Flying Space-A with kids? No problem! It’s actually easier than flying commercial. If you’re new to Space-A flying – or you’re planning your first “military hop” with the kiddos – we’ve got you covered. Here are 12 important things you need to know about how to plan, what to bring, and how to stay sane!
If you’ve never flown Space-A, read our Quickstart Guide to Space-A Flights first to learn how the overall process works!
Contents (click to expand)
1. 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.
2. Children of all ages need proper identification.
All passengers age 14 or older need a military ID card. Children younger than 14 who do not have a military ID card must have a federal, state, local, or tribal government-issued ID.
3. You can 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 don’t count towards your baggage limit (two 70 lb bags per passenger on most flights).
4. 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.
5. All passengers must have appropriate clothing.
Closed shoes are required on all aircraft except for the Patriot Express. That means no sandals or Crocs, even for kids.
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.
6. The aircraft is not a playground.
If you fly in a cargo plane, such as a C-17, it may have a lot of open space. You might 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
7. Ear protection
Most military aircraft are very noisy, and the flight crew provides foam earplugs for all passengers. These earplugs aren’t always 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!
8. 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 plenty of movies and books downloaded to your tablet.
If you have young children, bring a stash of airplane-friendly travel toys to keep the kids entertained.
Finally, don’t forget about snacks. You can purchase a boxed meal for less than $10 per person at many passenger terminals, but you won’t receive the meals until you’re onboard. Don’t count on buying food in the terminal; some terminals do not have a snack bar, and those that do often have limited hours.
9. Sleeping gear
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 sleeping pad is very helpful.
10. A backpack with wheels
When traveling Space-A with children, you need your hands free to help the kids board the bus and climb the steps to the aircraft. Bring a bag like this one, which you can easily roll through the terminal, then put it on your back while in transit.
Advice to Keep Your Sanity
11. When traveling without your spouse, partner with another parent.
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.
12. 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
With the right preparation and planning, flying Space-A with kids can 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!
Photos are courtesy of our favorite family of Space-A travelers, the Tompkins! Follow their adventures on their blog, Traveling with the Tompkins.
A version of this article was originally published on PCSgrades.
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