If you’re like many American families, you’re gearing up to go “over the river and through the woods” in order to spend the holidays with loved ones. But instead of taking a horse and sleigh, your modern-day family will be strapping into an airplane and perhaps a rental car after that. As any parent can tell you, that’s not exactly a recipe for peace on your corner of the earth and goodwill to your infant, toddler, or small child!
Yes, fighting the holiday crowds, navigating security checkpoints, hauling luggage, and getting everyone to and from the correct gates in one piece is enough to give any parent the “Bah, Humbugs”…but safety expert Louie Delaware urges you to not lose sight of your child’s well-being in the midst of your holiday travel hassle.
“Especially if, like most families, you don’t travel often—or if this is your youngster’s first time flying—you may not be aware of potential safety concerns until after an accident has already happened,” says Delaware, author of The Home Safety Guru’s Definitive Guide on How to Childproof Your Home: Making Your Home Safe and Secure for Little Ones. “Fortunately, knowing what to expect, inspect, and ask for before the big travel day can keep your little ones secure once you board the plane—and can help ensure that an unforeseen incident doesn’t add to your travel stress.”
If your family will be flying to this year’s holiday gathering, read on for 10 safety considerations to keep in mind:
Get the best seats. On an airplane, not all seat assignments are created equal, especially if you’re traveling with an infant or small child. When making your reservation, you may want to inquire 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. (Be aware, though, that some bulkhead seating is located beside emergency exits, and that 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,” Delaware points out. “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 obvious, double-check that you and your family are all seated on the same row,” Delaware adds. “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 first in line. Especially if you aren’t a frequent flier, you may not be familiar with early boarding, an option that many airlines offer to families traveling with younger 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!” says Delaware. “When you’re trying to wrangle 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 godsend. Most importantly, this time will allow you to check and double-check that your child is securely fastened into his or her seat.”
Make sure that your car seat works as a carry-on. Don’t assume that just because your car seat contains a baby, you’ll be able to carry it onto a plane with no problems. If your car seat 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,” Delaware recommends. “Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to make certain that the car seat is properly installed using the airplane seat belt.”
Reserve lap-sitting for visits to Santa… 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, you’ll save the cost of an entire plane ticket by doing so! However, says Delaware, 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 human on your lap for hours at a time in an already cramped space,” he comments. “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.”
…or use an infant or toddler 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. Delaware recommends 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,” he explains. “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.”
For older children, use a customized seat belt… 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,” Delaware says. “This harness system installs very easily by attaching around the back of the seat and works in tandem with the lap belt. Weighing less than one pound, it’s much easier to carry than a car seat and is still affordable at $74.95.”
…and don’t rely on airlines for a boost. You might be used to relying on booster seats 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 Delaware recommends 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,” he says. “Again, though, I prefer using an ACSD strap—it’s much easier to transport than a booster seat and keeps your child safer.”
Follow directions—even if they do go against your instincts. 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,” urges Delaware. “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.”
Stick with renting vehicles… 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,” Delaware instructs. “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 seats are installed properly. 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,” Delaware comments. “This mistake can be easy to make in an unfamiliar vehicle.”
“If you know what to expect and plan ahead, your child’s safety won’t be something you have to worry about in the midst of holiday air travel,” concludes Delaware. “Your family’s holiday memories will center around a great visit with people you love, not mishaps on the way to or from your destination.”
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