Travelling with small children is especially stressful. Flying is confining and kids are energetic so to help you keep your sanity a little planning goes a long way. Flying with kids goes more smoothly when children understand what to expect when flying. Here are some guidelines to make your flights smoother.
Choosing the Flight
- If it is possible book a non-stop or direct flight. This helps because you won’t have to change aeroplanes and drag the kids and your carry-on items around the airport.
- Travel at non-peak times, late at night, mid-afternoon, and early in the week from Mondays-Wednesdays. You have a better chance of flying on less crowded flights, which means more free space to stretch out. Thursdays through Sundays are higher traffic periods.
- When booking your flight, be sure to state your seating preference. The best seats for travelling with children are the bulkhead areas, near the bathroom, or by the window. Remember if you are sitting at a bulkhead row all your carry-on items need to be stowed in the overheads for take off and landing. During the flight you can place your items back on the floor.
- Don’t forget you can order special meals for your children. Airlines do not charge extra for special meals. Most airlines offer kid favourites, like hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza and chicken nuggets. As “insurance policies” carry some items you know your child likes e.g. cooked pasta, cheese triangles, yoghurt or sausages. That way, no matter what happens they will have eaten and that cuts grouchiness. Remember, not all kids take to airline food!
Child Safety Seats
Flying is safer for infants and toddlers if you use a seat.
Children who are over two years old are required to purchase a ticket and occupy a customer seat with a separate seat belt. Check with the airline regarding their requirements for children – don’t take the travel agent’s word. Get it in writing from the airline, that way there is no confusion.
For very small babies or newborns most aeroplanes have a “bassinet” facility located at the bulkhead seats. However, the number available are limited. Make sure that you request it when you book your ticket, and also that it is allocated to you when you get your boarding pass. Your baby will still have to be held and secured by a special seat belt for take-off, landing and when the fasten selt belt sign is illuminated during flight. The seat belt attaches to your belt and secures your child independently.
Be aware some flight attendants will insist that you do not need this seat belt for your infant and that you can merely hold them.
Insist on being given the seat belt. You can not hold onto your child in the event of a runway mishap or severe turbulence.
When the seat belt sign is off, you will find the bassinet provides a welcome break from holding the baby all the way, especially if it is a long haul flight. Do check, however, that the bassinet can hold the baby’s weight.
The other alternative is using a chair, similar to a newborn rear facing car seat with a handle. These days you can buy a stroller that has this attachment and it invaluable when transporting small children in large airports. If you’re going to be doing a lot of travelling it would be worth your while to purchase one which can take a heavier weight, eg. Chicco has a “travel system” that can take up to 14kgs, and Britax has a travel system that can take up to 15kgs.
Pack A Bag with All the Necessities
Most airports do not carry baby needs. Take a full day of supplies or more because you never know if there will be significant weather delays, etc.
A large backpack with several compartments is handy. It leaves your hands free to handle documents and kids, yet keeps your belongings with you. The separate compartments are very useful too for finding things in a hurry.
What should you pack?
- Since many aeroplanes tend to be cold, make sure all children have an extra sweater, jacket or blanket at their seat.
- For babies and toddlers bring along diapers, wipes, a changing mat, ointment, doctor recommended pain reliever, pacifiers, juice, bottles, formula, bibs, spoons, and snack foods. Something else which is very useful are 60cm x 60cm terry cloths for mopping up spills, for covering a child’s eyes when they are sleeping and as an extra blanket.
- Take plastic bags for dirty clothes, two changes of clothing, a baby blanket, and of course any favourite playthings that are small enough to pack. Some useful items to consider are play dough, an activity book, bubble mixture, stickers, and possibly an erasable magnetic drawing board.
- For older kids, have them pack their own backpack with crayons, markers, paper, play dough, dolls, hot wheel cars, Nintendo games, books or whatever their favourite activity may be. Be sure to include favourite snack foods for the older kids.
- Take along a copy of your child’s pertinent medical information and the paediatrician’s phone numbers. Especially when travelling overseas, ask your doctor or health service for a paediatrician referral. If your child is on medication, be sure you have enough for the entire plane ride. Keep medicine with you in your hand luggage. Never check medicine in your main baggage.
- Some children who are prone to becoming carsick become airsick too, so it would be a good idea to get your doctor’s advice on travel sickness medication.
- The key is to dress for comfort. Let your kids wear comfortable play clothes, like tracksuits or similar. Save the good clothes in a carry-on and let your kids change into these after your arrival. It’s best to get to the airport two hours prior to departure to get things off to a smooth start.
- Once you are at the gate area let your children work off as much energy as possible before flying. Use every opportunity to walk and move around before boarding. Play games like count the aeroplanes taking off. Watching planes take off and fly into the sky entertains all children.
- Remember to take children to the bathroom before boarding and landing. If you have a child who has trouble holding off going to the toilet, you may want to consider using pull up diapers during the flight.
- Take advantage of pre-boarding. This helps the kids get settled in and allows you to find a nearby space for hand luggage. Also, grab some pillows and blanket before they disappear.
- If you are bringing a stroller ask for a gate-check. This means the stroller is taken from you as you board and given to you as you deplane. Never check your stroller with your luggage. You will need a stroller for the long walk to baggage claim or for changing aircraft.
- If there is time, ask the flight attendants if it’s possible for the kids to get a peek into the cockpit before or after the flight. Most flight crews enjoy showing children the cockpit. More often the best time is after the flight. Kids will be amazed by all the lights and instruments.
- When in your seats explain to the children about the fasten seat belt sign. Let them know when the captain has the seat belt sign on they cannot leave their seats.
Let children take turns at the window. The window is the most fun place to sit on the aeroplane. Try to make sure every child has a chance to see the sights while flying. Hand out the toys sparingly inflight. Depending on flight time it’s best to offer one plaything at a time. It helps pass the time away in small segments.
- Ear pain may affect some infants and toddlers babies when the plane is making its a descent to land. This occurs when the ears’ Eustachian tubes are blocked due to the rapid changes in cabin pressure. The best thing to offer your child a drink so that they are sucking or swallowing. If that doesn’t work crying will, as it opens the tubes and relieves the pain. Not pleasant for fellow passengers, who will give you meaningful glances.
- Sometimes travelling with your kids can seem like an eternity. For every parent whose usually well-behaved darling has turned into a screaming lunatic at the airport or on the aeroplane, just remember to keep a sense of humour! Happy travels!
Whether you’re planning a short trip across the border or a lengthy trip abroad, traveling with children presents unique challenges.
Today, travel agents, tour operators, and resorts are making international family travel more popular. Although many of the myths about the effects of distant travel on children have been dispelled, practical precautions should still be taken.
Common sense (knowing what to expect and what to avoid) is the key to a successful trip. For example, there may be a greater risk of being exposed to contagious childhood diseases outside the U.S. It is therefore important to keep routine childhood immunizations up to date. Although formal vaccination requirements for leaving the United States no longer exist, this is not because travelers need less protection. Instead, vaccination is considered a recommendation for personal protection. However, specialized vaccines may be required by the country to which you are traveling. These may include yellow fever, typhoid, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, meningococcus, and rabies. Your travel medicine specialist, physician, or pediatrician can tell you more about what may be required.
In addition, children may be less concerned with personal cleanliness, food handling, and water sanitation than adults. This makes them more likely to contract gastrointestinal diseases such as traveler’s diarrhea. Children also may be more interested in coming in contact with animals that may be carrying ticks or fleas that can spread infection. Diseases that are common to a particular geographic area, such as malaria, also require that special precautions be taken to protect children who are at higher risk of being exposed. Even such things as jet lag, motion sickness, and the emotional adjustments to travel for children (for example, home sickness) can spoil the fun of traveling. The better prepared you are, the more likely your travel experience will be a positive one for the entire family.
The purpose of this information is to help make your next trip a healthy and happy one for your child. It is meant to supplement the experience and guidance of your physician, pediatrician, or travel medicine specialist.
Getting ready to go
Start with a clean bill of health
Preparing children for international travel should start no later than 8 weeks before the start of your trip. Schedule a visit to your physician, pediatrician or travel medicine specialist, and if applicable, to your dentist as well. Your doctor will perform a routine physical exam to ensure your child’s overall health, and review and schedule any immunizations that may be required or recommended. He or she can also help you get the latest information on the immunization requirements of your destination and on any recent disease outbreaks that you should know about. A visit to your dentist can help keep a small problem from becoming a big emergency while you and your children are away.
Keep to a schedule
Children respond well to routines. Maintaining their routines while you’re away can help make your trip more enjoyable. Planning travel to coincide with children’s normal sleeping time causes less disruption, and keeps them from feeling “cooped up.”
Confirm air travel arrangements
Specific seating requests – including those for smoking/nonsmoking areas and bulkhead seats where there is more room for children to spread out- can make your flight more comfortable. You can also request meal substitutions that your children may prefer, such as hamburgers or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Many airlines make skycots available to ensure the safety of infants, and many car seats are now manufactured to comply with federal aviation safety standards. However, find out the airline’s policy on car seats before you leave.
Bring along the necessities
When traveling with an infant, always bring the bottles and nipples he or she is familiar with. Powdered formula that can be mixed with bottled water is usually the safest and most convenient. Once you arrive, use only bottled water or boiled water if the tap supply is questionable.
Disposable diapers are available in most industrialized nations. Pack a good supply in the crevices of your luggage, and keep one as an example of the size and shape you’re looking for. However, in some areas of the world, a good cloth diaper with rubber pants might be better than a poorly made disposable. Ask your travel agent for advice.
On your way
When traveling by plane, children often experience ear pain as the pressure inside their inner ears equalizes during take-off and landing. Nasal congestion makes the problem worse. There are three things you can do to comfort your child.
- Offer a bottle, pacifier, or for older children, a lollipop to encourage swallowing. This helps open the passage inside the ear to equalize the pressure.
- Use decongestant nose drops or medication one-half hour before take-off and landing, especially if the child is just getting over a cold.
- If all else fails, offer a calming voice and a reassuring hug to reduce the fear that comes with ear pain.
Jet lag is the feeling of being out of step with your new surroundings. It comes from traveling by plane across time zones. Jet lag is usually less of a problem for children than for adults because children tend to adjust their nap and bedtime schedules more quickly. Symptoms of jet lag include tiredness during the day, loss of appetite, irritability, insomnia, restless sleeping patterns, stomach and bowel distress, and increased sensitivity to light and sound. There are no real treatments for jet lag. Your travel medicine specialist, physician, or pediatrician can discuss recommendations for treating the symptoms of jet lag until your child’s biological clock adjusts to the new environment.
Motion sickness is a general term that includes seasickness, airsickness, and car sickness. It is a normal reaction to certain types of motion when traveling as a passenger. Children are the most prone to motion sickness, which occurs more often on cars and buses than on planes, trains, and large boats. Infants usually don’t get motion sickness, and older children may outgrow it by age 5. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, loss of color, and cold sweats.
To avoid motion sickness:
- Avoid full meals up to 2 hours before traveling.
- Don’t offer food in transit, if possible. If you must, choose easily digestible foods such as a roll, juice, or canned fruit.
- Discourage reading and coloring. Travel games, action figures, and looking out the window are better diversions.
- If your child is prone to motion sickness, ask your travel medicine specialist, physician, or pediatrician about preventive medications.
When you arrive
In most cases, children are no more at risk of getting sick when traveling than they are at home, provided you know what to look for and take the proper precautions. Remember, the potential for disease is everywhere. Following are a few of the most common problems that can be avoided to help make your child’s traveling experience great.
Diarrhea affects more travelers than any other medical condition. Dehydration is the greatest risk from traveler’s diarrhea, and can be especially dangerous in infants 0-2 years of age. The cause of traveler’s diarrhea is usually bacterial, although parasites and viruses can also be the cause.
Diarrhea affects travelers most frequently in developing countries, including those in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
To prevent traveler’s diarrhea:
- Eat only well-cooked foods.
- Avoid high-risk foods such as seafood or salads.
- Assume that all local water supplies, and ice made from these supplies, are unsafe to drink or to use while brushing your teeth.
- Make sure all milk products have been boiled or pasteurized.
- Mild to moderate cases of traveler’s diarrhea can be treated with fluid replacement therapy and easily digested foods such as rice, bananas, and dry toast or crackers. Special oral rehydration solution (ORS) packets can be used to prevent dehydration in infants, in addition to their usual food.
Breast-fed infants should continue to be allowed to nurse on demand. Seek immediate medical attention if the child has bloody diarrhea, a fever over 102°F, persistent vomiting, or shows signs of moderate to severe dehydration, including a rapid and weak pulse, very sunken eyes, no tears, reduced or no urination, and severe weight loss.
Disease carriers may pose special risks to kids
Vector-borne diseases are caused by an organism and a carrier. The two most common such diseases in travelers are malaria and schistosomiasis (shis-TOE-so my-a-sis).
Children can get malaria by being bitten by a female mosquito carrying the malaria organism. Children are at higher risk simply because they are less concerned with protection and more often exposed to mosquitoes. Flu-like symptoms include fever, muscle pain, nausea, headache, fatigue, chills, and/or sweats. Preventive malaria medications can be discussed with your travel medicine specialist, physician, or pediatrician. Personal protective measures (such as: insect repellent; loose, fully-covering clothing; shoes; netting; and staying indoors from dusk to dawn) are effective for preventing malaria.
Schistosomiasis is caused by a parasite that uses a freshwater snail as a host to complete its life cycle. The free-swimming parasite larvae exit the snail and can enter a person’s body through unbroken skin or infested drinking water. Even standing in freshwater lakes should be avoided. Water for bathing should be boiled to over 50°C (122°F) for more than five minutes or allowed to stand for more than 48 hours. Chlorinated pools and salt water are safe for swimming.
Accidents post the greatest danger to most travelers. You can help your children avoid accidents and other risks by following these simple rules.
Simple rules to reduce risk:
- Don’t go barefoot
- Don’t swim in fresh water
- Avoid strange and wild animals
- Always wear seatbelts
- Check all equipment for safety
- Don’t buy local medications unless you are familiar with them
- Wear sunblock and sunglasses in the tropics and at high altitudes
- In-Flight Ear Pain
To encourage swallowing, offer a bottle or pacifier to young children and a lollipop to older children.
- Traveler’s Diarrhea
To prevent dehydration, give plenty of fluids and foods that are easy to digest.
- Infectious Diseases
Ask your physician, pediatrician, or travel medicine specialist about immunizations no later than 8 weeks before your trip.
Important phone numbers
- Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention International Travelers Hotlines
Country-specific information on vaccination requirements, recommendations, and more.
- International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT)
Directories of English-speaking doctors.
- American Citizens Services
Medical, financial, and legal assistance for American travelers abroad.