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Traveling With Children

Traveling With Children

I've been flying internationally (Europe, Africa, Middle East, US) and domestically (US and Tunisia) with my four children since they were 2 months (my children are now 11,8,2,1 and I am currently pregnant with our fifth). At least three trips a year are the children and I traveling internationally (14+ hours each way) alone. In addition to that, we do another 8-10 international and domestic flights a year as a family. Here are some tips, advice, and products that have always worked for me and I hope will help you. If you have any specific questions, or do not find your answer on these pages, feel free to contact me and I will do my best to help you.

For children who are old enough to know what is going on around them, and curious enough to ask questions
I always suggest preparing them for what to expect so that they are not caught off guard and scared on the day of travel. You want to make sure that you tell them what is going to happen from the time you get to the airport until the time you arrive at your destination. You don't need to go into any great detail here, but give them something that they will be able to reference when actually traveling. If you are able to, I always suggest doing a dry run of the airport. This provides you with an opportunity to explain to your children what is going to happen while they can see first hand what it looks like. In my article on PLANE TRAVEL BASICS I talk about what a plane ride itself feels like, in case you'd like to reference that to prepare them for the flight as well.

Make sure you have all your childrens documents in order.
  • Children under 18 do not need any form of identification if traveling domestically. However, it is always a good idea to keep a notarized copy of their birth certificates with you in case any questions about their age should arise.
  • If you are traveling internationally, you will need a passport and possibly visa for each child as well.
  • Should you be flying with your child alone as a single parent, or traveling with a minor that is not your own, it is highly recommended that you get a notarized authorization letter from the other parent, or family that clearly states you have their permission to travel alone with the children and gives you authority to seek and obtain any and all medical attention for the children. If you have sole parental responsibilities, take along a notarized document that states so. This is for your own protection due to the increase of child abductions done by parents and other family members. While questioning in the US of single parents traveling with their children is still not that common (but does happen), should you travel overseas (especially to African, Middle Eastern, and Asian countries) it could pose a problem for you if you do not have this document with you. Here is a SAMPLE CONSENT FORM
  • Another thing you should consider bringing with you is your childrens immunization books. That way if any emergency should arise while you are on vacation (no matter where you are) the treating physician will at least have some verifiable information to go on. This book also usually includes what your children are allergic to, and some small but very helpful notes from your doctor.
  • Last but not least, you want to make sure that you have the tickets for your children as well.
    Get a check-up for your children with their doctor before travel.
    Make sure you have a check-up with your doctor before leaving to make sure your children are healthy enough to fly. If your children have even a slight cold, the pressure in their ears during take-off and landing could leave their ears aching for days after the flight. It can also cause some serious problems, the worst being hearing loss.

    Most doctors recommend that if anyone is sick (such as being stuffed up or already having an earache), not to take the flight because of the potential damage to the ears. I know my husband and other pilots do not work if they are sick because of this danger.

    Also be sure to keep your doctors name and number with you. If you can, get the name and number of a doctor where you are visiting in case an emergency should come up.

    Car Seat or Lap Child
    Airline regulations currently allow children under the age of two to fly free as "lap children" (not required to have their own seat). International flights charge a 10% fee for lap children.

    Try to book a bulkhead (front) seat where you will have more room, and a bassinet. Bassinets are limited, and not available on every flight. If the bassinet is available (they can only be used in bulkhead seats) it will attach to the front wall for you to put your child in (however you can not use this during taxi, take-offs, landings, or turbulence).

    This is not the safest way for a child to fly and in fact, the
    FAA (Federal Aviation Administration - USA),
    CATSA (Canadian Air Transport Security Authority - Canada)
    CAA (Civil Aviation Authority - UK),
    JAA (Joint Regulatory Authority - Europe),
    and CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority - Australia)
    among others, and all airlines recommend children under 40lbs (18kg) have their own seat with a child safety device.

    The truth is, accidents and incidents with planes are rare, but when they happen, they can be more detrimental than any accident in a car. Turbulence can come on quite suddenly and can sometimes be very severe. I have been on planes during such bad turbulence that anything not buckled down went flying. We pay such careful attention to how we protect our children in cars, that it only makes sense to protect them in a plane as well.

    Also, many airlines offer half-price tickets so parents can be guaranteed that their child can travel in a CRS device. You should call your airline to ask for a discount and/or ask what the airline's policy is for using empty seats. If you haven't booked a separate seat for your child, be nice on check-in and see if they can "block" the seat next to you. They will then only use it if they absolutely need it, leaving it free for you to use during the flight for your child (basically you are getting her a sea for free).

    Someone brought THIS VIDEO to my attention and I thought I would share it here. It is only 2 minutes and 30 seconds long, but is very powerful. It is a short clip taken from a documentary from National Geographic about a plane crash. This particular clip talks about the dangers posed to lap children. I want to make clear at this time that the guidelines discussed in this clip for lap children are still in place today for a majority of the airlines.

    HERE is a letter that a Flight Attendant wrote to Dear Abby, talking a little bit about the dangers of lap children.

    And Car Seat Safety 4 Kids has a great page that talks about the hows and whys of using car seats on planes.

    I advise using a CRS (Child Restraint System - otherwise known as a car seat) because it is safe for the child - especially during turbulence, makes them feel secure, is more comfortable for both parent and child, will help your child sleep, and gives both of you the opportunity to relax a bit.

    A CRS is a hard-backed child or infant safety seat that is approved by the government for use in both motor vehicles and aircraft.

    Booster seats are NOT authorized for use during taxi, take-off, or landing because in an airplane there is no shoulder belt for upper-body restraint (and a booster seat mandates this). Booster seats should be checked as baggage. Next to last paragraph

    In order to be certified for use on an airplane, the car seat has to met the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Check the labels on the side of your car restraint for a sticker (words will be printed in red) for verification that your seat is safe for airplane use.

    There is a new product out there that I really like. It is called the Sit'n'Stroll. It is a really neat device that can be used in many versatile functions. It is a car seat (both rear and forward facing), an approved airline CRS, and can be used as a booster seat. It is on the expensive side, but if you are looking for something that is lightweight, versatile, and will last through toddler years, then this might just be the investment you are looking for. You CAN find them cheaper (both new and used) on eBay. I have used this and really liked the simplicity of it, and the fact that I didn't have to wake a sleeping baby every time we needed to get in/out of the plane or switch to a stroller.

    There is also a new device that is approved by the FAA for airline use ONLY. It is called CARES (Child Aviation Restraint System) and costs $75. It weighs 1 pound, is certified for all phases of flight (taxiing, take off, turbulence and landing), adjusts to fit ALL size airplane seats, and is approved for kids 2244 lbs. If you don't want to be bothered by taking a car seat, and especially if you do a lot of traveling, then this is another very handy device. If you are interested in using this product, but not certain you want to buy it, or will only need it one time, there are parents who rent it out on eBay.

    How to Carry the Car Seat
    There are many great products out there today have the best interests of the traveling family in mind. They are all very nice and serve great functions. I will show just three (click on their pictures to be taken to the website about them). Feel free to do your own searches on such products as well.

    YAll airlines used to allow this for free without it counting towards your checked baggage allowance, but over the years airlines have changed their policies on this. Some will allow any type of stroller as free baggage, some will only allow umbrella strollers as free baggage, and some will flat out count it towards your baggage allowance no matter what type it is. You will need to call the airline you want to fly with to see what their policy is. You can also do this with your car seat if you'd like.

    Most people do not bother to wrap strollers because it can be time consuming and the handlers can sometimes be rather impatient. If you do choose to wrap up your stroller, make sure that you do it well ahead of boarding time, and don't forget to place your baggage claim ticket on the outside so it can easily be verified as yours.

    There are products to help protect your strollers, and prices vary depending on what you choose to use. There are some that are designed for specific strollers, such as the Phil and Ted's Travel Bag, and there are products that are generically designed to fit certain strollers, such as the J.L. Childress Gate Check Travel Bag for Strollers:


    Here is how gate checking a stroller works:

    When you first check-in, let the agent know you have a stroller. They will put a a luggage tag on your stroller just like they do the rest of your luggage, except you are able to use the stroller throughout the airport. They will also give you the claim ticket for your stroller like they do the rest of your luggage. If you plan on using a stroller bag, le them know and they will give you the tag to put on the bag later once you have your stroller securely inside it, but before boarding.

    When you go through security, you will be asked to fold your stroller and place it on the conveyor belt to be X-rayed. Because of this, it is always best to make sure that any "extras" you have on your stroller are taken off so that they are not damaged and so that the stroller can pass easily through the X-ray machine.

    When you are boarding, whether you board first, in the middle, or last, there will be an agent that will take your stroller from you. Again, make sure that any extras are taken off so they do not get damaged during the flight, and secure your stroller in the closed position. The agent will place the stroller in a special compartment under the plane for the duration of the flight.

    When you exit your flight, the handlers will have your stroller waiting for you at the end of the jetway, near the gate. Should you have a bus arrival instead of a gate arrival, they will place the strollers on the ground near the buses for parents to collect.

    What To Pack

  • Keep your diaper bag well stocked with plenty of diapers, wipes, ointments and other essential things. Just remember the new law regulating liquids, gels, and such and pack accordingly.

  • Bring any medications that you might need for your children should they get sick or that they take regularly. Remember that if they are not prescription medications, the 3oz (100ml) rule applies to them and they must be kept in a clear plastic bag.You can usually find travel size baby products in stores and they are wonderful for plane use.
    US 3-1-1 Regulations
    EU 100ml Regulations
    UK 100ml Regulations
    AUSTRALIAN 100ml Regulations

    Do NOT plan on giving your children medicine with the hopes of it making them sleep on the plane. This is not only cruel, but dangerous as well. I have also seen where it backfires; a parent gives their child a dose of Benedryl to make them sleep, but instead it gets the child more hyper and the parents get absolutely no rest on the flight (and neither does anyone else).

  • Be sure to pack 2-3 changes of clothes for your children. You will need this in case they get sick, spill something on themselves, or in case your luggage gets lost. It is also a good idea to pack an extra change of clothes for yourself in case your children inadvertently get you dirty as well.

  • Bring Snacks! just add water packets of food, cheerios, goldfish, animal crackers, dried fruit, etc. are great. New regulations also allow you to take beverages (including water) from home as long as they are less than 3oz (100ml), -OR- beverages (including water) of any size that you have purchased from inside the security area onto planes. You can also bring a limited amount of baby food, yogurt, cheese, puddings, etc. with you also as long as they are in containers less than 3oz (100ml).
    US Food/Drink Regulations
    EU Food/Drink Regulations
    UK Food/Drink Regulations
    AUSTRALIAN Food/Drink Regulations

  • You are able to take as much milk, formula, juice, and/or baby food that you will need for you child for the duration of the time you will spend in the airport and on the flight (as long as it is within reason). TSA has recently modified it's stance so that even if your child is not with you, you may still bring these liquids in quantities greater than 3 oz (100ml) as long as you follow the procedure listed below.

    All liquids over the 3oz (100 ml) limit will be subject to testing for explosives. TSA allows a passenger the option of a visual inspection of these items. You must request a visual inspection before screening begins, otherwise, all of the items must undergo x-ray inspection and might be subject to additional screening. You will NOT be asked to taste any of the liquids yourself, with the exception of travelers going through/from the UK.

    All that you must do is:
    1. Separate the milk, formula, juice, and/or baby food from the liquids, gels, and aerosols in your quart-size (1 liter) zip-top bag.
    2. Declare you have the items to one of the Security Officers at the security checkpoint.
    3. Present these items for additional inspection once reaching the X-ray. These items are subject to additional screening

    The recent modifications also allow bottled water that is presented as an infant/child exemption into the secured area. Passengers traveling with bottled water intended for their child's use through the security checkpoint must:
    1.) Be accompanied by an infant or young child
    2.) Declare it to the Security Officer prior to entering the screening checkpoint and prior to x-ray examination
    3.) Inform the Security Officer that it is bottled water intended for an infant or young child
    4.) Open the bottle for additional screening, if required by a TSO .

    (I got this last part about the water in an e-mail from TSA when I contacted them to verify the information before my most recent travels with my own children. If you'd like I can forward the e-mail to you as well.)

    I have never had any problems with traveling with water for my young children while in Europe. The have had the policy of allowing water for infants and small children since the liquid ban began. I am happy the US is now catching up on it, although in my opinion it has taken them far too long to realize that small children need to have access to water, especially while waiting in the airport.

  • US Formula/Medication Regulations
    EU Formula/Medication Regulations
    UK Formula/Medication Regulations
    AUSTRALIAN Formula/Medication Regulations

  • Make sure to pack plenty of things to entertain your children, such as a few books, toys, a portable DVD player (be sure to bring extra batteries) or let them use your laptop (make sure it's fully charged) with a few movies, and one or two comfort things such as a favorite blankie or stuffed animal. I always bring a small pillow and blanket from home for my children (even now) because I know 100% that they are clean, and my children are accustomed to them.

    My children like to bring along their own coloring books, a Doodle Pad, their Leap Pads (with a few booklets), and scrap paper that they can make their own drawings with and play games such as tic-tac-toe. My daughter used to like to bring along a doodle bear when she was younger so that she could draw on that as well, and my son likes to bring along some action figures to play with. I found that buying a ROSE ART kit is great! It has crayons, markers, coloring books, coloring sheets, and stickers that they can color. It definitely keeps them entertained!

    I take the contents of the kit out of the box & place them in a little travel pack. Here is what my sons old one looked like:

    Things that can be reused are ideal for plane travel. Here are a few popular ideas of things to take along for your kids, but remember that what you wind up taking will depend greatly on the likes and dislikes of your child.


    You can also play games like pat-a-cake, or I-spy, and tell stories to your children as well. If you tell a story, try to make it an interactive one where your children have a part in it so they stay interested.

  • You might also consider going to the store and letting your children (I let my children start this at the age of one) pick out their own carry on bag and a few inexpensive toys that will be used only once you are on the plane. Be sure to pick out a few toys without them seeing so that they have an extra surprise when they open their carry ons.

    Here is a new piece of childrens luggage that has become very popular. It is sturdy, comes in bright colors, is easy for children to drag by themselves, and it can be used as seat (or car!) while you are waiting in line. It is very reasonably priced and children really like it.

    On The Plane
  • Not all children have a problem with the pressure changes in their ears. If yours do however you'll want to know how to help. For take-offs and landings (the WHOLE way up, and starting from the BEGINNING, or TOP of descent - about an hour before landing), the best ways to alleviate ear pressure are to:

    1. If your children are nursing, nurse them
    2. Give them something to drink (formula, milk, water, juice - it doesn't matter)
    3. Give them hard candy, mints, or a pacifier to suck on
    4. Give them gum to chew
    5. Tell them to yawn
    6. Pinch their nostrils shut, have them take a deep breath in through the mouth, then force the air into the back of the nose (gently, but with pressure) as if trying to blow their nose.
    7. Place hot damp towels (usually like the ones distributed to first and business class before take-off and landing to freshen up with - just ask a flight attendant for them) or paper towels that have been soaked in hot water and wrung out, at the bottom of two paper or styrofoam cups, then hold the cups over the ears
    8. Gently but with some pressure, rub their necks repeatedly from the chin to the base of the neck. This will cause a swallowing motion that will relieve pressure build-up in the ears.

    You can also try using a decongestant. It is always best to check with your doctor before using any type of medications though, to make sure you are using the one best suited to your childrens needs.

  • You should be respectful of other passengers and always change your childrens diapers in the restroom. They do have diaper bed changers in there, although they can be a little small. Usually the bathrooms with the diaper change beds are the handicap ones (tend to be at the rear of most planes), so they tend to be a little bit bigger and it does help.

    I also know some people who say that instead of using the changing table, they say to put the toilet seat down, use the toilet as a seat for yourself, and lay the baby across your knee to change their diaper.

    I have found for older babies, the easiest way is to change the childs diaper while they are still standing up. It takes up less room and can be done quite fast. Make sure that if you use this technique, you still go to the bathroom to change their diapers.

    To make it easier on yourself, make sure that you undress your children so that they have just a diaper on while at your seat. Grab your diaper, wipes, and ointment or baby powder (whatever you use for changing your childrens diapers) and head to the bathroom. This will help to make the procedure faster and easier.

    Try to change your childrens diapers (or make them use the toilet) as close to boarding as possible. This will help to make your children feel fresh and more comfortable for take-off (which could also mean less problems). If it is a short flight, you may get lucky and not need to change their diapers at all on the plane.

  • Don't be afraid to get up and walk the aisles with your child. This will help to break up the length of the flight and let them stretch their muscles. In fact, this is good for everyone to do.

  • Keep your calm. If you get stressed out, your children can pick up on it and it will make the travel that much harder.

  • Last but not least, if help is offered to you, take it.
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