Travelling with children
Travelling with children, especially young children, puts special demands on the adults responsible for their well being. Here are some tips that can make the trip pleasant for all concerned.
Planning ahead is essential for any air trip, and even more so when children are involved. Make sure you keep handy any supplies you will need to take care of any normal or special needs for the child.
Assume the worst: every seat will be allocated, the toilets will not have changing tables, the airline will not have any suitable food, you will be delayed for several hours, and any checked luggage will be lost. Carrying all the child's essentials is important, especially if your child is on a special diet or on medication.
The flight attendant is not responsible for supervising your child - YOU ARE. On a very long flight from Australia to the US a parent, travelling alone with a toddler, fell asleep. A few minutes later a flight attendant carrying the child woke the parent and informed her that the child had been wandering around the one of the aircraft galleys - a place with all sorts of dangerously hot or sharp objects that could have easily injured the child. Also be aware that when walking about the aircraft with your child, hot drinks and food, silverware, and other hazards are within their reach. No matter how tired you may get, your child is still your responsibility.
It is strongly recommended that infants be put into a child restraint system appropriate for their weight. Most Approved Australian Safety Standard child restraint seats designed for use in motor vehicles are suitable for use in an aircraft, if used in accordance with the seat manufacturer's instructions. For travellers from overseas, Canadian, European and USA standard motor vehicle child seats are acceptable. Additionally, dedicated aviation restraint systems approved by those Airworthiness Authorities are also acceptable. This includes a device from the USA marketed as the ‘Kidsflysafe CARES'.
Child booster seats are only allowed to be used in seats which incorporate a shoulder harness. For that reason, booster seats are not allowed to be used on standard airline seating. As a guide, once a child has outgrown their full harness child restraint, it is safe for them to use the aircraft seat & lap belt.
An airline may supply child restraint seats or may allow you to use your own. When making your booking, check to see what arrangements the airline you are travelling with has for the safe transport of your infant. Once you have confirmed the acceptable use of the child restraint, think about the following:
- Find a way to conveniently carry the infant, bags and possibly a child restraint through airports and into and out of aircraft,
- Check with the airline you are flying with and follow their recommendations for using child restraint systems,
- Check whether it is a requirement of the airline you are travelling with, that child restraints are used.
Small children enjoy reaching out and exploring. If they are seated beside the aisle they could get hurt if their arms get bumped by a passing person or serving cart. Ideally, two responsible adults should sit one on either side of a small child.
Alternatively, the child can be seated on a row with a window on one side and a responsible adult on the other. If an infant is in a child restraint, that restraint should not impede another person making their way to the aisle so in that situation it is best that they be placed in the window seat.
Turbulence can happen at any time and without warning, so keep your child belted in as much as possible. If the child wants to get up and move around, let them do so only if the seat belt sign is off. See our sections on turbulence and crash positions with infants.
CASA regulation CAAP - 235-2(2) covers the carriage and restraint of small children in aircraft.
Try to avoid bringing along toys that are sharp, heavy, or that break easily. If the child has an electronic game, only allow them to use it during the cruise portion of flight. Electronic games may interfere with an aircraft's navigational system during other phases of the flight.
Make sure you are aware of emergency equipment or procedures that would apply to your child:
- Pay attention to the standard preflight emergency briefing,
- Ask a flight attendant if that particular aircraft has emergency equipment like life preservers specifically designed for small children,
- If your child has a medical condition that may become an issue during the flight, make a flight attendant, counter agent, or gate agent aware of that possibility before the flight.
If the emergency oxygen masks drop down, put your mask on first. If the brain is starved of oxygen, you can get confused or pass out. Then you would be unable to help yourself or your child. For more information, see our section on what to do in an emergency.
Take extra precautions for children travelling alone. The older child travelling alone needs extra protection as well:
- Escort the child onto the aircraft. Ensure the seat they are in does not have hazards like heavy carry on items in the overhead storage bin.
- Tell the chief flight attendant that the child is travelling unaccompanied.
- Make sure the child understands that they should report any problems to a flight attendant, ranging from feeling sick to being seated next to a suspicious character.
- If the child has to change planes, make arrangements for the child to be escorted between gates. This might cost extra but is required for small children and is recommended for older children.
- Arrange with the airline that the person meeting your child at the destination is properly identified.