Raise your hand if you – pre-children – used to silently pray that the woman with the kids getting on the plane wasn’t sitting near you? Now that you’re a parent, your perception has probably changed. To help you and your kids enjoy your time in the air, Britlan Malek, PsyD, a child psychologist with two young children, has some tips for flying with infants and toddlers.

  1. Wait to get on the plane. Rather than pre-boarding, it’s a good idea to spend more time in the terminal letting your kids run around and burn off some energy.  
  2. Pack a new toy or book. Pack plenty of easy-to-hold toys and books. Avoid electronic toys that make noise – not very welcome by other passengers. Instead, try a book with different textures to feel or a scratch-and-sniff book.  
  3. Coloring books are great mid-air activities.  
  4. Bring the wipes. Kids are messy. Airplanes are cramped. Inevitably, you will have a spilled drink, and snotty nose, a blowout diaper or worse, so make sure you have extra wipes.
  5. Snacks are a great distraction. TSA has specific guidelines for traveling with infants and babies, but often TSA guards are very reasonable about allowing milk and other soft snacks. Also bring an empty straw cup with a screw-on lid to be filled onboard. Best way to avoid wet laps!  
  6. Let people know if you have allergy concerns. 30,000 feet is not the place you want to experience a food allergy. If your child has a known allergy, call the airline ahead of time and let them know – many are willing to remove that food from the flight or from the plane altogether that day. Always make sure you have your child’s allergy medications with you. And, just to be safe, never allow your child to sample a new food while on a plane. 
  7. Safety is a must. Airlines require kids over 2 to have their own seat and there is a lot of talk recently about the FAA not allowing lap-child tickets at all. Kiddos are safest in their car seats or 5-point harnesses that attach to the seat’s lap belt. Not only does this keep you little ones safe, but it provides them the physical reminder that they should stay seated on the plane (not jumping on the seats or wandering the aisles). 
  8. Pack extra clothes. When traveling with a baby, always pack a few extra changes of clothes and an extra shirt for you. “I can recall going through three changes and desperately wishing I could change my own top after a few in-flight spit-ups,” says Dr. Malek.    
  9. Go hands free. Infant-carriers/slings are easiest to keep your hands free while in the airport and can be easily placed in overhead bin. For toddlers, use a simple umbrella stroller you can check plane-side. Never expect a young child to keep up with you as you rush to your flight or to stay right by your side in a crowded airport with so many great distractions. Older kids will enjoy pulling their own wheeled suitcase.

What are your travel tips? Any favorite toys?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Britlan Malek, PsyD, is a clinical psychologist at Children’s National Medical Center. She specializes in developmental delays and autism spectrum disorder in young children.

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