Flying With Babies and Toddlers: Five Tips (Includes a Plane Travel Packing Checklist)
“Sorry, m’am, you can’t take this through security. We’ll have to dispose of it.”
The subject under scrutiny was not a knife, water gun, or even a bottle of pop; it was applesauce.
I didn’t realize that you can’t take liquid food through the security line that is not packaged as baby food. Baby food is okay, individual packages of apple sauce are not. I wish I would have known beforehand, my daughter’s breakfast ended up being confiscated by Homeland Security. We ended up buying her a cup of yogurt on the other side of security, but all the hassle could have been avoided.
If you are flying with your baby or toddler for the first time, or just need a refresher, here are a few tips for the trip.
1. Be prepared for the security line.
As demonstrated by the example above, the hoops you have to jump through for the security line merit an article all their own, but let’s just cover the basics.
You are allowed one carry-on item per ticketed passenger, plus a purse or diaper bag. If your baby has their own seat, you can take along an extra carry-on for them, but I prefer to keep things as simple as possible. I combine the necessities from my purse and diaper bag with some extra items needed for the flight in one backpack- with a lot of compartments. This means less to carry, less to go through in the security line, and one bag that you can keep stowed under the seat in front of you on your flights, thus having it close at hand.
Liquids are not allowed through security because the ingredients for explosive devices can be smuggled through the x-ray machine this way. However, there is an exception for breast milk, formula, and baby food. Baby food needs to be in baby food packaging, preferably with any safety seals still intact. If you want to go through the trouble of pumping and carrying along your breast milk, you’ll need to carry this in a small cooler so that it stays sanitary. If you are at all comfortable with it, I would recommend just using the breast milk that is already inside of you at the right temperature and breastfeed your baby on the plane. For formula, buy one of the handy formula containers and dispensers for traveling, take empty bottles or liners, and buy a bottle of water once you are through the security line.
The only other liquids you can take through the line must be in containers less than four ounces and all fit into one quart sized baggie, you are allowed one baggie per ticketed passenger. I take diaper cream, hand lotion, hand sanitizer, and baby pain reliever in one quart sized baggie easily.
When you approach the security line, remove your jacket and shoes and place them in the provided plastic caddy along with your baggie of liquids. Your baby or toddler also needs their shoes removed and placed in the caddy. (I know, that’s ridiculous, but just go along with it.) If you are taking your stroller to the gate, you will also need to fold up your stroller to go through the x-ray machine. This brings us to our next tip-
2. Take a stroller.
Even if you are flying out of a small airport and landing at another small airport, you will most likely change planes at one of the nation’s airline hubs, which means you will probably end up walking a long distance from one gate to the other. Don’t take a chance. If you have an infant younger than six months, you could take along a front carrier to transport them between flights instead. But if your child is over fifteen pounds, a stroller is hardly even an option.
You can take your stroller through the security line to your gate and usually right down the jet way. The airline employees will instruct you on specifics, but usually they tag your stroller, give you the perforated attachment as a receipt, and instruct you to leave your stroller at the airplane door. When you get on the airplane, your stroller will be loaded after all the checked baggage. When you get off your plane, your stroller should be sitting in or at the end of the jet way waiting for you. If it’s not there, they will bring it to you within five minutes.
Personally, I recommend taking your extra stroller, or one you bought at a second-hand store or garage sale. The airlines do not guarantee the protection of your stroller since it’s not checked baggage. And since the handlers do often transfer luggage roughly, you run the risk of your stroller getting bumped, bent, or scratched. For children who can sit up, an inexpensive umbrella stroller is a perfect option.
3. At the gate
Depending on how early you arrive for your flight, how long it takes you to get through security, and if your airplane is running on time, you may have anywhere from a few minutes to an hour to sit at your gate and wait to board. This is a great time to let your baby or toddler crawl or walk around. If you are concerned about germs- of which there are many when you are traveling- get out an antibacterial wipe and wipe off their hands every few minutes. But considering that your child is going to be stuck in one seat for a lengthy amount of time, use this opportunity to let them move. Bring along one or two toys that are fun to move around with, such as small cars or a ball. Let your child be free and play before being confined.
- 29 Kid Games to Play On the Go
Simple games while waiting- of which there is a lot when traveling.
Change your baby’s diaper immediately before boarding the plane. There is not a good place to change babies on an airplane, so make sure you start the flight clean. Pack a spare outfit for baby, and a spare shirt for you, in case baby overflows their diaper. Also include a few empty baggies and maybe even an empty plastic bag in your carry-on. These will be handy for disposing of dirty diapers or storing dirty clothes until you arrive at your destination. I once had to change my daughter’s diaper and outfit (after a “blow out”) in the jet way immediately before boarding a plane. I was relieved I had packed for emergencies.
As for boarding for your flight, the airline will offer passengers who need assistance or who are traveling with small children the chance to board first. If you would like to be seated and get settled before other passengers, by all means, take this opportunity. I personally prefer to wait till all rows have been called and the announcement is being made for final boarding. This means less time your children will be strapped in one spot in a small space. Your seat is assigned already, so there really is no reason to rush.
4. In the air
Most parents know this, but your child needs to be swallowing while ascending and descending in the plane, due to the change in air pressure. For babies this means nursing or giving them a bottle at the beginning and end of the flight. A pacifier will even work, or sips of water from a cup. For a toddler, you can give them bite sized snacks intermittently, such as Cheerios, or even a sucker. (If your baby sleeps while ascending or descending, they most likely will not notice the change. If they do and wake up, simply give them something to eat or drink.)
In the area of having activities to do while in the air, I cannot overemphasize having a lot of options. Take along some of your child’s favorite small toys for the flight, for added interest, put these toys away a week or two before your trip; your child will be delighted to see them again when they are pulled out. Unfortunately, toys that make a lot of noise, although interesting to your child, are not a good idea for flying. They’ll be almost as annoying to other passengers as a crying child.
Sandra, a mom of three daughters in Illinois, recommends heading to a dollar store and getting a few small toys and trinkets your child has never seen before. Pull one of these surprises out when you sense a climax of boredom approaching. Heather, mother of four in Minnesota, says that Magna Doodles or etch-a-sketches are great plane toys. She also recommends walking up and down the aisles with your child if they absolutely need to move.
Snacks are also a great use of time. Have small travel cups or baggies with a variety of healthy finger-food snacks for your baby or toddler. Consider taking along a few special treats for when you really need something to divert their attention, for my daughter that would be fruit snacks or a lollipop.
Coloring books and crayons are wonderful activities on a flight, as is simply reading books. Once you have your variety of activities and snacks assembled, Deborah, mother of four in south Texas, recommends separating them into large baggies to save on mess and keep things accessible and organized. Every half hour, she says, simply pull out a new bag.
As a backup, a travel DVD player, MP3 player, or iPod can keep children entertained easily. If you board the plane, and simply plug your child into some form of media entertainment, you are cheating them out of much of the fun of plane travel; however, these mediums are great helpers when all other options have run out and you both need some peace. Don’t forget the headphones!
5. Take along your sense of humor!
In the end, take a deep breath and enjoy the trip. Some day you’ll look back fondly on these trips (I promise!) Thousands of parents do this every day, and you can do it too! Prepare yourself in advance that there may be a few rough patches, but you will get to your destination and if you stay calm and take it easy, your whole family will have a much easier travel experience.
6. …One bonus tip
You may have noticed a left the topic of where your child can sit completely out of my advice. This is because I know this is a very hotly debated topic and, I believe, one that is very personal. It is within airline safety guidelines to hold a child in your lap who is younger than two years old. You may also buy them their own seat on the plane, and bring their car seat for them to sit in. Weigh your options and the facts, and make the decision that is best for your family.
As far as safety goes, air travel is not the same as car travel. Air planes are infinitely safer than cars- contrary to what recent news stories would lead you to believe. Here is an excerpt from http://www.airlinesafety.com/faq/FearFlying.htm:
Barnett, judges the actual risk of one person being involved in a fatal airline accident, to be once every 19,000 years, provided he flew on an airliner once each day of those 19,000 years. He bases that estimate on what actually happened in the domestic U.S., during the 1990s.
Trevison (email@example.com) also notes that:
"Measured in deaths per mile, American commercial airline flights are 22 times safer than car travel. More people die in three months of traffic accidents than in 40 years on commercial jets. More Americans die each year falling from ladders, drowning in bathtubs and freezing to death than by flying."
My family chooses to hold our children younger than two years in our laps. We’ve never had a problem with this, and always felt completely safe. While in flight, we are able to pass the child from parent to parent and they don’t feel confined. We also omit the risk of paying for an extra seat for our child and then having them want to be held the entire flight, which is what most children under two prefer in a new situation such as air travel.
All that being said, I do believe this decision is very personal and has many valid arguments on both sides. I would urge you to inform yourself and make the decision that is best for you and your child.
Air travel with young children is challenging, but often necessary. Make the best of your experience with the tips above, and I believe you’ll have smoother- and happier- travel.
Plane Travel with Babies and Toddlers Packing Checklist:
- Changing pad
- · Wipes
- · Diaper cream, hand sanitizer, lotion, and children’s/baby pain reliever in a quart sized baggie
- · Baby washcloth or burp rag
- · Bottle(s)
- · Formula or breast milk
- · Baby food
- · Spoon
- · Bib
- · Sippy cup
- · Snacks and finger foods
- · Pacifier
- · Blanket (for cold planes, to cover up when nursing, etc.)
- · Extra outfit for baby
- · Extra shirt for you
- · Plastic bags
- · Individually wrapped antibacterial wipes
- · Small package of tissues
- · Books to read
- · Coloring book and crayons
- · Plenty of small toys (old favorites and some new surprises)
- · Travel DVD player and DVDs
- · MP3 player or iPod and headphones
- · For you: license or identification, travel papers (tickets, etc.), lip balm, money, magazine or book
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