Carrying On a Child on a Plane? These 10 Safety Tips Will Keep Your Holiday Flight Safe
By Louie Delaware For many families who don’t live in the same area, ‘tis the season to travel. If you’ll be heading “over the river and through the woods”—via the airport—in order to spend the holidays with loved ones, your goal is probably to get from Point A to Point B with the least possible amount of stress. You’ve probably thought about how to keep smiles on your little one’s faces (not to mention your own) as you navigate holiday traffic, ticket counter lines, security checkpoints, and cramped airplane seating. But have you thought about travel safety, too?
If you don’t travel with a child-sized carry-on very often, you may not be aware of the safety hazards that can be found inside airports and on board jets. But you don’t have to let an accident rob you of holiday cheer. Here, I share 10 safety considerations to help you make sure that uncomfortable seats and long waits at baggage claim remain your biggest travel headaches.
Make sure that your seat numbers are child friendly. Don’t settle for randomly-assigned seat numbers. When booking your tickets, you may want to ask about bulkhead seating for your family. Bulkhead seating is found behind partitions in airplanes. These partitions often separate business class from economy, or contain galleys or lavatories—meaning that you’ll be sitting behind a wall, not a row of seats. (However, you should know that some bulkhead seating is located beside emergency exits, so children are prohibited from sitting in these rows.)
The added space of bulkhead seating will make it easier and safer for you to get out of your seat with your child. It will also be easier for you to manage food, beverages, toys, or other activities once you reach a safe flying altitude. And finally, you won’t have to worry about being cramped by reclined seat backs…or about your child kicking them!
One last piece of advice: While it may sound like a no-brainer, make sure that you and your family are all seated on the same row. You may have to pay extra for this “privilege,” as some airlines are now reserving aisle and window seats for passengers who are willing to pay an extra fee.
Be the early bird. Most airlines offer an early boarding option to families traveling with small children.
When you get to the gate, ask the attendant if early boarding is offered, and if the answer is yes, take advantage of it! When you’re trying to hold onto an excited, curious, nervous, upset, and/or sleepy child, as well as your carry-ons, having a few extra minutes to get settled into an empty plane can be a sanity-saver. Most importantly, this time will allow you to check and double-check that your child is securely fastened into his or her seat.
Be aware that your car seat might not double as an airplane seat. Car seats are undeniably convenient, but not all of them are suitable for air travel. If yours doesn’t have the designation “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft”—which many models don’t—your airline may prevent you from using it.
For the best fit in aircrafts, use approved car seats that are less than 16 inches wide. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to make certain that the car seat is properly installed using the airplane seat belt.
Big Boy Seat
Consider letting everyone have a “big boy” or “big girl” seat. If your child is under two years of age, you might find it very tempting to simply hold him or her on your lap for the duration of your flight if the airline allows this option—after all, this will save you the cost of an entire plane ticket! However, it’s much safer and easier for everyone (including your child!) to have their own seat.
First, you won’t have to hold a hot, squirmy little person on your lap for hours at a time in an already cramped space. But much more importantly, unless you have Herculean strength and lightning-fast reflexes, it can be very difficult, or even physically impossible, to catch and hold a child during severe turbulence, which can come out of nowhere.
Dress up in the accessory of the season: a travel vest. If you do choose to have your infant or toddler (up to 24 months old) sit on your lap, consider purchasing a device that will keep both of you more secure and comfortable. I recommend the Baby B’Air Flight Vest.
This vest slips over the child’s head, has chest and crotch straps, and is equipped with a loop that slips into your own lap belt. It’s made in two different sizes: for infants aged six weeks to one year, and for toddlers from approximately one to two years old. Retailing for around $30, a Baby B’Air Flight Vest is a small investment to make for your child’s safety—and to help reduce your own stress.
Modify inadequate seat belts. Many parents don’t realize that children who weigh between 22 and 44 pounds can easily slip out from under their lap belts if sitting alone. Fortunately, an Aviation Child Safety Device (ACSD) can protect your child from bumps and jolts while still ensuring his or her comfort.
I recommend purchasing the CARES Safety Harness from Kids Fly Safe—it’s the only ACSD that has been approved by the FAA. This harness system installs very easily by attaching around the back of the seat and works in tandem with the lap belt. And since it weighs less than one pound, it’s much easier to carry than a car seat and is still affordable at $74.95.
Know that booster seats may be a bad idea. Booster seats are invaluable in your car, at your dining room table, etc. And you may even have heard stories from friends who were able to use boosters on airplanes. But I recommend you check in with the particular airline on which you’ll be traveling before hauling a booster seat to the airport.
Many airlines won’t allow you to use booster seats in flight. Again, though, I prefer using an ACSD strap—it’s much easier to transport than a booster seat and keeps your child safer.
Even though it may go against your instincts, put on your own mask first. We’re all familiar with the pre-flight safety instructions that instruct adults to put their own oxygen masks on before helping children. As a parent, though, your instinct might be to assist your child the moment masks drop from above, regardless of your own safety.
Listen to the flight attendant’s instructions and put your own mask on first in the unlikely event that their use is required. What the pre-flight safety instructions don’t tell you is that if there is a sudden loss of cabin pressure, you could lose consciousness within 15 to 20 seconds without oxygen. If you don’t get your mask on within that time frame, you’ll be unable to help your child.
Don’t trust unfamiliar car or booster seats… In other words, don’t rent car or booster seats. Avoid borrowing them from friends or family members, too.Always bring and use your own car seat or booster seat if you are planning on renting a car at your destination. Rental car companies frequently run out of these items during busy travel seasons. And if seats are available, you may not be happy with their condition. Don’t count on your family or friends to have a proper seat, either. When it comes to your child’s safety, a seat you know and trust is best—plus, your child will travel better in something that’s familiar.
…and make sure familiar seats are installed properly in unfamiliar cars. If you are planning on renting a vehicle, chances are it won’t be the same make and model as your family’s automobile. Pay close attention when installing your car seat to ensure that it is secure.
Even a quality seat can put your child at risk if it is installed in an improper way. This mistake can be easy to make in an unfamiliar vehicle.
With a little advance knowledge and planning, you and your child should have a safe flight—and your visit with loved ones will remain the happy centerpiece of your holiday memories.
An accessible one-stop resource for parents, Delaware’s book points out potential in-home safety hazards, identifies childproof workarounds and devices, and explains (with text and photographs) how to install them.
To learn more, please visit Louie online at his Facebook page.
The Home Safety Guru’s® Definitive Guide on How to Childproof Your Home: Making Your Home Safe and Secure for Little Ones (Blue Indigo Publishing, 2013, $9.99, www.howtochildproofyourhome.com) is available as a Kindle edition at Amazon and at www.howtochildproofyourhome.com.
Louie Delaware, The Home Safety Guru, is the author of The Home Safety Guru’s Definitive Guide on How to Childproof Your Home: Making Your Home Safe and Secure for Little Ones. He is a Licensed General Contractor, an Advanced Certified Professional Childproofer®, a Certified Aging In Place Specialist®, and a Certified Radon Mitigator, along with other safety certifications.
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