March 22, 2015
The thought of traveling with small children, particularly those under the age of two, can be intimidating for any parent. Having traveled quite a bit with my son, here’s my advice on how to book for children, what to bring, how to get through security, and how to best keep them entertained.
First, when you book a ticket, you have the option of taking a child under the age of two on the flight for free as long as they sit in your lap, or you can buy them their own seat (if you’re traveling with an infant, their carseats often can strap into the airplane seat). If they are sitting in your lap, you need to make sure they are included when you book the ticket. Some airlines have the capability to enter the lap child information in on the website, but others you have to actually call in order to get the ticket booked for both of you.
When you check in at the airport on the day of your flight, you may or may not be asked for the child’s birth certificate. Therefore, you should always make sure to carry it with you. International flights will almost always check, and although I’ve never been asked for my child’s birth certificate on a domestic flight, I have several friends that were. If you don’t have their birth certificate, and the child looks like they may be close to two, the airline may make you buy a separate seat for them on the spot and if it’s available ‐ definitely something to avoid as it would be very expensive!
After you’ve checked in, you can put away the child’s birth certificate as they will not ask for it at security, you only need your ID and the boarding passes. When you get to the x-ray machines, they’ll want you to put both your stroller and any carseats through along with your other carry-on bags. It is helpful to have one parent in charge of the kid and the other managing the stuff. If traveling solo with the child I’ve found strangers are surprisingly helpful and if you mark where to push or pull to collapse your stroller and carseat it can make it easier for them to help you (rather than asking them to watch your child for a moment). If you are traveling with milk and cold gel packs you will need to be able to get these out of your bag easily because they’ll also have to go through x-ray separately. I’ve found it helpful to give the security folks a heads up that that is what it is before it goes through the machine.
As for what to pack, it’s easy to get very carried away because you want to be ready for anything short of Armageddon. However, in reality, you have limited space. Many airlines will allow you to bring a carry-on for yourself and the diaper bag for the child aboard the plane. I found using a backpack for my own carry-on worked well as it kept both my hands free. If you have an infant you’ll also want to bring your carseat and stroller (assuming that the carseat clicks into the stroller base) ‐ if you have an older child, only bring the stroller and check the carseat at ticketing. Strollers and carseats can be gate-checked as you board the plane. If you’re gate-checking you can put the carseat in a bag (that you bring), but unless it’s raining or snowing, they don’t get noticeably dirty and not bagging them saves a lot of messing around when you trying to get on or off the plane.
Now you’re ready to actually get on the plane. What should be in your bag? I’ve found it was helpful to bring a small pillow and a lightweight blanket when my son was an infant. When he was older just the blanket was fine because he had to sleep sitting up. In the bag you keep at your feet you also want to have your diaper changing essentials, pacifiers (with leashes), change of clothes, snacks, bottles, and toys. I suggest bringing several scented doggie bags in your diaper changing essentials pack so if the child has a blowout you can put the dirty clothes in there and it won’t stink up your bag ‐ or the rest of the plane. You can also use the doggie bags for dirty diapers in case you are fortunate enough to have an empty seat next to you to use while changing. For toys, it’s good to have one or two toys that they have never seen before as this will keep their attention longer. Plus, you can give the new toy as a reward for good behavior. Books are also a good idea, but if you forget them you can use the reading materials in the seat back pocket and you may be surprised at how entertaining that safety card you’ve only glanced at before can really be!Happy Travels!