Flying With Children in the 21st Century


While we’ve done a number of articles about traveling with children, most of them relate to our experiences with our own children.

Many of our suggestions still apply – take (non-messy) snacks and small toys and books – put them in plastic zipper bags inside their backpacks. Don’t try to pack too much in a day – allow time for naps and downtime.

Alternate  your interests and theirs – nothing beats a stop at a playground or just a grassy park where they can run around and work off excess energy. Bring along special surprise treats for each day.

But travel in the 21st Century, and airline travel in particular, involves some challenges we didn’t face. We all know now that liquids, gels and aerosols must be in 3.4 ounce (100 ml) or smaller containers and enclosed in a quart-sized zipper plastic bag.

But if you’re traveling with an infant, “medically required liquids,” which include breast milk, baby formula and food, are allowed in “reasonable quantities” for the flight. You must tell the TSA agent at the beginning of the screening process though. Those medically required liquids will be subjected to additional screening, which might include opening the container.

by Imbuga via wikimedia commons

At this time, in the US, you are not required to taste the liquid (which was previously required in some areas). However, in other countries, this requirement is still used sometimes. So the best advice is take only what your baby will require on that flight in your carry-on. Pack anything else in your checked luggage.

Another bit of advice – use powdered formula in one of those plastic containers with dividers for each serving, and purchase water after you’ve passed the security screening area.

If your child is older and uses a sippy cup or sports bottle, either pack it empty, with the cap off, or empty it before entering the security area, then fill it after you’ve entered the secure area.

Car seats are another challenge when you’re flying with children. Kids over the age of two years (beginning with their birthday!) are required to have a purchased seat on air carriers.

And even before two, it’s much safer for your child to be in her car seat, strapped into her seat. Be sure to take a copy of your child’s birth certificate – some airlines require it to prove your child is under two.

There are suggestions for attempting to get an extra (free) seat for “lap babies” – book every-other-seat, or book the window and aisle seat and hope no one books the center seat. If someone does show up, ask if they’d like to switch, and the parent in the aisle seat can move to the center seat. (We actually did this on our trip to Hawaii, and it worked well for us. But that was before the time of smaller, packed airplanes.)

Getting a car seat through the airport requires a great deal of patience and pre-planning. I’ve seen kids riding in car seats strapped to other luggage, and this seems to work sometimes. And if you have an infant carrier with the handle, it’s not as much of a problem.

But there are products now specifically designed for this. There’s a company called Lilly Gold that sells a car seat that doubles as a stroller as well as a luggage carrier specifically designed to hold a car seat, turning it into a stroller. While these items carry hefty price tags, they can also be used for every day, so especially if you travel a lot, it might be a worthwhile purchase.

There’s also a company called Trunki that sells ride-on suitcases for toddlers. It looks like a fun item that can ease some of the whining while standing in a line as well as offer a “fast” ride for the little one who’s hanging on and being pulled by Mom or Dad!

Because I was intrigued by this product, I had an online chat with one of their reps and was glad to hear that they are now available in the US, but are manufactured in the UK. Some previous versions were produced in another country and distributed here by a US company, and the reviews were less than stellar.

by Zhanyanguange via wikimedia commons

But now they’ve redesigned them and returned their production to the UK. To get the redesigned version, you have to order directly from their website, but they’re shipped from their warehouse in New Jersey, so shipping costs are minimal.

Other suggestions are to book non-stop flights whenever possible, and if you must change planes, be sure to stay at the same airport rather than having to rush across town to catch the next flight. Read all the small print, and if you have questions, call the airline directly.

If you’re a Frequent Flyer, check with your provider to see if children are allowed in their lounge. It can be a great place to get away from the madhouse of the terminal, and some even have playgrounds now as well as snack offerings.

Even if you’re not a Frequent Flyer, or if you’re not interested in the lounge, many airports are including playgrounds in their waiting areas. Look for them, and take advantage of this option when you can.

If you are traveling with a group, think about booking seats on two rows, one in front of the other. That way, you can place squirmy toddlers where the seat they kick will not be one occupied by a stranger.

Carry wipes, of course, but you might also think about the new paper towel product that has dishwashing liquid actually already on it. You can pack a few dry ones, or dampen them, and put them in a zipper plastic bag. While they’re very soapy when wet, they would be great for washing bottles or other baby items. You might need to pack some plain damp paper towels too. to wipe off the suds!

Be especially cautious about water wherever you are. Some water that’s safe for washing your hands might not be as safe for mixing a formula bottle, or washing a pacifier. On an airplane, you can ask a flight attendant if he or she will rinse it in hot water, just to be sure.

by Mattes via wikimedia commons

But please be considerate of the flight crew – they can’t be making bottles or warming them when they’re trying to serve a meal. It might be better to get your little one accustomed to drinking a room-temperature bottle a couple of weeks before your trip.

Your kids probably already have plenty of electronic devices they can watch for entertainment. But you should also have child-sized earphones – they’ll actually fit them, and neighbors won’t be disturbed. If you’re traveling internationally, be sure to include appropriate plug adapters for other countries, so charging them won’t be a problem. Nothing like having a bag-full of things they can’t use because you forgot the chargers!

Perhaps the best travel tip of all is to check directly with the specific air carrier you will be using, ask for an email confirmation, print it out, and take it with you. Each airline is different and has different rules and regulations. And each country is different, with its own requirements.

And remember that if there is a dispute, the flight attendant gets the final vote. You don’t want to be put off an airplane because your child is over two years old and you didn’t buy a ticket (they might require you to purchase a full-price, one-way ticket), or your car seat won’t fit in the seat, or there’s not an extra seat available but you’ve already strapped the baby into someone else’s seat.

Traveling with children is one of the greatest experiences you can give them. Planning ahead will make it enjoyable for all of you!

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