Many parents enquire about traveling with their children on airplanes. Flying itself is not dangerous, but as a generally rule-of-thumb, it is recommended that the child is at least three months old. The primary reason for that is so that the baby has at least the basic immunization shots to fight against common diseases. In other words, it is important that at least some existing level of protection from common, but potentially dangerous diseases is present.
Acclimatization related to flying on airplanes into remote countries also becomes an issue. This is usually connected with the respective time difference and also involves the comfort of the child onboard the plane, the food available and the need to drink (breastfeed) etc. As an example, the common recommendation to suck on candy while taking off or landing to limit ear pain is not possible with infants.
In addition to the traditional complications associated with travelling with small children, exotic destinations pose further risks of serious health problems. “For example, children and pregnant women are under a much greater risk of contracting malaria compared to other people. This is caused by a weaker state of the immune system. The child does not yet have a fully developed immune system when compared to adults. This is why malaria is among the biggest killers of children in developing countries. More specifically, this involves infants, toddlers and small children” according to MUDr. Jaromír Vomáčka, a travel medicine specialist.
Further, very young children may not be immunized against typhoid fever (they must be over two years old) or yellow fever (at least 9 months old). Parents should therefore not even consider traveling to exotic destinations with their youngest children. For children that weigh less than 40Kg, there is no malaria prophylaxis available on the market. “Malaria in the tropics is a wide problem. We have list of countries where malaria is known to occur and where people should always have malaria prophylaxis at their disposal. It is therefore best to consult a specialist and to undergo any needed vaccinations prior to traveling” warns MUDr. Vomáčka. Assessing the relevant risks for the destination that you intend to travel to is essential – for example in Southeast Asia, visitors can come across malaria in Malaysia, while in South Asia (in Phuket for example), they do not need malaria prophylaxis at all. (For more information, please refer to the article titled How to defend yourself from parasites? Travel Medicine has the answers.)
In conclusion, Jaromír Vomáčka adds that “it is essential to keep in mind that a child is not a small adult, but rather a developing adult. With larger children already attending school, you may travel to these destinations since you can already give them advice to follow. Interestingly however, we often find children following rules better than their adult counterparts.”