Traveling with Infants, Part 3
At the Airport
If you are traveling solo with baby, you may be able to get an Escort Pass for your spouse or other helper to help you take things to the gate. Airlines vary in their rules about this, and post 9/11 there are many that no longer allow this. Some only allow it for people helping disabled individuals, or for unaccompanied minors. Call ahead to find out if your air carrier will issue an Escort Pass or has staff to help you if you need it. Sometimes, other sympathetic passengers and flight attendants will help out, but don’t count on it. Instead, do a dry-run at home before you leave to make sure you can manage everything by yourself if worse comes to worse. Pack up the baby and the luggage and walk around the block to see how you will manage the luggage and the gear.
Getting Through Security
It seems as though every airport is different when it comes to how to checking families with children. We’ve experienced everything from fairly intrusive pat-down searches to just walking on through without even so much as a glance beneath our stroller. Usually, it is somewhere in the middle. To be safe, plan to be at the airport early to be prepared for delays getting through security. If your baby is in a sling or back-pack type carrier, you may have to remove him or her and hold the child out in front of you as you walk through. The stroller will usually have to be emptied and screened manually by a checker. Some airports do not require that you remove the child from a front or back-carrier, but you will have to send a car seat carrier and folding stroller through the X-ray machine. Be prepared for either event.
The current regulations restrict liquids to 3 oz containers or less, but baby food, formula, and breast milk are exempted if you are traveling with a child who needs them. Right after 9/11, one mom on the news reported having to chug breast milk out of her baby’s bottle to prove that it was, in fact, breast milk and not something else. Thankfully, they seem to have abandoned this breast-milk testing practice. Be sure to pack things in see-through plastic bags, so that the security personnel don’t have to rummage through everything and contaminate pacifiers, nipples, and teethers when searching your bag.
Try to wear comfortable, slip-on shoes when traveling, since you are now required to remove your shoes when you go through screening. If you're carrying a baby, it can be difficult to bend down and lace up your sneakers when you come out, so that's one less thing you have to juggle.
Boarding the Plane
When you get to the gate, you can gate-check your stroller by getting a tag for it and leaving it at the end of the jet-way, just before you board the plane. You pick it up when you get off the plane at the same spot. Be sure to collapse or fold it when you leave it—if it is not folded, it might be damaged by airport luggage handlers who will use “any means necessary” to get it to fold up. The airlines will not pay for a broken stroller, since it is considered a “fragile item” according to their rules, so you check it at your own risk.
Many US carriers no longer allow families with small children to board early. The reason is that most of their profits come from business travelers and frequent flyers who complained about not getting to board first. So, United, American, and several others now have families board at the same time as other passengers. The last time we flew Northwest, they seemed to have a compromise position—boarding first class and frequent flyers first, families with small children and people needed extra time second, then general boarding by row number. Many foreign carriers still allow families with small children to board early, and if it is important to you, call or check the airline website for their policy. If you or your spouse is the holder of an elite-status pass on any air carrier, the entire family can board with the frequent flyer and use the early boarding to set up camp.
If at all possible, you should purchase a seat for your child—it is safer and more comfortable for both of you, particularly on long trips. Many airlines offer tickets for children under two years old at 50% off the normal air fare, but not necessarily off the lowest published fair. Be sure to tell the airlines when you make your reservations that you are traveling with a child under 2 years old and see what they can do.
Next time: On the Plane
Photos: En route to Kansas with Alexander at 8 weeks old, taken by Frank and me.
An earlier version of this is also posted at Travel for Kids.