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Lani Teshima, editor

Traveling with Baby

Smoothing out the bumpy ride to Walt Disney World

Tuesday, March 8, 2005
by Lani Teshima, staff writer

You are now a proud parent, and you want to take your young one to Walt Disney World to share in the magic! It will be your child's first airplane flight, and your first time flying with a young one, too. Perhaps you're an experience traveler, but now that you regularly schlep around diaper bags and car seats, how do you fly and still manage to a smooth trip?

There are many who believe a child should be well into grade school before a visit to the Magic Kingdom, but for the purposes of this article let's set that debate aside and look at how best to experience air travel to Walt Disney World with very young children.

Packables

In addition to clothes and toiletries, if your child is not yet potty trained, there is the issue of traveling with diapers (and all that comes with having to change your baby). Why lug a box of Huggies when you can purchase all the diapers you need at your destination? Of course, that's easier said than done if it means having to make a stop on your way to your hotel from Orlando International Airport. The errand may be simple on your own, but with a baby in your arms all of a sudden everything becomes a task. Having the freedom to make your own stops requires that you rent your own car, or hire a more expensive limo service (since most shuttle services do not provide grocery stops).

Some hardcore travelers actually mail their necessities ahead of time to their hotel. In the case of diapers (which, while not too heavy, are large and bulky), however, you might consider a shipping service. One such outfit is Jet Set Babies (link). Founded by two moms from Minnesota who got tired of having to lug too much stuff when they traveled, Jet Set Babies allows you to order a variety of needs for baby, including diapers, wet wipes, formula, baby food, sunscreen, and other items.

In addition to boxes of diapers, Jet Set Babies offers a couple of very convenient items—an on-the-go travel feeding set (a travel bowl, take-and-toss spoons, take-and-toss sippy cups, bibs, and wet wipes—enough for your whole trip for $24.99), and a hotel day pack (a day's worth of diapers, wipes, changing pads, swim pants, sunblock for $8.99). The hotel day pack even comes packaged in a single resealable plastic baggie so you can just toss it into your diaper bag and head out for a day at the pool or park. Although these cost more than if you were to pack them yourself, they provide thoughtful convenience, and more room in your own luggage for other items.

There are other things you need on your trip that you probably didn't need before you were a parent. Planning on warming up baby formula or food in your hotel room? You need to check to see if you can rent a microwave during your stay. Some hotels provide mini refrigerators, but some of them are filled with booze and soda, leaving little room for baby food. In order to travel light, you might be considering a collapsible stroller, even though you would prefer a sturdier type. Keep in mind that you can rent strollers in the parks, but you cannot remove them from the parks, and you have to check out a new stroller if you hop between parks in a day.

One option is to rent this equipment during your trip. There is a special service called A Baby's Best Friend (link), based out of Orlando, that offers rentals of all types of baby needs for your vacation. A Baby's Best Friend provides everything from full-sized cribs (with a four-inch mattress and linens) to rocking chairs, security gates, microwaves, and strollers. They provide free delivery and retrieval for your hotel stay, so you don't have to worry about transporting the equipment for your trip.

Buying a ticket for baby

You may have heard that babies under 2 can fly for free with a paying adult. Unfortunately, those babies are considered “lap babies,” and the airlines expect you to place your baby on your lap (unfortunately, flight attendants also refer to lap babies as “missiles” and “footballs” because babies can get tossed around during severe turbulence or a very rough landing). And although the chances of such extreme turbulence are slim, most parents would rather provide the baby or toddler with a separate seat if they could.

Depending on your financial situation, do seriously consider purchasing a separate seat for your baby. It is the only sure way you can guarantee a seat for your baby. This is especially helpful if you have a long flight. Although you can let the airline know that you have a baby traveling with you and that you would like a seat available next to you, the airline does not make any guarantees.

If you are an elite frequent flier (over 25,000 miles in a calendar year) and you have some seat-assignment privileges with your airline, they may be more inclined to place a hold on the adjacent seat. However if they sell all their seats on your flight, they will assign that seat to another passenger.

Fortunately, many airlines provide discounts for babies. For peace of mind, purchase a separate seat for your baby. Your lap will thank you. And in the case of severe turbulence (of the type where a plane may suddenly lose thousands of feet in altitude), you will be glad your baby is strapped into a car seat.

If you choose not to purchase a separate ticket for your baby, talk to an airline reservationist and make sure there is an empty seat next to you. If you are flying with another adult, the two of you can secure the window and aisle seats, leaving the middle seat open. Middle seats are the least desirable, and are often the last to get assigned. If you volunteer to be seated in one of the last rows of an aircraft (considered the least desirable), you increase your chances of being able to keep that empty seat, as well (and you will be closer to the lavatories, as well as the galley where you can have baby bottles warmed up).

Bring a car seat for the flight, even if your baby has no ticket. If the adjacent window or middle seat is empty, you can strap your baby in. If the seat is taken, you can ask the flight attendants to check the car seat in for you. In this case, the “last checked in, first unloaded” rule should work, so your car seat should arrive not at baggage claim, but at the arrival gate. Airlines do this routinely for strollers as well.

Be aware that airlines do not allow you to use booster seats, but only allow FAA-approved car seats.

MousePlanet reader Wendi devised a clever way to carry everything by herself: She puts her son in a stroller, turns his car seat upside down and hangs it over the back of the stroller and uses it to push. She then wears a backpack, and pulls her wheeled luggage behind her. She then gate-checks her stroller, and puts her son in the car seat on the airplane. Another reader loosens the car seat straps as much as possible, then wears them like a backpack.

Be aware that some airlines do not officially announce preboarding for parties with babies and young children. United Airlines stopped this practice some years ago, to the chagrin of many parents. For such airlines, you can ask at the gate, but it is up to the discretion of the gate agent. [United's policy does not make sense to me.]

What to take on the plane

What you carry on with you depends on the length of your flight, time of your flight, and age of your child. Hopefully, your baby or toddler will sleep through the bulk of the flight (another reason a familiar car seat will be helpful). Make sure to take some toys, although you want to limit the number of items you take. As a bare bones list, the moms at Jet Set Babies recommend the following for a toddler or child:

  • Scotch tape – Dispensed in small amounts, they keep little ones busy. Plus it's not messy, noisy, or bulky.
  • Twizzlers – They are fairly non-sticky, do not make crumbs, melt, or scatter when dropped. In addition, if you offer Twizzlers during take-off and landing, it will help your toddler's ears equalize. If you have ever heard a baby or toddler scream during take-off and landing, it's usually because their ears are in pain from the change in cabin pressure. If Twizzlers poses a choking hazard, consider fruit roll-ups. If your baby isn't eating solids yet, consider nursing her. It's the swallowing motion that helps equalize the ears.
  • A small notebook with three crayons or washable markers – Coloring books and a whole box of crayons are unnecessary, according to the Jet Set Babies moms.

Older children may be enthralled with a Game Boy or a portable (read: small) DVD player.

Make sure you take in your carry-on a full set of clothes for yourself and your child, and basic toiletries in case you lose your luggage or your young one has a spill on the clothes he is wearing.

Airport security

Although the Transportation Security Administration does not require you to provide an ID for your children, consider bringing a copy of your baby's birth certificate. And if your baby is not traveling with both parents, consider obtaining paperwork that allows you to travel with your baby alone. This is especially important if you are traveling from overseas, as immigrations officers are wary of any potential custody issues (abduction by non-custodial parents). The immigration officers can be much stricter and ask you nosey questions. Have the non-traveling parent write and sign a letter stating that you are authorized to travel with your baby. Having it notarized will also be very helpful.

You will be required to pass all of your baby's items (including car seat and stroller) through the X-ray machine at the security checkpoint. Items that are too large for the machine have to be hand-inspected.

Believe it or not, the TSA airport screeners do not discriminate by age; everyone must undergo security screenings individually. Amazingly, this includes your infant. For babies who are not yet walking on their own, you actually hold them out ahead of you and have them pass through the walk-through metal detector before you can step forward. And if your toddler is already walking and weighs too much for you to do this, TSA requires that the child walk through the walk-through metal detector by herself! Although TSA agents are accustomed to screening young children, it may be a bit of a challenge. Although I can attest to having seen extraordinarily kind TSA agents gently coax toddlers through the walk-through metal detector, it often means your child has to walk through ahead of you, leaving you behind to walk towards a uniformed stranger. For this reason, I strongly recommend that you give yourself plenty of time to get through airport security before your flight.

Since you are traveling with a young one, be extra careful to avoid getting flagged for a secondary screening procedure (which I discussed in a previous Trip Planner article). The procedure is an annoyance on your own, but it could become extremely inconvenient if you have a young one with you.

Magical Express

You may already be aware that I advocate traveling light and maintain a Web site for light-travel information (link). And when traveling just for yourself, you can easily avoid having to check any luggage in when you fly. Is it possible to do so while traveling with your infant or toddler? It's not easy, but not only is it possible, it has been done. Perhaps you're not ready to give that a try... and with the new Magical Express shuttle service (link) that Walt Disney World has introduced for its on-property guests during Disney's 50th anniversary celebration of Disneyland, Disney has eliminated some of the pain of dealing with check-in luggage.

If you are traveling with a young one, it's quite possible that the savings you get from staying off-property becomes offset by hidden costs, such as the need for a rental car, and the extra time it takes to tote baby in the car to the parks. It may be better to splurge a bit and stay on-property and take advantage of Disney's complimentary shuttle service. Better yet, consider spending the extra money for a stay at one of the monorail hotels (the Polynesian, Grand Floridian, or Contemporary) and get whisked to the parks.

Travel with a baby or toddler can be a challenge. But with some careful planning and preparation, you can ease the inconvenience and focus on providing your child with a wonderful introduction to the Disney theme parks. See you there!


Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Lani here.


ABOUT THE EDITOR

Contact Lani Teshima if you have any travel tips or questions about trip planning.

A Hawaii ex-patriate, Lani is a technical writer for a San Francisco Bay Area software company.

When Lani is not managing the copy editing tasks here, you can usually find her at the gym, slogging away those slow miles on the treadmill as she trains for the WDW Marathon (held in January). She also maintains her internationally recognized Travelite FAQ.

In the occasional spare moment, Lani and her husband, Alex—our MousePlanet CEO and MouseAdventure event coordinator—attend baseball games, and drive down to Disneyland in their 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid (which gets 50mpg).

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