Flying as a Family with Young Kids

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

The parents were a bit nervous. They were flying for the first time with their two children who were one and four years old. The parents had heard nightmare stories from others about their young children flying. This included one child who had run away from her parents while in the airport security line and an infant who cried during the entire three hour plane flight.

While there is always a bit of uncertainty for parents when young children fly, there are several steps parents can take to make a trip go smoothly. The first step starts at home, as parents can review with their children what is going to happen at the airport. This should include how luggage is checked in and what is expected when going through the airport security lines.

It is important for parents to explain to children when they are in the security line why they will need to put their stuffed animal or blanket on the x-ray cart along with their carry-on bag and that they will get them back after the officers look it over. Parents should also stress that the children need to stay close to them and be on their best behavior. For more precocious children, parents should remind them that it is against the law to make threats such as saying they have a bomb in their bag, even if it is just a joke.

This early preparation will put younger children at ease and gives them a better idea of what is going to happen. Even when children are prepared, parents should get to the airport well ahead of their flight. This will make the experience less rushed and allow plenty of time to get through the airport security lines which can be more than an hour in some airports.

It is a good idea to bring electronic devices along that the children can watch or play while they wait in the longer lines. There also may be an option at the airport for families to enter family lanes which allow families shorter wait times through security so parents should be on the lookout for these lines as they are not always easy to find.

When packing for the trip, families should not forget their children’s car seats. Not only are these important to use in the car but they should also be used on the plane. Make sure that the car seat can be used without a base and parents should review how to install them using the lap seatbelt on planes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children have their own seat on a plane and be strapped into car seats. Even though airlines allow children under two years old to sit on a parents’ laps, it is safer for them to be strapped into their own seat.

Once the flight takes off, parents should make sure that children have a variety of toys and snacks available to them. This is where electronic devices can be a life saver as children often watch their favorite shows or play their games for most of a flight.

Young infants and toddlers are particularly susceptible to experiencing ear pain during the flight due to the change in air pressure. To minimize ear pain, it is recommended for infants to nurse or suck on a bottle while older children can try chewing gum or drinking liquids with a straw. This can help counteract the air pressure changes they are experiencing.

Doing some advanced preparation for flying with young children can help prevent many common problems that families experience when traveling by plane. This makes everyone’s travel experience smoother and less stressful.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Friday on July 1, 2016

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