As I’m sure you can imagine, flying with little ones in tow (or leading the way!) adds a few more dimensions than traveling solo or (with adults.) With some preparation, though, the journey can be a great adventure within itself:
Planning your trip:
When booking your flights, be sure to allow more than enough time for layovers if changing planes will be necessary. This might sound like an obvious one, but really give your flight times some thought. What happens if you miss a connection? Will there be another flight that day? Spending some extra time keeping your kids entertained at the terminal could be much better than missing a flight altogether, so research your options and don’t cut it too short.
In selecting seats, would you rather be near the front of the plane so you don’t have to lug everything as far down the aisle or would it be more important to you to be near the bathroom so you can get there quickly? Or so that you can send a child by himself and still be nearby?
Some families love the bulkhead seats. These are the seats just behind a wall and do not have seats directly in front of them. These are great for playing on the floor and for extra legroom, but in those seats you must stow everything overhead for takeoff and landing.
Are you buying everyone a ticket or will your children under 2 sit on your lap? We travel with a carseat for anyone who is under the age of 2 and has his or her own ticket. Lugging that thing down the row is not pleasant, but it keeps the baby safer and more comfortable (and comfort often leads to sleep J ).
Typically you do not have to buy a ticket for a child under the age of 2 years if you will be holding him or her on your lap the entire time… but how long is the flight? Do you really want to hold your child that long? If there are empty seats, often the airline will put that seat next to you for your child, but this is never a guarantee. If you decide not to buy a ticket and hope there is an empty seat, ask at check-in and then again at the gate. If there is a chance for an empty seat, keep your carseat until you are at the gate… you can always gate check it if a seat does not open up next to you. You do need to let the airline know you are traveling with an infant, even if you don’t buy him a ticket.
If a meal will be served, contact your airline in advance and request a child’s meal so you have a better shot at kid-approved food. If a meal will not be served, be prepared with snacks or a meal to carry on. You cannot bring drinks (or other liquids) from outside of the airport with you.
Dress all kids in comfortable clothes with shoes that come off and on easily so you can get through the security line faster. Tying all those shoes can take awhile when people are behind you waiting to get by! The security checkpoint can be a little intimidating, especially when there are lots of travelers waiting in line while you get the kids ready to go through. Familiarize yourself with the guidelines and be prepared to fold your stroller. http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/prohibited/permitted-prohibited-items.shtm
If only one adult is flying, consider calling your airline to see if whoever is taking you to the airport can walk you to your gate and/ or meet you at the gate upon arrival. (Usually they can by leaving their driver license at the ticket counter.)
Time to fly:
Just before boarding, make it a requirement for everyone to go to the bathroom and/ or change diapers. You can never be sure when you’ll be able to get to the bathroom on the plane.
Take advantage of the opportunity to pre-board so you can get settled. Some parents prefer to board last, so their kids aren’t on the plane as long, but I have found that boarding early makes it easier to get down the aisle to the seats and it gives me more time to get everyone settled.
If you are traveling with an infant, consider delaying his or her feeding until take-off. If you can make your child suck during take-off and landing, you can relieve the pressure in her ears. Often I would keep the baby in a sling, nursing until we reached our cruising altitude, then I would make the transfer to seat or bassinet.
If your seats are not together, be as polite as possible with the agents at check in and at the gate. They will understand your situation and help you as they can. If it is not possible for them to put you together, board during pre-boarding and ask the flight attendants on board to help you ask other travelers to relocate.
Prepare your kids for the trip. Let them know what to expect in terms of the flight and let them know what you expect from them in terms of their behavior. If it is their first time, read books about airplanes and get them excited for that part of the adventure. As you board and walk by the cockpit, point it out to them.
And remember, your kids’ attitude often is a reflection (and magnification) of your own. Try to get your “game face” on and look for the fun in flying… Potentially frustrating things WILL happen. Your reaction to them is what will determine the tone of your trip. Be ready to go with the flow.
And remember, no matter what happens on the plane or in the airport, you will most likely never see all those people again. So manage your family as best you can and stop worrying about what everyone else thinks. (But do try to be friendly to those around you. That way, if your child does do something crazy or offensive, it won’t be received as poorly.)
Special notes for long-haul flights:
Larger planes have bassinets for babies 20 pounds or less. If you are traveling internationally with a baby, ask about a bassinet when you book your flight. Ask again when you check in at the airport.
I typically pack a small rolling suitcase with extra clothes, diapers and snacks beyond what I would normally bring as a back up. This suitcase goes in the overhead bin and typically stays there the whole flight. By packing all my extras separately, they don’t take up valuable space in the regular carry-on, yet I still have what I might need, say, in the event of an extra 4 hours on the runway before take-off. Check with your airline so you know how much you can carry on. And if you will be changing airlines, check all of their policies.
If you intend to give your child any type of sleep aid, talk you your pediatrician first.
Consider where you are going when trying to determine how to manage jet lag. I try to get everyone on the new schedule as quickly as possible. When flying east, I try to get the kids to sleep on the plane so they will be as ready as possible for a full day upon arrival. When returning to the States flying west, I try to only let them nap so they will go to bed at nighttime when we arrive home.
Like I said, I hope this helps! If you have any suggestions for what has worked for you, please leave a comment. I’m always looking for good advice!