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Taking Babies & Toddlers on the Plane: 5 Tips

Air travel can be tricky alone, much less when you have a baby or children in tow. To help you avoid some common mishaps, I've sourced an expert, and by expert I do mean a mother of two, veteran American Airlines Flight Attendant of 13 years, and cartoonist, Amy Sherman. Together, we’ve put together five tips to help make your next trip the vacation you intended.

1. Ears and Altitude

The American Academy of Otolaryngology cautions not to allow a child to sleep for the descent of the aircraft. While they are sleeping, they may not swallow enough to equalize the pressure. As moms, we know this. We've seen the drool.One of the big recommendations people have is to nurse, bottle feed or otherwise encourage children to swallow on take off and descent to help them equalize pressure. Is this myth or science?

According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, ear problems are the most common medical complaint of airplane travelers, and while they are usually minor annoyances, they may result in temporary pain and hearing loss. This is especially true when you have a stuffy nose. A stuffy nose means stuffy ears.They caution that children are more vulnerable to blockages because their Eustachian tubes are more narrow than an adult's.  Most adults know how to equalize the pressure in their ears by popping them. Babies don't.

How do we help?

Nursing or bottle feeding works well, but so does a pacifier or even a lollipop for an older child. Yawning also equalizes pressure. Amy also reminds us that even the crying baby, though hard to listen to, will also equalize pressure easily.

2. Something New to Play With

It's a cheap trick, I know, but it works! The time to unveil the new toy is on the tarmac. Keep it simple and steer clear of electronic toys. These will have to be turned off and stowed until a certain elevation is reached. If you have a baby who is easily distracted maybe a new baby-friendly necklace for you is just right thing. We have a few great options HERE.

3. Prepare for Sloppy Garbage

Know where your air sickness bag is, Amy says. If you don't have one, ask an attendant for one. Air sickness bags are great for containing any kind of sloppy garbage, not just vomit. Clean ones can also hold ice to keep things cool, like perhaps a teething ring.

Pack changes of clothes in plastic baggies so you can swap them out for soiled clothes. Extra baggies also work well for sealing dirty wipes and diapers until the flight attendant can collect them. Be prepared and bring extra diapers. This sounds like a common-sense no-brainer, but Amy says you'd be amazed at how many do not.

If something happens and your child has a made a mess that you can't contain with baggies and wipes, then notify a crew member so he or she can help you. And relax, the seat cushions are usually replaceable, Amy says. Messes happen.


4. Seating Solutions

A fidgety toddler means someone or something is bound to get kicked or touched with sticky hands. For my daughter, she became fascinated with the buzz haircut of the man in front of us. From my lap she could reach out and touch his hair and so she did, many times. I apologized profusely and luckily the man was kind to us. But, it is never okay for a child to kick or otherwise invade the personal space of anyone other than you. Amy says, this is a major in-flight nuisance.

Being strategic with your seating can make the difference. When booking your flight, try to get bulkhead seating for your family. Bulkhead seats are the ones that have a wall in front of them. Sometimes airlines will reserve these seats specifically for families with small children. If bulkhead seating is not an option, then sit two-by-two in a block instead of trying to get the whole family in one row. For example, if you are a family of four, seat two in front of the other. Then, strategically place the child most likely to kick behind a family member. If you do end up with a stranger next to your family, make sure an adult sits next to the stranger and not the child.

5. Strollers, Car Seats, and Carriers.

Make your life easier and wear your baby, if you can. A hands-free approach is a lot more manageable when navigating a busy airport. The last thing you want to do is to try to push your baby in a stroller while also wheeling your carry-on bag or luggage cart. If you have to have a stroller and moms of multiples I sympathize with you here, do not check these as baggage. Wait until you are boarding the plane and then check your stroller plane-side.

This goes for car seats also. Don't check these as baggage, even if you have a lap child and do not need the car seat during the flight. Still, check these plane-side to minimize the risk of loss or damage.




Photo Credits: Thanks so much to Ashley Sechkar and Chelsea Meyers for contributing their family Photos to this article. 


Bonnie Jean Feldkamp is a writer and mother of two.



Bonnie Jean Feldkamp

Thanks for your feedback and yes, of course, having a carseat and a child with their own seat is always best – Just like wearing a helmut when riding a bike or motorcycle is always best. However, it is not illegal to carry a child on the plane without a car seat and until it is required by law parents are able to make that decision for their child. #5 was meant to advise that if they are going to to check a car seat (their decision) to do so curbside and not at the desk so that when the car seat is used upon arrival that it is in optimal condition and not damaged in the luggage storage of the plane. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.


Please revise this. #5 is awful advice. Every child needs their own seat on a plane. If they ride in a carseat in the car, they need to ride in one on the plane. By having a lap child, you risk them becoming a projectile if the plane hits turbulence.

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