Having just successfully made it to Asia and back to the States, and taken our toddler on 8 plane rides over the span of a month, I feel I have now learned a thing or two about airplane traveling with children. One crucial step to planning out the trip well is to choose your flights wisely. So here are 3 key recommendations on booking flights if you are planning to travel with a baby or toddler under 24 months:
Choosing the Flights
If you are taking a long haul flight, it is advisable to book an overnight flight. This obviously depends on the availability of flights to the destination, the airline you choose as well as your air fare and traveling budget. However, if you are able to and are traveling a long distance (e.g., from Asia to US or vice versa), I would recommend choosing a flight that leaves at night and gets into the destination early the next morning. This means that the baby/toddler will be sleeping most of the plane ride, and then the child is kept up most of the next day since it is daytime and you will be already doing things like sightseeing. That sort of forces the baby/toddler to be awake for longer than he or she is used to that first day at the destination, and hopefully will lead to a quicker adjustment to the destination’s time zone. This will likely result in less jet lag! But if you are not able to book an overnight flight, don’t worry. There are still ways to start adjusting the child’s sleeping on the flight to help with the jet lag transition later on.
Lap or Own Seat?
This is a question every parent of a young toddler will have to face. Lap ticket or buy the toddler his/her own seat? If it is just a short flight (e.g., domestic travel), then having a toddler or baby sit on the lap may be the most economical decision since babies and toddlers under 24 months usually travel free on domestic flights. However, if it is a long haul flight and you can afford it, it may be worth getting the child a seat, if not simply so that you won’t have to get sore legs and muscles from having the child sit or sleep on you for the 10 hour plus journey. If you obtain a lap ticket, know that there is a chance that you may be able to obtain (later down the line) bulkhead seating (with a bassinet) or an extra seat for the child at the check-in counter depending on how full the flight is. (For more about the pros and cons of bulkhead with bassinet seating compared to regular row seating, stay tuned for an upcoming post on this.) For now, here are a few important things you should know about airline tickets for children:
• Lap tickets are usually much cheaper to purchase for international flights, and are available as an option for those under 2 years of age. However, it will likely still be more than the 10% of the adult airfare often advertised by different airlines. Why? Because the child’s actual fare may be 10 %, but then you may need to pay additional taxes on the ticket. This could mean paying a total of about 30-35% of the adult fare by the time you add on the 10 % baseline child’s fare.
• Buying a separate ticket for the child can actually be less than you think (for one international flight, it turned out to be about 83% of the adult fare, so not 100% as we imagined). Also know that even if you buy a seat for your toddler, you won’t need to lug a car seat onto the plane or check it in, if you don’t need it at the destination. This is because if your toddler is under 24 months old, he/she can just sit on your lap for takeoff and landing.
• If you buy a lap ticket with a travel agency/travel agent, be aware that they may charge you an extra 5-10% commission charge on top of your own airline tickets. If you want to avoid this, I recommend you buy the lap ticket over the phone with the airline directly or at the check-in counter on the day of travel.
Plan in Breaks!
If you can afford it, break up a long traveling journey as much as possible by planning in stopovers at mid-way points in the journey. This could mean stopping for 1-2 nights after 2 plane flights and staying with relatives, friends, or in hotel before traveling on. This allows time to handle unforeseen circumstances, and helps with jet lag transition. It also gives everyone the chance of a bit of a break so that the whole family won’t be too tired. In our recent trip, we ended up having to take our child to urgent care because of a sudden yellowish eye pus discharge, but fortunately we had planned a 2 night stay in San Francisco before traveling on to Asia. So we were able to take our little one to see the doctor and get an antibiotic eye ointment before taking a 12.5 hour flight to Taipei the next day.
Also, if there is a layover at an airport, plan an adequate amount of layover time in the schedule (at least 1 ½ to 2 hours). This way, you won’t feel you need to rush and fight with all the other passengers to get off the plane, will have time to stop for a potty break, navigate to the other terminal gate, and perhaps buy food (and gifts) to bring on the plane along the way. Your toddler will also appreciate having a longer break to stretch his or her legs and burn off some energy exploring the airport. Besides, an increasing number of airports are now quite ‘kid-friendly’ (e.g., Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Boston Logan International Airport, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, Portland International Airport) with fun tours, LEGO tables, bead mazes, interactive museums, aviation-themed play spaces, padded jungle gyms and other playscapes for children!