Traveling with children takes fun to an all new level. By planning ahead, you can make the mundane part of travel — like being on board a plane for several hours — enjoyable for your kids.
Making Air Time Enjoyable:
Being stuck on a crowded plane can be difficult for adults and even harder for children. Bring items that will keep them entertained like games, books, movies, and toys that will comfort them. Have a variety of drinks and snacks available. Pack familiar items like blankets, a pillow, stuffed animals — anything that will help them feel more secure.
What to Bring On Board the Plane:
If you are traveling with a baby or toddler…
Toddler’s Diaper Bag (part of your carry-on bag allowance):
• Pack a diaper for every hour of travel. Pack extras for delays and to cover one or two days after your arrival. Include diaper wipes, a changing pad, and diaper rash ointment. You may want to purchase diapers upon arrival to save space in your checked bags.
• A change of clothes, socks, two blankets, and some toys or books
• Antibacterial hand gel
• Bring enough formula or breast milk for the trip, and a portable bottle warmer, bottles and nipples, filtered water, cereal, baby food (if your baby is eating solids), juices and snacks, spoons, bibs, and a sippy cup
• Two plastic bags for dirty diapers or clothes
• Pain reliever formula for infants and a thermometer
• An extra shirt for you, in case your baby spits up
• Baby soap and shampoo, brush, inflatable tub
• Sunblock and hat
• First aid kit
• Oral rehydration solution such as Pedialyte, to prevent dehydration if your baby gets diarrhea or is vomiting
• Any prescription medications, if they are taking any
•Fitted sheets – the hotel may not provide fitted sheets for baby cribs. It is a good idea to bring your own that are up-to-date on safety standards.
Car Seat or Child Aviation Restraint System:
Pack a Federal Aviation approved car seat or AmSafe’s Child Aviation Restraint System on the plane to secure your child. Most airline seats are 16” wide, so make sure your child’s car seat will fit. It should be used during all modes of transportation throughout your trip. Be sure the label says it is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.
The Federal Aviation Administration recommends the following:
• Children weighing less than 20 pounds: Secure them in a rear-facing child safety seat
• Children 20 – 40 pounds.: Secure them in a forward-facing child safety seat
• Children 22 – 44 pounds: AmSafe’s CARES Child Aviation Restraint System (see below)
• Children over 40 pounds: Secure them in the airplane seat belt
What is AmSafe’s Child Aviation Restraint System?
The AmSafe Child Aviation Restraint System (CARES) is designed specifically for children over the age of one who are 22 – 44 pounds and up to 40 inches tall for air travel only. It is not to be used as an alternative to a car seat in an automobile. CARES is a harness-like child safety device that is certified by the FAA as an alternative to a car seat on a plane. Small children cannot withstand the jolts caused by turbulence as easily as an adult. The harness keeps them more secure and will not allow them to slide out of their seat belt.
Since it is a lightweight restraint system, it is easy to carry through the airport. You can then check your child’s car seat as baggage, so you do not have to lug it through the airport.
Stroller or Baby Sling
Strollers make it easier to transport your child through the airport and can be checked at the gate with most airlines. It will be delivered to you upon arrival at the aircraft door upon request. If your stroller is large and non-collapsible, the airline may require it to be checked as baggage. Check in advance on what the airline’s policy is.
Contact information of your Child’s Physician
List any allergies your child may have and carry an updated list of their record of immunizations.
Toys, Movies, and Books
Bring a variety of toys and books that they love and download their favorite movies or tv shows.
Getting Through Security Checkpoints with Ease:
When traveling with children through airport security checkpoints, you are allowed to carry juices, formula, breast milk, baby food, etc. in containers that are larger than the liquid limit of 3.4 ounces. These items should be carried separately from other liquids and declared at security checkpoints.
Be prepared in advance to make it an easy transition through security.
• Diaper bags will be inspected.
• Strollers – Remove items in the pockets and pouches of strollers and diaper bags. Do this in advance to save time at the checkpoint.
• Children 12 and under can leave their shoes on and go through the screening several times if the alarm goes off.
• The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will not separate parents from their children.
• Babies must be carried through security and will not be allowed to go through in a carrier or stroller. Additional screenings may be required.
• Toys: All toys must be put in the bin and screened. Prepare your child for this in advance, so they are not concerned that their toys are being taken from them. Let them know that their toys will have to go through the X-ray machine by themselves. If they become upset over having their toy or stuffed animal removed from them, try telling them a story about it. For example, say that their toy really wants to go through the X-ray so it will be safe on the plane. And then ask them, don’t you want your toy to be safe so it can fly with you?
• Toddlers who can walk without assistance will have to pass through security alone. They will not be able to carry anything with them when walking through.
• All items (strollers, car seats, booster seats, etc.) must go through the X-ray machine if they will fit.
How to Alleviate Ear Pain While in the Air:
Children can sometimes be bothered by pain in their ears during the flight. The pressure in the middle ear can be equalized by swallowing or chewing. Infants can suck on a bottle to alleviate pain. Older children can try chewing gum. Giving your child something to eat or drink while the plane is taking off or landing will oftentimes alleviate ear pain caused by pressure as the cabin adjusts to altitude.
Try ear plugs (like EarPlanes for children). Check with your child’s physician in advance for their recommendations.
Safety/Health Precautions for Children:
The best safety advice is to keep an eye on your children at all times in public places and accompany them to the restroom, etc. Use strollers or baby slings to make it easier to watch over your children.
Water Safety – Items to Pack in your Checked Bag
If your vacation includes swimming or being around the water (including pools), plan on packing a life vest or water safety devices in your checked bags. Include water shoes to protect your child’s feet while in the water or on hot sand. The availability of these may be limited or difficult to find in other countries, so plan to bring your own.
Put Identification Information on Your Child:
It only takes a moment in a crowded airport or another unfamiliar place for your child to wander off or lose sight of you. In case your child gets separated from the family, it is important that they have identifying information and contact numbers (including your cell number) in his or her clothing or pockets. This information can also be pinned to them so it is easy to see.
Precautions for Infants under Three Months Old:
Take special precautions to protect your newborn’s immature immune system from illness. Be sure to wash your hands as often as possible—soap and water is the best method. You can use disinfectant hand gel as an alternative. Don’t let strangers hold or touch your baby.
Enjoy every moment with your precious children!
For insightful travel ideas, check out my book:
Know Before You Go: Traveling the U.S. and Abroad