In the know

The ups and downs of flying with kids

The author’s husband and children in two modes of long-flight travel, this time to Pakistan: asleep and amused.
The author’s husband and children in two modes of long-flight travel, this time to Pakistan: asleep and amused.

Who says you can’t travel on airplanes after you have children? My two, 7 and 4, have lived on four continents and been to about a dozen countries, collecting enough frequent flier points to go to the moon and back. Traveling is part and parcel of our diplomatic life, and the following is my hard-earned advice on flying with little ones.


Decide the lap baby issue

If your child is under 2 and you are traveling domestically or to Canada or Mexico, you can score a free lap seat flight. A lap seat fare for international travel is generally about 10 percent of the adult fare. The downside? Lap babies generally do not have a baggage allowance. Your child may be happier (and safer) onboard if you pay for a seat and settle her into a familiar car seat. If you are on a long-haul flight, call the airline to request a baby bassinet. Some companies, like American Airlines, do not allow you to reserve bassinets in advance, so get to the airport early to request one.

Preorder children’s meals

Many airlines, including United, Lufthansa, and Virgin Atlantic, offer kids’ meals but they must be ordered in advance. Some airlines also offer bottle warming, diapers, and kids’ fun packs.



Babies traveling internationally need a passport. Check the US State Department website to see what documents are needed.

Airline regulations

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Many airlines request a proof of age (a birth certificate or passport works) for children, especially for those traveling on a discounted ticket. Most airlines will gate-check your stroller and bring it up to you between flights, but some check them until your final destination if they exceed size limitations for carry-on items. Others, including American, won’t gate-check strollers over 20 pounds, which includes most jogging strollers. Most airlines still permit early boarding for families, but United recently stopped this practice.



The Transportation Security Administration allows baby food, including formula, juice, and breast milk, to exceed the 3-ounce legal limit for liquids. Be sure to keep all baby food items separate for inspection and bring only as much as you need for your flight. Your stroller will need to be folded and put through security if it fits or it will be manually checked. And children age 12 and under no longer need to take off their shoes at security.


Eat up

That scream you sometimes hear from babies and small children after takeoff often means their ears are hurting. For babies, nursing, bottle feeding, or even sucking on a pacifier helps regulate the air pressure. For older kids, drinking water or juice or eating a chewy snack is helpful.

Bring entertainment

Essentials in our kids’ backpacks are their favorite snacks, arts and craft supplies, a go-to book, and a surprise toy or two. Portable DVD players and iPads with a new app or interactive book will help pass the hours.

Caitlin Hurley can be reached at