If you’re new to Space-A flying – or you’re planning your first Space-A adventure with the kiddos – we’ve got you covered. Here are 11 important things you need to know about flying Space A with kids: how to plan, what to bring, and how to stay sane!
Every passenger must have a seat.
All passengers traveling with you – even babies – need a seat. There is no such thing as a “lap child” on a Space-A flight, even if you plan to hold your baby the entire time. When signing up for a flight, be sure to include all children in the passenger count.
Children of all ages need proper identification.
All passengers age 10 or older need a military ID card. Children younger than 10 need a passport or a MilConnect printout that shows their DOD ID number.
You have the option to check car seats.
The Air Mobility Command recommends use of car seats for children under the age of one, but they are not required. If you don’t want to use your child’s car seat on the plane, you can check it. Car seats are not included in your baggage count (two 70 lb bags per passenger on most flights).
You can bring extra infant formula, breast milk, and juice.
Military passenger terminals follow Transportation Security Administration (TSA) guidelines for those liquids. Declare them before going through security screening.
All passengers must have appropriate clothing.
Closed shoes are required on all aircraft except for the Patriot Express. That means no sandals or Crocs. Depending on the type of aircraft and where you’re sitting, the plane can be extremely cold or very warm. It’s more often the former, but dress in layers just in case. Remember that you will not have access to your checked baggage – even if you can see it on the pallet in front of you – during the flight. Any clothing you may need has to be on your body or in your carry-on bag.
The aircraft is not a playground.
If you fly in a cargo plane, such as a C-17, it’s possible that there will be a lot of open space. You may be tempted to let restless kids run around, but it’s not a safe place for that type of play. The aircraft has buttons, switches, cables, sharp corners, heavy metal rods, tie-downs, ladders, ropes, and military equipment onboard. It can be very easy for a child to get injured or tamper with something he/she shouldn’t be touching. You can take advantage of the open space by stretching out and letting the kids play in the area near you, but keep in mind that you are hitching a ride with a military mission, and the safety and supervision of your children are your responsibility.
What to Bring
Many military aircraft are very noisy, and the flight crew provides ear protection for all passengers. They will give you a pack of foam earplugs that must be inserted into your ear. These earplugs aren’t always very comfortable or suitable for small children, so it’s better to bring your own ear protection for the kids. Headphones that connect to an entertainment option are a good choice, and some kids like earmuffs!
Activities and snacks.
Between the actual flight and the hours you may spend waiting in the terminal, be prepared for a lot of down time. Make sure you have movies downloaded to your tablet and plenty of books and portable games to keep the kids entertained. Also, don’t forget about snacks. You can purchase a boxed meal for less than $10 per person on most flights, but you won’t receive the meals until you’re onboard. Don’t count on the snack bar in the terminal being open; the flight kitchen’s hours can be unpredictable.
Bring blankets or a small sleeping bag for warmth and to help the kids sleep comfortably. Depending on the type of aircraft, passengers may be able to stretch out on the floor. In that case, having a small, easily-inflatable air mattress is very helpful.
Advice to Keep Your Sanity
If you’re traveling as a solo parent, partner with another parent traveling with kids.
Traveling by yourself with kids can be very challenging, but sometimes you don’t have a choice. In particular, many unaccompanied spouses fly Space-A while their sponsor is deployed or the family is stationed OCONUS. If you see other Space-A passengers traveling with kids, ask if they want to pair up. You can help each other by watching luggage while one parents takes a child to the bathroom or nurses, by sharing games and activities, or simply by offering moral support. Having a buddy to navigate the journey with you can make a huge difference!
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Space-A travelers are a friendly bunch. If you can’t find a travel buddy, don’t hesitate to ask other passengers for help. Whether they’re retirees or other active duty families, someone will be happy to lend you a hand.
You’ve Got this!
That’s a lot to remember, and flying Space-A with kids may seem daunting. But with the right preparation and planning, it can actually be a much better experience than flying commercial. Keep in mind that you are avoiding one potential source of stress when flying on military planes: if your baby cries the entire time, you don’t need to worry about disturbing other passengers. Between the noise of the aircraft and the fact that everyone has earplugs, no one can hear it!
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PCSgrades Author: Stephanie Montague is a communications consultant and freelance writer. She is the founder of Poppin’ Smoke, a website designed to encourage members of the military community to use their military benefits for (fun) travel. Stephanie and her husband have been traveling the world since he retired from the Army in 2015. Through Poppin’ Smoke, Stephanie shares everything she and her husband learn about Space-A travel, using military benefits while abroad, and getting the most out of travel experiences. Stephanie shares news from military MWR facilities, updates from other military blogs, and links to great travel content on the Poppin’ Smoke Facebook Page. You can also follow her on Twitter or Pinterest.