Flying with Grandchildren

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Don't expect a visit from the captain on today's airline flights with kids.
Don't expect a visit from the captain on today's airline flights with kids.

If you haven't flown with small children recently, flying with your grandchildren may bring a few surprises. If you flew with children years ago, when flight attendants catered to children, today's cabin atmosphere may come as a bit of a shock. With more people with children flying, flight attendants don't have time to lavish the attention they once did on kids, so don't expect much help. Taking small children through security can also be complicated, so make sure you have the documents you need. Advance preparation will make your experience more pleasant.

  1. Documentation

    • While you know to bring photo ID to the airport for your flight, you may not be sure what your grandchildren need. Children do not normally need identification to fly, unless they're under age 2 and you plan to hold them on your lap. In this case, bringing a birth certificate can prevent questions if a child appears older than his stated age. However, if you're traveling with grandchildren, it's prudent to have a copy of their birth certificate as well as a notarized letter giving you permission not only to fly with them but also to take them for medical care, should the need arise. Have phone numbers with you to reach their parents at all times.

    Going Through Security

    • Approaching security with children and all their paraphernalia is even more complicated than going through security as an unencumbered adult. Check your luggage, even if you usually take carry-ons, to reduce your load. You must remove children from strollers when you go through the screening areas. Kids younger than 12 do not need to remove their shoes but will need to remove coats and outerwear. Children must go through the scanner. You can take formula and juice for small children through security in "reasonable quantities," according to the Transportation Security Administration.

    Getting Seated

    • Families with children once boarded before other people, but this often doesn't occur anymore. Each airline sets its own guidelines, so know your airline's rules before expecting to board before anyone else. Some airlines board families with children under a certain age, such as 2, 4 or 5 before other people. Southwest Airlines, which doesn't assign seats, boards families between their A and B groups, unless they have an A boarding pass. American Airlines doesn't board any children early. Most airlines allow you to gate-check your stroller; you pick the stroller up on the jetway after the flight. Some restrict the stroller size to collapsible strollers weighing 20 pounds or less.

    In the Air

    • You can bring on a car seat or booster for a child who has his own seat, which may make it easier to keep your grandchild seated, since kids are usually used to being restrained in their seats when traveling. Some airlines have in-flight movies, but it's easier to invest in a portable DVD and bring a few favorite movies for the flight. Bring your own assortment of snacks for the plane, since airline offerings are skimpy; don't choose anything that will scatter all over the floor if your grandchild inevitably drops it. If your grandchild has a severe peanut allergy, inform the airline when booking the flight so they can restrict peanut snacks. Nutrition bars can replace a meal and don't make a mess. Avoid using the airplane bathroom if possible; if you think it's too small for one, you'll hate being in there with a wiggly grandkid.

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  • Photo Credit David De Lossy/Valueline/Getty Images

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