Flying with children can be a lot easier than you think. See the tips below...
Always bring snacks in your carry-on luggage. Meals are a rarity on airplanes these days, especially if you're making connections. (Non-stop flights are a rarity, too.) You can leave home early in the morning, arrive late in the afternoon at your destination, and never get a real meal the whole day. For that reason, pack substantial snacks and drinks for your child -- and for yourself -- to stave off hunger-induced crankiness and irritability.
Don't forget to order kids' meals ahead of time. If you're lucky enough to get a meal on an airplane, the chances are good that it will be something your children don't like. You'll do better with a kids' meal -- usually hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken nuggets, peanut butter, or even pizza. Some airlines require at least 24 hour's notice, so order when you make your reservation.
Don't order kids' meals for pre-teens and teens. These meals are definitely not cool. Ask older kids to pack their own snacks and drinks, though, so there's no opportunity for complaining -- at least about the food.
If you're traveling with infants or toddlers, bring your own bottled water. Airplane water is treated, and it can upset a baby's digestive system. If you're going to mix water with formula or juice on your journey, bottled water is best. It also surprises some parents to know that tap water varies from region to region -- even within the same state. To avoid any possibility of digestive problems, bottled water is a good choice for this age group even after you reach your destination.
Always bring bottled water anyway. Because of the dry, recirculated air, experts suggest you drink a glass of water for every hour you're on an airplane. If you have your own bottle in the seat pocket in front of you, you don't have to bug the flight attendant, wait until the crew isn't busy with safety chores, or drink airplane water.
Consider the worst travel scenario -- then pack your carry-on luggage accordingly. Delays are always possible, as are canceled flights and lost luggage. If you think it can't happen to you, think again. When you pack your carry-on bags, consider the possibility that this is all you might have for a day or two of your vacation. If you're going to a warm-weather destination from cool weather, pack at least one appropriate outfit -- shorts, T-shirt, and sandals -- as well as a bathing suit, for each family member. That way, even if your luggage disappears, or doesn't appear in your room until three hours after you check in, you can still take your kids to the pool and you can all be happy and comfortable. Also pack snacks and activity books or games in easily accessible places. Never put a child's favorite blanket or other comfort item in checked luggage; it's not replacable if your luggage goes to Boise while you're in Lake Buena Vista.
Let kids pack a carry-on backpack for themselves. You can make suggestions, but the choices should be theirs. They really do know the things they like to play with. Make sure they know that they have to carry it, though. Get it all packed at least a day ahead of time so they can practice carrying it around the house. If they can't do it there, they won't be able to do it for long distances on the actual day of travel, either. That should discourage them from packing the metal dump truck and other such problematic items.
If you're thinking of asking for the bulkhead seats, consider carefully. Bulkhead seats definitely offer more leg room and a chance for kids to play on the floor. The arms usually don't go up, though, so kids can't lie down even if there are empty seats. There's also no under-seat storage, so you'll have all of your family's stuff spread out on the floor around you, and you'll have to put it all away during take-off and landing. Your view of the movie screen is often not that great in bulkhead seats -- it's too close.
If you're offered the last row of the plane, ask a lot of questions. The last row of seats on many types of airplanes frequently don't recline. This area -- often right by the engines -- can be uncomfortably noisy, and on some types of planes the last row, and sometimes even the last two rows, have no windows. It's close to the bathroom, though, so if you can't change, look on the bright side.
Whenever possible, book an aisle and a window seat in a three-seat row. Middles are always the last to be sold and you may end up with enough room for the kids to spread out, nap, and play comfortably. If the flight is booked and someone does show up, you won't have any trouble giving away either the aisle or the window seat, depending on whether you and your child want the aisle and middle or window and middle.
Buy a seat for your baby or toddler, even if the airline allows "under twos" to sit on your lap for free. Here's the reality: infants and toddlers have been killed or injured in severe turbulence as well as crashes that others survived. No matter what the airlines tell you, you cannot hold onto your baby under these conditions.
If you're bringing a baby or toddler on board a plane, bring an FAA-approved safety seat with you (the label usually notes that the seat is approved). Check and double check with the airline ahead of time to make certain you can bring your safety seat on board.
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