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My wife and I will be traveling to the US next month and we're going to take two flights, probably one of 2 hrs and the other 4.

Although my 7-months-old son already sits by himself, I'm not sure I should get him his own seat. Is carrying him on our arms for both flights something bearable?

Also something I'm really worried about is his ears, due to the air pressure. Are there any tips or considerations I should take about that?

What about the takeoff and landing? Is that something babies get afraid of? My little one is kind of scared of the blender...so I'm kinda worried.

I'm still going to ask our doctor when he has his next visit, but wanted to get some tips ahead.

Thanks!

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Doesn't feel like a duplicate of Good tips for making an international flight with a toddler, but still related. have you seen it? –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun May 26 '11 at 14:33
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up vote 13 down vote accepted

Based on my own recent experiences with international flights with a toddler:

Duration:
A 2-hour flight is rarely a problem; even in the worst scenario it's not long enough for you to lose your mind :-) I have no experience with longer flights with infants but I think 4 hours are still within reason, while 10 hours (transatlantic) could be a bigger challenge.

Seating:
Sitting upright is something I'd recommend only for toddlers and older kids, especially for longer trips. Most 7-month infants can't sit upright on their own, because their back muscles and spine aren't adequately developed for the upright position. Infants should be placed in an infant seat (just like in the car) or lying flat on the back in a carry bag (used with the baby buggy) -- both would require it's own passenger seat on the airplane, and this does incur a ticket price.
Since you state that your child can indeed sit by himself (can he sit for four hours in a row?), you might decide to ease up on the general idea I just said. It's your child, so of course you know best.

Ears and the cabin air pressure:
Your concern is valid, and the experience varies. Some people (any age!) are very sensitive to cabin pressure changes; others barely notice. With infants, the best cure is to give them something to suck on, preferably their milk bottle, or water or watered-down tea (not black). The sucking motion will open canals to the ears that equalize the pressure -- adults sometimes chew gum to the same effect.

Take-off and landing:
With small children, the potential terror doesn't come from "oh no we're flying/gonna crash/etc." but rather from the unexpected sounds, especially after the fairly loud and very unfamiliar ordeal of getting through the airport and into the plane to begin with. I know no particularly good solution against the noise except for what I'd do concerning noisy equipment at home too: explain, talk, cuddle, soothe, sing, touch/caress -- whatever you've learned to work well with your child.

General tips
Off the top of my head:

  • You might want to bring a new toy along, as an "emergency distraction" when you're out of options. Choose a kind of toy that the child already likes. Use it only for airplane/airport situations.
  • Make sure your baby day bag is sensibly packed and that you're not low on any consumables like diapers, wipes, fruit bars, etc.
  • Make sure you're allowed to bring all the items with you into the cabin, and consider printing out the airline's statement about this just in case there's any security trouble.
  • Airports use the code DAA (deliver at aircraft) to designate baggage that you can bring straight to the airplane and give to the flight attendants for stowing during flight; you'll get it back as soon as you leave the airplane. Make sure that both ends of your flight allow this. Again, bring printed documentation in case there's trouble at check-in or at the gate. It's no fun to carry a child a kilometer through an airport terminal!
  • Realize that everything takes longer than you're used to. This is okay. It's part of traveling as a young family. Embrace it, don't stress. Try to see it as a learning experience for the parents too; look for things you can do better next time, but try not to get upset about this time, you can't change it anyway. Accept and embrace that you're committed to deal with whatever happens. It's not your regular business flight as an individual.
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A few additional things to consider: There are only four masks per three-seat row, so only one "lap child" is allowed per row. Most US airlines no longer grant "priority seating" to families, one notable exception being Southwest, which allows families to board at the beginning of the "B" group. –  Bill Clark May 26 '11 at 15:42
    
... and even though the airline offers priority seating (Austrian Airways calls it "family service") then they still might ignore it if there's a lot of stress at the gate. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun May 26 '11 at 15:58
    
Delta usually does family/old folks boarding after business class boarding –  james Jun 2 '11 at 3:03
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I traveled with our kids frequently by plane and rarely bought them a seat due to cost. If your child is crawling, it will be a little more difficult because he'll want to get down and move around when he's not supposed to.

Highly recommend a few new toys/books.

Bring more (2x) diapers/wipes than you think you need since you can get stuck for an extended period of time if there are weather or mechanical problems.

Don't worry about what other passengers are thinking when/if your kid cries. Kids cry, they'll get over it.

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We recently took my 9-month-old niece to Europe. The flights were 6 hours for one leg and 2 hours for the other leg. We did not buy a seat for her - saving that expense was, after all, kind of the point of taking her to see the relatives now rather than later.

  • As it was a full flight, they did not allow us to bring the umbrella stroller on board. This meant we had to make the transfer at Heathrow without a stroller. It wasn't fun, but it wasn't the worst thing.
    (They also kind of forgot to actually, like, put the stroller on the plane, so we spent our first few days at our destination sans stroller, but that's a different matter.)

  • If you don't buy a seat for an infant, they give you a seat belt extension, which is basically a belt with a stationary loop sewn to it. You put that loop onto the parent's seat belt, and the belt around the child's waist. How well this works depends in large part on the child in question - squirminess, weight, height, etc. (It also depends on getting an extension with a working latch. All of the ones we got had worn springs, so we kept having to tighten the belt around the child.)

  • On overseas flights, some airlines (read: British Airways) provide car-seat-like bassinets for infants. However, if the seat belt sign comes on, you have to remove the child from the bassinet and strap her into the seat belt extension. Depending on the weather, this can mean you might decide to simply not use the bassinet.

  • Because of the above listed issues (no stroller + holding child in lap), be prepared to have very tired arms by the end of the trip. And pack a large bottle of your favorite painkiller.

  • Check the policies of the airports where you're making transfers regarding what's allowed on board, and whether you'll have to go through a security screening. We had to go through security at Heathrow, even though we were only transferring planes, and they enforced their own rules regarding allowable baby food and such. Among other things, they insisted that we open and taste half of the jars we brought, which meant we pretty much had to throw that half away unused - we had no way to refrigerate the open jars, and traveling is hard enough without giving your baby food poisoning.

    • This also meant purchasing a new batch of bottled water at the transfer airport, because you can't take water through security. Make sure you have some means of paying for stuff en route.
  • Ears were a big worry for us, because both my sister and I have a terrible time with air pressure differences. Thankfully, it turns out my niece resembles her father in this regard - she weathered the landings much better than her mother. That said, having a bottle to suck on helped just to keep her occupied while her mother was, um, distracted.

    • The hardest part was figuring out when to get out the bottle - they don't exactly announce "we're taking off/landing exactly 7 minutes from now". If you've switched to fast-flow nipples, it might be a good idea to take some of the slow-flow ones for the trip, just so the bottle will last the child through the entire takeoff/landing.
  • A 7-month-old is too young to intellectualize the concept of flying to the point where they're afraid of it. However, there are plenty of other potentially-scary (or just unpleasant) things they can encounter while traveling: strangers, loud noises, not being allowed to move around when they'd like to, etc. Most of these are things they can encounter even without flying, so you may already have coping mechanisms that work for your child. Distraction, physical comfort, food, motion (within limits) - be prepared to apply any and all of the tools in your arsenal.

  • Like others have said, don't worry about what other people think when (not if) your child starts crying. Chances are, anyone over three rows away can't even hear your child over the engine noise. Those who can hear and are bothered by it are supposedly adults, and can thus deal with it. If anyone has the bad manners to bother you about it, handle it with as much politeness as you can muster. If that amounts to pretending you didn't hear them, so be it.

  • Definitely ask your pediatrician for any specific advice.

  • If you do purchase a seat for your child, I believe most airlines expect (possibly even require) you to bring a car seat: even a 1-year-old is too young to sit in an adult-sized seat for any length of time. This brings its own set of questions, of course: airline seats are notoriously tight on space, so that car seat that fits just fine in your minivan will probably not conform to the airline's requirements. Plan ahead.

  • Don't forget the camera. And spare batteries. And the battery charger (plus a plug converter). And don't plan to install that firmware update once you get there - you're liable to hose the camera permanently. (Don't ask.)

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We travel long haul a lot with our kids, and flew to the States (Miami and onto Key West) with a 6 month old. Advice would be to make sure you book the front row of seats, as there is always a 'stage' for a 'moses basket' to be situated. It's a god send as it allows the baby an area of comfort to sleep, which at 5-7 months, is pretty much what they wanted to do; you dont need to keeop them in your lap. We fed the baby on the way up and way down (breast fed) which wasn't an issue, as they are strapped to you anyway. If you're not breastfeeding, I am sure a bottle would be allowed, but that might vary airline to airline. If the kids are older, just make sure you have plenty to keep them active, as it's boredom which causes issues. I downloaded about 80gb's worth of films on an Archos pmp, Dora etc for one of them, and that kept her occupied for large swathes of the flight. But it is also important to engage with them, they don't like to keep still for 10 hours, I am not too sure many people are, but if you keep them occupied, talk to them, play with them, it's not all that bad to be frank.

The 4 hour flight to Lapland, with 200 other kids on board, was a different matter; 200 children full of sugar and excitement at meeting Santa being urged to shout, scream and sing about how excited they were still wakes me in the wee hours with a start, and not a little sweat on my brow...

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No comments? Just a downmark? OK. –  Hairy Jun 14 '11 at 6:00
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