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9 tips for flying with a child

Traveling with your toddler doesn't have to be a costly ordeal. The trick is in the preparation.

By Stacy Johnson Oct 25, 2011 12:20PM

This post comes from Jason Steele at partner site Money Talks News.

As the holidays approach, families begin to fret about taking their toddler on their next flight. Parents are in for a new set of challenges and experiences when they bring their little one(s) along for the ride.

For the last two years, my wife and I have had the pleasure of taking our daughter, now 4 years old, with us on flights across the country and around the world. Here is some of what we have learned:


Preflight preparation
  • Buy a seat restraint. Since children older than 2 must have their own seat, parents are left to provide a safe and comfortable arrangement. While you could bring an approved car seat, I have had great success with the Cares harness, which is simple, compact and FAA-certified. In addition to safety, the idea is that in a harness, children feel they are in a familiar place (like their car seat), and they'll more easily adapt to the airplane environment.
  • Order the child's meal. If you're lucky enough to be on a flight with meal service, be sure to contact the airline well in advance to order a children's meal.
  • Try for an empty seat. When traveling with just my daughter, I'll always reserve the window and aisle seats, leaving a middle seat open. At best, we have an empty seat between us, and at worst, we make someone's day by offering them the window or aisle. This makes our seatmate happy and takes away a little of the apprehension other travelers might have about being seated next to a toddler.
Packing tips
  • Get a duffel bag. Unless you're assured of a safe car seat being provided at your destination, yours will have to go with you. Many parents just dump theirs off at the curb or carry it through the airport and check it at the gate. Either way, you're at risk of it being soiled or damaged unless you pack it in a duffel bag and check it in the terminal. Fortunately, airlines don't charge for a checked bag containing child safety equipment like a car seat.
  • Check other stuff. Business travelers live by the mantra of carrying everything on, and so do many parents. But flying with a toddler means you have enough on your hands. It's time to give it up, check a bag and let the airline's baggage handlers do their job. To save money, we prefer to fly airlines like Southwest and JetBlue that don't charge for checked bags.
  • Use that stroller. We probably traveled with a stroller for some time after it was truly necessary. This allowed our daughter a place to take naps while enabling us to use it as a luggage cart. Strollers can be checked at the gate for no charge.
Onboard tips
  • Make the effort. Every parent's worst nightmare is the embarrassment they feel when their child acts up and disturbs passengers -- at least, it should be. Before I became a dad, I was a frequent business traveler. I accepted that kids travel and act like kids. When a child is misbehaving, it's the actions of the parents that make the difference between understanding and annoyance. When parents ignore their unruly children -- or worse, yell at them -- they're sure to raise the ire of those around them. The best move may be to take the child out of his or her seat, go to the back of the plane, and have that discussion there. This gives your seatmates a break and interrupts your child's behavior.
  • Bring distractions. Caring for a toddler is all about occupying them. You can do so with activities such as drawing a picture, reading a book, or watching a movie on your laptop (with headphones).
  • Use the crew. Be polite and friendly, but don't be afraid to ask for help. Flight attendants can offer you snacks, bring napkins, and help retrieve items from overhead bins. Don't forget to use the call button if you can't grab their attention. Although the attendants are there for your safety, a good crew will recognize a parent in need.

The best advice is simply to arrive at the airport early and be sure to have fun. By taking the time to properly prepare for and manage your trip, you and your child can have a pleasant adventure.

More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

Oct 25, 2011 4:46PM
1) Don't stress about the trip because your child will see you being stressed and they won't see flying as the fun that it is supposed to be.  Point out the different things happening, tell them what the sounds mean, let them have a window seat.

2) Check with your ped. physician about meds - ours gave the go-ahead but didn't work on ours.

3) Make a special bag that they can only open once they get on the plane with some new things (under $5-$10) and that you don't mind losing/etc..

4) Flying with kids rarely turns out like how you thought it would, so be flexible to unexpected puking, restlessness, hunger, etc..

I am grateful to the male flight attendant who helped us occupy our 1-year old daughter and gave her extra cookies - gave us a positive experience for flying with our kids the first time.  The worst was the cranky mid-life female attendant who wouldn't let us out of our seats to let our daughter stretch her legs for a short time to get her to settle (different flight).
Oct 25, 2011 5:22PM
Bad advice on the Cares Harness
It wraps around the seat therefore intruding on person behind's meal tray and or tv..

Just my thoughts..
Oct 25, 2011 8:26PM

Jack, that's not the case if the CARES is installed properly.  We've used ours on many flights and many planes without intruding on anyone's tv or tray.  Correctly installed, it goes behind the tray table, in the cavity. 

Great invention and keeps the little ones nice and settled, particularly if like us you're travelling alone with the young kids.


KaD375, get a life, airlines were not created just for your flying pleasure, families need to travel too.   Mummy said you were special a lot didn't she...


Oct 28, 2011 10:38AM
I have traveled with my daughter who is now 12 years old ever since she was a baby. She has never been a problem on flights. Planning is the key. Arrive EARLY for your flight, and let your little one explore and walk around the waiting area. Yes, you have to be with him or her at all times. Yes this is exhausting for parents, but by the time we got on the flight, she was tired and happy to sit in her seat and watch a DVD on my laptop. Also, a trip to the Dollar Store, and a backpack full of surpirses works like a charm. Snacks, Snacks, Snacks!!!! This is not the time to worry about calorie intake. You can do an awful lot of bribing with 4 gummy bears, or a whole fun sized pack of m&m's!! I always pack gum, the rule is one piece for take offf, and one piece for landing. Helps with the ears. Always pack ibuprofen or tylenol, 5 more diapers than you think you will need, a WHOLE package of wipes -you will use them, and a favorite snuggly animal or doll. A small pillow and blanket are nice, too. I always tried to plan the flight around bedtime so that she would sleep. Or least be comfy cozy, while watching a movie! My daughter knew that every 1/2 hour she was quiet and well behaved earned her a new surpirse from the backpack......I always chose surprises that would entertain her for a while, buying me extra time. Think a small tub of playdough, and offer a challenge with it. Like how many perfectly round balls can you make out of this playdough. Also, use the restroom (in the airport) before the flight no matter what has always been a rule. Another helpful hint is one parent to one child if you can. Kids love the one on one attention, and it just runs much smoother this way.Yes, I was always tired after a flight, but I never once had anyone tell me that my kid was a pain during the flight. It is a lot of work, and I think a parents responsibility to do these things to make sure the flight is enjoyable for everyone. I actually have had more positive comments, than negative whenever traveling. Now the Good news is because of early exposure to the airports, and flights, my daughter is as pro. She knows how all the xray machines work, she takes her shoes off and loads the trays all by herself, she carries her own student id, she knows that if she wants it, then she has to carry it, and she loves to travel! I still pack a few little surprises for the trip, just because it is more of a tradition at this point. Now, a pack of gum makes her happy. And guess what? My hard work paid off, and now I can relax and read, and sleep, and not worry a bit about my daughter on long flights. She still brings all the comforts from home, and carries them herself. It does get better. And I am loving the rewards now!
Oct 25, 2011 10:38PM
I travel frequently international as my wife is from Iceland.  We have a son that has just turned two, and has flown 20 times since his birth (with connecting flights). While I do not use the CARE Harness, we have always made sure that our car seat was FAA approved.  CAUTION - Just because it is FAA approved doesn't mean that it will fit in the seat!!!!  If such the case, it IS the airline's responsibility to find a suitable seat.

We almost ALWAYS book the last two rows of the plane, (we have other children as well).  We use the Window/Aisle technique as mentioned above.  There has only been a few flights where someone has booked the middle seat at all.  This allows us to have a row JUST for the infant and an adult to sleep.  Being at the back of the plane, we have direct access to bathroom and crew (on most planes).  We board first, and deplane last.  We have always received compliments on our effective techniques.
Oct 28, 2011 9:04AM

The title of the article should be flying with a "toddler".  Child implies a variety of ages and this was geared solely to his own experience with a toddler.  Tips for toddlers don't work the same as for older kids or babies.  Some of the previous comments had better advise than the article.



What does this article have to do with saving, when flying with a child?  Good tips, maybe.  Saving money, no.
Oct 25, 2011 4:29PM

The most important piece of advice for flyng with a child...





Oct 25, 2011 5:19PM
If you're kid's too young to understand what a plane IS they're too young to be on it.  Do the other travelers a favor and stay home.  And if you do go don't let your kid kick the seat in front of them continuously. 
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