Flying with an infant is a challenge. No one wants their child screaming and making everyone miserable, and figuring out the logistics and requirements is confusing. We just flew to the Poconos with our two kids (a 5-year-old and a 19-month-old), and survived. The following quick guide should answer some common questions and give you some tips to make flying with children at least endurable, and maybe even enjoyable.
Children under the age of 2 years can fly for free in an adult’s lap. After the age of 2, kids need their own ticket. If your child is under 2, you can simply buy your ticket as usual, and then specify that you will have an “infant in arms.” On the Delta website, you can simply add “infant in arms” to your ticket under “Special Travel Needs” after you have booked your flights; other airlines are similar. It is important that you do this, because both the gate agent and TSA security will be looking on your boarding pass for the “infant in arms” note. Notably, on our return flight, I had to help both agents find this on my boarding pass. It is worth mentioning that there are some mothers and stewardesses lobbying Congress to get rid of this free-infant provision, so this could go away in the future.
On one flight, Delta automatically sat us all in the same row, on the other they had us spread all over the plane. The only open row was the "Economy Comfort" row right behind first class, for an extra fee. This was expensive but it was nice, because of the extra leg room. Our daughter had room to walk around in front of us, nobody could lean their seat right into our laps, and the kids couldn't kick the seat in front of them. The alternative would be to wait until boarding, and then ask people around you to swap seats. This typically works, because most people want to help and wouldn’t mind being far from your kids. But it’s not a sure thing, and is often a hassle.
Arriving at the airport
When I fly alone, I aim to arrive at the airport 1 hour before takeoff, and I am sometimes cutting it close. With the family, we aimed to arrive 2 hours before takeoff, and that was just about right. We didn’t feel rushed, but we weren’t stuck sitting around too long either.
We had always heard to bring the kid's birth certificates with us. That probably isn't a bad idea, but in 6 flights, we've never been asked to show any ID for either kid. The airline might want something with a date to prove you aren't trying to sneak a 3 year-old on without paying, but the TSA does not ask for identification for children. We didn't have a birth certificate handy for our 19 month-old, so we brought a copy of her Social Security card, which now have a 'date issued' on them, but nobody asked to see it.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) still won’t let liquids, such as juice, through security, but they did allow our yogurt, and dry snacks like goldfish. Keeping the kids frequently chewing and swallowing helps them equalize their ears. A tip for the frugal is that you can bring your empty water bottle through security, and then fill it up at a water fountain on the other side.
Another security note: Kids don't have to take off their shoes for the scan. And a mother carrying a child will have her hands swabbed to check for explosives residue. This happened to my wife on both flights, and TSA told us it was a standard policy. You know, because of all those bomb-makers you hear about carrying their kids around.
We saw a lot of people in the airport with a rolling frame you click your car seat into, and then roll the kid through the airport. They look pretty cool, but we're too frugal for that. My wife strapped our daughter to her in a carrier to get through the airport, and we rented a full size car seat with the rental car. We took our son’s little booster seat out of our car, and he carried that through the airport himself, and we put that in the rental car. Carrying his own seat gave my son a task to make him feel like he was helping, and it gave him something to sit on when we had to wait of stand in lines.
Before our son’s first flight, I had downloaded his favorite dump truck videos on to my phone and he was content. But this time, we worried about the kids not sharing (the little one wants whatever the big one has). So my buddy suggested the answer:
Super Pro Tip: Take a sheet of printer paper, cut it in half horizontally, then stack the halves. Fold them vertically, and put a staple in or near the fold. You have now made a blank book (almost free, using simple office supplies). I made 5 of these, and I should have made more. These, along with 2 pencils, were all we needed for entertainment. Our son wrote "Sky Journal" (1, 2, and 3) on his books and illustrated our trip. Our daughter just scribbled all over hers, just like her big brother. Both kids were very happy and continued to ask for more "sky journals."
Hopefully these tips will help you get through your flights with a minimum of hassle. Good luck!