Monday, January 17, 2011

What to ask the airline before traveling with kids

For traveling infants, pajamas make great travel wear.

When traveling with small children and facing a long flight, there are several things you should ask the airline about in advance, preferably when you book your trip. Being aware of your choices and options can make your family travel a lot easier and more comfortable.

Infants & bassinets
If your child is under two, they can travel sitting on your lap. This means you don’t need to pay for a seat for them, though a small fee still applies. However, holding a child on your lap for many hours can be challenging, so it’s a good idea to bring a baby carrier like a Snugli or Baby Björn, if your child is small enough to use one. You can get your child a seat too of course even if they’re under two, but then you will be paying close to full price.

There is also another option. If you’re going on a long flight, your child is under two and meets certain size and weight requirements, your baby may get a bassinet on board.

A bassinet is a small cot and on a long flight they are a fantastic perk: your child gets a bed to sleep in and you get your hands free. There are only a limited number of seats on the plane where a bassinet can be accommodated, so you may not always get one, but always, always ask.

Meals for kids
If you’re going on a flight where meals will be served, you should be able to order kids’ meals for your children ahead of time. Just mention it to your travel agent or the airline when you book your flight. Even some airlines that usually charge for snacks and food will sometimes provide kids’ meals for free. That was my experience on Iceland Air, for example.   

Seat assignments 
Always make sure that you have access to the aisle. I cannot stress this enough. Window seats are nice and may keep kids occupied looking at the view for a while, but the aisle seat is your lifeline. It makes taking kids to the bathroom or for little strolls easier for them, for you and for other passengers.

If your entire family can’t be seated next to each other (which may happen, especially if there are more than three of you), consider asking for the additional seat, or seats, just across the aisle on the same row, rather than in front or behind. My husband and I have used this seating arrangement often and it works well. You can see and talk to each other easier than if you’re seated on different rows, and can also easily pass items (and children!) back and forth.

Car seats
Some people will tell you to definitely bring a car seat for your child to use on the plane. I’m not one of those people, but a car seat can be convenient. It does make the seat more comfortable for your child when they’re small, but carrying the car seat around can become burdensome, especially if you’re taking multiple flights.

If you want to bring a car seat, check with the airline in advance. Some airlines allow them on board and others don’t. Also, if you want to use the car seat at your destination, make sure that it’s legal (and fits into the cars) in the country you’re headed to.

Strollers & carriers
Like car seats, strollers can be convenient but also a hassle. The good thing is that your child has somewhere to sit and won’t complain about having to walk long distances through big airports. The bad thing is that if they don’t want to use the stroller, you still have to lug that stroller around. Also, you will probably have to check the stroller either at check-in or at the gate when you board the plane, and will then have to wait for it to be brought out once the plane lands.

If your child is still an infant, consider using a baby carrier instead of a stroller. Carriers are nice because they leave your hands free to haul luggage and hold tickets and passports. My husband and I used a Baby Björn carrier when our children were infants and then switched to using a Deuter back carrier until they were about two.

We did bring umbrella strollers a couple of times and they were good for moving fast through airports with tired or dawdling children. However, our kids rarely wanted to sit down, so the strollers mostly ended as unnecessary baggage. But if you’re sure that your child will use the stroller, then it may be worth bringing one.

As with car seats, some airlines are happy to bring strollers inside the cabin while others require you to check them at the gate. Ask ahead of time to avoid unnecessary hassles!

Finally: double-check everything
I highly recommend that you contact the airline a few weeks, or months if you're neurotic like me, before you travel to check that any requests for bassinets, kids’ meals and seating, have been noted.

Read more about flying with kids:

2 comments:

  1. GREAT article, and i totally second the double checking thing. airlines are negligent at best. I have compiled a list of airplane policies wrt family travel that might be useful to you and your readers: http://momaboard.com/general-travel-tips/flying/the-directory-of-airline-policies-for-children/

    best,
    kaamna
    momaboard.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you so much! And that's a great list. It really helps to be prepared when you're traveling with kids!

    ReplyDelete

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