Here are some tips on air travel with kids. Do note that situations vary from airline to airline, from aircraft to aircraft. When in doubt, please check with your airline.
For more information on air travel with kids, there are a lot of sites on the internet. As a start, do check out the following websites :
(a) Choice of seat
Most advice you find will recommend that you take the bulkhead seats. These are the very first row of a particular section of the aircraft, with the partition in front of you. The reasons for recommending bulkhead seats are because there is more space/leg room and the aircraft bassinet can only be attached to the partition. I am not very certain about the price of the ticket (it varies from airline to airline) but if you have to choose between paying cheaper for infant tickets that comes with bassinet use, or a slightly more expensive child ticket that lets the child has a seat of his own, choose the latter. You may be glad for the extra seat space. Unless, you are travelling with young infant and need the bassinet, of course.
Do note that the bassinets are not very big and if you are travelling with a toddler, you may not be able to use the bassinet. When the seatbelt sign comes on, you are also expected to take the baby out of the bassinet to strap him to you. This can be a hassle. The other downside is that the armrest for bulkhead seats cannot be raised. I find this very inconvenient. Firstly, your kid cannot sprawl across seats to sleep. Secondly, it is difficult to breastfeed a bigger kid if the armrest cannot be raised.
Another issue with bulkhead seats is that for some aircrafts/airlines, the movie screen is right above the bassinet and the lights can be very disturbing for your baby. Some airlines will also require you to bring your baby out of the bassinet and strap him with you while the seat belt sign is on. This will be a source of irritation to you and disturbance to your baby.
If your child is already taking solids, you can ask for ‘post-weaning meals’ when you buy your tickets. These are meals consisting mainly of mushy stuff that older babies eat. However, if you have other special dietary concerns, e.g. allergies, do let the airline know and see if they can accommodate your requirements, or be prepared to bring your own food. The airline usually also has commercial baby food in jars.
Regardless of what kind of meals your kid is going to eat, do pack along a snack box and plenty of water (I was told by ‘insider’ that airline water is not very clean). We had a ‘goodies box’ for Dominic, containing various kinds of snacks and it was very useful in keeping him occupied some of the time. Have a variety of goodies in it. Your kid will enjoy picking and choosing the different snacks. In fact, we found this ‘goodie box’ concept so useful that we pack it with us now (on a smaller scale, of course) whenever we go out with Dominic.
Since the 9/11 tragedy, there have been many changes to airline rules regarding what is allowed on board and what is not allowed. The changes are many and frequent. Please check with the airline regarding the latest rules.
(c) Air Pressure
Some people may scare you with stories about screaming babies on board a plane suffering from pain in their ears due to air pressure. This is easily solved by simply nursing your baby during takeoff and landing, or let your baby have something to drink or suck. Hence, you may want to delay nursing/feeding a bit (not doing it at the airport) and save it for the takeoff.
A useful advice I received was to give out ‘special airplane lollies’ (or sweets and candies) and tell the kids it’s a ritual to suck on them when the plane takes off. Makes the flight even more special to the kids.
(d) Moving Around
No active toddler will be able to sit quietly for hours on end, hence do not expect that of your little tot. Instead, every now and then, let him walk along the aisles of the aircraft, or the area around the toilets, as much as possible without disturbing other passenger or posing a danger to himself. Do not do this while the meals are being served. Of course, do not allow your child to roam without supervision.
(e) Accept Help from Strangers
Sometimes, you will find kind passengers who love to play with kids. Accept their help graciously. Let them play with your baby and give yourself a break.
(f) A word about strollers
You will need to check in your stroller at the gate. Most airlines will not allow you to bring it on board. Ask the ground crew for the special tag to attach onto your stroller and check it in at the gate. Fold it up and pack it nicely to avoid unnecessary damage along the way. When you disembark, you can collect your stroller just outside the aircraft or at the gate.
(g) Bring Toys
Buy a few toys before the trip but keep them from your baby. Pack it into your bring-on-board bag. Do not take everything out all at once. Your baby will soon grow tired with the new toys. To gain maximum mileage out of the toys, take it out one at a time to keep your baby entertained. Airlines usually give kids on board some toys. Nothing much and nothing fantastic. But they are still useful for keeping your baby occupied for a while. If you are not given these freebies, do not be shy. Ask!
(h) Diaper changing
Needless to say, do bring sufficient supply. Sometimes, there are supplies on the plane too. Aircraft toilet is one of the worst place to change diapers. I much prefer to do it at the seats -which means I must have armrests that can be raised. In case of poo, however, please be considerate and use the toilet.
(i) Use of sleep-inducing drugs
Some people recommend that you give your baby some sleep-inducing drugs (e.g. cough syrup) to help your baby sleep through the flight. I personally do not encourage this practice, especially if you have not checked with the doctor prior to the trip. Drugs are drugs and not candies. Almost every one of them will have some side effects. These drugs may not work on your child and for some children, may even aggravate the problem and cause them to be more wired up. If you intend to use drugs, please check with the doctor before hand.
One other option is to try melatonin, which is more ‘natural’ than drugs. But I have to stress that I do not know much about this substance, except that it helps with jet lag. The reason why I am telling you about melatonin here is so that you are aware of this option and can check it out for yourself.