Flying with small children could be exhausting and incredibly stressful but it doesn’t have to be. We just need to think like a child. Preparation is the key element to any stress free trip. Take more than you need and start early. Prepare your children by talking to them. Tell them what you expect from them in terms of behaviour. Set out some incentives for good behaviour. Such as a treat. My son loves comics and will do almost anything to earn one. Candy is probably a bad idea, a sugar high is the last thing you need.
For slightly older children you might want to consider an airport allowance that allows them to buy something to take on the flight. Airports can be overwhelming for little ones, so prepare them for it by telling them it is an exciting place, not a scary one. Give them something to look forward to by telling them where you are going and why.
Time, lots of extra time, that’s my secret. Arrive early and just take it slow.
Here are a few tips to help smooth the way to a trouble and tear free trip.
For shorter or domestic trips:
- Try to book a flight in off peak periods, domestically that will be Monday – Wednesdays.
- Pack plenty of entertainment. Depending on your child’s age you may want to pack books, small board or card games or an electronic game.
- Pack a favorite snack and drink.
- Little ones may get earache from the changing air pressure, especially on take off and landings. Make sure you have bottle (with teat) ready for a baby to drink or a juice for a toddler to sip on. You may want to consider ear filters to buffer some of the noise. Hard candy or gum are great too for older children. The continuous swallowing will help relieve the pressure.
- If possible seat children by the window. It is not only fun to look out but is safer. Little arms and legs could get bumped by other passengers as they walk past.
- Always pack more than you need in case of delays, more diapers, juice, snacks…, you never know how long a delay may be. Better safe than sorry. Also remember that once you are on board you won’t have a corner store to run to if you run out of baby wipes or diapers, so come prepared.
For longer or international trips:
- All the rules for domestic flights will apply to international flights but here are one or two more.
- Again bring lots of entertainment and activities. The list is endless so go with what your child loves best.
- Remember those little ears.
- Consider a toy rotation throughout the flight. Bring out one toy and when your little one tires of it, bring out another. This way they are engaged and stimulated all the way through the flight.
- Remember that there are a good number of passengers and only so many toilets aboard a flight. Try to time your visits before meal times. It is a good idea to ask your flight attendant when they are serving meals. The rush is typically after meals and movies and you want to avoid the lines.
- Consider asking for your child’s meal to be served first. This way you can help your little one and only eat your meal when it is delivered with the rest of the passenger meals.
- Let’s face it airline food is not necessarily what your child will enjoy. Either take along many of his favorite snacks or ask the airline if they serve special children meals and book this ahead of time. Sometimes the vegan meals are better suited.
- Bring your own sippy cup and pour juices in it to avoid spills.
- A child should always be reassured that he will get all his belongings back when you reach your destination. A common stress factor for children is seeing their luggage being checked.
- A very important point to talk to your child about prior to arriving at the airport, is to make sure he understands that joking about guns and bombs is not allowed. The FAA will consider a child’s comments seriously and this may result in fines and delays.
- Never take your eyes off your child and always make sure you have a plan if you are separated. It is a good idea to have your contact information pinned to your child. This way another adult can phone your cell phone or call you over an intercom system to alert you of your child’s whereabouts.
- If you think you are going to be overwhelmed with baggage and other distractions it is ok to consider a child tether. This is a great tool when you have to take your eyes off your child to claim or check baggage.
- Carry a recent photograph of your child and a list of his weight, height and medical needs (if any). Consider taking a photo with your phone as you arrive at the airport, this way you can show authorities what he is wearing on that particular day.
- The TSA (Transportation Security Officer) is required to search everybody prior to boarding an aircraft. This includes babies. TSA staff are trained to approach children with care to avoid any anxiety. If your child is upset the TSA officer should consult with you to find a way to calmly search your child with the minimum amount of stress. They will not separate you at any time.
- If you are not sure about medical requirements such as vaccinations or medications, then check in with the Center for Disease Control for a detailed list of requirements and great advice. You might find you need extra vaccinations for the destination you are travelling to. An example is Yellow Fever vaccinations, these are typically required in Africa.
The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) advises that little children be seated in a Child Restraint System (CRS). They are talking about a car seat or booster. Their advise is based on weight as in:
- Rear facing car seat for babies weighing less than 20lbs
- Forward facing car seat or booster for children weighing 20 – 40 lbs
- The airline seat belt for children weighing more than 40lbs