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Plane Facts On Flying With Kids

(December 1999)

It's that time of year - time to fly home for the holidays! If you are traveling with kids, you know the stress level involved when it comes to the big travel event. Kids are so energetic that flying in the confines of a small airplane cabin is sure to test your sanity.

So, how can you keep what little sanity you have left when flying with kids? In short, a little planning goes a long way. Traveling with children goes much more smoothly when you tell them what to expect from their big adventure. In addition, a little "food" bribery works wonders.

Here are some tips to make flying with kids less turbulent.

Choosing The Flight & Seats

Try your best to select non-stop or direct flights. Simply put, the less airport connections, the better. I personally find changing airplanes to be THE most stressful part of traveling with kids. There is nothing worse than coming in at Gate 1, only to find you'll need to schlep the tribe and their gear all the way to Gate 50!

The time you fly can also make a significant difference. Flying at non-peak times, late at night, mid-afternoon, and early in the week from Mondays-Wednesdays can make your life a whole lot easier. Remember that Thursdays through Sundays are higher traffic periods.

When booking your flight, be sure to state your seating preference. The best seats for traveling with children are:

· The bulkhead area · Near the bathroom · Window seats

Remember, if you are sitting in a bulkhead row, all of your carry-on items need to be stowed in the overheads for take off and landing. During the flight, you can place your items back on the floor. As a reminder, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) has determined that seats which are directly adjacent to exits should be restricted from occupancy to customers traveling with infants. Additionally, only one infant per row on either side of the plane is acceptable due to the availability of oxygen masks.

Pack A Bag With All The Necessities

They key to any traveling with children is a well-stocked bag with the necessities, and bribery food! If you are traveling with infants, understand that most airports do not carry diapers or formula, so you will need to plan accordingly. I always recommend taking a full day of supplies or more because you never know if there will be significant weather delays, etc.

So, what should be in the bag?

· Since many airplanes tend to be cold, make sure all children have an extra sweater or jacket at their seat.

· For babies and toddlers, bring along diapers, wipes, a change of clothes (in case of motion sickness), a favorite blanket, toy, and other items you find necessary.

· If your child is on medication, be sure you have enough for the entire plane ride. As always, keep medication with you in your carry-on - never check medicine.

· For older kids, have them pack their own backpack with crayons, markers, paper, and toys to keep them busy.

· Food! Be sure to include favorite snack foods for the kids. Cheerios, granola bars, cheese and crackers, juice boxes, and any convenient snack foods that are easy to pack will keep kids happy. If you are flying on an international flight, make sure to understand the customs rules before you leave: most fruit and dairy products will be confiscated at customs.

· Take along a copy of your child's pertinent medical information and your pediatrician's phone numbers. Especially when traveling overseas, ask your doctor or health service for a pediatrician referral.

· Lastly, don't forget your tickets. Better yet, when you make your reservation, get e-tickets so you won't have to worry about them.

Child Safety Seats

Flying is safer for infants and toddlers if you purchase a safety seat. Children who are over two years old are required to purchase a ticket. Infants, who are carried in an adult's lap, do not require a ticket.

If you are flying with small children under 40 pounds, you may use an FAA approved child safety seat. As a reminder, many booster seats are not FAA approved. The Civil Aviation Medical Institute (CAMI) has found that backless booster seats and harnesses could expose a child to abdominal and back injuries. All approved child seats will have a small yellow sticker on the device stating that it is FAA approved.

The child seat must be used in an unoccupied aircraft seat and cannot be held in an adult's lap. Child seats cannot be used in an exit row, or in the row immediately before or after an exit row. In addition, passengers with lap infants cannot be seated in exit rows.

On long hauls, such as international flights, many airlines offer bassinets, which are provided free of charge. These bassinets are large enough to hold a child up to about 6 months old. They may not be used for takeoff, landing, or any time the fasten seat belt sign is illuminated.

Kid Food

Don't forget that you can order special children's meals for your little ones. Airlines do not charge extra for these meals. Many airlines offer kid favorites that include hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, and chicken nuggets.

United Airlines serves Friendly Skies Meals™ on flights from 21 cities. These meals include McDonald's® hamburgers or chicken nuggets along with cookies and a toy.

If you are traveling with an infant and need formula heated, know that airplanes do not have microwaves on board. One great tip I learned as a flight attendant is to use the "air sick sacks" in the seat pocket in front of you. They are waterproof and make great bottle warmers. Pour hot water in and place the bottle in to warm up. A few minutes later, you will have warm formula for your baby!

Travel Day

Here is a list of things you can do to make your travel day much easier:

· Dress for comfort. Dress for comfort, and let your kids wear comfortable play clothes. Save the good clothes in your carry-on bag and change into these after your arrival. Grandma will never know!

· Arrive early. Allow ample driving time to the airport for holiday traffic delays. It's best to arrive two hours before departure to start things off on the right foot.

· Check luggage first. Check luggage first, then park the car. This is much easier than trying to carry luggage and children at the same time.

· Security screening lines. Security screening lines may be long this time of year. If you are using a stroller, be ready to take your child out of the stroller so security personnel can inspect it.

· Tire them out!. Once you are at the gate area, let your children work off as much energy as possible before flying. Use every opportunity to walk and move around before boarding. Some airports like Pittsburgh, Chicago and Boston have indoor playgrounds.

· Pre-board. Take advantage of pre-boarding. This helps you and the kids get settled in, and allows you to find a nearby space for carry-ons.

· Pillows and blankets. Grab pillows and blankets before they disappear.

· Gate-check your strollers. If you are bringing a stroller, ask for a gate-check. This means that the stroller is taken from you as you board and given to you as you deplane. Never check your stroller with your luggage. You will need a stroller for the long walk to baggage claim or for changing aircraft.

· Tour the cockpit. If there is time, ask the flight attendants if it is possible for the kids to get a peek into the cockpit before or after the flight. Most flight crews enjoy showing children the cockpit. More often, the best time is after the flight. Kids will be amazed by all the lights and instruments.

· Seat belts. When in your seats, explain to the children about the fasten seat belt sign. Let them know that when the captain has the seat belt sign on, they cannot leave their seats - even for the potty.

· Window seats. Let children take turns at the window. The window is the most fun place to sit on the airplane. Try to make sure every child has a chance to see the sights while flying.

· Toy story. In-flight, divvy up the toys sparingly. Depending on flight time, it is best to offer one plaything at a time. It helps to pass the time away in small segments.

Ear Pain

Ear pain is the most common airplane problem with infants and toddlers. Ear pain occurs when the plane is ascending to cruising altitude or making a descent to land. Pain occurs when the ears' Eustachian tubes are blocked due to rapid changes in cabin pressure. The best thing to do is to feed your baby a bottle, a sippy cup, or have them suck on a pacifier. If that doesn't work, understand that crying actually relives their pain as it unblocks the tubes.

If your child has a cold, make sure you seek the advice of doctor before your trip. They will often prescribe an antihistamine to help keep congestion at bay.

Most of the time traveling, with your kids is a fun experience. There are times, however, when it can seem like a form of torture. For every parent whose normally well-behaved sweetie has turned into a screaming maniac at the airport, just remember to keep a sense of humor!

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