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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Special Topics > Airline Travel with Children
      Category : Health Centers > Children's Health

Airline Travel with Children

Airplane travel can be exciting for a child. It can also present challenges. Depending on his or her age, it may be hard for a child to sit for long periods of time in the confined space of an airplane. A benefit of airline travel with children is that the trip takes less time than by ground. By preparing ahead of time to address the child's needs, parents can make a trip more fun for all involved.

What is the information for this topic?

When traveling by plane, the child's safety, comfort, and enjoyment should all be taken into account. The following are issues to consider.

Seating arrangements

The Federal Aviation Administration, known as the FAA, recommends that any child weighing less than 40 pounds be in a child safety seat. Many safety seats commonly used in cars work well in airplanes too. A seat is safe for this use if the label reads "approved for use in motor vehicles and on aircraft." Children who weigh less than 20 pounds should be in a rear-facing safety seat. If the child weighs between 20 and 40 pounds, the safety seat should face forward. A child weighing more than 40 pounds should use the standard seat belt attached to the aircraft seat.

Before boarding, check with the flight attendant about where the safety seat should go. Many airlines prefer the child seat to be by a window. While the plane is taking off, be sure the child is safely strapped into the seat. Many airlines allow an infant or toddler less than age 2 to ride in the lap of an adult passenger. The child does not need a separate ticket in this case. At age 2, the FAA requires that children be in their own seats during takeoff and landing. However, some airlines offer "kid fares" or discounts for children's seats.

Regular routines

Planning travel around the child's regular schedule may make the trip more pleasant. For example, a child may sleep for some or all of a flight scheduled at night or during naptime.

Food preferences

When confirming reservations, or 24 to 48 hours before the flight, it is usually possible to request a children's meal. It is also a good idea to carry small snacks such as fresh fruit, dry cereal, or nutrition bars.

Ear problems and motion sickness

The sharp increase or decrease in altitude during takeoff and landing can cause increased pressure in a child's ear. Some doctors may recommend giving a child a dose of a decongestant before the flight. If a child has a history of ear infections, the doctor may have other suggestions to decrease ear problems.

Also, it may be helpful to have a child suck on a pacifier or bottle during takeoff and landing. Older children may be encouraged to suck on a lollipop or to chew gum. The swallowing helps to decrease the buildup of pressure in the ears. If a child is prone to motion sickness, the doctor may also suggest ways to treat this problem.

Packing for the flight

A bag with items a child will need during the trip should be carried onto the plane. For an infant or toddler, this might include diapers, wipes, bottles, formula, pacifiers, a change of clothes, and spill-proof cups. It is also helpful to pack a "fun bag" containing toys and games to entertain the child during the flight. Suitable items for plane travel include activity books, hand-held computer games, coloring books, crayons, travel games, stickers, scissors, and word games.

Boarding the plane

It is a good idea to arrive at the airport with enough time for the child to walk around or play before boarding. This can help the child burn off extra energy before being confined in an airline seat. Extra time will also permit a bathroom visit or diaper change. Often, people with small children are allowed to board ahead of other passengers.

Author: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
Reviewer: Eric Berlin, MD
Date Reviewed: 09/05/01

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