The Air Up There Podcast
Flying With Kids: Tips From A Flight Attendant

Season 5, Episode 3

Riddle us this! You’re a family of 4 (including a child under 2) planning to travel by plane. How many tickets should you purchase to ensure everyone’s safety? We won’t make you think too hard, the answer is 4. Your lap, though cost-saving, is not the ideal or safest place for your child on an airplane. 

From hangry children to unexpected clear air turbulence, a number of things can impact the mood and safety of your travel experience with kids. Mary Garton, a mom, flight attendant and Association of Flight Attendants-CWA representative gave us the real on the important safety role of flight attendants, the reasons why parents should consider using a government-approved safety seat or device for a young child, and tips to keep kids occupied, happy and safe.

The Air Up There-Flying with Kids: Tips from a Flight Attendant
Flying With Kids: Tips From A Flight Attendant
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Parent Voice 1: Traveling can be stressful all on its own and then you throw your loving kids in the mix. 

Parent Voice 2: It was tough.

Parent Voice 3: Snacks, change of clothes, extra diapers, obviously. 

Parent Voice 4: You feel like everybody’s looking at you. 

Parent Voice 2: Yeah, the ego gets kicked to the curb for this stuff.

Parent Voice 4: We’ve all been there.

Voiceover: Welcome to the Air Up There. A podcast about the wide world of aerospace. Presented by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Leslie Welch: Thanks for listening us. I’m your host Leslie Welch. On this episode we’ll be sharing tips and tricks to help parents, like me, with the boarding process. Like, how to install your child safety seat in an airplane seat. 

We have the pleasure of speaking with Mary Garton, who is a flight attendant from the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. As a trained safety professional, Mary has sound advice for you on boarding the plane and the safest way to travel with your kids. 

Leslie Welch: Well, Mary, thank you so much for joining us today. It's great to meet you and you have a really unique perspective, because you are a flight attendant and a parent. 

Mary Garton: Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be here. So, I am a mother of twin 10-year-olds, 10-year-old girls. I'm also a single parent. So that adds a complexity to traveling with two kids that not all families have. So, but I am a flight attendant, and travel is in my blood. So, as soon as I could get those girls traveling, we were flying all over the world. 

Leslie Welch: So, I bet you've seen a lot, both professionally and personally. Is there any advice that you have for parents who are traveling from a flight attendants’ perspective? 

M: Sure. First of all, I would advise parents with kids under two to bring their car seat because that's safest place for all of us. Everyone should have a seat belt. Know the operation of their seat. We don't always know how to operate your seat, we can help. Ask for help. We're happy to help. Ask a flight attendant. Ask other parents, other passengers. Generally, people want to be helpful. And if they have a seat, make sure it's FAA approved because that can be a problem too if you bring one that that you can't even use. 

Leslie Welch: I remember being a new parent and finances were tight. And I was like if I can have a lap child, I'm gonna save that airfare. But now that I work at the FAA, I see the importance of having your child in a safety seat. So, do you have any examples about why that's so important? Have you seen situations where you're like this, this child should have been in the safety seat? 

M: Sure. I mean, we had a Hawaiian Air flight Airlines flight with severe turbulence and 14-month-old, I believe, was injured. So, situations like that I find quite scary. We have clear air turbulence happening more and more. I'm seeing it when I go to work.

Leslie Welch: That unexpected turbulence in that clear air turbulence. You think that you're going to be able to hold on to your child. 

Mary Garton: You think.

Leslie Welch: But it can be, it can be pretty bumpy.

Mary Garton: It can be pretty bumpy, and it's not safe for the child. It's not safe for other passengers if that child goes flying and hits someone else. There could be, you know, a lot of injuries so it's not safe.

Leslie Welch: What other issues have you seen with parents flying with small children?

Mary Garton: I think families in general, and not all families, but they don't travel as much. They might travel a handful of times a year. So, they're not as familiar with that particular airline they're on.  Maybe they don't have the app downloaded so they can show their children the shows and keep them occupied. Or maybe they don't have headsets with them and the airline hasn't provided them. They're just overwhelmed. It's such an overwhelming process. I feel a lot of empathy for them because I've been there and I'm also just a kid person so I want to help. What I used to do is I'd go buy some very inexpensive little new fidget type toys maybe at the dollar store and bring them on board with my kids, something they've never seen before, and pull them out at different times when they needed to be distracted. That can be helpful. Bring enough snacks. Kids get hangry. There's not much to eat on the plane. Don't count on the airlines for your meals that day. That can be a big help in keeping everyone sane.

Leslie Welch: And sometimes the selections aren't going to fit the palate for your child, right? As a safety professional, can you tell us a little bit about your role on the airplane?

Mary Garton: I'm on the airplane to ensure the safety of all passengers, including infants and toddlers and families. So, it's my job to make sure everybody's safe and to be ready at a moment's notice to be a firefighter or paramedic or any number of roles and to get us all there safely. And I would also add, I think it would be my role to play a little bit in the part of the education with the families. If I can help them understand where the safest places for their children as a parent as a flight attendant. I think I should be, as diplomatically as possible, passing that information on because I do see families seeming like they think it's okay and it's safe to hold their kids because it's allowed. If the children can't speak up for themselves, I think it's my role to be someone who does so. 

Leslie Welch: In your role during the flight, what are a few things that you can do to assist parents with children? 

Mary Garton: Resources permitting, right, we… boarding is such a busy time for us. We have so many tasks and our flights are so full, but I'm happy to help. We're happy to help. Most flight attendants are happy to help. That's our job. So, if you can flag one of us down, we're happy to assist in any way. You know, make sure you know where to check to make sure that’s an FAA approved seat, you know, if they have their seats with them; help them get them buckled in. But we do count on the parents to kind of know, you know, the intricacies of their own seats, but we're happy to help make sure they know where they can legally put the seat. Let's not put it in the aisle. Let's put it in the window.

Leslie Welch: That's a good… I didn't think about that. 

Mary Garton: There are some places they're not allowed. And that could vary by airline. So, know what the deal is on that particular airline. That's something I would want parents to know. But we're happy to help. I've held children while they got situated. I've gotten them, you know, maybe they need some water. Whatever it is I just lend a helping hand where I can because I like to help them relax, because I know how hard it is. 

Leslie Welch: Just getting on the plane is stressful.

Mary Garton: Just getting on the plane and knowing that you have a crew that's family friendly, right? That we were happy they're there and anything we can do to make them feel more relaxed and make it a good experience.

Leslie Welch: When we were talking about installing car seats when you're boarding the plane there is that extra time to do that. So, do you recommend that parents just get in line and get on the plane first? 

Mary Garton: No, no, I recommend that parents get to the airport early. And if that particular airline doesn't offer early boarding for families, many of them do now. I would ask I would you know, use your voice. Ask that customer service agent, “Hey, I'm overwhelmed. I've got so much to do to get settled. We don't travel often, you know, could we have a few extra minutes?” Generally, they're gonna want to be helpful because if you can get situated that's not going to slow down the whole boarding process. Everybody's happy. So, it just helps lessen the stress. 

Leslie Welch: Because on top of installing the car seats, they're trying to stow luggage. Maybe put it in the overhead bin with children who missed naptime.

M: Exactly it's stressful enough when everything's going fine with your children. But throwing a tantrum or someone who's missed naptime, it's just more difficult.

Leslie Welch: I remember traveling with my daughter one of the first times and you know, her ears were popping, and she was just screaming her head off. And I was like, “Oh, the whole flight crew must just hate us,” you know? 

Mary Garton: Right, right. 

Leslie Welch: But you don't. 

Mary Garton: No. No, we understand. It's okay. We've all been there. We've all been babies. It's not always a perfect process. Right?

Leslie Welch: Right. 

Mary Garton: Yeah. 

Leslie Welch: I love that. Well, that makes me feel better.

Mary Garton: Yeah, yeah. No, no problem.

Leslie Welch: You know, I think that's a really important thing as a passenger too. To just give grace to parents who are struggling. There's a tendency to either judge or feel like you're being judged. 

Mary Garton: Yeah, and because you are in your most stressful moment and you feel like everybody's looking at you. We've all been there and if people don't understand that's on them. This is life and it's not always easy. And traveling just highlights the biggest stressors so if we can do what we can to alleviate the stress that's always my goal.

Leslie Welch: I want to go back to talking about that you're trained to be firefighters because I don't know if the general public understands the extensive safety training that flight attendants undergo.

Mary Garton: We attend annual training on everything from fighting onboard fires to life saving medical issues. You know, we can’t always count on there being medical personnel on our flights. So, we have to be ready to do the basics you know, CPR. So, we wear so many hats and we have to be ready at a moment's notice. You’ve got to be ready for anything 

Leslie Welch: So, do you have anything else to share or anything that you think we might have missed? 

Mary Garton: I would be remiss if I didn't kind of mention one more time that as a flight attendant, I am haunted by flights like 232. That's right at the airline that I work for. 232 was a United Flight about 30 years ago where they lost all instrument controls and hydraulics. They crashed in Sioux City, Iowa. And at the time, the policy was to tell that the parents to put the kids on the floor. An infant was killed because they were they weren't restrained. They didn't have a seat belt. And by the recent turbulence we've had and injuries there. One injury, one death is enough. So, I applaud the FAA for having this discussion and I hope I challenge all of us to do more for our most precious possessions - our kids. 

Child Safety PSA with Kristina Harris: This is Kristina Harris, with the FAA. I am a mother and a frequent flyer, and I know that family travel can be challenging.

Did you know that the safest place for your small child or infant during in a flight is in a
government-approved child restraint system or device and not on your lap? It’s true. When
unexpected turbulence hits, it’s impossible for your arms to hold your child securely. Here are
some tips to help you with your air travel plans. Buying a ticket for your child is the only way to
guarantee that you will be able to use a child restraint. Not all car seats are approved for
airplanes. Look for the printed message that says this restraint is approved for use in both
motor vehicles and for aircraft. Use a rear or forward-facing child restraint based on the child’s
weight. You can also use the AMSAFE Cares device for children who weigh 22 to 44 pounds.

Use a child restraint or device. It’s the safe and smart thing to do so your family arrives safely at your destination. Go to to learn more.

Leslie Welch: Thank you for joining us! We hope you’ve found this information helpful for planning your next family flight. Remember, flight attendants are trained safety professionals who are here to help you. For even more family travel tips, check out other episodes in the podcast series, “Flying With Kids.” And subscribe to our podcast so you don’t miss out on upcoming episodes. If you liked this episode, leave a review to let us know – and, share it with a parent you know. Thanks for listening!

Voiceover: The Air Up There is a production of the Federal Aviation Administration. For a transcript of this episode and to follow us on social media for the latest aviation safety news and guidance, visit That’s

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