Hi everyone! So yeah, I bailed last week and didn’t post on Monday. If you missed, me I apologize. If not, I understand. 🙂 I spent the day traveling back to Texas from Kentucky with the hubby and the boys. We had a great (albeit too short) trip and were able to visit with a lot of family during the family reunion and throughout the week. Ashley made it from England this year and Lisa drove up from Tennessee as well, so All Three Ladies were actually together for the first time in years. I’m sure now that Ashley is back in England, a few pictures will probably surface on here at some point as she is really the photographer of the group. Anyway, throughout our combined travels, over the last few weeks we have been on the road and in the air with three babies under a year of age, two three year olds, a seven year old, ten year old and a twelve year old. We thought now might be a good time for a post about traveling with children. We had a lot to say, so this is going to be a two part post, with today’s focusing primarily on airline travel.
Children under the age of two can fly free domestically as long as they are seated on your lap. If they turn two by the return leg of the trip, a ticket is required. Note, however, that sometimes it might be best just to buy the ticket, depending on the price, so that they have their own seat. We flew just before Ian turned two and he sat on my lap. If I had it to do over, I would have just gotten him a seat. He was really too big at that age and my legs were numb by the time we landed. I spent the entire trip trying to make sure that his legs weren’t flopping onto the stranger next to me.
If you are flying domestically, no ID is required for children flying with you. This is true whether they are your children or not. The only caveat to this is that if you have a child under the age of two who is flying without a seat, you may be asked to show a birth certificate or some such identification to prove their age. I have never had this issue, though, and my three year old looked and sounded like a three year old before he even turned two when he was still riding free.
For most domestic flights, I would highly suggest traveling in the morning. You know your own children, but my kids are always freshest and happiest in the morning versus the afternoon and evening. Plus, if you get a mid-morning flight, there is a good chance that they (and you, if you’re lucky) can catch a nap before it’s time to land.
When going through security, children twelve and under do not have to remove their shoes. Otherwise, they have to go through the same screening process as an adult. If you are carrying an infant, you will generally just be allowed to walk through the metal detector instead of standing inside of the newer security machines or doing anything that involves an x-ray.
Children, regardless of age, will never be able to fly totally free on an international trip. Even if you plan to hold your infant during the duration of the flight, you will still be charged for taxes, fees, and sometimes part of the ticket. This is usually around 25% of the ticket price. If you plan to buy a seat for your infant, the cost is more like 75% of the full ticket price. Over the age of two, your child gets a normal seat, although you will sometimes be given a discount depending on the age of the child and the carrier with whom you are flying. Again, when you are going to be seated on a plane, in a not-so-comfortable chair for a long period of time, think carefully about whether it’s best to just pay more and get the ticket.
TSA agents in security are typically very good about allowing items related to babies to go through security, though depending on where you are flying from, you might get slightly different treatment. My experience when flying domestically is that anything goes as long as you’re willing to wait a few extra minutes for added security precautions. For example, last week I flew with pre-mixed formula and it was no big deal. I’m talking about the kind that you just have to screw your bottle cap and nipple onto. (It’s so much easier than carrying around all of the bottle parts!) They were very considerate and did not open it since it would then have to be used quickly. On the way to Kentucky, they just did a thorough pat down and then swiped a cloth over my hands and tested it for any traces of chemicals. On the way back to Houston, they peeled the wrapper off of the pre-mixed bottle and wiped it down to scan it for chemicals. I have never had to open any of my baby food when flying domestically, either. Ashley’s experience when flying internationally was a little different. She was still allowed to bring everything with her when she flew to America, but she had to taste 50% of her baby food in front of the security agents to prove that it was safe. On her return leg to England, she was able to go through without taste testing anything.
While you definitely want to pack any of your baby formula, juice, milk, and water are different since they aren’t necessarily baby items. You’ll want to just buy those after you get through security in one of the convenience stores. I also have a quick note on applesauce if your kids like it the way mine do. I have always been able to carry it on without any issue when it was in a pouch (like baby food), but I have seen the agents throw it away when it comes through in an unopened cup. Just something to think about when you’re packing snacks. 🙂
A question that I had as Ian got older was what to do about car seats on the airplane. You have a few options. When the child is small and still in an infant seat, you can either check it with the rest of your luggage, check it at the gate, or if you have paid for a seat for your infant, you can strap it into the seat and use it on the flight. I would not recommend checking it with your luggage. To me, there is just too much of a chance that it won’t end up where you are and it is just as easy to check it at the gate. If you do a gate check, you just get a gate check tag when you are boarding the plane and then you leave the infant seat by the door of the plane (same thing goes for your stroller). It will then be stowed with the rest of the luggage, but when you arrive at your destination, it will be unloaded and left right outside the plane in the walkway. This way when you disembark, you have immediate use of your infant seat. I am not sure about all carriers, but from my experience (with Delta and United), if you put the infant seat in the seat you have a ticket for, they will expect the child to remain in the infant seat for the duration of the flight. I’ve had one flight attendant who was very strict about this rule and a couple who were not. If you use a rear facing car seat, you may need to ask a flight attendant for a seat belt extender when you get on the plane so it can be secured properly.
For older children who are typically in a car seat but are no longer babies, you once again have a few options. You can take their car seat on board and put it in the seat for them so long as it has been approved by the FAA. I have never done this, but honestly, I cannot imagine dragging Ian’s car seat through the airport and then trying to fit it into a small airplane seat. I’m not sure it would work. It’s all based on personal preference and your car seat, though. Another option is to buy a CARES harness. This is a just a harness that hooks over the back of the seat and then functions much like the seat belt part of your normal car seat. I have seen a lot of mixed reviews on these because they do not have a piece that comes up between the child’s legs, meaning the child can wiggle down and get out of it. We bought one and loved it. Ian could probably have gotten out of it if he had tried harder, but we discovered that when using it, he felt very much like it was just his typical car seat and did not try at all to get down. It was actually very useful in keeping a two year old still and in his seat. Ashley bought one and hated it. She felt that Jude, at 17 months, was actually too small for it because one of the straps kept choking him as it was too close to his neck and she ended up not using it for the duration of the flight. Ian is a very tall little guy, so I never had this problem. Just something to think about.
The other option you have is to just use the lap belt that comes with the airplane. There is no rule that you have to use anything more than that, but as safety is always the priority, you should ensure that your child is large enough that the seat belt fits securely across the child’s lap. You should also be aware if using just the lap belt, that it’s incredibly easy for the child to unbuckle it on their own, so you may need to have a chat about how important it is to not unbuckle the seat belt. If you choose not to take a car seat on the plane with you, you can check it the same as luggage and it is considered a courtesy item (at least with United), meaning you will not be charged a baggage fee for checking it.
I have one final note about strollers. Use them as long as possible. As noted above, they can be gate checked the same as an infant seat. My three year old is really big enough to walk through an airport, but I have to tell you, when he does, it never ends well. Airports are full of things that a toddler/pre-schooler wants to investigate. Ian has run away from us to try to ride the escalator, he has thrown himself to the ground in a fit of rage when he was too tired and not allowed to have a drink of daddy’s coffee, and he has tried to run into a candy store unaccompanied. When these things happen, and they will (unless I’m the only one who has a three year old that doesn’t always like to listen), it is SUCH a relief to have a place where you can safely put your kiddo and strap him in. Even if he’s screaming his lungs out, you can use a stroller to get to a quiet place to calm the issue in a safe, less embarrassing way.
Okay folks, we have a lot more to say. Next week’s edition will have more about entertaining children during travel and will be less about flying and more about traveling in general. Safe travels!