The Parents' Guide to Flying With Kids

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By Samantha Bomkamp, AP Transportation Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Flying with small children is an expensive and exhausting endeavor. Today's fuller flights, tighter security and abundance of fees can amplify that. Here are some tips to simplify your trip with little ones — from checking in to landing at your destination.

CHECKING IN

When selecting a flight, try to book nonstop flights during off-peak hours, either early or late, when kids are likely to sleep through more of the trip.

Check in for your flight online as early as possible (24 hours before) in order to reserve good seats near the front of the plane. You'll be able to get off and on more quickly. Those seats also provide easier access to a small space near the restrooms on bigger planes if you need to stand with your baby at any time during flight.

Most airlines will generally set aside bulkhead seats (the first row of each section) for families. If you weren't able to land a good seat online, ask the flight attendant at the gate. Most airlines will try to be accommodating.

BEWARE: SHIFTING FEES

Airlines such as AirTran and Spirit have seat selection fees as high as $35. George Hobica, founder of the travel Web site Airfarewatchdog.com, calls these "hidden taxes on parents." If you want to reserve a seat ahead of time, call the airline. It will often waive the fee for parents traveling with children either on laps or in their own seats — if you ask.

Bulkhead seats on some airlines though, including AirTran, can only be assigned by an airline employee at the airport.

Another thing to look out for: Children under age two are free if they sit in your lap on domestic flights, but not international ones. The standard international fare for children is 10% plus fuel surcharges, which can add hundreds of dollars. Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific charges 25%.

And if you're a frequent flier who wants to upgrade to business or first class on an international flight, be prepared. You could wind up paying more than $1,000 for your baby — more than you'll likely pay for yourself.

BABY GEAR

To avoid lugging a heavy stroller, buy a lightweight or "umbrella" stroller for your trip. They are generally inexpensive (under $50) and easy to roll down the ramp and gate check.

If you bring a cumbersome stroller, the airline might have you check it as luggage. You also run the risk of an expensive stroller getting damaged in transit. Whichever you bring, wait to check it at the gate, right before boarding. It will be waiting for you when you land and you'll be able to wheel junior to the baggage claim.

If you bring a car seat, it must be FAA certified. Although you can check car seats at the gate, it might be easier to rent one from a car rental company when you reach your destination.

SECURITY

The TSA will allow you to bring food and drink for your baby that exceeds the standard three ounce limit. Bring what you'll need for the flight, plus extra in case of a delay. And inform an agent as you approach the checkpoint if you're carrying breast milk, formula, juice or baby food. That helps prevent any hassles when your bag is searched.

Bring plenty of snacks and all the bottles that you'll need in another bag you can pull out when you go through the checkpoint. Baby's things don't need to be in a zip-top clear plastic bag like your other liquids. Keep those items separate to avoid delays. And with new security rules, be prepared for an agent to test liquids.

BOARDING

If the aircraft is big enough and there are two adults traveling, book the window and the aisle in one of the first few rows. If no one chooses the middle seat, you'll be able to lay the baby down instead of holding him or her on your lap. For children under age two you also have the option of buying a seat at a reduced rate.

If one parent is traveling with two children, one of the kids has to get his or her own seat at a reduced fare.

THE BASICS

Snacks, a familiar toy or blanket and entertainment are all necessary items when traveling with children. Hobica recommends parents try to fly on airlines with built-in TVs like JetBlue, Frontier and Virgin America.

"Whenever I see happy children on flights, they are sitting in front of a TV," Hobica said.

The next best thing? A portable DVD player or video games for older children.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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