3 Steps to Better Travel
Buy a ticket for your baby, and bring a safety seat.
For us, this is the golden rule of traveling with an infant. It's tempting to save money by holding your baby on your lap or gambling that there will be an empty seat in which to put a child safety restraint (normally, a car seat with a tag attached that says it has been approved for aircraft), because a child under 2 years of age often flies for free. But we think buying the extra seat is well worth it these days, when many flights are full. (We have often been challenged by flight attendants who wanted to know whether Cleo had her own ticket before letting us take her car seat aboard.) And evidence suggests that "lap children" are among those most likely to suffer injury or death in the event of an accident or severe turbulence. You should keep your child strapped in on takeoff and landing and as much as possible during the flight.
Know how to install the safety seat properly, and don't let anyone try to tell you differently.
On an early flight with Cleo, we had a confrontation with a flight attendant who told us we would have to face the car seat forward, because it took up less room that way, even though the FAA recommends that car seats be less than 16 inches wide and face the rear for children less than 20 pounds, which Cleo was at the time. We refused to comply and later, after we complained to the airline, received a written apology -- but no explanation why a flight attendant would not know something as basic as the FAA recommendations regarding child safety.
Look for child-friendly airlines and airports.
You can have a good experience, or a bad one, on any airline. Mostly, it depends on how stressed the ground and cabin crew are. (This is a reason to fly off-peak.) In general, though, we've found that the same few airlines that have good reputations overall tend to be the most child-friendly. They are mostly international, especially Asian, although Swissair and Virgin Atlantic are among the European carriers that rate high.
In the United States, the most child-friendly airlines are often the small upstarts that are trying to win customers by the novel but effective strategy of being nice. The best example we've found is JetBlue, a no-frills carrier that flies primarily between New York's JFK and cities in Florida and on the West Coast.
Many airports provide some sort of play facilities for young children. A handful do it exceptionally well: Philadelphia International Airport's Please Touch Museum, San Jose International Airport's make-believe control tower, and Boston's Logan Airport's child-oriented facilities and programs are three we like. We've found, though, that just about any airport can be made child-friendly if you find an empty gate near a bathroom with changing facilities and let your child crawl around -- all the while telling yourself that a few germs are a good thing.
Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation.