Air Travel Safety Tips

Traveling with kids on an airplane can be a challenge. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has tips (with some updates from me) for the entire family who’s traveling by air. I will share the AAP’s tips for traveling by car in another blog. 

When You're Traveling by Airplane

  • Allow yourself and your family extra time to get through security--especially when traveling with younger children.
  • To prepare for airport security screenings, have children wear shoes and outer layers of clothing that are easily taken off and on. (Note: The rules changed again this spring: Now children 12 and under do not have to take their shoes off for security checks.)
  • Talk to your children before coming to the airport about the security screening process. Let them know that their bags (backpack, dolls, etc.) will be put through the x-ray machine and will come out the other end and be returned to them.
  • Discuss the fact that it’s against the law to make threats such as, “I have a bomb in my bag,” even as a joke. Even if a child makes a threats jokingly, the entire family can be delayed and the parents fined.
  • As with travel in motor vehicles, a child is best protected on an airplane when properly restrained in a car safety seat that’s appropriate for the age, weight, and height of the child, and that meets the standards for aircraft.
  • Once a child weighs more than 40 lbs., he or she can use the aircraft seat belt. Belt-positioning booster seats cannot be used on airplanes, but they can be checked as luggage (usually without baggage fees) for use in rental cars and taxis.
  • You may also consider using a restraint made only for use on airplanes and approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
  • Although the FAA allows children under age 2 to be held on an adult’s lap, the AAP recommends that families explore options to ensure that each child has her own seat. If you cannot afford to purchase a ticket for a small child, try to select a flight that is likely to have empty seats.
  • Pack a bag of toys and snacks that will keep your child occupied during the flight.
  • In order to decrease ear pain during the plane’s descent, encourage your infant to nurse or suck on a bottle. Older children (4 years and older) can try chewing gum, drinking water or juice through a straw, or blowing bubbles through a straw in a glass of water.
  • Wash hands frequently, and consider bringing hand-washing gel to prevent illnesses during travel.
  • Consult your pediatrician before flying if your newborn or infant has chronic heart or lung problems, or currently has upper or lower respiratory symptoms.
  • Consult your pediatrician if your child is going to be flying within 2 weeks of having an ear infection or ear surgery.
  • Do not “pre-medicate” your child with Benadryl in hopes that they will sleep through the flight. This is apparently a common practice among parents, and pediatricians get asked about it all the time. But giving a medicine that is not needed is never a good idea, and in this case parents often report that the child was groggy and fussy, as if trying to fight off the sleepy effects of the medicine.

International Travel

  • If traveling internationally, check with your doctor to see if your child (and you!) might need additional vaccines, and make sure your child is up-to-date on routine vaccinations. (Note: Plan far in advance--sometimes a series of vaccinations is needed before a trip can begin.)
  • In order to avoid jet lag, adjust your child’s sleep schedule starting 2 to 3 days before departure. After arrival, children should be encouraged to be active outside, or to play in brightly lit areas during daylight hours, to promote adjustment. (You can certainly try this strategy, but I have never found it to work with my own kids. We just try to make sure they get some really good nights’ sleep during the week before travel so they don’t start the trip already sleep deprived.)
  • Conditions at hotels and other lodging might not be as safe or child friendly as those in the U.S. Carefully inspect for exposed wiring, pest poisons, paint chips, or inadequate railings on stairways and balconies.
  • When traveling abroad, also be aware that cribs or play yards provided by hotels might not meet current U.S. safety standards. If you have any doubt about the safety of the crib or play yard, ask for a replacement or consider other options.


 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Transportation Security Administration (TSA)

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