For many travellers flying especially long haul with kids can be a tough experience; I have a young daughter, so I know. Packing all that extra stuff (car seat, stroller – usually 1 extra suitcase for all of the baby stuff) can be a real pain at first, but you end up getting the hang of it with time. Here are a few things I’ve learnt on how to make your flying experience much more tolerable when travelling with young ones:
1. What kind of baggage to take with you on the flight
Airlines have their own policies related to hand luggage and baggage allowance for infants; it’s important to understand where they stand on standard infant equipment like strollers and car seats. Air Canada, for example, allows you to gate check one stroller and a car seat in addition to the two pieces of checked baggage, and one carry-on bag not exceeding 10 kg. Passengers may use the small collapsible umbrella type of strollers; but if you have a larger stroller, it will be considered as holding luggage and will subject to extra fees if you’ve already checked more than two pieces of baggage.
2. Booking the morning flight
A common ploy that lots of parents use is to book morning flights; that way, if you have a child who cries a lot, you don’t annoy other passengers as much as you would by taking a late night flight when most passengers are trying to sleep. Alternatively, you can book a flight around your child’s naptime – this way, you’ll keep their routine on schedule; the thinking is it’s much easier dealing with a sleeping child than a fussy child.
3. Planning activities to keep the kids busy
Depending on your kids’ age, you’ll have to plan how best to keep you child engaged during the flight. If it’s a toddler, make sure you download games they can play on your smartphone. This is also a good time to break out the new toys to hold their interest for a longer period. Just remember to stick to one activity until your child is bored, before moving to the next. Sometimes carrying items like their favourite blanket can help.
4. Getting seats assigned next to each other
While there’s a good chance that if you book a flight as a family you’ll all end up seated together, it’s not a given. If you’re not keen enough while booking, you could end up getting assigned separate seats from each other, especially around summer when most people head off for their vacation. While Air Canada guarantees toddlers a seat next to their parents for free in economy class (this rule was amended in April 2016 after an uproar), many other airlines charge a premium of $25 or more for this privilege. To avoid such inconveniences you should confirm your seat assignments while booking online. If you can’t get adjacent seats, don’t fret. You can set up alerts for seat openings using web services like ExpertFlyer.com. The service is free for notification of one free seat, buy you pay 99 cents to receive an email notification when two adjacent seats become available. Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Virgin America and United Airlines all offer this service.
5. Travel documentation
Even though some countries allow children to travel on their parents’ passports, Canada isn’t one of them, so you need to organize a passport for international flights or a Nexus card for travel from Canada to the US. When taking domestic flights it’s recommended to carry an original birth certificate especially if you’re travelling with a lap child, just in case you have to prove their age.
6. When to buy or not buy a ticket for your infant
Air Canada has the following policies regarding travel with children that you should know about: Children under 2 years old can travel as lap children provided the flight is within Canada and to/from the United States. However, only one infant per adult passenger (16 years or more) is allowed.
- You may purchase a seat for your infant at full adult fare provided you have a proper child restraint device.
- Children’s fares amount to10% of adult fare if carried on the lap.
- If the child turns 2 between departure and return, you will have to pay the published child’s fare during the return trip.
Many airlines don’t have any issues allowing your “lap child” to occupy an empty seat in economy if one is available, but the chances you’ll get one during peak season are slim, so I wouldn’t count on it.
7. Early boarding
Nowadays, early boarding for families with children isn’t guaranteed. Most flights reserve this benefit for priority customers – those in Business Class, and Premium economy. If you’re travelling as a family in economy, you should take advantage and get on the plane before the rest of the passengers doing general boarding. This way, you can fit your hand luggage into the overhead compartment, and get your kids settled early enough.
8. Organizing meals for the kids
Most long-haul flights serve meals for free in economy class and you can order your child’s meals as you book your flight. Air Canada gives you a window of 18 hours before the first flight when ordering a special meal. Their special meals also include purees for children under 2 years, and you’re also permitted to carry baby formula, breast milk, juice and baby food in your carry-on baggage. Make a point of carrying treats during the flight to keep your kids busy in case they get cranky. But avoid chocolate, which can be messy and other high-sugar snacks which might over-excite them.
9. Taking control of your kids.
Although most people expect with some level of noise from kids, you shouldn’t let things get out of control. It’s still your job to make sure your child is occupied and not driving everyone up the wall. To make things a little smoother it helps to let your kids know beforehand what’s expected of them before any journey – like when to wear their safety belt. It also helps when you travel with another adult because you can take turns keeping the child happy.