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Baby on Board! Flying with the Whole Family


Last Saturday was the third time my wife and I have taken our infant daughter flying in a small airplane, and I think we’re finally starting to get it figured out.

There’s no good reason why a baby can’t come flying with you. There are, however, some extra considerations necessary for a small passenger. With a little preparation, the personal airplane can become a weekend getaway machine for the whole family.

Most car seats are also approved for use in aircraft by the FAA. If your seat is approved, there will be a sticker on it that says so. Seatbelts work about the same in airplanes as they do in cars, so there shouldn’t be any problem getting the seat secured, but it’s a good idea to check it out in advance, just to make sure.

We’ve found it works best to put the baby behind the pilot’s seat. In a Cessna 172, the pilot usually slides the seat forward after getting in. This means the non-flying parent in the right seat can slide back, reach behind the pilot, and have good access to baby in the back seat.

Sun protection is big deal, because airplanes are necessarily built like tiny flying greenhouses in order to afford the pilot a good view. Make sure you’ve got some way to give your passenger shade without blocking the windows.

Hearing protection is a must for everyone in the plane. Infants’ ears are especially susceptible to permanent damage. Earplugs are great, and easily available, but good luck getting them to stay in! And once they’re out, they’re a choking hazard, so you’d better have someone in the back seat to watch the kid the whole time.

This was our major find for last week: for $25 we got youth-sized protective earmuffs, that fit our 10-month-old baby just fine, from the gun department at a sporting goods store. She wore them the whole flight without a fuss.

Speaking of ears, remember babies haven’t had the opportunity to learn the Valsalva Maneuver, and may not be able to clear their ears as well as grownups during climbs and descents. Make sure your baby doesn’t have any kind of sinus blockage before flying. This is important for adults, too. Descents are harder on sinuses and ears than ascents, so plan to come down slowly. I’ve used 500-700 feet per minute with the baby and never had any problems. Sucking on a bottle will also help a baby clear her ears during an approach.

If you have any questions about physiology, talk to your flight surgeon.

For a small child, especially one who can’t see out the window, bring plenty of distractions and an extra parent to tend the child in flight. Single-pilot, single-parent operations probably aren’t a good idea until the kids are old enough to take care of themselves a little bit.

With a little extra planning, flying can enrich the lives of your entire family. An airplane can take you places and show you things you can’t see any other way. And what could be better for a pilot than sharing the things you love doing with the people you love most?

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