Flying with multiple children – the rules explained
So you thought you finally had yourself sorted with this flying with an infant thing – then another kid comes along. What on earth do you do? Where do you put them? How do you carry everything? Or what if two come along at once?! Don’t panic! Your questions are comprehensively answered in this guide to flying with two or more kids – particularly infants.
As my 3 children are all of different ages, I have called on the help of Karen Bleakley of Tales of a Twin Mum fame to assist with some practical pointers on travelling with twins.
What family travelling combo are you?
- One infant with one or more older children (over 2 years)
- Two infants (one over 6 months)
- Twins under 6 months
- Twins between 6 months to 2 years
- Twins & infants
- Triplets and more!
- Two over 2 years
Why does this matter? Because rules do differ based on your children’s ages and how many adults are travelling with you.
N.B. An infant is considered any child under 2 years of age.
What are the airline rules?
As a very basic headline rule on all airlines, only one infant is allowed per adult lap.
If you are travelling as a couple or as two adults with two infants you shouldn’t have any issues, but bear in mind if you have two infants on laps, you most likely cannot sit together! This is because there is only one extra oxygen mask fitted in each row.
In the bassinet row, however, there should be as many masks as there are bassinets. Now this doesn’t mean you can’t travel as a solo parent with two infants, but here are some additional rules:
- A child under 6 months must be on your lap with a loop seat belt during takeoff, landing & turbulence. So with twins under 6 months you must have another accompanying adult, or some airlines will offer a (paid) escort service.
- Over 6 months your options open up a little. You can;
- purchase a child seat and bring an airline approved car seat for the second child (most airlines will not provide this though); or
- You could have two in car seats and be completely hands-free if you want to spring for the cost, or if you know both children sleep better this way.
If any of your children are over 2 years of age, then they must have their own seat and pay a child’s fare. A single parent can then have another infant on their lap and yes, they can by the rules have a child over two and twins under two, as long as the twins are over 6 months and one of them is put in a car seat. Clear?!
Once your children are over two there are no restrictions on how many children can fly with one adult (though bare in mind until they are at least three it can be mission impossible to get them to stay in their seat!)
This advice is based on CAA (UK Civil Aviation Authority) guidelines; other federal aviation policies may differ so always check with your airline when purchasing seats for two infants. Car seats must be compliant with civil aviation standards in your airline’s jurisdiction, here are the guidelines set by CAA and FAA (USA).
So now you know the rules, what are the trick to get you through the flight?
The absolute number one rule is to be organised and have a plan in advance!
Remember sitting together isn’t the most important thing in the world (as long as you’re organised and prepared).
Now that we have three children (one infant and two children), my husband and I regularly split our seating up. Rather than looking to share a row of four with five of us, one of us aims to sit in the bassinet row (which requires you book, re-book, double check and ask again multiple times to guarantee!), while the other will take the older kids in a window seat row (aircraft layout permitting – check Seat Guru if you are unsure).
There are challenges to both sitting with the infant and with the older kids but this way we can rotate and give each other a break. It also means the infant isn’t disturbing the older two who can be engaged in activities or watching TV, and vice versa they are not waking or clambering over him while he’s trying to sleep.
When we were only a family of four, and after #2 no longer fitted the bassinet we would try for the empty seat strategy – booking a row of four near the back and hoping the aircraft is not full and the middle seat will not be taken in between you – this obviously only works on larger wide-bodied long-haul aircrafts. The reason we love this is because you can fold the arm rests back and lay the children out across the row, something you cannot do in the bulkhead row.
Don’t forget when flying long-haul to book infant and children’s meals where possible. Do not assume that booking an infant or children’s ticket automatically entitles you to this – IT DOES NOT! (Queue our Toddler Flying Mistakes post!!)
If you are flying with a budget airline, it is well worth paying a premium if possible to book preferred seating in advance and get the combination that you want instead of getting stuck in the skirmish at the gate and potentially being completely separated on the aircraft.
Remember you only have two hands each!!
Every additional child, bag and piece of equipment somehow needs to be accounted for in getting from A to B. Strategies that may have worked for you with one infant might not work so well with two so you need to be flexible and realistic.
If there is an option for an airport porter to assist you from car to check-in, now might just be the time to splash out on one. Personally, I try to check as much luggage as I possibly can, including strollers and carry infants, allowing older children to walk with as minimal hand luggage as possible. Of course, if your children are close together (or twins) this may not be a viable option, so let’s talk equipment.
Some airports do provide strollers free of charge so you can check your own stroller securely at check-in (ie properly wrapped ready for baggage handling) – but many times this services is advertised the strollers are simply not available so don’t bank on this.
If you do take a stroller to the gate, it will then be stowed by ground staff and either collected at the plane door on landing or at the baggage claim (quite often with oversized items). Where your gear will end up is at the discretion of the destination airport so don’t get cross at your airline if it’s not available at the aircraft door and be prepared for this.
Using a sling/carrier can make it quicker to get through security as many airports will require an infant to be removed and the stroller to be folded and go through the scanner. This method also leaves your hands free for errant toddlers who are likely to wander off on you.
A final alternative is to double carry. Something I must say I have never attempted, but where you put one child on your back and another in a sling in front (or small twins could be carried together in a sling) – practice this at home beforehand if this is your strategy!
If you are planning on taking car seats to use on the plane, remember you will need a way of carrying them through the airport. In a smaller regional airport you may be able to get the airline to take your seats at check-in straight to the aircraft but don’t bank on this option, especially at a big international airport.
There are some ingenious little roll along models now available which you could try (that double as a stroller).
On many flights, particularly international, families will be allowed pre-boarding. If you have a rambunctious toddler that needs to burn energy, consider sending only one adult ahead to get your seats all set up and letting the other parent wear kids out before boarding – or taking a sleeping baby to board straight away.
You will find a combination that works best for you, just think about how much luggage you have and how much you prize that overhead locker space!
Tips for Twins
I find taking a double stroller essential for getting around the airport, rather than two singles, this way one of us was able to push the luggage trolley while the other pushed the boys. Rather than take our expensive double, we invested in a cheap, narrow stroller. We didn’t mind if this got battered by the airline staff, and, as it was skinny, we knew it would be more likely to go through doors and lifts when we arrived at our destination at Gatwick Airport we had to give up our stroller at the gate (this meant juggling two toddlers and our hand luggage for the final stretch – which included two flights of stairs and a bus!) – I was very pleased we’d brought rucksacks which kept our hands free.
So with seating sorted according to aviation rules and your favourite seating strategies in play, you’ve gotten to the plane. Now how do you survive in-flight?
Getting your bags sorted is incredibly important. If you are going to be split up then you want to make sure both parents have essential supplies with them, most important is to determine what needs to be in your “grab bag”; especially if you’ve managed to score the converted bulkhead row, during that insurmountable time it seems to take for the seat belt sign to come off you need every essential supply in arms reach.
Infants can be incredibly wibble wobbly, hair pulling, trampolining, scratching creatures when forced to sit in your lap. Adding a whiney toddler desperate for your attention to the mix doesn’t help! You will need some sort of plane activities for a toddler or older infant but be conscious they still have a pretty limited attention span. Even the much-loved iPad can take until 2.5 to 3 years old to really be an effective entertainer (read keep the headphones on their head!)
Also think about the fact if your baby is happily bopping about in your lap next to an older child trying to play, it really can be quite distracting not to mention their innate desire to put everything possible in their mouth so think careful about what you’re packing in your toy bag.
Don’t be afraid to ask the flight crew for help. Even if there are two grown ups travelling together, most airline staff do understand the needs of family travellers, be it help while going to the toilet or clearing trays for you. A little politeness will get you a long way.
Tales from a Twin Mum
When flying from London to Menorca, we opted to pay extra to choose our seats in advance so we had booked to sit directly behind each other so we could easily pass things over and swap toddlers if one got bored. I had carefully packed our bags – one with nappy changing things and spare clothes, and the other with stickers, books, snacks and a bottle of milk for each of them.
When we boarded though, we realised we’d been moved and had been allocated seats in different parts of the aircraft. We had to hastily go through our bags while everyone was boarding (and while trying to keep hold of two wriggly toddlers!) to switch up the contents so we each had some of everything in our bags.
Thankfully, after talking to the staff about how we’d paid to be seated together, we were eventually moved to a different row where there were enough empty seats for us all to sit together. I’ll never make that mistake again – now I make sure that each bag has a mixture of things in it.
To minimise stress, we flew early in the morning and stayed at a B&B near the airport. Our boys were awake and running around before we boarded flights, but the second we gave them their bottles of milk at take-off, they fell sound asleep and stayed that way until a few minutes before landing. The short flight was totally painless.
Don’t listen to the people that tell you it will be too hard to go abroad with multiples (as they usually don’t actually have twins themselves), or the people that tell you not to bother as your babies won’t remember the holiday so there’s no point in going.
That holiday was one of our greatest achievements as a family. It wasn’t the most amazing hotel or resort, but that holiday created the greatest memories for ME. Seeing my boys in an outdoor swimming pool for the first time, watching them build sandcastles in the sun (it was freezing and pouring down in the UK, so we couldn’t have done that in Cornwall!) and letting them run along the beach path every afternoon before taking a doze in the buggy on the way back so we could have a sneaky coffee in peace.
I’ve travelled to many countries, but that simple family holiday to Menorca will always be my favourite trip.
So there you have it folks. Be prepared and pack a bag load of patience along with a hell of a lot of wet-wipes and you CAN fly with more than one child. Oh, and if you’re looking for more advice on how to travel with only one adult, don’t forget to check out our Flying Solo article here. Well, what are you waiting for!!?
More about Karen
Karen is originally from Hampshire in the UK and immigrated to Brisbane, Australia in 2014. She has 6 year old twin sons, a 3 year old daughter and loves travel and adventure, working as a freelance writer as well as writing her blog Tales of a Twin Mum.
Do you have any more tips or personal experiences to add travelling with two or more kids? What seating and transportation options worked best for you?
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