Asked in Child SafetyFamily Travel
What is some advice for airplane travel with children?
April 08, 2016 8:00PM
- Fly on red-eyes for long trips. Your child should sleep. Be sure there is someone else to care for him/her when s/he wakes the next day, because you will be beat.
- Use car seats on planes. Safety aside, children are used to sitting still or sleeping in them, so that they will put up with the confinement better.
- Board the plane at the last possible moment. You may choose to pre-board one person with the gear, but put the child on the plane at the last possible moment.
- Bring lots of finger foods.
- Have babies nurse/drink a bottle for takeoff and landing. Feed dry foods during the flight, so the child will be thirsty upon landing.
- Bring one or two new toys for long flights.
- Get the bulkhead. The extra leg room can be used for the child to play on the floor or sleep (infants only). The disadvantages come in that you don't have a tray--and if the child is on the floor, you have to curl your feet up in your lap or lean them against the wall in front of you. But by-and-large I have always preferred the bulkhead to seats further back.
- Preboard. A lot of people will advise against this, because it means you are on the plane longer. However, on a busy flight, without preboarding you may not be able to put your baggage in the overhead directly above you, in which case getting at the diaper bag, etc., is much more difficult.
- If possible, get a layover on long cross country flights. Two 2-hour flights with lots of time to run around and play in the airport (and, of course, buy a new toy for the next leg of the trip) are far easier than one 4-hour flight. You must balance this with the possibility of ear discomfort caused by ascent and descent, as discussed below.
- Don't feed your child pickles for lunch before a flight (;-)
- A lot of the fussiness and crying that children display on airplanes is the result of boredom, but some of it can be from the pain and discomfort from air pressure changes. Go to your pharmacy and get some children's earplugs and Sudafed (and Dramamine). I like to use Ear-planes when I travel, and it is available in a children's size. These are made just for preventing ear pain when flying, and I think they are a God-send. The Sudafed is used to thin and reduce mucus, and it can thus help your child's ears adjust faster; the Dramamine will not only prevent air sickness, but it also puts the child to sleep :). If you can manage it with you child (depending on age, activity level, time of flights. etc.), take a long flight rather than many short ones. The fewer times they go up and down, the easier on the ears. Balance this with the advantage of having the child run around between flights.
- Buy a ticket for your baby, and bring a car seat on board. Not only is does a car seat enhance safety (especially during rough turbulence), but it's almost impossible to deal with a squirming baby for long trips. Our trip was 13 hours flight time, and it wouldn't have been manageable without a car seat.
- Put the car seat in the window position, so that you can use the other two seats to change diapers (assuming both parents are traveling together). This made things so much easier than trying to figure out how to change a dirty diaper in the cramped lavatory space.
- Order special meals for each leg of the journey, in flights that provide meals. Not only will you get something of usually higher quality than most, but you will get your food first! That is a real plus when you have a hungry child on your hands.
- Bring a bag full of new or seldom-seen toys or books for entertainment. We wrapped each toy and book so that there would be at least a few seconds of entertainment in unwrapping the toy. We doled out a new toy or book whenever Dylan seemed to get really restless.
- Bring a thermometer and a full bottle of infant Tylenol (or whatever you use to reduce temperature) that has *not* expired. We found out the hard way that the bottle we normally keep in our diaper bag had already expired.
So here's what you do: When you make your reservation tell them that you are traveling with an infant. The bulkhead seats (up front in economy, behind the first class section) that babies usually wind up in are not assigned until the day of check-in on most airlines, but if you tell them early they will have it in their record on the computer. Bulkheads are really not necessary for an infant; they become important when your child gets to the age where smacking the head of the person in the seat ahead of them would be amusing. On the other hand, there is a little more floor space in that row and you can use it for a changing area. The other way to do a change is to flip up the arms on the seats--you will get more than enough room for an infant.
If you make your reservations directly with the airline, call them at off-peak hours. They will be under less pressure and will be able to spend lots of time answering your questions. They are usually staffed 24 hours a day.
Request a flight that has low traffic--don't get on a flight out of Cleveland at 5pm on a Friday; it will be packed. The reason to stay off a heavy flight will become apparent below.
If there are two adults and one child traveling, request a window seat and an aisle seat in the same row with an empty seat in between. Most airlines will do this for you. That middle seat will be about the last one to be filled, because nobody wants to sit next to a potentially screaming baby in a packed row.
Get to the airport good and early (an hour or so before takeoff), and ask the ticket agent how heavily the plane is loaded, and find out if anyone was placed in the middle seat. If the flight is lightly booked and no one is sitting in the middle seat, you should have no trouble wandering onto the plane and using your car seat. If someone does show up to claim the seat, you can pop the car seat in the overhead bin and hang on to junior.
I fly in and out of Boston a lot. The ticket counter people are always taking a lot of guff from the customers. If you approach them pleasantly and politely, and you present your requests with an attitude of being happy with whatever you get, they will generally do their best to help you out--you could be the best customer that they will see all day.
If breastfeeding, when you get on (preboard) have a stewardess get you a blanket. My wife nursed our son on the plane with a blanket over him and no one was the wiser. It might help at takeoff and landing.
Be friendly with the people sitting around you. Introduce yourself and introduce your child; most people like babies, but some just don't know it. If your child starts to cry and they have seen you to be a pleasant individual, they will tend to be sympathetic rather than annoyed.
Knowing what I know about lap children and air travel is absolutely maddening. They have ZERO chance of survival in even the most minor incident. It should be illegal!
As far as the car seat--it is Federal law that the car seat be placed in the window seat (so don't get angry when we tell you to do so). If we have to evacuate passengers, the seat must not block anyone's access or slow down the process. It also must not be placed in the emergency exit row, or in the rows forward or behind it.