As the father of three children, I am well aware that the joys of parenthood and the joys of air travel don’t always combine to produce a joyful experience. Flying with children can be hectic, even stressful. But there are some commonsense things you can do to make things easier on you, your family, and the people around you when you fly.
A good first step is to talk with your children about the trip and what they’re likely to encounter at the airport and onboard the plane. Smart packing is also essential. Kids too young to enjoy my column will need diversions like books, games, or maybe even a portable DVD player. A ready supply of easy-to-eat snacks will give them something to think about and do, as well as provide sustenance. More importantly, when you’re packing a carry-on, include any medications you think your child might need during the flight. If you’re traveling with an infant, make sure he or she has something to chew on or swallow, as this will help with any air-pressure changes. You may want your kids to look sharp upon arrival, but dressing them for comfort is a good idea. They’ll be happier in soft, comfortable play clothes. And don’t forget to carry on an extra set of clothes for yourself, especially if you’re traveling with an infant.
You’ll want to get to the airport early. Rushing to catch a flight isn’t any fun by yourself, let alone with kids in tow. Count on making one or more preboarding bathroom visits, and allow yourself and your family extra time to get through security. Explain the screening process to the kids ahead of time so they’re not frightened and so they don’t bring along any surprises. My wife, Lisa, and I learned this lesson the hard way when our son Luke surreptitiously packed his cherished Star Wars lightsaber for a spring-break trip! Baby formula and breast milk are allowed in your carry-on. They can be taken through security checkpoints and aboard your plane, provided you are traveling with a baby or a toddler. You are also allowed to bring gel- or liquid-filled teethers and canned, jarred, or processed baby food in your carry-on.
The safety of our customers comes first, regardless of their age. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations require that children older than two years have their own seat, and although it’s not a requirement, the FAA encourages the use of a child-restraint system to enhance safety during taxi, takeoff, and landing. American Airlines has teamed up with a company called AmSafe Aviation to offer air travelers the Child Aviation Restraint System, the only such product certified by the FAA for use on flights within the continental United States. CARES provides the protection of a traditional child safety seat by combining the aircraft’s lap belt with a four-point shoulder harness. Unlike the typical child safety seat, CARES is small and lightweight: It weighs less than a pound and fits into a six-inch carrying case, making it a convenient alternative to much heavier seats for parents traveling with small children. CARES is available through the American Airlines C.R. Smith Museum Gift Shop at www.crsmithmuseum.org or (877) 277-6484.
Traveling with kids can be a challenge, but as with most things in life, a little planning goes a long way. We have a vested interest in making sure you — and your kids — have a great experience on American Airlines, because today’s kids are tomorrow’s frequent fliers. Just as your parents and grandparents probably flew AA, we hope to be your family’s airline of choice for generations to come. Thanks for flying with us today, and have a great flight.
Gerard J. Arpey