Thursday, February 14, 2013

Flying with kids - 7 questions for the airline

When I choose a flight for my family, the main thing I want to find out from the airline is how much that flight is going to cost. The second most important thing I want to find out is usually flight departure and arrival times, and any transfer times (including potential layovers) if there is more than one flight involved.

However, once you have picked a flight, there are some other things that can be very useful to find out about from the airline. Here are my suggestions for things you should ask your airline when you're traveling with kids and booking a flight. 

1. Can you reserve cots/bassinets for babies?
If you're traveling with an infant on a long flight, this is definitely a question you should ask. Different airlines have different policies regarding what age and size your child has to be in order to qualify for a cot, and getting one is usually done on a "first come, first served" basis, but always, always ask about this option. Getting a bed (usually for free) for your baby is an amazing perk on a flight.

2. Are there special meals for kids?
Many airlines do offer special meals with more "kid-friendly" foods, but often you do have to order them ahead of time. Some airlines (Iceland Air for example) will offer them automatically, based on your child's age when you book your tickets, but it's best to ask. Other special meals, like baby meals, vegetarian meals, and more are sometimes also available.


3. What are the policies for bringing a stroller?
If you're traveling with younger children, you might want to bring a stroller on your trip: either to use at the airport, or to use at your destination. It's a good idea to ask the airline about this. For example:
  • can you bring the stroller to the gate?
  • does it have to be checked with your luggage?
To protect your stroller if you have to check it, it can be a good idea to use a so-called gate-check bag. There are many brands available, including JL Childress and Prince Lionheart.

4. Where do you sit?
When you're booking your flight, make sure the airline is seating your family together, and that you get the kinds of seats you want ("always have access to aisle" is my mantra...). It would seem logical that they'd always seat a parent next to their children, but if there are not enough seats available to do that, they will put you wherever they can - even if that means seating your child separately from you (this has happened to me). If you are not seated together, the airline will try to remedy that once you're at the airport. Also, once you're on board, your fellow passengers will probably help out as well: I mean, who wants to sit next to a child separated from its parent?


5. Can you bring car seats?
Just like with strollers, you might want to bring a car seat to use on board the plane, or to use at your destination. Different airlines have different policies on what kinds of car seats can be used on board and some don't allow it at all, so definitely check this before you travel. If you're checking the seat with your luggage, you can use a special bag to protect it. Gate-check bags for car seats are available from many companies, including JL Childress and Britax. Sometimes, special plastic bags are provided for free at the airport to put "special luggage", like seats and strollers, into before checking them.

6. What is the checked luggage allowance?
How many pieces of luggage you can bring, and how much that luggage can weigh before you have to pay a fee, varies from airline to airline. It's a good idea to check carefully what the allowance is, so that you don't have to pay extra at the airport.

7. Are there individual entertainment screens on board?
Being able to watch movies and play games on a screen right at your seat can really help pass the time for both kids and adults on long flights. On long flights, most airlines do provide this service, but ask anyway, just in case. I know at least one family that traveled from the US to Australia on a flight with no individual entertainment screens. If you know that's going to be the case, you can prepare accordingly by bringing extra activities for the kids, and maybe some electronic devices of your own for games and movies.

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