As any parent knows, traveling on airplanes with children can be a humbling experience. But it's also not without its rewards. Travel can help expand your child's mind and enhance his or her life.
But first you have to get there. Here is some advice on enhancing your travel experience with children.
When accompanied by an adult, children under 2 years fly free on most domestic airlines. But they must be placed in your lap unless empty seats are available. From ages 2 through 11, children accompanied by an adult are entitled to a discount. Check fares with individual airlines.
When making reservations, request bulkhead seating for the extra space it provides. Your own government-certified child-safety seat may be used aboard an aircraft, but you'll have to buy a full-fare seat to use it.
If notified at least 24 hours in advance, most airlines offer children special meals such as peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches, hot dogs and spaghetti. Airlines don't stock baby food, so take along your own, as well as emergency snacks.
Pack the child's favorite toy, plus a surprise pack that includes such things as books and crayons. Don't pack games with lots of pieces that can get lost.
Pamphlet Offers Tips
A free pamphlet, "When Kids Fly," published by Massport--the agency that manages Boston's Logan Airport--details parental responsibility as well as the obligations of an airline carrying an unaccompanied child.
The guide cautions parents to anticipate problems such as missed connections, canceled flights and late departures, which might cause a child to miss the adult picking him up at his or her destination.
The pamphlet warns parents not to think of teen-agers traveling alone as adults. Although they may look mature they may not be able to handle all emergencies. And they may avoid asking questions because appearing "cool" is important to them.
Many airlines will not allow children under 5 to fly by themselves. Five- to 7-year-old children can fly solo on most airlines if no change of plane is required. But a responsible adult must remain with the child until he or she is boarded, and the child must be met by an adult with adequate identification, such as a driver's license.
Children 8 through 11 generally will be allowed to travel by themselves, even if a change of plane is required. Most airlines will assist the child in making the plane change, although some charge a fee for the service.
A few airlines, including Continental, have children's club rooms in some major airports. The club rooms are places where the children can be entertained with games while waiting for the next flight. There may be a fee for use.
Some airlines may require that you check in your child at the departure gate at least 30 minutes before a flight. They also may require that you fill out a form waiving them of responsibility for everything except transporting your child. Check airline policy when booking the flight.
--Stay where you can be reached until your child safely reaches his or her destination.
--Give your child a piece of paper listing your name, his home address, the address of his destination, the name of the adult meeting him at the airport and several phone numbers to call in an emergency. Make sure people will be at those numbers to take a call during travel time.
--If the child is old enough, instruct him or her on how to call home collect.
--In case of emergency or confusion, tell your child to seek help from a uniformed attendant or desk agent.
--Impress upon the child that he or she should not leave the airport with a stranger.
--Tell teen-agers making flight changes to pay attention to schedules. They may have a tendency to become distracted.
For a free copy of "When Kids Fly," write to Massport, Public Affairs Department, 10 Park Plaza, Boston, Mass. 02116-3971.
For a free copy of a Department of Transportation brochure, "Kids and Teens in Flight," call (202) 366-2220.
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Parents planning vacations with children may benefit from some of the activities scheduled specifically with children in mind.
Family travel authority Carole Terwillinger Meyers and her husband Gene operate a mail-order business that sends out a catalogue, "Family Travel Guides," to help parents plan family vacations. Their new catalogue offers more than 200 family-oriented travel guides, game books and related articles. "They're the best of the lot," says Carole Meyers, who reviewed and selected them.
The 32-page catalogue of recommended guidebooks is available by sending $1 for postage and handling to Carousel Press, Family Travel Guides, P.O. Box 6061, Albany, Calif. 94706. Well worth a buck.
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"Rascals in Paradise" organizes group tours for three to six families with a heavy emphasis on learning opportunities for children. Escorts are certified teachers, when possible. There's a heavy emphasis on beach vacations (Caribbean and South Pacific), but tours also cover Africa, Asia and Europe.