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Tips On Traveling With Children
Traveling with children, especially infants and toddlers, puts special demands on the adults responsible for their well being. Based on analyses of dozens of aviation incidents and accidents involving children here are tips that can make the trip safer and enjoyable for the your children.
Last Updated - 27th November 2005
- Plan ahead: Ask yourself what supplies you will need to have on hand to take care of any normal or special needs for the child. Remember, it is the airline's responsibility to carry passengers to their destination, but it is the responsibility of the parent or responsible adult to take care of any children.
- Use a child restraint system for children under 40 pounds (18.1 kilos): The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration strongly recommends that children weighing less than 40 pounds be put into a child restraint system appropriate for their weight. Children under the age of two may be carried on the lap of an adult, but the lap child should have some kind of restraint system. For small children, consider the following recommendations:
- Find a way to conveniently carry an appropriate child restraint system through airports and into and out of aircraft.
- If the child is over the age of two and less than 40 pounds (18.1 kilos), follow the FAA recommendations for using child restraint systems.
- If the child is under two, consider buying a separate seat for the child and use an appropriate restraint system for the seat.
- If the child is under two and will be traveling on the lap of an adult, consider using an appropriate in-flight child restraint.
- Also, bring along an appropriate child restraint system for a seat just in case you happen to be next to an unoccupied seat.
- Prepare for possible emergencies: Make sure you are aware of emergency equipment or procedures that would apply to your child:
- Pay attention to the standard preflight emergency briefing
- Ask a flight attendant if that particular aircraft has emergency equipment like life preservers specifically designed for small children
- If your child has a medical condition that may become an issue during the flight, make a flight attendant, counter agent, or gate agent aware of that possibility before the flight
- Take all essential items for the children in carry on luggage: Take enough food, diapers, medicine, and other items to last through possible flight delays and lost luggage. Carrying all the child's essentials with you is especially important if your child is on a special diet or on medication.
- Keep your children under control at all times: YOU and not the flight attendant is responsible for supervising your child at all times. An unsupervised or unrestrained child could quickly wander way into dangerous areas such as galleys, especially if the responsible adult falls asleep. You should also be careful when walking about the aircraft with your child so that they don't reach for cups of hot coffee, silverware, and other hazards.
- Seat your child away from an aisle: Small children enjoy reaching out and exploring, but if they are on the aisle they could get hurt if their little arms get bumped by a person or serving cart passing down the aisle. Ideally, two responsible adults should sit on either side of the child. Also, one can seat the child on a row with a window on one side and a responsible adult on the other.
- If emergency oxygen masks deploy, put your mask on first: This advice may seem cruel, but there is a very practical reason for it. If the brain is starved of oxygen (hypoxia), one can get confused or pass out and be unable to help themselves or their child. By putting on their mask first, the parent or responsible adult will reduce their chance of falling victim to hypoxia.
- Keep your child belted in or in a child restraint system at all times: Turbulence can happen at any time and without warning, so keep your child belted in as much as possible. If the child, wants to get up and move around, let them do so only if the seat belt sign is off.
- Bring along safe toys: Try to avoid bringing along toys that are sharp, heavy, or that break easily. If the child has an electronic game, only allow them to use it during the cruise portion of flight. Electronic games may interfere with an aircraft's navigational system during other phases of the flight.
- Take extra precautions for children traveling alone:
- Escort the child onto the aircraft and check the area around the seat for hazards such as heavy carry on items in the overhead storage bins.
- Inform the chief flight attendant that the child is traveling alone
- Ensure that the person meeting the child at the destination will have proper identification.
- Make it clear to the child that they should report any problems to a flight attendant. This could range from feeling sick to having a suspicious character seated next to them.
- If the child has to change planes, make arrangements for the child to be escorted between gates. This usually costs extra and is required for small children and is recommended for older children, especially those old enough to do it on their own but not mature enough to deal with potential problems or temptations at a busy airport
- Be sure to make photocopies of your family's airline tickets. If one gets lost, this will make it a lot easier for you!
- Flying will be more pleasant if children work off energy before boarding. Use every opportunity to walk and move around before boarding.
- Let children walk with you from parking the car. Watch planes flying into the clouds while you walk around.
- Don't try to have children sit quietly while waiting for the plane. Obviously they have to be supervised and civilized while waiting for the flight. Go from window to window. Watching planes take off and fly into the sky entertains almost any age child.
- Play Areas in airports- These spots are wonderful-- unless your flight is ready to leave and your child isn't. Tell your kids about the time limit right when they start to play. Remind them gently. Countdown the last minutes. For toddlers, have some enticements on hand to ease them away.
- Consider a small meal in the departure lounge before you board if the kids are getting hungry. Yogurt, cheese sticks, crackers, anything to keep them from getting hysterical!
- Take children to bathroom before boarding and landing. When the captain has the seat belt sign on, children can not leave their seats even for nature. Explain this before you fly and they might not even use the bathroom as an excuse for roaming around.
- If your children are small you may want to take advantage of pre-boarding. This gives you first choice at overhead storage space. One of the parents can pre-board with all the stuff while the other parent stays in the waiting area with the kids. Let the kids run around for a while and board at the last minute. You won't have to worry about not having overhead space and your kids don't have to sit too long on a plane that's not going anywhere for the time being.
During the Flight
- Be sure to dress your young children in something bright, patterned, if possible so it doesn't show stains. The cuter they look the better your receptions by stewards, the business man seated next to you, etc.
- When traveling with a child under the age of two and a spouse or second adult, request a window seat and an aisle seat in the same row, with an empty seat in between. The middle seat could be one of the last filled, increasing the possibility of a vacant seat for your child's use.
- If you are traveling with an infant, you may want to use a soft front pack which will allow your hands to be free.
- If you're deciding whether or not to purchase a ticket for a small child (children under the age of two travel free, when seated on the adult's lap), consider their temperament. Do they prefer to be held a lot or to sit alone? Are they mobile? Will you be comfortable with them on your lap for the duration of the flight? It may be worth it to buy the extra ticket!
- Many airlines have bassinets which you can request in advance for small infants.
- You might want to read the information presented at this link, Using Child Restraints on Aircraft to learn safety guidelines.
- Keep a color picture of your child's face in your purse or wallet in case he or she gets lost in a crowded airport or shopping area.
- Whenever possible, book a nonstop flight. This streamlines your trip and prevents change-of-flight problems.
- Whenever possible, travel during off-peak hours. Peak travel times can be very crowded, especially during holiday seasons. The less crowded a flight is, the more comfortable you will be, and the less your child's behavior will affect other passengers.
- If you're traveling out of the country, consider taking red-eye flights. This will not disturb your child's normal sleeping patterns as much as a daytime flight.
- Let children take turns at the window. The window is the best place to sit on the air plane. Make certain every child has a chance to see the world from a great distance above the earth. Also, let kids enjoy the experience of take-off or landing.
- Know what to ask for on the airline. Pillows, blankets, playing cards, and often fun packs for junior travelers, are all usually there for the asking.
- Pack some finger foods, like fruit, pretzels and cereal for your children to enjoy during the flight. These items might help them adjust to in-cabin pressure changes. For younger children, try using bottles, "sippy cups" or pacifiers to help ease inner ear pressure. For older children, chewing gum or lollipops can serve the same purpose.
- Request special meals for your children at least 48 hours in advance! Airlines really go out of their way to make these meals appealing to your kids!
- Ask the flight attendant to serve your children their meals before starting the general meal service so they don't have to wait and you don't have to eat and struggle with the children at the same time.
- Have your children's' ears checked at the doctor's office before you go so that you know all is clear! This will make you and your children (and everybody on your plane) happier!
- Some popular home remedies for popping the ears include hot towels (place one over each ear and the heat will expand to the middle ear, relieving the negative pressure on the drum), hot cups (place the hot towels into two paper cups and hold a cup over each ear), and blowing (have your child blow through the nose while you hold both nostrils closed...although this may be painful at first it will help to relieve the pressure). Also try to get your child to yawn, which will help make the ears "pop" and relieve the pressure. Exaggerated facial movements will also help and can become a fun game!
- Be aware that clogged or painful ears can take as long as three days to return to normal. If your child has problems after that, see a doctor.
- If your child is on medication, be sure you have enough for the entire plane ride. Keep medicine with you in your carry-on and also have a prescription handy just in case.
- Invest in a child-sized roll-on suitcase for your younger children. They will really enjoy pulling it behind them at the airport just like all the grownups!
- Pack a bag of surprises for your children. There are lots of neat travel-sized toys(such as the Travel Magna-Doodle and the Travel-Sized Etch-a-Sketch) and that will work great. Don't forget the old standbys such as crayons, colored pencils, a roll of Scotch tape, stickers, safety scissors, notebooks, coloring books, small wind-up toys, rubber stamps with ink pads, and finger puppets. Audio books with a Walkman are also a good choice. Try not to get noisy toys since you and everybody else will have to listen to them over and over. Also, try to avoid bringing along toys that are sharp, heavy, or that break easily. Pull some "tricks" out of your bag as needed while you are on the plane.
- Always pack changes of clothing in your carry-on luggage for your family. A fresh shirt can be a lifesaver.
Arrange for children to trade places to share parents. This travel time is an opportunity for some quality time with each child. Plus, children who are enjoying uninterrupted attention from Mom or Dad are less likely to grow restless while flying.
- It might be a good idea for you to be friendly with the people sitting around you. Introduce yourself and introduce your child/children - most people like babies, some just don't know it. If your child starts to cry and they have seen you to be a pleasant individual they will tend to be sympathetic rather than annoyed.
- Most airlines will allow you to bring a stroller for your infant or toddler with you at no additional cost. Instead of packing your best stroller, invest in a cheap umbrella stroller. Umbrella strollers fit in the overhead storage bins on the plane and allow you to have access to them right away when you are exiting from the plane.
- Bring your own car seat with you! Car rental agencies charge about $5 a day to rent a car seat and often their car seats are dirty and not good quality. Sometimes, rental agencies may be all out of them. We purchased a duffel bag from the Right Start Company that is made especially for car seats. Just put your car seat in the bag and check it on as you would normal baggage. The cost of the duffel bag was more then paid for after one trip. (The bags cost $30--at $5 a day for a week you have more then paid for it!)
Entertainment on the Trip
When traveling with children, the key is to make sure they do not become bored. Here are some handy tips for traveling with children.
- Always carry a kit with snacks, straws, a night light, paper towels, towelettes and first-aid supplies.
- Give older children a backpack and let him carry whatever he needs to amuse himself such as games, books, paper, etc.
- Ask restaurants to bring young children's dinners out as soon as they are ready. The kids will stay occupied and you'll probably have their food cut up by the time your dinner arrives.
- Instead of expensive souvenirs, encourage your children to collect shells or stones and arrange them in a nice display when they get home.
- Childproof your hotel room when you arrive by removing any breakables or hazards, lock dangerous windows and tape the bathroom lock open.
- Do not leave children alone in a hotel room.
Traveling By Airplane
- Try to get a bulkhead seat if traveling with an infant as there is more legroom.
- Try to book night flights when children are more likely to sleep.
- Give your infant a bottle or pacifier just before the plane takes off and lands to ease the pressure in the baby's ears.
- Give older children gum.
- If your child is congested, consult your doctor before flying as the pressure of takeoff and landing can damage eardrums.TRAVELING BY CAR
- Tie toys to your child's car seat so they don't fall to the floor.
- On a long trip, take an extra map and a colored pencil and let the kids mark your progress so they don't ask about it every few minutes.
- Bring your children's favorite songs.
- Play car games (see some below)
- CAR GAMES - DOG CATCHER.
- One player counts all of the dogs on the left side of the road and the other counts the dogs on the right. If you spot a white horse, your score doubles. If you spot a graveyard on your opponent's side, he loses all of his points.
- LICENSE PLATES.
- Jot down the different state license plates and the motto beneath the numbers. See who has the most after a time limit.
- SPECIAL VEHICLES.
- Have children look for yellow moving vans, horse trailers, cement mixers, and so on.
- ALPHABET GAME.
- Starting with "A", look for something that begins with "A". Keep going through the alphabet until you reach the letter "Z".
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