We have flown several times a year since my oldest was three months old. Through trial and error I have learned a few things, ten to be exact.
1. Arrive early. Two hours might sound like a lot, but with ever-increasing security it’s a good idea to allow yourself extra time to get to your gate, especially when toting along a kid or two (or three). Many airports have play places in the terminals near the gates for kids to let out some extra energy before the flight. And if needed, you can ask for a “gate pass” for an un-ticketed friend or family member to go through security with you and help you to the gate.
2. Explain when booking your flight that you are traveling with an infant/small and you must be seated together. Then re-check your seat assignment when checking in. Don’t wait and see if you can “fix” the seats at the gate, because there is a good chance you will end up standing in the aisle holding your baby, having to play “let’s make a deal” to get people to change seats, annoying the passengers who are already looking at you funny because they are afraid your child will scream the entire flight.
3. If you purchased a ticket for your infant, I recommend taking a car seat on the plane because it’s nice to have somewhere to set little ones down when they fall asleep and it makes it easier for mom to use the restroom without having to stress about a stranger holding them. Be sure to tell the agent when booking your flight and checking in at the counter because car seats must be next to the window and cannot be on an emergency exit aisle.
4. Do not sit on a bulkhead row. Having the extra foot room and no passengers in front may be tempting, but with no seats in front you, there’s no storage, and everything you will need for baby will have to be put in the overhead compartments and cannot be accessed during take-off or landing.
5. Bring an umbrella stroller. They are cheap; even if you only use it for one trip, they are well worth the $12 (or less if you pick one up at a thrift or consignment store). Being able to hang a few bags on the handles for the walk to the gate is a huge relief; at some of the larger airports the walk can take close to 20 minutes. Plus, umbrella strollers are easy to fold up when going through security. Once at the gate, talk to agent about gate-checking your stroller. You’ll receive a tag with a tear off claim check. Then when you walk down the jetway, just before boarding, fold your stroller and leave it to the side. When you get to your destination, it will be waiting for you just as you deplane.
6. Pre-board. Airlines offer pre-boarding for those flying with infants and children under five years to give the parents extra time to get settled and get things put away. Do not be shy; if you hear pre-boarding for wheelchair passengers and unaccompanied children step up in line then or if the agents do forget pre-boarding altogether walk around to the front of the line and say, “I am traveling with children under five; I need to pre-board. I believe you forgot to announce it.”
7. Use a backpack (much easier to navigate down the narrow aisle of the plane than with a shoulder bag).
8. Things to pack in your carry-on:
- fresh snacks (be sure to avoid sugary snacks for sensitive children).
- empty sippy cup and/or pacifier (drinks/juice can be purchased once you get through security). The sucking can help with ear pressure during take-off and landing.
- small blanket and stuffed animal (very comforting to have familiar items, plus you never know what kind of germs are on the airline blankets/pillows).
- more diapers/wipes than you think you will need (in case there is a delay or unexpected lay-over).
- a few large Zip-loc bags (no need to gross out the rest of the plane with a stinky diaper, also can be used to store soiled clothing).
- a change of clothes per child and maybe a shirt for yourself (some kids may become air-sick and you don’t want to have to sit on a six-hour flight smelling like spit-up).
- coloring books and crayons for older toddlers (avoid toys that make noise; what sounds reasonable at home may be way too loud on a crowded airplane).
9. Be sure to check your airline’s website before leaving for any updated security measures. Rules have recently changed, restricting liquids that can pass through security. Also, be sure to check your baby’s diaper bag; many infant care sets include nail clippers/scissors and those are not allowed.
10. My mother always told me “you get more bees with honey,” which is true and I always ask nicely. However, I’ve also learned that sometimes “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” and when traveling with your child/infant sometimes you have to speak up to get the help you need. If you don’t get help even after speaking up, do not hesitate to call or write the airline and tell them about the obstacles you faced.
With big businesses making accommodations every day for parents with small children, airlines should be no exception. Some airlines are better than others at making those accommodations. From my personal experience and stories from other flying parents, the “discount airlines” are the very best (Jet Blue is my number one pick). Try asking around to friends and family who have flown with small children for recommendations.
This article was written by: Erin GildayPhoto Credit: Valeria Zoncoll