Airplane travel can be exciting for a child. It can also present challenges. Depending on his or her age, it may be hard for a child to sit for long periods of time in the confined space of an airplane.
When traveling by plane, the child's safety, comfort, and enjoyment should all be taken into account. The following are issues to consider:
ImmunizationsIn general, if an infant or child is up to date on all recommended immunizations, no additional vaccines are needed prior to travel. Some exceptions to this principle may exist if the family is traveling to certain overseas countries, particularly in the tropical regions of the world. It is a good idea to check with a healthcare professional regarding needed vaccines or medications several months in advance of such a trip.
Seating arrangementsThe Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommends that any child weighing less than 40 pounds be in a child safety seat. Many safety seats commonly used in cars also work well in airplanes. A seat is safe for this use if the label reads "approved for use in motor vehicles and on aircraft."
Children who weigh less than 20 pounds should be in a rear-facing safety seat. If the child weighs between 20 and 40 pounds, the safety seat should face forward. A child weighing more than 40 pounds should use the standard seat belt attached to the aircraft seat.
Many airlines allow an infant or toddler less than age 2 to ride in the lap of an adult passenger. The child does not need a separate ticket in this case; however, an infant seat is optimal in terms of safety.
At age 2 and over, the FAA requires that children be in their own seats during takeoff and landing. Some airlines offer "kid fares" or discounts for children's seats.
Before boarding, check with the flight attendant about where the safety seat should go. Many airlines prefer the child seat to be by a window. While the plane is taking off, be sure the child is safely strapped into the seat.
Regular routinesPlanning travel around the child's regular schedule may make the trip more pleasant. For example, a child may sleep for some or all of a flight scheduled at night or during naptime.
Food preferencesWhen confirming reservations, or 24 to 48 hours before the flight, it is usually possible to request a children's meal. It is also a good idea to carry small snacks such as fresh fruit, dry cereal, or nutrition bars.
Ear problems and motion sicknessThe sharp increase or decrease in altitude during takeoff and landing can cause increased pressure in a child's ear. It is a good idea, if possible, to avoid or postpone flying when the child is fighting an ear infection or a bad cold with congestion of the upper airway and sinuses.
In addition, it may be helpful to have an infant breast feed or suck on a pacifier or bottle during takeoff and landing. Older children may be encouraged to suck on a lollipop, drink from a straw, or to chew gum. The swallowing helps to decrease the buildup of pressure in the ears. If a child is prone to motion sickness, the doctor may also suggest ways to treat this problem.
Packing for the flightA bag with items a child will need during the trip should be carried onto the plane. For an infant or toddler, this might include diapers, wipes, bottles, formula, pacifiers, a change of clothes, and spill-proof cups. It is also helpful to pack a "fun bag" containing toys and games to entertain the child during the flight. Suitable items for plane travel include activity books, hand-held computer games, coloring books, crayons, travel games, stickers, and word games.
Security clearanceMedication items in carry-on luggage should be clearly marked. If needles or other hazardous items must be carried as medical supplies, a prescription from a healthcare professional should be carried along.
Boarding the planeIt is a good idea to arrive at the airport with enough time for the child to walk around or play before boarding. This can help the child burn off extra energy before being confined in an airline seat. Extra time will also permit a bathroom visit or diaper change. Often, people with small children are allowed to board ahead of other passengers.
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SouthWest Airlines Travel Tips, Infants and Toddlers, 2000