Family vacations with the kids are GREAT! Relax, play, have fun - it can really be enjoyable. Like most things, being prepared can relieve a lot of the stress. I started traveling alone with my children when they were infants (3 months old!). I am a planner, so I had everything all planned out so things would go smoothly, but of course was ready for the unexpected! Knowing the airline rules before you leave is a must. Packing smart also helps.
Does my child need a plane ticket?
You may have heard of a "lap child". That term refers to a the rule that children less than two years old, don't require a ticket, they can be carried free of charge onto a plane and sit on the lap of an adult. You may need a document verifying their age, so be sure to carry a birth certificate just in case - or for international travel, a passport, but we will get to that in a bit. When in doubt, confirm the guidelines with your specific airline.
Does my child need a car seat?
If your child is over the age of 2, he/she will need a ticket and have their own seat. Even though car seats are not required for children on airplanes, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommends car seats for children who weigh less than 40 pounds. The car seat must be approved for use in cars and airplanes (not all car seats are airplane-compatible), check the car seat's label. Learn more about the FAA's car seat rules on airplanes from their dedicated web page.
The airline will announce early boarding for families traveling with children or people who need extra assistance. If I didn't have a car seat to install, I sometimes waited so that my kids didn't have to sit one minute longer than absolutely necessary. But when putting in a car seat, I needed all the help I could get and boarding early was perfect.
(we once had a car seat get stuck because of where the buckle was after tightening - we were the last people on the plane struggling with it - sweating and stressed my husband finally just used BRUTE FORCE and broke the seat belt to pry it loose!) After that episode, I always requested a seat belt extender so the buckle was within reach!
What can I bring through security?
The amount of liquids allowed through security for baby needs is different from the usual allowance. When traveling with babies, formula, breast milk or even juice may be carried on the plane in excess of 3.4 ounces - with proper notification to TSA officers before being screened. No need to worry about the liquids getting warm, ice packs are also allowed. All other liquids follow the 3-1-1 rule (3.4 ounce or smaller containers ; 1 quart-sized, clear plastic, zip-top bag; 1 bag per passenger). One-quart bag per person limits the total liquid volume each traveler can bring. 3.4 ounce (100ml) container size is a security measure. )
Every airline has different policies for children's items you can carry onto the plane vs items to be checked, like car seats and strollers. For example, at this time, United Airlines allows travelers to carry on a diaper bag, breast pump and child seat, in addition to their own carry-on baggage. It's best to check with the individual airline's policies before traveling. Most airlines allow a stroller through security so you can easily carry everything you need through the airport to your gate. Once you board the plane, you will likely have to "gate check" the stroller, meaning they will take it on the jetway right before you board the plane and you will retrieve it at the aircraft door once you land. Making the trickiest part getting your kids to and from their seats!
For a complete list of what you may bring as it relates to traveling with children, please visit: https://www.tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures/traveling-children
Choosing a seat
Choose a seat on the plane when you book your ticket to ensure seats together (it is never guaranteed but most airlines really try to keep families together). If your child will enjoy looking out the window, choose a window seat. If you seeing nothing but sky may scare your child, consider an aisle or middle seat. Consider choosing a seat by the lavatory so that you won't have to wait for the food cart to be out of your way.
Speaking of bathrooms, not all planes come equipped with changing tables. You can check the aircraft online before you go, but be flexible, airlines can change the aircraft at any time. Put on a fresh diaper right before boarding the flight, starting off dry can only help. Some people prefer a pullup or swim diaper to a traditional diaper for extra absorbency. If you do need to change your child during the flight, ask a flight attendant if there is a changing table onboard, some planes only have one and it may not be in your section. I prefer to bring a bag and have everything I may need (my kids were famous for explosions), but remember that the aisle is narrow and the bathroom is tiny so use your best judgement.
Some planes come with an entertainment screen at the seat. Bring headphones (single jack). I find it so frustrating to find myself without headphone and having to purchase them when I have so many random pair laying around at home! (of course, I have purchased them, on more than one occasion, it happens!)
EVERYONE NEEDS A PASSPORT for international travel! Children traveling internationally, even infants, need a passport. And anyone under the age of 16 applying for a passport must do it in person, with the consent of both parents/guardians. Passports for children under 16 are valid for 5 years, always double check the expiration dates during the trip planning so there is time to renew if necessary. Most international travel requires a 6 month validity on your passport, meaning your passport cannot expire within 6 months of your travel dates.
Popping Ears on a Plane
Ears feel clogged and need to be 'popped' due to the air pressure on the airplane. There are several ways to equalize the pressure in your ears, the easiest being swallowing. During takeoff and landing (pilots begin the decent long before the announcement so keep an eye on the time) I try to start paying attention to popping my ears 30 minutes before arrival time. Suggestions for helping your child pop their ears: pacifier, bottle, lollipop, snacks, drinks and gum. NOTE: it is generally suggested not to ingest bathroom water on a plane, so don't wash your child's pacifier in the sink and then put it in his/her mouth. Use bottled water you bring or get from a flight attendant to wash anything going into your mouth.
Remember, traveling is fun!
Pack a great sense of humor, patience and sense of adventure and have a great trip!
Hi! My name is Buffy and I am the owner of Sunlit Travel! I love to plan special occasions like GROUP VACATIONS and MULTI-GENERATIONAL FAMILY VACATIONS! My favorite part is adding special touches to make the trip especially memorable!