We recently traveled to Yunnan with our 14-month old son on Cathay Pacific Airways. Overall, it was a great experience and we plan on flying with them in the future.
Buy a Seat or Hold Your Baby
Our first decision – do we buy him a seat, or hold him and have him sit in our lap? Because it was his first flight, we purchased the seat and that turned out to be a great decision for us. He slept most of the time and was relaxed for the entire trip.
The pricing policies for infants under two years old varies by airline, so you’ll have to spend time researching each airline’s policy for toddlers to see what works best for you and your budget.
Pricing vs. Convenience
We were choosing between United Airlines and Cathay Pacific. Cathay’s pricing was higher but did not require checking again in Hong Kong. Our bags were transferred to our Dragon Air flight, and the transfer was very easy. United’s pricing was lower, but required gathering all of our bags, leaving the international portion of the Beijing airport, then checking back in for a domestic flight. Having done that before on my own a few times, I felt like that would have been stressful with a toddler.
If you wanted to hold your infant in your arms and not purchase a seat, Cathay’s infant ticket was around $400 and United was around $100. It was $700-800 to reserve a seat for a 0-2 year old on Cathay, and it was around $400-500 on United.
If you do not need a carseat in China, you might consider holding your toddler to save money – in retrospect, we could have done this as we were two adults and could easily trade off. If you are traveling alone with your toddler, it will be difficult to eat or get up when you are holding a baby. The tray table does not go down with a baby in your lap, and if you need to get up for any reason and they have not come back to collect your tray, it’s a task to get out while holding a baby.
International Check-in / Security with a Child
Checking in at San Francisco International was fine. I was able to hold our son through security and they scanned him while I held him. We were not forced to go through any body scanners. The rest of the experience was fine – the TSA did not hassle us at all, we got to pre-board.
Stroller / No Stroller / Luggage-Carseat Strap?
We decided against taking a stroller because we were also bringing a carseat for our car in China. We purchased an inexpensive carseat strap from Amazon that connected the carseat to our carry-on luggage. In theory, this sounded great, in practice it was difficult to navigate and balance. He did not mind it at all, but in retrospect, I recommend taking the stroller on the plane. You are allowed to gate check it, and it would have come in handy for walking around the enormous Hong Kong airport and around China. (If you are going on a tour, or traveling up and down mountains and stairs, of course, don’t take one – we were essentially staying at our home for a month, so it was fine).
In the Plane
We got to pre-board so we had plenty of time to install the car seat. Note: If your carseat has those plastic side cushions, you’ll need to remove those or your car seat will not fit. During the flight, our son did not have any problems in the carseat at all, and the takeoff and landing did not bother him. There were other kids on the plane who had different experiences, so I urge you do your research to get some travel tips with flying with an infant. (Quickly, have books and toys, their favorite blanket, tape, snacks, and be prepared to hold them up and down the aisle.) Luckily, everything went well for us.
Eating with our Infant / Toddler In China, Daily Tips
We ate at restaurants and at our house and our son never got sick. If you use common sense, I would not worry about having your toddler or infant get sick from food. Always wash hands, make sure they’re not too cold or hot, bring along a digital thermometer, always buy and drink bottled water, bring your own formula and diapers. Western diapers in China cost about $0.25 USD per diaper, roughly, the same price as the use. Buy the Pampers version there, the local one are hard, and the imported, premium Japanese ones leak and break.