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Air travel can be stressful under the best of circumstances, but traveling with young children during the busy holiday season can be difficult.
This can be especially true because many of those heading home for the holidays don't fly as often as business travelers.
There are also safety considerations when flying with children.
Kids' safety expert Louie Delaware, an author who also offers safety tips on the website www.thehomesafetyguru.com, has a number of tips to make flying during the holidays with the kids safer and easier.
"You may not be aware of potential safety concerns until after an accident has already happened," he said. "Fortunately, knowing what to expect, inspect and ask for before the big travel day can keep your little ones secure once you board the plane and can help ensure that an unforeseen incident doesn't add to your travel stress."
Delaware said to take care when reserving seats. In a day and age when some airlines charge extra to reserve aisle and window seats, a family sitting together isn't always guaranteed. So make sure you and the kids are all sitting on the same row.
Also, if possible, try to ask for bulkhead seating in non-emergency rows. The author of many safety books said that such seating makes it easier to be with your child and makes managing food, beverages, toys and other activities better.
Many travelers who don't fly frequently aren't aware of early boarding policies. In most cases, airlines let families with young kids board first.
"When you get to the gate, ask the attendant if early boarding is offered and if the answer is yes, take advantage of it," Delaware said. "When you are trying to wrangle an excited, curious, nervous, upset and sleeping child as well as your carry-ons, having a few extra minutes to get settled into an empty plane can be a godsend. Most importantly, this time will allow you to check and double-check that your child is securely fastened into his or her seat."
While taking car seats on a trip is a hassle, Delaware recommends it.
"Always bring and use your own car seat or booster seat if you are planning on renting a car at your destination," he said. "Rental car companies frequently run out of these items during busy travel seasons. And if seats are available, you may not be happy with their condition."
That said, make sure in advance that your car seat will work as a carry-on. If your car seat doesn't have the designation "This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft," which many models don't, your airline may prevent you from using it. Car seats that are less than 16 inches wide usually work best.
Many families with youngsters under 2 take advantage of lap seating, where their infant can sit on their lap during a plane ride, thus saving the cost of a full fare. Delaware said that while this is tempting, it's much easier and safer for everyone if infants have their own seat.
"First, you won't have to hold a hot, squirmy, little human on your lap for hours at a time in an already cramped space," he said. "But much more importantly, unless you have Herculean strength and lightning-fast reflexes, it can be very difficult, or even physically impossible, to catch and hold a child during severe turbulence, which can come out of nowhere.