Flying for the first time – Tips for a great first flight with young children
Over memorial day weekend my wife and I took our son on his first flight to visit his grandfather in North Carolina. We thought it would be a great trip to introduce our boy to the joys of flying as it was a nice short trip that we both have taken many times before.
Before the trip, there was quite a bit of planning involved which included help from Google, our friendly CFII and various Facebook family flyer groups.
During the trip, we learned some additional things that might be helpful to others thinking about flying with their young children.
Fly with a personal fan (link) – Flying with a small clip-on fan that is designed for a desk or stroller really assists with circulating air around your child. In a car seat, this is important as the car seat can block some of the air flowing in the cabin
Fly early morning or evening – Flying in the early morning or evening can be a lifesaver during the summer months. During this time the air is normally still and thermal issues caused by differences in the ground and air temperature have a minimal effect. Additionally, the air is much cooler during these times which makes a child much more comfortable
Bring drinks and snacks – snacks while on the ground – Staying hydrated is important for everyone, especially small children. Making sure that they get enough fluid is imperative to safe operations. Snacks are also something that helps a child be more comfortable with the caveat that you take precautions for choking (i.e., eat on the ground)
Cool loose clothing – Nice cool clothing that is lose fitting helps circulate air and reduces the constrictive feeling on children (and adults). Just think how much better Tommy Bahama shirts feel as opposed to a dress shirt
Car seat installation – practice beforehand – You do not want to show up at the airport an hour before your scheduled departure not knowing how to install your car seat. Take the time to learn how to properly install your car seat in your aircraft ahead of time. You did this for your car and you should take the extra step to do it for your plane!
Screens for windows (link) – I personally love these in our cars and in the plane. The little screens block out so much light and really help keep the cabin cool during the flight. Since they are cheep and "cling" to the window you can cut them to shape! Nothing worse than having that sunshine right on your kid's face during a trip and expecting them to be ok
Wipes – bring them and bring a lot of them – You are a parent and you already know the power/necessity of the wipe. Make sure not to forget them and bring a lot of them :)
Manage weight and balance of the aircraft – It is important to always remember the proper weight and balance loads for your aircraft. You will most likely not be flying every day with a full load/extra people so take your time in doing it right by performing the calculations. It is easier than ever to make sure you are within the envelope nowadays with applications like Foreflight that do most of the work for you
Baby headset (link) – Babies have ears and those ears are sensitive to loud noises. Make sure to help your child out by getting a good fitting noise-canceling headset. They are inexpensive and should be worn during the whole trip. The nice thing is that since it blocks out almost all of the noise the baby/child is lulled to sleep by the vibrations (win!)
Don’t fly long legs – you need a break, they need a break – Seriously, for the sake of you and your family don’t try to make time by going direct. Take your time and plan a few stops during the way
Slow descent – 500 ft/min – This is important. Make sure you take your time with your descent. Ears are sensitive and the pressure affects children differently than adults due to smaller channels within their sinuses that are used to equalize. A rate of 500 ft/min is usually the sweet spot in getting down without issue (pets will thank you as well)
If your child starts to cry it might be due to the inability to equalize. Ascend and continue to ascend until the crying stops then try the descent again – For those children with tubes, the tubes will assist with equalization but they do not exclude you from these issues entirely
Make sure to get the thumbs up from your doctor before travel – take the time to get the official "OK" from your pediatrician before attempting to take your child on any flight. During the early stages, you will be meeting with your doctor multiple times during the first years of life so make sure to bring up that you are a pilot and you would like to know if your child is cleared for flight.
DO NOT FLY if your child is sick – If your child is sick, drive.
DO NOT leave your child alone in the plane for any amount of time – Make sure that you do not leave your child in your plane alone for any amount of time. Take them with you every time you leave your plane, they will enjoy the break and love to get out with you to see the sights. Sadly, we still have to make sure parents are told this, as too many instances of deaths are reported every year during both the winter and summer months from leaving children in vehicles
A way to stay cool is to build a cooler A/C unit – check out my video – Hey, I built a cool cooler that does a GREAT job at keeping your cabin nice and chill. A tip would be to get some small containers to make large ice chunks. These large ice chunks melt a lot slower than regular ice cubes! (video link)
Your child should be the last one in the plane and the first one out of the plane – Just a simple reminder to always have your child in the plane the least amount of time by having them enter last and exit first
Bring a small umbrella type stroller – Never forget the little stroller (usually the cheaper the better in this case)!
Re-usable grocery bags are a great way to start to pack light. They are flexible, easy to access, lightweight and have handles – No matter what the little tag says suitcases and travel bags have weight and are most times rigid. This is great for commercial air travel, but since you are keeping track of your own stuff during the flight re-usable grocery bags should be your go-to. These things are great as they allow access to your stuff during the flight, save in weight and are flexible (you can smash a lot of them together in some tight areas). They have handles so when you get to your destination you can grab them and go on your way. Additionally, since they are very inexpensive they are expendable.
Sunscreen – The sun even during the morning or evening hours is more intense when you fly. Having a good sunscreen will save both you and your families skin from sunburn. You don’t want to get a sunburn before you start your vacation!
There are many more tips and tricks out there for flying your family and small children safely, however, these are the ones that we have personally found work well. As with flying, I continue to learn and with a great aviation community out there I hope others will share their ideas. Till next time stay safe, stay thrifty!