Tips and advice for flying with babies, toddlers and young children
The long international flight – or flights – is probably the most daunting and intimdating prospect of traveling with children. It needn’t be. Plan well and intelligently. Try to capture the excitement of being on a plane. Relax.
And if does take a turn for the worse, remember, it is going to end. It will be over and in the past and just a memory. So enjoy it. Or at least, try to live it. This is probably a big moment for your kids. Get caught up in their excitement too.
1. If you’re traveling as a solo parent with your kids - be sure to have the proper documentation. Crossing any border with kids but without both parents can raise suspicions with immigration officials obligated to enforce the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Be sure to have a permission to travel with children letter.
2. Take a taxi to the airport: Unless it is either prohibitively expensive or you’re leaving from a small local airport, a taxi makes things much easier. If you phone in advance you’ll have a set time to leave. It’s door to door. And when you arrive back home, it’s so much easier than finding your car, your keys, hoping you didn’t leave the lights on or that someone didn’t sideswipe it. Believe me I’ve done it both ways and this is how it should be done.
3. Get to the airport early (for your long international flights anyways). Probably pretty obvious, but when you have kids you might be tempted to swing a tighter schedule and limit the time in the airport. It is tempting and appealing. No doubt about it. But not worth it. Being in a hurry, while trying to negotiate so many details (tickets, bags, security, passports, boarding passes, food) is certain to add stress to an already demanding situation. This is part of your trip and can be fun and memorable in its own way – but not if you’re stressed and hurrying.
4. Pack some food and snacks. Mammals need food. (I saw this on the BBC.) You’re a mammal. Your kids are mammals. The airplane is the serengeti during dry season. You don’t know when your next meal is coming. Be prepared for anything.
5. Take milk if you think you might need it. A bit of a shocker here, but most airlines don’t carry or serve milk. If this is an important part of your childs diet grab some in the terminal before boarding the plane.
6. Bulkhead bassinet. This is an incredibly great setup – if you can get these highly coveted seats. It’s a sleeper that connects to the wall just in front of the bulkhead seats. Supposedly only good for kids under 6 months, we put our 8 month old in it and he was fine. He slept for almost 8 hours on a 12 hour flight from San Francisco to Taipei. It’s not just the ability to sleep that is a bonus, the extra room is great. It’s essentially a free seat. Phone the airline as soon as you’ve booked your tickets and ask about reserving them. Depending on the airplane there can be several different seats with access to a bassinet.
7. If you don’t get the bassinet you might consider taking a car seat on board, especially if you had already planned to take one on the trip. They sit in the seat just like in a car. I’m sure you’re aware of whether your child sleeps and relaxes in a car seat or gets antsy and annoyed, so I’ll leave that to you.
8. Ask for an infant safety belt. Most foreign airlines have an extra infant belt for lap-held babies that connects to the normal belt and loops around the child’s belly. (American airlines don’t seem to have them – or even know what they are.) Most injuries on planes result from being thrown around the cabin during unexpected turbulence. These belts, at least in theory, would seem to reduce the risk.
9. Don’t line up until you absolutely have to and try to be one of the last to board the plane. There are few advantages to getting on the plane first but there are plenty of costs. It’s best to stay out in the waiting room, let the kids roam, stretch, and burn off some energy. You’ll be cramped and congested on that plane for long enough — there’s no need to artificially extend that time. Board last and enjoy your freedom while you’ve got it.
10. Don’t take no for an answer from someone who isn’t authorized to say yes. Read that again. Profound isn’t it? OK, I heard it from a druggy trying to get some free needles at a drugstore, but still, it applies here. Try to relax. Go with the flow. Have fun. But if you feel slighted, you feel you haven’t gotten a fair shake, something’s not right – especially if it can make a big difference in the ease of your trip – raise some hackles, get to the bottom of it. And as the rule says, if an attendant says “no” it only means something if they had the authority to say “yes”.
11. Little known fact: You can have stuff put underneath the plane with the rest of the luggage at the gate (i.e. as you’re about to board the plane.) So anything big or awkward that you might need while in the airport but not during the flight (like a stroller), you can simply hand-off as you enter the plane. In the case of a car seat you can take it with you into the plane, talk to the attendants to see if there is a free seat for you to use it, and if not it goes underneath. Be sure to ask where to pick it up. Usually it will be sitting in the walkway as you exit the plane at your destination – not with the ticketed luggage on the carousel.
12. Play area at the airport. This is one of those things new parents notice and say to themselves “Has that play area always been there?” Most airports have something, so even if you think a certain terminal doesn’t, ask at information or with your airline’s staff.
13. Relax. It’s said so much, you’re likely to write this off, but “really” Relax. Taking off in a plane shouldn’t be anymore stressful for an infant, toddler or preschooler than going on an amusement park ride, and you sure wouldn’t be planning coping mechanisms and packing stuff to distract a child on a trip to Disneyland. If they have a cold or congestion, then yes, giving them a bottle or soother during take off and landing is a good idea. But if you build the airplane ride up into something big and intimidating then it will probably seem big and intimidating to your child. Make it fun!