Travelling With Toddlers On Long Haul Flights

Even under the best of circumstances, air travel can be stressful these days. Packing, arriving at the airport on time, getting through security, and dealing with flight delays can wear on you. Add an infant to the scenario, and it can be even more taxing, but proper preparation can ease the process for everyone.

ADVANCE PREPARATION

The best approach for parents flying with infants is to start preparing early. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has strict rules for air travelers, especially those with babies and children, and many airlines tack on a few additional ones of their own.

Check with your carrier for their specifics. It will make your trip much easier if you understand and follow the rules.

Choosing Your Flight

  • Whether you’re traveling alone or with children, you should pre-book your flight as far in advance as possible.  In addition to the cost savings, having seat assignments made and boarding passes printed off from your home computer before you leave will save lots of time and hassle when you reach the airport.
  • It’s not easy getting through to airlines by phone these days, but it is a good idea to call the airline you plan to use and ask questions. The best airfares tend to be online, so do your research before you call. They may match the price for you, but be aware that some airlines charge a premium for booking by phone.
  • Let the airline know you are traveling with an infant. They might offer a discount if you are purchasing an extra seat for the baby. You will need to reserve a window seat and bring your own FAA-approved car seat for the baby.  (See “Packing” below.)
  • Traveling with the baby on your lap? For safety reasons, we don’t recommend this option. If you must, consider bringing along a comfortable baby sling for added comfort and security. Be sure to check with your airline carrier first since some restrict using these in flight.
  • Although it’s not all that common unless you are traveling internationally, you may still need a ticket for a baby you hold on your lap.
  • Check to see if the airline will offer an infant luggage allowance. You’ll need it, especially if you are bringing along a stroller. Most airlines charge a pretty hefty fee for extra checked luggage.
  • Consider your baby’s routine, and try to avoid connecting flights. If you are traveling internationally across time zones, you might also want to try to start adjusting your baby’s schedule slowly several days before you fly.
  • You can check the on-time records of the airlines and flights you are considering through an online tool like FlightStats.com, which also offers great information about real-time airport and flight status.
  • Don’t panic if you aren’t able to pre-book your seats—or at least not the seats you want. Just give yourself time to check in with the ticketing or gate agent at the airport when you get there.

Essential Paperwork

  • Make sure the baby is covered under any travel insurance you may have. (Check to see if your credit card company offers this automatically for using your card to book your flight, or you can purchase insurance separately.)
  • If you are traveling without your baby’s other parent, it’s a good idea to have something in writing that you have permission to do so. It’s also a good idea to carry a copy of the baby’s birth certificate or some other form of identification with you that proves you are the parent or legal guardian.
  • When traveling outside of the U.S., you will likely need a passport for the baby. This can be a time-consuming process, so be sure to apply several weeks in advance of your trip. Visit the U.S. Department of State website or check with your local post office on how to apply.

Packing

  • Start jotting down your packing list well in advance and count on making adjustments. Last minute packing leads to lots of stress and forgotten necessities.
  • For items such as clothing, food, and diapers, consider how long you are staying and whether you will have access to laundry facilities and stores at your destination.
  • Pack a small carry-on bag of essentials that will fit in front of your seat for easy access. Include diapers, wipes, a blanket, a change of clothes, food, and a plastic bag for trash and dirty diapers. Add some extras (especially diapers) in case of delays or cancellations, as well as a few first aid items.
  • If possible, leave bulky items at home. Check into whether you can rent strollers at your destination, and ask about availability of a playard or crib when you make your hotel reservation. You may also want to ask the age and vendor of these items, so you can make sure that these items are up to current standards.
  • If you bring a stroller, you’ll need to check it, so bring a sturdy bag to protect it from the rest of the cargo. Find out beforehand if your airport will let you can keep the stroller with you until boarding, but keep in mind that you may not have time to put it in its protective cover if you gate check it. Consider checking it upon arrival at the airport and switching to a baby sling.
  • Bring your own car seat if you will be traveling by car at your destination. Because you can’t always tell the quality or whether a used or rental car seat may have been damaged or in an accident, you could be putting your baby’s safety at risk.
  • If you are planning to use your car seat on the plane, it must be clearly labeled as FAA-approved for air travel. Car seats can be cumbersome and difficult to install, and flight attendants are not allowed for liability reasons to help you, so be sure to carefully review your manufacturer’s instructions before the trip.
  • Plan for yourself, too! Wear shoes that you can easily slip off and on at security and loose fitting, comfortable clothes. Bring a change of clothes in case the baby makes a mess, and pack some snacks like protein bars or fruit for a healthy pick-me-up.

AT THE AIRPORT

On average, it’s recommended that you arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before check-in. Depending on the airport, weather, time of day, and other variables, the time it takes you to go through security can be much shorter—or longer.

Since you will be traveling with extra “gear” give yourself extra time. It will be much easier on you and your little one to wait awhile longer at the gate than get stuck in a long line at security and risk missing your flight.

Checking In

Even if you printed your boarding passes at home, you will still need to check your bags. There are three ways to do this:

  1. Check them with a skycap, usually your quickest option. Many airports now charge a fee for this service or recommend a tip of $2 per checked item.
  2. See an agent at the ticket counter. (This is separate from the security check-in.) This is a good option if you have last minute questions, and want to get or change your seat assignment.
  3. Self-serve kiosks. Although these are quick and convenient when traveling light, they can be the least attractive option for traveling with a baby, because you will often still be responsible for taking your own check-in luggage to the x-ray area.

Airport Security

OK, you’re ready to pass through security, which is often one of the most frustrating aspects of air travel due to long lines and strict rules about what items are allowed through security and brought onboard the airplane.

The TSA’s website does a good job of explaining how to get through airport security with infants and children. The videos on their site are short and worth the time.

There are also plenty of other great websites that will help dissect the TSA information even further, including JetWithKids.com, which even the TSA recommends.

At The Gate

  • If you have questions or still need to change your seat assignment, get in line to talk with the gate agent. If not, use this time to fold up your stroller, prepare to place your baby in its sling, and wait for boarding instructions to be announced.
  • If you haven’t purchased an extra ticket and the flight isn’t full, the gate agent may allow you to take your FAA-approved car seat onboard and use it in a spare seat.
  • As a traveler with a small child, you will usually be given the option to board the plane before general boarding. Take advantage of this “early boarding” opportunity. It will provide you with extra time to get you, your baby and your gear settled on the plane before the rush.
  • Before you stow your carry-on under the seat, pull out a pacifier, toy and other items that you might need to soothe your baby. Sucking on a pacifier can also help to relieve any ear pain your baby might experience during the flight, especially during take-off and landing.

You’ve made it! Now, take a deep breath and get ready for baby’s first flight.

Have you taken a flight with an infant? How did it go? What other helpful hints can you share with new parents preparing for their first flight with their baby? Please share them here

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