat exchange myself, my son, who was in a separate seat, burst into tears. While he didn't mean to do it for dramatic effect, it was then very difficult for the other passengers to say no.
If they do trade with you, thank them profusely and do point it out to the crew. I liked to know if a passenger did a good deed and therefore made my job that much easier.
Car seat issues were covered earlier but again, try to bring paperwork to support the "case" for your seat.
You may be faced with an inexperienced crewmember, or by contrast, someone who has been flying for awhile but is not up-to-date on the rules. Safety training is usually every six months to a year so if there were changes made, either the Flight Attendant hasn't read his or her literature or has simply been on vacation, leave or maternity. Try to be patient and ask them to consult their manual. They are required to have it on board for every flight, updated and while they don't have to memorize all its contents, they should be able to find relevant information.
Ask to speak to a purser before things get heated. If you are still on the ground, it might be wiser to consult a ground agent. They can come on board if necessary.
Try to keep things civil and remember that eventually, you have to "cooperate" with the crew in most parts of the world. This rule is taken very seriously by the airline and if things get heated, that alone could justify you're being "off-loaded". If it's very severe, especially if there's a later flight and you're flying off-season, this may be a real option so ask if you will accept this option.
More information about complaining to the airlines towards the end.
Ears and Altitude
It's actually a myth that children need to suck on something for take-off and landing. I see this "tip" in almost every article on this subject and I think it's a case that it's repeated so often that everyone believes it (Emperor's New Clothes, anyone?) Some go into minute detail on what you're supposed to do to make them swallow during those times, what to give them, rub their throats, make them drink, etc.
Is this bad advice? Not usually. Where is the harm in giving your child a drink or some gum during those times? Nothing...except take-off is when a lot of children do nod off. Panicked parents wake their children from much-needed-shut-eye to save their ears from supposedly exploding. Also, parents will pull their babies safely snuggled in car seats so that a breast or bottle can be shoved in their mouth. These are the two most critical points of the flight, safety-wise so please keep your child safely in his or her seat...and please just let them sleep!
If a small baby falls asleep and wakes up to uncomfortable pressure, he or she will cry, which is the best way to clear ears. I've done this as an adult when my ears were still blocked hours after working a flight, a desperate measure when you live in an apartment.
I rarely saw children or adults having problems with their ears in my 13 years as a Flight Attendant. With all the flights I've done with my own children, I have never, ever done anything special for their ears during take-offs and landings and even though my oldest had a history of ear infections, we have never had any tears or discomfort.
ENT specialists simply recommend that the child is awake for landing;
The delicate time is not during take-off or landing/touchdown but at the top of descent. Be very careful as most articles on flying are written by parents who usually have never worked in the industry and misuse airline terms. This is usually 40 minutes to an hour before landing and everyone's ears have to reverse internal pressurization. You can feel this yourself. I can confirm that when I worked, if any passengers had ear problems, this was the time, and I actually saw more adults suffering than children.
Airplanes also don't consistently fly at the same height. For a number of reasons, traffic, weather, etc. on a longer flight, you may feel the aircraft changing cruising altitude while in the air. Usually, you can feel this both with the aircraft's movements and with your own ears. Again, don't panic and don't worry about their ears if this happens either.
If your baby has an ear infection, no amount of sucking will relieve the pain. To avoid ear issues is to take your little one to the doctor a few days before flying. Just schedule a "well-baby" visit to coincide with your trip or arrange a quick visit for an older child. My son was good at getting symptomless ear infections. Don't skip doing this because your child hasn't recently had a cold and/or they don't have symptoms and assume their ears are fine. Yes, antibiotics will take affect before you leave so it will not result in a cancellation of your trip even if there is a problem. The doctor will look in your child's ears and make sure they're clear and infection-free. Healthy ears can handle pressurization changes.
Flying with an ear infection can be very, very painful and just giving them some gum or a drink wont prevent it from happening. Permanate ear damage can result and it wasn't because the child was or wasn't made to "suck" during "take-off" and "landing"!
Remember too that small babies often cry during boarding. This is a disruptive time and children pick up on the stressful atmosphere. They usually settle down once everyone's seated. The airplane is often hot because the air conditioning system doesn't work at full force until the plane is airborne. You may have had problems with seating, security or it's simply been a long day with connections and travel to the airport. Don't be discourged and think "We're off to a bad start". If they're fussy and/or crying, this is normal.
My baby was crying once during this time and a Flight Attendant came up to me to tell me that it was "her ears". We were still on the ground!
Turbulence and Other Safety Issues Inflight
Please don't be tempted to place children on the floor. Ouch! their poor little heads in turbulence... Don't even place them on the floor with the logic that you would pick them up if it gets rough. Turbulence can hit quickly without warning. If your children fall asleep in their seats, put the seatbelt around them so it can be seen. If you all are sleeping (we can always hope) and the seatbelt sign goes on, the Flight Attendants are supposed to come down the aisle to check. If they can clearly see that everyone's strapped in, they wont have to wake you up.
Toddlers are actually the most difficult age. They love to run, hate to be confined and most are just a little shorter than those heavy, big carts the Flight Attendants are pushing up and down the aisles. We did make an effort to pull them through the cabin two at a time but not always possible and you don't want your child getting hit by one. Make an effort to keep your child out of the aisles where there is a meal service going on and especially right after one has finished. Often we had to reposition carts right after we finished.
Keep children out of the galleys and do not walk into another class of service, even to simply walk through. Do not pass any curtins.
But feel free to get up and walk around. If tubulence hits, grab on to something with one hand and your child with the other. If it's really rough, evaluate if it's safe to return to your seat. If the flight isn't full, feel free to take an empty seat until it's safer to get up. If not, the floor is another option. Sit down in the aisle with one hand on a handrest and the other around your child. Remember that turbulence is not necessarily dangerous, except for the fact that you could get injured shaking around. Explain to your child if he asks that it's like waves of a ship.
Inflight Toys and Ways To Occupy Small Children
Please only bring silent toys. Even a slight beep or peep can drive your fellow passengers nuts on a long haul flight. Don't risk their wrath. Toys from a certain fast-food chain are perticularily evil.
Some toys are not allowed in the cabin. No toys with remote controls are allowed to be brought on board. The toy itself can be brought onboard but I recommend putting the remote in the checked bags. There is also the obvious rule against any toy that looks like a weapon. No toy can contain more than 3 oz. of water...but on a practical note, I wouldn't recommend bringing any toy with any water at all onboard.
Here are toys which are simply bad ideas to bring on board. Anything that has multiple parts, of which all are needed for it to be played/function, anything delicate and/or valuable.
For long flights, I bring a new toy as a present for each. I keep them with me until we're on board (don't put them in the child's backpack because they're sure to find it ahead of time). When my son was small, he loved anything with wheels. I'd bring a package of small cars, trucks or airplanes. Plastic animals were also winners with my toddlers. When the girls got older, and past that magical age 3 when it seems all toys are "allowed", those small plastic dolls with rubber clothes kept them occupied. All three of them love small animals.
I like magazines too. In Europe, they usually come with a toy. They usually have a story, something to color and/or make.
Game books, including cross word puzzels were fun even before they could read. They basically only need the alphabet and Sudoku is mastered quite early too.
Some people do really creative things with onboard toys. Think about packaging them up and/or wrapping them in a special way to add to the thrill. Some parents hide a few beforehand and instead of buying new stuff, pull out the tried-and-true winners once onboard. On the same principal, you can hit a few consignment stores for "new" toys.
Probably the simpliest winner is to bring is a pack of crayons (get the chunky kind for smaller children) and some paper. Just paper works but feel free to bring coloring books too. These fit easily into a carry-on bag and really keeps them occupied for ages. Don't go overboard. Keep it simple and easy. Don't bring a truckload of stuff they'll hardly notice and you'll have to lug around.
If your child is old enough to enjoy checkers or chess, please take the kind of miniture games which use either magnets or pieces which plug into the board. Bring extra pieces if possible.
Books are welcome on board. No one should mind you reading quietly to your child in your seats. I especially like those flat, colorful, cheap books sold in U.S. drugstores. I also like the coloring books with a stroy. You can read him or her the story and then let them color the pictures before or after.
My oragami repatoire is actually very limited but it was amazing how many paper cranes and frogs could keep my children occupied. Oragami papers is usually inexpensive and easy to pack. Bring a book or print up instructions off the net and learn it together on board. Keep any paper airplanes from taking flight but the frogs hop nicely accross tray tables...
Taking Care of Your Own Needs with Babies
Some mothers flying alone with their babies have asked me how they can go to use the facilities themselves. There are several solutions. When my child has his or her own seat and is asleep in it, I would tell a neighbor where I'm going and leave them strapped in safely. Once my son did wake up and a nice Turkish grandfather next to him was able to comfort him for the two minutes it took for me to return. I do admit that leaving your child alone goes against what we've been told to do as parents but with that many people around, and no where to go, your child is probably fine for the few minutes you'll take. Do not do two things without stopping by. For example, use the restroom, check on your child and then get a cup of tea. Also, you may want to use the restroom forward of your seat, so they can see you coming back (unless the child is in a rear-facing car seat).
If the baby is awake and you bring him or her into the lav, you can put him on the changer and squeeze in under. I try to keep a hand on the baby. This isn't too comfortable and can only work with a very little one. I could also use the facilities with a small baby in the sling. For a quick visit, it worked. If you don't have another option, place the changing pad on the floor and put your baby down there. This is awkward but only marginally unhygenic. Wash the baby's hands, with your own before exiting.
A good tip is to wear pants with an elastic waistband. This is not the time to be at the cutting edge of fashion but it will save you time and hassle.
If your baby can at least stand, the lav is small enough that you can put him or her next to you. If the flight is quiet and the Flight Attendants aren't busy, they're usually happy to hold your child while you pop inside. This usually gets the F/A out of doing "real" work for a minute and is one of the pleasanter tasks, until the little one cries. Have them hold the child stand right outside the door and you can talk to them while still inside (the doors are very thin). Don't be a masachist and think you can "hold it" until you land. That will ensure that the plane will be put in an hour-long holding pattern...or have to sit on the runway after landing because there is another aircraft at the gate.
On another subject, but pertaining to needs, is eating with a lap-held infant. Not easy! If you are flying as a couple, don't ask for one meal at a time. Take both meals and stack them one on top of the other. The trays usually stack very nicely and this allows one parent to eat, followed by the other, without having to wave down the Flight Attendant. Asking for the other meal later risks a wait and the possibility that the first choice of meal is no longer available.
If you're on your own, with a lap baby, this is even more difficult, especially without a bassinet. Perhaps a neighbor can help but wait till the Good Samaritan finishes his or her meal first. They might offer to help, as in cut your food for you if you have a sleeping baby on top of you. A baby who stands can perhaps play next to you. It depends on the age of the baby and what he or she can do. Don't depend on the Flight Attendants to hold or watch your child as that is the busiest time of the flight.
In either of the above cases, you may want to ask for the meal to be served, with the covering still on (this depends on the kind of covering too). It's easier to keep your own meal with the tin foil on it but sometimes it's a plastic "cap" (less convenient for this purpose). Keep your meal and if it gets cold before you can eat it, then it can be reheated.
For the record, I flew for 13 years and breastfeed three children on many flights and I neither saw nor had any negative experiences. There have been some well-publisized incidents but when something did happen, the airline person objecting was clearly in the wrong. In many parts of the world, breastfeeding is protected by law. Contact La Leche League or other local breastfeeding support group if you want to know your local laws. I have been assured that even in parts of the world where women dress conservatively, breastfeeding in public is still accepted. One coworker who worked for a Middle Eastern airline described women whose faces were hidden but when their babies started crying, they didn't hesitate to openly start feeding them.
For nursing, I wore a dark, kind of thick shirt and took off my bra after the lights were dimmed on long-haul flights. This helps avoid some breastfeeding problems that could happen during the trip (let's skip the blocked-duct details) and it was also quicker since I didn't have to fumble with the straps as well as simply being much more comfortable too. I make sure to put my brasiere back on before landing.
If you plan to "cover up" to do the deed, please try it at home first. I wouldn't have imagined this as something I needed to practice but my first attempts of feeding in public were thwarted when a tiny arm reached out and yanked that blanket off, leaving no mystery as to what was going on. I'm not the most modest person but even this pushed my limits. A sling is better because you can secure it and is less "yank-offable" than just a blanket. Also, my babies were used to the sling, as opposed to a scratchy airline blanket. Your baby may be less an exibitionist than just not used to having something draped over her or his head. In an even somewhat warm atmosphere, this might not be tolerated at all. Make sure whatever you'll use, whether a blanket, baby carrier or specific cover-up, is lightweight, even in winter, as you will be in that climate controlled atmosphere. Don't depend on the blankets the airlines provide. They're often scratchy, heavy and/or not available. They are often removed from short-haul day flights, or not provided at all because of budget cuts.
While we never had a problem with a breastfeeding mother on board, we did once have a mother who walked up to a near-empty business class from economy and sat herself down with her baby but without asking. Please do not sit in another cabin or in a flight attendant jumpseat to nurse. The problem was seating herself in another cabin, not the nursing itself. It's not necessary and could be disruptive. The mere fact that you breastfeed your baby will not give you any special priveleges with seating arrangements nor are there any seating restrictions or requirements.
Sitting by the window, as I mentioned earlier, is more discreet but I only suggest it if you're traveling with family members who are occupying the other seats in your row (or even better, if they're empty!) The limited added privacy is offset with the big inconvenience of trying to get in and out of that seat with the baby.
One subject that I have no experience with, nor have ever seen is tandem nursing. This might be difficult on an airplane, especially with positioning and being descreet, so decide how to organize this in advance. Each case is unique and depends on the ages and feeding habits of each child. Whatever you do, decide what to do ahead of time and practice it before leaving. For example, if the older child understands and will cooperate with waiting while the younger one feeds for this "special situation" and anything involving cover-ups. Please don't wean an older child unnecessarily specifically for a flight.
Expect the younger one (or twins) to nurse more than they normally do and prepare accordingly. I got a good report from a tandem-feeding twin mom who wants to emphasize that the right nursing top is a must. Better to tandem nurse than leaving one child crying.
Airplane air is very dry and travelling can be very tiring. A dip in supply is almost unavoidable so be prepared. Make sure you stay hydrated and perhaps try to take it easy and/or build up your supply before leaving. Try not to over-schedule yourself before and after your flight. If you are not currently experiencing any problems, your long-term breastfeeding project should not be affected. I found my supply quickly returned to normal a day or two after arrival.
If your infant is bottlefed, use the kind of bottles with disposable liners if at all possible. Traditional bottles take a lot of space and are hard to clean on an airplane due to those funky taps. Usually, you have to press the levers down to keep the water flowing and these sinks tend to be very shallow. It's almost impossible to fit a standard 8oz./250ml bottle underneith them.
I pre-measured the powder, put it in the liners, rolled the liners up and put them in a ziplock bag. I simply added water during the journey. The problem is, I giving this tip and obligate some mothers to change the entire bottle system and liners aren't available in all parts of the world. Sometimes they can be found but are much more expensive. Think of stocking up ahead of time if you can do so, or even have someone bring some to you from another country where they are more reasonable. Rolled up bags are easy to pack in a suitcase and aren't impossible to send. If not, try to find as short a bottle as possible. Even if you child using the full 8oz., you may want to switch back to the 4oz. half sized bottles for your flight.
A tip I was given was to bring no more than four traditional bottles for those who use them. I can only pass this along as I don't have any experience, but three sounds logical; one to use, one to wash and one to prepare... and a forth to lose!
Some parents like disposable bottles. This might be a good idea for a short to medium range flight.
Please wash the bottles (or just the nipples and rings if using the kind with disposable liners) in the bathroom and bring them to the galley for a final hot water rinse. It's easy to pick up germs from the taps and the doorknobs in the lavs. Be careful when touching those while handling bottles. You may even want to put a paper towel or sanitizing towel of your own, over the taps and use another to open the door. Sounds paranoid but not really that difficult to do.
An excellent tip someone shared but I haven't tried was to take a sponge before traveling, wet it and soak it with dishwashing soap. Leave it to dry and then cut it up into small pieces. Put these in a plastic bag and use them one by one, throwing each away after use. This could be used for any trips away from home and not just flying.
I'm amazed how often mothers have just handed me the bottles to wash and prepare. Try this and you'll become really unpopular with the crew. Most importantly, as there is no health advantage to warming a bottle, please get your baby used to it room temperature before you leave. This unnecessary task is especially inconvenient on the airplane, as for travel and life in general. There are items sold to warm bottles while traveling but many are made with gels, a potiential problem in security.
Some mothers have been downright rude about the perfection to which their child's bottles must be warmed, sending it back several times. Once, our entire meal service was delayed because a mother chose that moment to feed her baby and the bottle had to be warmed. If you must warm a bottle, please remember that this is a favor the crew is doing for you, not a requirement. We delayed the meal service for one hungry baby but try to avoid this. No, Flight Attendants can't check bottles every five seconds so be aware of this.
A tip a bottlefeeding mom passed to me was to use disposable hand warmers and put them next to the bottle on the way to the airport. Wrap it up and later feed the baby and throw the warmer away. The warmers will not be a problem in security. This sounds like a good tip for those reading this too close to the travel date to "wean" the baby off the warmed bottle. She also told me that her formula doesn't mix well at room temperature and it can be used with just a water bottle (adding the formula later). This is a way to solve the problem of warming a bottle while getting through the airport and then just having the F/A's warm the rest of the bottles on the aircraft if it's a long journey and you can't bring enough warmers.
Water is a concern. Bringing enough water for a bottlefed baby might the biggest challenge. Security usually confiscates the water bottles and you may not have time or even the right currency to buy more bottles "airside". My suggestion is to try to bring a bottle or two anyway and see if they'll let it through. It's not such an expensive item that you can't say goodbye to it. No, you can't order water from the airlines ahead of time. You also are not really in a position to ask for extra since there usually isn't enough bottled water just to drink so make any requests very polite. Perhaps they'll be nice but don't expect it.
The water on board planes is filtered tap. It is usually potable but if it is not, this will be clearly marked. The water on longer flights and/or larger jets is almost always drinkable. We were assured that the tanks were regularily cleaned but there was no way to confirm this. I do know we did not use the water in certain areas of the world. I've never heard of any bad incidents relating to water on airplanes so don't adversly fear resorting to that. Airlines do take precautions with the onboard water supplies. Public safety is the airlines' top priority and it extends to food and drink. Adverse publicitiy would cost them heavily. Decide for yourself if you are comfortable putting airplane water in a baby bottle. You can refill the bottles in the galley with the crews' help and not have to fiddle with them in the bathrooms. Your pediatrician may need to be consulted and the age of your baby may play a role.
Exculsive Pumping Tips
I've been contacted by a couple of "exclusive pumpers". If you don't know what it means, you don't need to. Skip to the next section.
I actually do have some experience with this as I did pump on board, but only while working. I continued breastfeeding for four months after returning to work. I relate to the motivation behind deciding on this option. I had latching issues with two of my three children. I commend women who still want their babies to get their own milk, usually because of lack of support, information and help at the very beginning.
If you have a big flight in front of you and if it is at all possible, try to get your little one, once again, to latch and take his nourishment directly from the source. It is possible that a baby who couldn't initially is able to master this later on. This will make your life in general, easier. But most of the time, the inability to manage this was what resulted in the mother to opt for pumping in the first place.
One "EP'er" who did a tranatlantic flight wanted me to urge mothers to buy an extra seat for the baby and/or travel with someone else. The most difficult problem she encountered was placing her daugher down while she pumped. It was hard to hold the baby in her lap while she did the deed.
Pumping onboard can be tricky, especially if you're flying alone with your baby a long way and/or with multiple stopovers. Most exclusive pumpers do have supply issues because pumping is not as precisely biologically regulated. It's normal for any breastfeeding mother to have supply issues after flying but it shouldn't be a reason to wean before both of you are ready. You may want to build up your supply with extra pumping before leaving. Security in the U.S. allows breastmilk, even without the baby, and you should never be required to taste it, as has been reported. Print this up and take it with you if you prefer;
I recommend back-up formula, just in case. If you are not already using some. Make sure you try it at home first to avoid any allergic reactions in air, or even if the baby's rejection of it. I went through numerous brands with my first baby just to find one he could keep down, let alone accept. Hopefully you wont have to use it but be prepared.
Just like other breastfeeding mothers, try to stay hydrated. Airplane air is very dry and travelling tiring so it's easy to forget to drink enough.
Make your peace with the fact that you may have to pump in your seat for practical reasons. There are some very quiet battery pumps and the airplane noise usually covers it and you wont disturb either your child or others. In fact, some EP'ers told me they managed it very descretely. You wont have anywhere to plug in your double-action electric pump anyway. Pack it very carefully in your checked bags or consider using the portable one for your whole trip.
My concern is not the pumping, or even managing the bottles but keeping the pump itself clean. Bring your own container (less than 3 oz.) of dishwashing soap. Use the paper towels and do not place any parts on the counters.
If you must pump in a lav, try to go during the quiet times of the flight, like during the movie. Avoid the after-meal rush. If you leave your baby asleep in his carseat, for example, tell someone nearby where you are. Don't leave the baby unstrapped. I actually do not recommend leaving your baby to pump if you are flying alone but do what you need to.
Baby Food Tips
Baby food is allowed through security, including homemeade food, if you are flying with the child. Keep them in the original containers until you get past security, if only to save time. Here's the link again;
Be sure to stick to foods that your baby has been eating for at least a week. Food allergies were a reality in our family and sometimes reactions took three to four days to appear. Don't risk having a rash, indigestion or worse a day or two before flying or even during the flight itself. Remember that some very allergenic foods, such as sweet potatoes, rice, tropical fruits, strawberries, chocolate, lentils and other beans are sold for young babies. Do not go by the age marked on the label and make sure whatever foods you bring on board are proven winners. Wait till after you arrive or return to try more new foods.
Peanuts and peanut products have been removed from most commercial flights because of allergies. Peanuts are also a risky choking item. Parents with children who have peanut allergies are usually prepared and should inform the crew. Even if your child normally eats peanut products, you may want to rethink bringing them. Some people are so sensitive that even someone eating some nearby can set off a reaction. This would be a negative and potientially upsetting situation, not to mention harmful for the other person. Bringing peanuts as snacks may not be worth the risk...
Bringing your homemade food should not be a problem in security but it might be a bit more complicated. There have been reports that it hasn't been allowed. Keeping it fresh might be more of a challenge. My babies were almost given exclusively homemade food but I tried a few organic jars before leaving just because it was more convenient for flying.
Now some baby foods come in squeeze packs, a really great idea for flying;
For warming food, you have several options. Airplanes don't have microwave ovens for safety reasons. The ovens are usually "convection" which means there are fans in the back which force hot air through the oven, which works faster than heat alone. Most plastic will melt and all food has to be covered or it will quickly dry out. A flat, metal container works best. You can bring a container with some aluminium foil from home if you wish.
Some planes don't have ovens at all, especially on smaller aircraft that only fly short distances. Some larger aircraft have special food carts which plug in and heat the food inside the cart itself, which can't be used for heating anything else. Usually, there is at least a small warming oven for bread but these are slow. Remember that on any plane, it's possible that all oven space is taken and it is not possible to add any other items.
Toddler meals that came in one piece with two or three courses were difficult to heat up. I recommend bringing separate small baby food containers if possible.
Ask to speak to the "galley attendant", the one in charge of the meal services. Different airlines may have different titles but that term is general enough that you should get the right person. Ask them how and when they can warm the food.
I used to warm my jars with water. I would slightly open the jar and place it in a dish of hot water. No, this does not heat it as much and as throughly as putting the entire thing in an oven but I got my children used to slightly less warmed food before leaving.
Feeding can be a bit messy on board. You can do it in the seat and there is no reason to bring any sort of portable high chair on board (check them in as baggage if you need it at your destination). Disposable bibs and spoons are convenient. I actually found a platisized bib more useful than disposable on long flights. It had sleeves with elastic around the wrists. It really kept my children clean and then I easily rinsed it out and dried it before the next feeding.
I also brought my own kleenexes, which were softer than those found onboard. Be prepared to feed your child in the airport too.
If your baby is under six months old and therefore has not been introduced to solid food yet, consider putting off this step until you arrive or even return from your trip. Of course you want to discuss this with your pediatrician but mine was fine with this plan. Two of my children were started on solids at seven and a half months each, partly because of trips to the U.S. Both girls are very good and diverse eaters, who had no problems or allergies (like their earlier fed brother did). My second was born pre-maturely and it did not affect either's weight or long-term health. In fact, it may have been better for them overall.
When I returned, it was easier to work out a feeding schedule after we had recovered from jet lag and I could organize this project better at home. Baby food is messy on board and I really suggest avoiding it if at all possible.
More unknown territory, my children never used any sort of pacifier. I have sufficiently been briefed by pacifier-using parents to pass on some practical tips, as well as report what I observed.
Bring at least three, preferably the same brand and color. Great idea since they're so easy to lose. You might want to get your child used to those pacifier "leashes" ahead of time, if you don't already use one. Make sure the paci's are not on anything around their neck but instead a contraption that's clipped to their clothing so it's not falling on the floor. If it does get dirty, wash it in the lavatory and if desired, bring it to the galley to be dipped in hot water for a final sterization.
I have to add that some parents use the flight as the opportunity to "lose" undesirable items on purpose. I know of at least one child whose pacifier just didn't make the flight. My son's bottle then didn't manage to leave California. It gathered dust under the bed as we left for the airport. If you decide you want your child to take this step with whatever babyhood hang-on, make sure you're prepared to face the consequences and that your child's really ready.
The change of scenery, time zone and/or company might do the trick. One mother told me she wrapped a bottle in black plastic, taped it shut and then stuffed it on the bottom of her carry-on, just in case there was a major meltdown. The disguise was to prevent her daugher from accidently seeing it. Mom also wisely, brought a desirable treat to offer instead, in this care, bubble gum. Her daughter found the sippy cup and the gum as acceptable replacements and the bottle was a distant memory by the time they landed. Good luck!
Diaper Changing Tips
Even though not all diapers smell and/or messy, it's recommended that you change every and all diapers in a lavatory. Just seeing you changing a baby in the seat, even if it's a "simple" diaper or that of a breastfed newborn (whose diapers have very little, even a pleasant smell) could make other passengers uncomfortable and/or draw complaints.
For changing diapers, the lavs with changers are usually marked on the outside. People waiting in line will usually let you use them specifically and often let you go ahead of the line. Be friendly and hopefully this will be your experience. Look for one in each section of the plane.
I have never worked aircraft who didn't have them on board but on smaller aircraft, especially domestic flights, there may not be any. Check your airline's website and ask on board. Even if a changer-free aircraft is scheduled for your flight, there is always the chance of an aircraft change so do double check. Changing your baby during boarding is a good idea.
If you get on board, and you find out that no, there is no lav, then ask the Flight Attendant (on an aircraft that small, there is probably only one) what you should do. They may prefer you use the back of the plane than your seat.
The airplane changing tables are tiny and wont hold even an older baby very well. Using the larger handicapped lav might be a better idea. This lav is also recommended if you have a recently potty-trained and/or multiple children. Get it all done at once!
I will mention that I did use cloth diapers, although not exclusively, with all three children. While I'm a big beliver in them, I did opt for disposable while flying and recommend to temporarily switch, exceptionally, even for the most dedicated cloth diapering parent. I did manage to find biodegradable disposable diapers in Germany which worked well.
Whatever type you use, be sure to try it a few times at home before leaving. My first child was very sensitive and prone to nasty diaper rashes and we had to try a variety of brands before finding one he could tolerate (which was one of the reasons I used cloth). If your child has a similar problem, deal with it at home and keep trying different brands until one suits him or her. A nasty rash is the last thing you need on a flight! Don't forget the diaper cream (in a small package to make security happy) and apply it liberally!
Some airlines do have diapers on board but they were usually not as nice as what is sold in stores. Often, they are a one-size-fits-all, a claim I seriously doubt. Best to have your own ample supply. Some parents recommend "overnight" diapers for long flights, even during the day to reduce diaper changes and "overflow". Another option, is to put the baby in one size up, especially if he or she is close to the limit. Don't be surprised if another passenger asks you if you have extras. Running out is such a common problem, I got to play Good Samartian a number of times...
You find that you change your child more frequently when travelling so factor that in when deciding how many to bring. Children and babies are doing more sitting and are they are more prone to "tummy" troubles while flying. Sometimes too, you find yourself changing them when you have the opportunity, rather than wait till it's necessary. You don't need to wait till you're standing in line for check-in, security or boarding to find out that your child really, really needs to be changed. It might make more sense to do this task when you have a moment, even if the discarded diaper isn't as full as it usually is.
Grab those moments when you can. I always changed diapers systematically before boarding and landing. Another good time is after the meal service, when ideally, your baby will go to sleep. The quietest times for the lavatory are during the movie and just before the meal service. Remember to check for lavs both in front and in back of you, (many "forget" that there may be more behind them) and there is usually a sign saying when they're occupied on some planes. It's lit when they are.
As soon as you walk into any lav, look for where the trash is located so you can pop things in there as soon as possible. Also, there is always a handle, for tubulence. If it gets rough while you are in there, know where it is so you can grab it quickly, while holding your child with the other hand. I have put my hand on top of a small baby but bigger children do better being "scooped" up and held close to your body while going through rough air.
A great tip I was given was to learn to change a toddler standing up. Try to find the handicapped lavs on board. It's possible with any tot who can stand with support. They don't have to be able to walk or stand independently, just if they can just lean against a wall, in the "frisk" position. The technique is to do the back side first, put a clean diaper on your lap, have them face away and lean against you, as you "take care of" the front. Sounds complicated but it is easier than fighting with a toddler to lie still and works well as the changing tables on the plane are often too small by they reach the age that they can stand. Bigger babies and toddlers hate lying down in strange places even when there is enough room, let alone when their head is hitting the wall.
Practice this changing-while-standing trick at home first. Remove the bottom half of the clothing first. If it's a "scary" diaper, try pinching it down as you remove it, catching as much of the "serious" stuff as possible right away. Dispose of immediately. Also, on the plane, feel free to pull out those paper towels and cover your knees and lap. It's also a really great technique when out in public in general. While in a mall or office, changing your little one more privately in a stall is easier than fighting to keep him or her lying nicely on a baby changer. It also means that you don't have to look for baby changers anywhere any more.
Many parents like bringing their own, sometimes scented, diaper bags for disposal. They don't take up much room in a diaper bag or carry-on so bring them if it will make the task more pleasant for you.
I read one tip to undress the baby before taking him or her to the lav to change them. I really don't recommend this for a few reasons. Airplanes can be a little cold and diapers a little smelly. Your fellow passengers might appreciate it if you keep the baby dressed until you are in the lav. Always bring the change of clothes, even if you're sure you wont use them. So many times either we've had a little overspill or there has been a leak where I didn't originally notice. Be prepared to put your baby in fresh clothes, if necessary, as soon as you have finished with the diaper.
Watch out for the red Flight Attendant call button. This is for emergencies only and the red color seems to attract little ones and they love to tap it again and again. It may or may not ring where you are but it does light up and ring in the galley. We were required to make sure it wasn't an emergency and you will hear a Flight Attendant knocking at your door soon enough making sure no one is having a heart attack inside. Avoid this situation and try to keep the probing fingers away...
Please make sure you discard the diaper in the trash. Sounds logical but you'd be surprised the weird places I've found them stuffed in the lav. Look for a metal flap near the sink. For the record, the lavatory and galley trash bins are discarded in different manners. Even innocent diapers are considered "bodily fluids" so please don't hand them to Flight Attendants in the aisle or throw them in the galley trash. If it's during landing, it might be easier to make use of a sick bag and simply leave it in the seat as you disembark. Explaination in the "Air Sickness" and "Deplaning" sections below.
Tips on Calming Crying
Many parents fret over the idea of the child crying on the plane. This actually is not a big problem overall. Babies often cry during boarding but quiet down while taxiing to the gate. The hum of the engine usually calms them down. I've been through boarding when there's been a virtual infant chorus going on. It can be like a domino affect. I'm not saying to ignore your child but if you sort out your gear and get settled, you'll be in a better position to do something about the crying then if you're fussing with the baby and putting things away at the same time. If you can do something quickly (i.e. take off a sweater or pop a pacifier in his mouth) do it but don't risk a departure delay or cause yourself any additional stress by trying to play two fiddles at once. Tell yourself, babies cry during boarding and I'll get to him as soon as I can...
Babies are more likely to cry if you are seated near the crew rest area, when the crew are actually trying to rest. Haven't figured out why yet...
Your other passengers are more sympathetic than you probably realize. Most are parents themselves and know it's not so easy for you. I've honestly never had a complaint about a crying baby when the parent was obviously trying to do something about him or her. Once I had a mother who did nothing, claiming it was her baby's "ears" and there was a stampede to the galley of enraged passengers. If you use the "cry-it-out" method to put your child to sleep, please don't employ it on the flight!
I often take my red-faced screamer into the lavatory which will obviously muffle the sound. Yes, in case you're wondering, flying with children means a lot of time in the lavs! This is a trick to use for when the baby cries during the quiet part of the flight. Obviously, it's not ideal when the lavs are busy, for example right after the meal service. During these times, your child's cries will be less likely to disturb people anyway. Everyone's awake.
A simple change of scenery, by walking around the cabin or by diving in the lav can quiet a baby down. Sometimes you can distract them with the toilet paper or water. Just keep those little fingers away from that fun red Flight Attendant call button that's in every lav. The nifty ringing noise it makes is the very definition of irritating back in the galley and might be treated as an emergency. We know it's usually a kid but it could be someone having a heart attack...
This is when you'll be glad to have a good baby carrier. They really worked magic with my children, calming them down without strain to my back and arms. I could walk up and down, up and down, as necessary, while still having my hands free.
A note here to the different classes; you can walk back to Economy if you are seated in First or Business but not the other way around. If you are seated in Economy, don't walk up to the other cabins. You will probably be stopped, especially if you're walking with a crying baby. Yes, a First class passenger can take his or her screamer to the back. It's allowed and even encouraged, since the atmosphere is much quieter up there.
Do not take any medications or insert ear plugs if your baby is asleep and you want to catch some shut eye yourself. Even a light sleeper could be so tired that he or she doesn't hear the cries of their own baby. It happened to me once. I was so used to sleeping with ear plugs from both work and my travels, I couldn't resist and I actually didn't hear my son right next to me in his car seat. Don't subject the others to one minute more of crying than necessary. Someday, you will be able to use these to sleep again on flights but not while your children are small.
As far as crying babies go, I saw a good example on a flight once. The child was bottlefed, not a sin itself but there was a lot of jumping up and washing/preparing them on the parents' part since they had the old-fashioned hard plastic ones. Every time she peeped, and she was around 8 months old, either or both parents were shoving food, formula and/or water bottles at her. Sometimes babies just need a nice calm walk around a quiet cabin, which they never attempted and there was no baby carrier in sight. This baby woke my baby up several times and the single woman in between us was feeling like she'd won the lottery.
If I had a spare moment at work and saw frazzled parents, I'd offer to walk the baby myself. Don't ask but maybe you'll be lucky. With tight staffing though these days, I wouldn't bet on it. I once took a baby to the door of the cockpit and the pilots flashed the lights on and off for him. That wont happen today. Cockpits are locked and closed inflight and even little passengers can't take a peek.
Tips on Not Bothering Other People
Actually, I talk about this throughout this article but thought I'd better give it its own section. Crying was covered above but long after the "baby stage", your children are still capable creating misery for the others on board.
The biggest is when older children kick the seat in front of them. First, talk about it before getting on the plane. Don't tell your children to not "kick" the seat in front of them. This is open to interpretation. They think they're not "kicking" but the person in front has other ideas. Semantics aside, tell your children to not "touch" the seat in front of them. Yes, it's raising the bar. Not touching the seat is almost impossible but in the mean time, any touch is less likely to be considered a "kick" by the person in front.
After take-off, I recommend taking shoes off and even bringing extra socks or slippers.
Peek-a-boo. Love this game and it's so fun to play with the row behind! I find that most people will put up with a few minutes of it but keep an eye on it. While I used to enjoy it for a minute or two, it could get annoying if I wanted to watch the movie or sleep (this is the Single Me speaking from the past). I've had kids behind us and they can play this for ages but whatever, you poke your head up and ask them directly if everything's okay. Let them know that you're willing to bring it to a halt when necessary.
You may want to relax but your child doesn't. The fact is, you'll have plenty of time to relax when he goes off to college. Now is not the time. If you need to get up and walk him, do so. Forcing him to stay put or sleep will not bode well for you or the other passengers. I've done it (heavily pregnant) and survived. This is why I recommend that everyone gets a good nights' sleep the night before. After a few "rounds" up and down the aisle might make him ready to return to his seat. I even read recently as a "tip" to not let your child out of his seat at the start of the flight, to avoid the aisle laps. This might backfire badly, resulting in a frustrated, upset, loud toddler. Remember, as mentioned above, to not cross into a higher class of service.
I'm kind of strict with my kids and the only time anyone ever complained about us was when I was scolding my preschoolers one time. This is very cultural as parents scold more vigorously where we live than back in the U.S. Be aware of this especially on international flights. I felt a bit of "damned if we do, damned if we don't" as far as discipline is concerned but while I'm not saying to lower your standards or let your children "get away" with anything, some things can slide if it's not actually something regarding either a safety issue or the comfort of others. Taking a child to a corner of the plane to have a talk could work.
I don't recommend buying drinks or handing anything else out to the other passengers seated around you at the start of the flight. I've seen this as a tip for flying with children and babies but it could send the wrong message. They don't need extra drinks or other freebies. It could be misinterpreted as a way of compensating for unruly children ahead of time. What the other passengers want is to see a parent taking good care of their child. If your baby cries or otherwise disturbs them, it's easier if they're confident that you'll be up and fixing whatever is not right with your baby.
If you or your child have any mobility issues, be sure to mention this when reserving. This will give you priority with certain seats and boarding. Your best source of information on the subject will come from any relevent organizations you probably already belong to or know of so consult them first. Know your rights and what laws apply to your situation and bring any photocopies along. Hopefully, you wont need them. If you are flying on a foreign carrier, the laws might be very different. Find out the latest information because a lot of countries are improving access and awareness. Don't let anyone's "horror story" scare you because things might have changed.
On board, there is at least one suitable lav and an onboard wheelchair if it is a U.S. company. Appropriate seats have armrests that come up, or that can be unlocked in order to come up for your flight, so let them know if they have forgotten to do this.
The FAA also allows for exemption to the approval sticker, mentioned earlier, if the seat is specifically for a special-needs child. Consult this FAA advisory circular, number 23 on page 19 of FAA Advisory Circular No. 120-87B (another repeated link).
Also, the FAA recently clarified that any child under 18 has the right to use an approved restraint on board. This is welcome news if your child needs the support and/or restraint of the car seat in flight. Parents of children with special needs as diverse as CP and austism have found it helpful to have their child strapped into a seat.
While reserving, the agent might ask you detailed questions about you or your child's abilities or where he or she needs extra help. While you may be proud, for example, that your son can negotiate stairs alone with ease but be conservative with your reponses this time. Imgine high, slippery stairs, outdoors with a strong wind, for example. Estimate too, the time and space constraints and any tiredness from traveling which any medical condition could exaserbate. Base your reponces on a worst-case situation to be sure that any help needed will be in place.
It easier to ask for assistance initially and then opt out if it isn't needed, then to call for assistance at the moment you realize it will be needed. Anticipate your and/or your child's needs. A late assistence requrest could even cause a delay. You will probably be given priority getting through customs and immigration, if that applies. Take advantage because those lines can be long and tiring for anyone.
Remember that those assisting you in the airport and onboard don't have the same training as the people with whom you usually have contact. Be really clear about any directions. We were also given strict instructions to address all questions directly to each passenger. I had a woman bark at me after asking her daugher her meal choice "She'll have chicken. It's obvious she can't answer you". Well actually, that's not that easy to assess from the aisle and usually, the parent or companion will quickly come to the recue if needed anyway. The point is for airline personel not to make assumptions about anyone or anything and to acknowedge each individual. Parents are usually pretty aware of their childrens' needs anyway.
Here's the TSA link on the subject;
On a personal note, if you're wondering if you should make a trip at all, the answer is probably a resounding yes. I've seen passengers with all sorts of challenges. I actually had a passenger once who was unconscience and quite a few people with advanced illnesses. Much work has been done by various organizations to insure that airlines are ready, or should be ready, to accomodate you or your child's needs. Even if you face restrictions in your daily lives, taking to the skies and seeing new places is most most likely within your reach.
Flying With A Newborn
Most airlines stipulate that a child must be at least a week old but different airlines have different policies. Most airlines will waive any restrictions if you have a note from a doctor saying your child is able to fly.
There are no special concerns about newborns that wouldn't pretain to any other mode of transportation. In some ways, they are more protected than older babies since they wont be crawling around touching things, climbing on things and getting hurt. There is slightly less oxygen at altitude and the air is very dry but this is usually not a problem for the limited time the baby is in the air.
If the child is breastfed, the baby has the mother's immunities. I would recommend that the baby's weight gain is good, feeding is well-established (by either method) and that a doctor is consulted before leaving.
Newborns are usually good fliers and spent most of the time sleeping. Most babies I saw flying for pleasure were at least eight weeks old. Smaller babies were usually flying for more pressing reasons, for example, after being adopted or moving. I also had very little passengers who were in fragile health and even they did great.
Consider your own needs, even if your baby is in perfect health and the delivery went well. If this is your first baby and you are planning your trip while still pregnant, you simply don't know what to expect so make sure your plans are flexible. The birth could come early or late. Even small issues like tiredness, a C-section or episodomy scar might make it difficult for you to fly, even your baby is fine. Just putting a trip off by a week or two can make the journey so much easier.
Be especially careful of the angle of the car seat when installing it on board because newborns have porportionally large heads and if held at the wrong angle, can restrict or even cut off the oxygen supply. This a concern also in the car. Limit transporting the baby in a car seat as much as possible and be sure to have a good baby carrier.
The biggest stumbling block for international travel may be getting the passport on time. Try to get the papers before the birth and make sure to turn them in and/or schedule the interterview (depending on the requirements of your country) as soon as you can after the birth. Consider paying extra for expediated delivery.
Potty training and Flying the Recently/Almost Trained
First, I recommend giving yourself a break from potty training while you're travelling. In fact, I've put it entirely off because of a trip. Sometimes, the change in environment recharges a child to make progress with this project but that usually happens after arriving, not en route. You probably want to work with your child and when flying, you probably can't give it the time and attention it demands.
Many parents wonder about diapers vs. underware, flying and their recently or almost-trained child. This obviously depends on the child but here are a few facts to guide you. To start with, yes, I have put a recently-trained child back into diapers just for the trip and no, it didn't set us back ages in the process. Children seem to understand this is a "special situation" and will cooperate as long as it's specifically for the flight and not for the entire time they're away from home.
Your child might resist going back to diapers when you first suggest this. If they are not night trained, you will to have some sort of "back-up" in case they fall asleep en route. Don't have your child wet him or herself during an inflight nap, only to discover this while landing and when all the restrooms are busy or you're no longer allowed to use them.
How do you know whether it's worth the risk? First, will your child go if prompted? This means, if you can say "Let's use these toilets here because we might not be able to for awhile..." and your child cooperates, you migh be able to let them go without diapers. If you hear "I don't need to" almost every time, it would be better to be prepared. Depending on your child's communication level, you could even discuss this and give him or her options. You want to avoid being in line for check-in, security or about to board and have your little one announce his needs and the fact they have to be attended to "now".
There are also some compromises. You might want think about padded underware or cloth pull-ups (aka "waterproof pants") to only be used for the trip.
There are also tiny portable potties you can buy but I think they shouldn't be needed. Usually when flying, if there's the time to go, you can find somewhere to do so. It's more a question of when, not where. The biggest hurdle is time. Facilities are usually available in airports and on board airplanes. You could be put in the uncomfortable position of having to discard the plastic bag of what your child has just "produced". It's light and easy to bring but only useful if your child objects to using the large toilets. Bring it into the restrooms where you can dispose of the bag immediately. Make sure you have enough bags.
Airplane toilets are very different than those found on the ground. You may also be headed somewhere with different concepts of plumbing as well. You may want to psychologically prepare your child to using a very different looking commode in a much smaller space. The portable potty might be a good option if you think your child will object either in the air or on the ground.
Also, some of the newer aircraft have very noisy johns. This is because they use an air suction system, which makes for pleasanter smelling lavs but could be potientially terrifying for a newly trained child. These usually look much different than the old "blue water" style toilets so you will know immediately if you haven't encountered one of these before. The inside is usually dark colored and plastic, instead of inox and they are deeper. When your child is done, put the lid down, have them wash their hands, exit the child from the cubical first and as a last gesture, lean back in and hit the flush. They may be more accepting if they hear it flushing before going in themselves (i.e. waiting in line). Point it out to them and it may not come as a surprise.
I've seen more air sickness than ear problems on flights, adults as well as children. The most suceptable age seems to be from around 3 or 4 to about age 8. No guarentee that children outside those ages wont get sick but this tends to be the most common and I can't say exactly why. Small babies almost seem to be immune.
I was very sensitive as a child and had a terrible time on long car trips. I have been flying since I was 8 weeks old and never remember being ill on the plane. My children are also unsurprisingly very prone to motion sickness. They have thrown up on the way to the airport and then been fine on the flight. I have flown with the children on short haul flights while my husband took the car so we could save time and avoid having this problem. Yes, we actually fly to avoid motion sickness.
If your child has not flown before and has a history of motion sickness, you are not necessarily going to have an unpleasant experience. I recommend bringing wipes, a change of clothes and an empty plastic bag, which works better for children than those small paper bags the airlines put in the seat pocket. A tip one parent gave me was to use a large ziplock (which can be closed and then blocks the smell). Watch your child on the ground, as the plane is taxing to and away from the gate. At larger airports, this can be quite long and similar to a car ride. The plane can at first head backwards and then turn to head towards the runway. The trick of watching the road doesn't work on an aircraft.
1. Try to sit your child by a window.
2. Try to sit as far forward as possible (but opt for the window if you have to choose between the two)
3. If you want to use medication to prevent this, make sure it's one you have tried previously with no ill side affects or allergic reactions. All medications are stronger at altitude and most of these medicines have to be given before the onset of nausea. Read the instructions carefully and you may want to give it before getting on board.
4. Make sure your child eats and drinks before leaving for the airport, or have them snack before boarding if that was a long time ago.
5. Make sure your child drinks and make sure they don't get dehydrated. Please note that overdrinking may not help but could even make it worse. Just make sure they're not thirsy.
6. A good night's sleep is helpful. I'm not sure exactly why but probably because it just helps the body keep its equilibrium.
7. For take-off and landing, have your child sit calmly, facing forward and remind them to take deep breaths (this is very subjective so don't stress it and have them simply look forward). Don't let them read or play computer games until the aircraft is cruising.
8. If turbulence hits, have your child stop reading and again face forward as for take-off. Remind him or her to breathe.
9. Don't let your child lean down, for example to take off shoes or dig in a backpack during take-off, landing and turbulence. Explain this to those old enough to understand.
10. If there are problems landing at your destination (like fog or too much traffic), your flight may be put in a "holding pattern" where it turns around above the airport until it's clear to land. This can be long, an hour or more and this is especially difficult for those prone to motion sickness of all ages. The crew will prepare the cabin for landing and there will be an announcement. Be very careful if you are told your flight is to be put into a holding pattern and just make sure you're prepared. Looking out the window and breathing can help.
11. Be aware that a too-warm cabin can make people sick. It doesn't need to be arctic-cold but if you're sweating in flight, tell a crew member and see if the temperature can be turned down. It is normal that the cabin feels warm on the ground and this usually can't be avoided but inflight, it should feel cool but not cold.
If you are tempted to use medication to make your child sleep on a long flight, I would advise against this because the child might wake up dehydrated and confused and more prone to being ill. See the next section for more on that subject.
If all else fails and your child does lose his or her "lunch", get the help of a Flight Attendant as soon as possible. Don't be surprised if they wont touch anything directly. Rules often prevent them from further participating in the meal services if they come into contact with "bodily fluids" of any kind. Obviously, they might be more helpful after the last meal service has been completed. They often do have access to chemicals and products which can help clean up and neurtalize the small. They can also at least stand next to you and hand you things or get you what you need. On some aircrafts, it's possible to adjust the air system to clear any smell. Airplane air is very dry so anything you clean with water will probably dry quickly. The seat cushions come up so you can pull them up to better get around them or even get another one, if available. Let a crew member help out with this.
The part of the flight when most kids get sick is right before landing. This is actually good news since the flight is almost over and you're almost off the aircraft. Clean it up best you can but don't worry about finding a trash bin. The cleaners are quickly onboard after the passengers exit. They also have to dispose of any "bodily fluids" differently so don't risk putting anything in the wrong trash container. It's better to get off yourselves and get your child on to solid ground as soon as possible.
Sleeping Medications for Children
As a Flight Attendant, I saw this many, many times. Usually it worked. Twice it went terribly wrong and the child had the opposite reaction. They went completely wired and it was an unpleasant experience for everyone.
I fly with my own kids between Europe and California about every six months and it's 11 1/2 hours, I'm usually alone, and I've never used any sort of medication to get them to sleep. Bad antihistimine reactions are common in my family so I don't risk giving them to my kids. Drug allergies and sensitivties are common, in general, with children.
A few times, I will admit, I was tempted. Two of mine are very active, not hyper, but just children who like to move. Once, my 20 month old son slept 20 minutes of an 11 1/2 hour flight. I was pregnant at the time and exausted when I arrived. Keeping your children in a drug-induced sleep through, isn't the only way to survive a long flight. Most passengers don't expect your child to stay asleep and will not complain about a child quietly playing.
First, you need to talk to your doctor. Second, you need to try it at home first to make sure they don't have any allergic reactions. You want to be able to get to the ER, like my parents had to when they gave me Benedryl when I was seven years old. Even though my dad was a doctor and my mom a nurse, they couldn't find my pulse...imagine if we had been at 30,000ft over some ocean... Even though most of these are over-the-counter drugs, they aren't harmless. Just because they didn't have an adverse affect the first time doesn't guarentee they wont have a bad reaction the next time either.
It's probably not needed for a baby under 7 or 8 months old and I don't think it's necessary after 3 or 4 year old, an age when they can occupy themselves in their seats better. Active toddlers who wont stay in their seats or settle down would benefit most.
Remember that all medications are stronger at altitude. You know how that glass of wine goes to your head a bit faster when you're flying? Most medical emergencies (involving adults) I saw were because of this. Parents of small children on medications for other conditions need to inform their health car provider to avoid any complications with drug combinations.
Do not give it before take-off in case of an emergency, as unlikely as that is. Of course I have had more than one "mechanical" which meant returning to the gate from the runway. A few times the passengers had to get off, which you wouldn't want to do with a drugged child.
I would also give the child the opportunity to have something to eat on a long flight and have your child awake before landing. They may wake up dehydrated and disorientated so be prepared to take care of them, which would be difficult as the plane is in the middle of touching down. It's also better for their ears if they are awake for the top of descent (see next section).
Also, someone in my husband's family did this with their 3 year old on a trans-Atlantic. Most 3 year olds are potty trained, as he was but... the drugged induced sleep put him so far under that he lost bladder control. This might merit putting a trained child back into a diaper or use water-proof undies with a change of clothes handy. Limiting liquid intake beforehand wouldn't work.
Many people are judgemental about doing this. You may want to be descreet and not discuss it openly around other passengers, or even friends and family. I think flying with little ones can be tough and I belive strongly in doing what works for your family. Just be responsible about it.
Unaccompanied Minors and Children Flying Solo
The subject is flying with children but I do want to address those who are considering sending their children alone or as unaccompanied minors.
We call them "UM"s and the minimum age is usually five years old. On a few foreign companies, the age is 4 but this is rare. Not only is there the age minimum but many airlines restrict what flights and conditions with which they will be accepted. They may not allow connections, "Red-eye" flights and/or the last flight of the day, or the age minimum is older for these cases. The restrictions can get complicated and if there are several children flying together, usually they are restricted to the requirements of the youngest of the party. Be sure to read all rules before booking your child(ren) this way and usually, it is not possible to reserve for a UM over the net. You need to contact the airline or a travel agent to arrange this.
Most of the UM's I had on my flights were the children of divorced parents. This may be a requirement for travel already specified in the divorce so check if this is your situation. Some of these children were not too happy about making this journey and were not necessarily cooperative. You may want to explain this to an older child because they may observe that the airline staff are rather strict with them and advise them to not take this too personally.
Sending your child with these services is safe, reliable and taken very seriously by the airlines. I personally have never been put in a position to fly any of my children this way but I would not hesitate if I had to. I would not recommend this if it's your child's very first flight though but don't panic if you don't have a choice.
You must be present for check-in. Stay with your child until he or she heads for security with an assigned airline employee. Stay at the airport until the flight is listed as departed on the screen (or even better, if you can see it leave but unlikely at a bigger airport).
The person picking your child must be named and have identification. They do not have to be related but they do have to provide proof of who they are before your child is released to them. If you are sending your child to a school or camp, they probably have a procedure in place so ask.
Be aware that this is not a baby sitting service. They are escorted through the airport by an airline employee and have help with customs, immigration and paperwork formalities. When they get to the aircraft, they are handed over to the Flight Attendants who have their location marked on the passenger manifest. They keep an eye out for them, checking on them from time to time but these children aren't necessarily treated any differently than other young people on board. I recommend that your child be able to visit the restroom on his or her own without assistence as a meter of whether to send them alone.
On landing, they usually disembarked last and we "handed" them over to another dedicated airline employee to be taken through the airport either to their connection or whomever was meeting them at their destination. They may be given special instructions for landing, for example, to stay with a certain Flight Attendant and/or to wait until all the other passengers have disembarked.
What we did do is keep their passports on international flights and fill out any necessary paperwork. Please explain this to your child that this is the procedure and to not ask for their passports during the flight. Some would panic as they saw the paperwork being handed out and we would have to explain each time that we were doing it for them. Some argued and wanted to do it themselves. Sometimes I "cheated" and let them fill out a card for fun, telling them that I would add the passport number later.
Very rarely, and I've only heard of this in the Far and Middle East, there are companies which have actual escort (sorry, I can't think of a better word) services where an employee actually flies with the child. I have never seen this but I'm mentioning this as yet-another possibility. Also, please don't confuse this with a standard unaccompanied minor service but I imagine this to be a very costly option.
Rules for young fliers vary greatly from airline to airline. Most offer the UM service but not all, for example, some low cost companies don't. Since their bookings are done almost or exculsively on line, parents have mistakenly bought tickets only to find out that their child is too young to fly on their own with no option of sending them as UM's.
UM's can be as old as 16 or 17 years old. I did have quite a few on my flights that were that age. It's a good idea if for example, you are sending a teenager with younger siblings, if they have connections and/or are flying internationally. Making them all UM's means they stay together. Your teenager might be fine on their own but putting them in charge of younger children may be asking too much and the fee means they will have help with bags, paperwork, etc. Again, it may be a requirement if they are still a minor and flying between two divorced parents.
To fly completely on their own, without the UM service, they can be anywhere from 12-15 years old but the parents might be required to be present at check-in, possibly to sign something. I would still recommend following the procedures for a UM when letting your young one fly alone (staying at the airport, etc.)
There are also complications if say, you want to accompany your child yourself, on a separate reservation (i.e. if you are flying back earlier, having someone else bring them back, etc.) Do not reserve any part of the journey from any parties until you have straight what is and is not allowed. Unaccompanied minor fees can run as high as $100 so don't be requred to pay it if not necessary.
Try to avoid booking your child as an UM on an airline that doesn't speak his or her language. Most airlines only have one or two language speakers per flight and if they are in a different cabin of service and/or on break, your child may be left incommunicado for hours, not able to ask for a drink or where the restrooms are. They also will be able to watch the entertainment more easily if they are flying on a company that mostly speaks what they do.
We also called it "deplaning", a word you probably can't find in a dictionary.
If you can be the last off the plane, it's a good idea to do so. When a row empties near me, I send my walking kids there to get out of my way while I organize the gear and/or the non-walking child. The bottoms of the seats come up for cleaning and security purposes so I lift them up to make sure nothing is lost down there. I also take a good look at the floor and in all the seatpockets while the other passengers file off. If you are really having difficulties, see if you can "recruit" a nearby Flight Attendant. I'll send my children to them while organizing the last of my things. Remember that they cannot leave their doors on the ground but they can at least keep an eye on your children for a minute or two.
Make sure you have all your documents before leaving the aircraft. One in a while, they do check these at the door of a plane arriving internationally. They will only glance at them at that point and you will still have to go through immigration as usual. Be ready to whip them out and don't waste any time on the jetway, which can be very cold or hot depending on the weather.
If you are disembarking on to a jetway, don't feel obligated to pull out coats or take off sweaters in the heat. Just walk as quickly as possible into the climate-controlled terminal. By contrast, if you have to go down airstairs on to the tarmac, try to dress your children accordingly before leaving your seats.
After arrival at the gate, you'll know the door of the airplane is open when a new voice welcomes you to the airport again. Try to keep your kids from making too much noise at that moment because if there are any special announcements, either personal or about connections, they will be made at that time. If you missed it, or think you did, don't ask a crew member. Get off the plane and talk to one of the ground agents directly. A F/A could have misheard or missed it too while busy elsewhere. Look for the person with the piece of paper and/or the walkie talkie. Sometimes they have the same uniform as the crew but often it's slightly different.
If arriving in the States, all fresh food products have to be left behind. Just leave them in the seat. Don't waste time finding a trash basket. It wont be long on the seat, the cleaners will be right behind you and the trash bins are often full anyway. Even if you're leaving something a little more nasty (children often vomit on landing or maybe there was a scary diaper). It's actually better in plain view so they can dispose of it quickly. Everyone either wants to get on or off the plane at the end so don't delay the "exchange" with anything you don't need to do!
If you have requested any help or gate checked a stroller, ask which door you should exit. On the bigger aircraft, two doors are routinely used and passengers are hearded out of either. Don't just head out the closest one. Tell a Flight Attendant before you leave that you have a stroller waiting for you. If you go out the wrong door, you may find that you have to walk all the way around again.
Exiting the Airport
Once off the airplane, if it's international, head to immigration control as soon as possible. This can be grim with children but the people behind the booths are known to be cooperative. I was once put in the front of the line with a screaming child. If your family has different status', such as you are a citizen but your spouse is a visitor, ask but usually you can stay together. Have your documents ready and be polite.
For arrival in the U.S., sometimes after Customs and Immigration you can still be singled out for the dreaded agricultural check, even if you have nothing of interest for them. This is really not convenient with children but I've never been able to talk my way out of it. No one helps me, I'm alone with my children and they still had the nerve to complain about the way I put my bags on the belt. I asked them why they were singling out a solo mother with three small children to no avail. I asked them if I could take my children to my parents outside Customs so that I could complete this task more easily, to no avail. The complaint letter I wrote to the U.S. Agricultural Department was ignored.
Try to take care of any "needs" before leaving customs, or if that doesn't apply, while you are still in the secured area of the airport before loading yourself down with luggage. It's better to get through immigration first (again, if that applies) but use the restrooms before picking up the bags. If you have a stroller or other gear that you can't take in a normal stall, either use the handicapped cubicle or the go to the end of the row. I leave the door open and our things in sight. No one will venture in your direction if they clearly see your situation.
I have a terrible time keeping my toddlers away from the luggage belts. Smaller airports are the worst. These belts are dangerous and it is important to keep children away. Have one adult collect the bags while the other stays and keeps an eye on them. If alone and you have time, stand back and collect your things towards to the end of this ritual, when there are fewer people and perhaps you can get some help. People are more likely to offer help once they've collected their own bags first. The other problem I have are toddlers standing behind me while I'm hauling bags off the belt. I haven't knocked any out yet but we've had a few close calls. Keep them well away from other people doing the same. You don't save much time grabbing the bags early since there is probably a wait again at the exit
A general tip is to mark your bag with something really obvious like putting a really bright colored ribbon on it. Too many bags get mistaken and you're even more at risk if you're trying to identify your luggage and keep your eye on your children at the same time. Again this is a hassle for anyone but even worse if you're with little ones. Give yourself a little visual cue to make life easier. Other passengers are also less likely to grab your stuff as well.
I usually end up putting the folded stroller on the airport luggage cart once I claim all the checked luggage. The children walk I use a carrier for the little one.
Sometimes you can find porters in the baggage claim area, both inside Customs and in the baggage area for domestic flights. This is a recommendation from several parents who found this useful. I tried it once, not in an airport but at a ship port coming off a cruise. He even went and searched out a missing bag. Be sure to tip at least a dollar a bag or ask in advance what the custom and price is at your destination.
Spend as little time as possible in the airport once outside customs or security as this is, again, a public area. If you have a wait, restaurants are good places to camp out. Try to find somewhere "enclosed" as much as possible, away from the main doors. Most eating places at airports are sufficiently "child-friendly". Look for one that isn't too open if your children tend to wander.
If you're connecting, go directly towards your next gate, especially if you're changing terminals. You can often pass security again and wait for your next flight in the safer "airside" area. This also gets that pesky security ritual out of the way.
Be aware that your gate might not yet be posted or, again, the gate could change. As a general reminder, remember that some low-cost carriers do not automatically check through your bags so be prepared to repeat the entire process of checking in again from scratch. I did this alone with my three and it worked best to do it as soon as possible. Once you're "free" from the first flight, head to the counters again as soon as you can reasonably do so.
If someone is picking you up, better to come up with a rendez-vous point in the arrivals area than to try to find them in the crowds who tend to form at the exit. As I suggested earlier, you've asked your "party" to park the car and meet you in person rather than on the curb. You need to keep your eyes on your little one and can't scan the crowd properly. Don't even try. You could block other people trying to get out and those carts aren't that safe piled with luggage. Your greeters will probably spot you first. Get past the throng and move into an more open area where you can do your hello's in a more calm setting. If they're late, and you can contact them on a cell phone, tell them where you are and stay there.
When things didn't go as well as they should have...
If it didn't go well, and you believe it was the airline's fault, let them know. If it was a specific person, try to get their name. If you didn't manage to take note of it, give the exact time and place with a basic description. Yes, they do go back and check the rosters. I was once tracked down with only the flight number and described as "the blond with the braid". The letter didn't hold water so I was off the hook but I got to see how it was followed through.
Apparently, some airlines do not want their employees giving out their names and badges are no longer used. Just describe the person and perhaps mention where they were working.
You can't complain if you're breaking the rules and an employee lets you know this, unless they were rude about it. In that case, the complaint should center on the employee's conduct, not the rule at issue. You may want to first find out what rules apply in the incident so that you can better explain the problem. "Mistreatment" and applying any regulations are two separate issues and should get separate mentions if both occurred.
One complaint letter is very unlikely to get anyone fired but perhaps someone needs to have a word with the employee in question or a policy needs to be changed. Please do not tell the airline what to do with the person (i.e. "Fire her immediately!") which could sound patronizing. Just concentrate on clearly relating your story and let the facts stand on their own.
Suggestions, by contrast, would be welcomed. Could the employee have explained something more clearly? Could they have kept the passengers better informed about the delay?
Be clear and to the point. By all means, let them know that you were upset and how it affected your trip but keep that part brief. Get to the meaty facts about the incident so that they can get to the heart of the problem. Avoid quoting someone unless you're absolutely certain of theexact words used. Your letter will lose credibility with even slightly altered wording so avoid using those quotation marks if at all uncertain of exactly what was said.
Try to direct your letter to the correct authority. Do not direct complaints about the Agricultural check, for example, to your airline. If the complaint involved another company, i.e. security, over which the airline didn't have control, the airline should at least let you know this and even better, whom to contact. The the airline and airport security are usually different companies so give enough information that they know which one you're complaining about. It's better to address to the relevant company directly. The airline is more likely to take your complaint seriously. Be aware that security and agriculture complaints usually fall on deaf ears since they aren't "customer-driven".
But, by contrast, if you had a good flight, go ahead and tell the airline that as well. They find it helpful to know what works. Airlines pay extra attention to passengers in special situations like those flying with children. If it's a specific person, please name them. It really helps confirm a good work history or counter-balance a bad one. You could also help that person to secure promotions, special assignments, etc. in the future, not to mention, making their day!
I'm happy to answer any questions you might still have so feel free to email me. Please don't put them in the comments just because I don't check them often enough. Go ahead and email me directly. I also really, really encourge feedback, especially from flight attendants out on the line. I'm "eclipsepearl" on either gmail or hotmail so I look forward from hearing from you.
I want to thank the countless parents who have contributed to this article, including members of my own family, Jen, Melissa, Cheryl, Amanda and the rest of you, who know who you are!
Posted by Sharon at Monday, April 22, 2013