Emily Oster

7 min Read Emily Oster

Emily Oster

How Do I Think about Flying with Kids Now?

Emily Oster

7 min Read

Dear Emily:

How should I think about flying with my kids? They are 5 and 1. The 1-year-old can’t mask.  Help.

This is a generic version of a question I get all the time. People are wondering about flying right now, and they’re also wondering about the fall. My brother is getting married in October — should we go? We have a trip planned for Christmas — should we cancel? Should we drive instead of fly to see my mom? It’s 14 hours in the car.

In most of these cases, there are really many questions. It’s not just about flying; it’s about weddings and trips and family. But I want to focus today on the particular flying issue.

Let me start by stating the obvious, which is that the situation is evolving. No activity is perfectly risky or perfectly safe, and if case rates are higher at the time, it will be riskier to do anything. Your decisions about flying are probably, at least to some extent, going to be linked to the virus situation (either at home, where you are going, or in between). And because this feels unpredictable, I’d caution against trying to decide about, say, a Christmas trip. This is tricky because of planning, etc., but to the extent that you can make choices that preserve flexibility, I would.

But let’s imagine you need to make this choice now — vacation is next week.

It may be good to start by considering what you are worried about. The child-centered question above voices the concern about unvaccinated and possibly unmasked children. For healthy vaccinated adults, the concern is of a mild breakthrough case. In both of these groups, the serious illness risks are extremely small, but there are worries about spreading (say, to immune-compromised people or to kids if they aren’t traveling with you) and also practical concerns. If I travel and my kids get COVID, they can’t go to child care for two weeks, for example.

Putting it differently: If you were two vaccinated healthy adults without children at home who could adapt to working from home for a couple of weeks in the quite unlikely case of a breakthrough infection, the answer to this question is that it’s fine. If your situation is more complicated, read on.

(If you are an unvaccinated adult, I would not travel at the moment and I would prioritize getting vaccinated.)

Are airplanes risky?

Not very. It’s easy to have this idea that airplanes are full of recycled air and if someone in the very front of the plane has COVID and coughs, it will get to you at the back. In fact, the air filtration systems in planes are extremely good. This has meant that airplanes themselves do not seem to be major COVID spread locations.

The most recent systematic data comes from this study of 18 Europe-U.K. flights last fall. There were 55 infectious and symptomatic passengers on these flights. They had 2,221 close contacts based on the flight alone (that is, people who were otherwise unrelated but were on the flight with them). Among these, there were five possible cases identified (0.22%).

By comparison, this same set of 55 infectious people were traveling together with another 92 people; these were close contacts for reasons beyond the flight. Among that group, 13% of them became infected. Effectively, the in-flight risks were orders of magnitude lower than the risks from non-flight contact.

Among those who were infected by an on-flight contact, nearly all were sitting within a seat or two of the infectious person. The idea that proximity matters is supported too by an investigation of a single outbreak in which a number of business-class passengers were infected on a long-haul flight. Sitting near the infectious person was associated with a much greater chance of being infected.

Given the millions and millions of people who have flown during the pandemic, it may be frustrating to think that our best data appears to rely on a sample of 18 flights. However, there is also some information contained in the absence of more discussion. If spread on airplanes — especially significant outbreaks — were common, we would likely hear more about them.

A fair question is how much Delta changes things, and, as usual, we do not know. But the logic about media coverage stands. Despite quite a lot of flying this summer, airplanes have not been pointed to as a major spread source, and the logic for why not (i.e. good filtration) holds.

This is probably the most actionable portion of today’s writing, since I think it makes clear that if your concern is the airplane, you can put that aside. It’s not likely to be better to drive 14 hours, stopping at various random rest stops and eating locations. If you’re going, take the flight.

Is travel risky?

The airplanes themselves take up a lot of space in people’s minds, but the other parts of travel are likely to be the bigger risks. In particular, we often travel to see other people. To the questions I get about flying to a wedding, the fact is that the wedding and wedding-related drinking activities are a much bigger COVID risk than the airplane part.

My kid is too young to mask. Does this rule out plane travel? 

No. Yes, it is possible that their risk of infection is slightly higher than if they could mask (though probably lower than the risk to adults, just due to susceptibility), but these differences are small. And, see below, kids are low-risk.

But really, how do I think about this?

In my mind, the framework is not dissimilar to that for schools, which I wrote about last week. The probability of infection on airplanes or while traveling is small but not zero. And it’s hard to think about this small probability on top of the other small probabilities, to multiply them all out.

It may be easier to think about it by asking yourself a version of the question “What if there was a (say) 20% chance the kids would get COVID? Would we take the trip, knowing what we know about illness risks in children and any other logistical issues?” And to ask what the cutoff would be at which you’d be comfortable taking the trip. If it’s zero, do not travel. If it’s 20%, I think you’re safe to assume the actual risks are below that.

In a sense, I think this applies to many of the choices vaccinated adults will be making for themselves and their children over the next few months. Someone asked me about an indoor fundraiser: should she go, given unvaccinated kids at home? When I probed further, she told me that, basically, there was no risk she was comfortable with. If you recognize your degree of risk tolerance, it influences the decision.

A final word

Flying is not going to be a lot of fun! I was on a train the other day for the first time since the pandemic began, and every time someone coughed I jumped in a panicky way. I anticipate that flying will have this same feel, probably worse. This isn’t a reason to not do it, just something to be aware of. To be fair, flying with children is always a bit of chaos. If you do it now, just expect anxious chaos.

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Milestones. We celebrate them in pregnancy, in parenting, and they’re a fun thing to celebrate at work too. Just a couple years ago I couldn’t have foreseen what this community would grow into. Today, there are over 400,000 of you here—asking questions, making others feel seen wherever they may be in their journey, and sharing information that supports data > panic. 

It has been a busy summer for the team at ParentData. I’d love to take a moment here to celebrate the 400k milestone. As I’ve said before, it’s more important than ever to put good data in the hands of parents. 

Share this post with a friend who could use a little more data, and a little less parenting overwhelm. 

📷 Me and my oldest, collaborating on “Expecting Better”

Milestones. We celebrate them in pregnancy, in parenting, and they’re a fun thing to celebrate at work too. Just a couple years ago I couldn’t have foreseen what this community would grow into. Today, there are over 400,000 of you here—asking questions, making others feel seen wherever they may be in their journey, and sharing information that supports data > panic.

It has been a busy summer for the team at ParentData. I’d love to take a moment here to celebrate the 400k milestone. As I’ve said before, it’s more important than ever to put good data in the hands of parents.

Share this post with a friend who could use a little more data, and a little less parenting overwhelm.

📷 Me and my oldest, collaborating on “Expecting Better”
...

I spend a lot of time talking people down after they read the latest panic headline. In most cases, these articles create an unnecessary amount of stress around pregnancy and parenting. This is my pro tip for understanding whether the risk presented is something you should really be worrying about.

Comment “link” for an article with other tools to help you navigate risk and uncertainty.

#emilyoster #parentdata #riskmanagement #parentstruggles #parentingstruggles

I spend a lot of time talking people down after they read the latest panic headline. In most cases, these articles create an unnecessary amount of stress around pregnancy and parenting. This is my pro tip for understanding whether the risk presented is something you should really be worrying about.

Comment “link” for an article with other tools to help you navigate risk and uncertainty.

#emilyoster #parentdata #riskmanagement #parentstruggles #parentingstruggles
...

Here’s why I think you don’t have to throw away your baby bottles.

Here’s why I think you don’t have to throw away your baby bottles. ...

Drop your toddlers favorite thing right now in the comments—then grab some popcorn.

Original thread source: Reddit @croc_docs

Drop your toddlers favorite thing right now in the comments—then grab some popcorn.

Original thread source: Reddit @croc_docs
...

Just keep wiping.

Just keep wiping. ...

Dr. Gillian Goddard sums up what she learned from the Hot Flash  S e x  Survey! Here are some key data takeaways:

🌶️ Among respondents, the most common s e x u a l frequency was 1 to 2 times per month, followed closely by 1 to 2 times per week
🌶️ 37% have found their sweet spot and are happy with the frequency of s e x they are having
🌶️ About 64% of respondents were very or somewhat satisfied with the quality of the s e x they are having

Do any of these findings surprise you? Let us know in the comments!

#hotflash #intimacy #midlifepleasure #parentdata #relationships

Dr. Gillian Goddard sums up what she learned from the Hot Flash S e x Survey! Here are some key data takeaways:

🌶️ Among respondents, the most common s e x u a l frequency was 1 to 2 times per month, followed closely by 1 to 2 times per week
🌶️ 37% have found their sweet spot and are happy with the frequency of s e x they are having
🌶️ About 64% of respondents were very or somewhat satisfied with the quality of the s e x they are having

Do any of these findings surprise you? Let us know in the comments!

#hotflash #intimacy #midlifepleasure #parentdata #relationships
...

Should your kid be in a car seat on the plane? The AAP recommends that you put kids under 40 pounds into a car seat on airplanes. However, airlines don’t require car seats.

Here’s what we know from a data standpoint:
✈️ The risk of injury to a child on a plane without a carseat is very small (about 1 in 250,000)
✈️ A JAMA Pediatrics paper estimates about 0.4 child air crash deaths per year might be prevented in the U.S. with car seats 
✈️ Cars are far more dangerous than airplanes! The same JAMA paper suggests that if 5% to 10% of families switched to driving, then we would expect more total deaths as a result of this policy. 

If you want to buy a seat for your lap infant, or bring a car seat for an older child, by all means do so! But the additional protection based on the numbers is extremely small.

#parentdata #emilyoster #flyingwithkids #flyingwithbaby #carseats #carseatsafety

Should your kid be in a car seat on the plane? The AAP recommends that you put kids under 40 pounds into a car seat on airplanes. However, airlines don’t require car seats.

Here’s what we know from a data standpoint:
✈️ The risk of injury to a child on a plane without a carseat is very small (about 1 in 250,000)
✈️ A JAMA Pediatrics paper estimates about 0.4 child air crash deaths per year might be prevented in the U.S. with car seats
✈️ Cars are far more dangerous than airplanes! The same JAMA paper suggests that if 5% to 10% of families switched to driving, then we would expect more total deaths as a result of this policy.

If you want to buy a seat for your lap infant, or bring a car seat for an older child, by all means do so! But the additional protection based on the numbers is extremely small.

#parentdata #emilyoster #flyingwithkids #flyingwithbaby #carseats #carseatsafety
...

SLEEP DATA 💤 PART 2: Let’s talk about naps. Comment “Link” for an article on what we learned about daytime sleep!

The first three months of life are a chaotic combination of irregular napping, many naps, and a few brave or lucky souls who appear to have already arrived at a two-to-three nap schedule. Over the next few months, the naps consolidate to three and then to two. By the 10-to-12-month period, a very large share of kids are napping a consistent two naps per day. Over the period between 12 and 18 months, this shifts toward one nap. And then sometime in the range of 3 to 5 years, naps are dropped. What I think is perhaps most useful about this graph is it gives a lot of color to the average napping ages that we often hear. 

Note: Survey data came from the ParentData audience and users of the Nanit sleep monitor system. Both audiences skew higher-education and higher-income than the average, and mostly have younger children. The final sample is 14,919 children. For more insights on our respondents, read the full article.

SLEEP DATA 💤 PART 2: Let’s talk about naps. Comment “Link” for an article on what we learned about daytime sleep!

The first three months of life are a chaotic combination of irregular napping, many naps, and a few brave or lucky souls who appear to have already arrived at a two-to-three nap schedule. Over the next few months, the naps consolidate to three and then to two. By the 10-to-12-month period, a very large share of kids are napping a consistent two naps per day. Over the period between 12 and 18 months, this shifts toward one nap. And then sometime in the range of 3 to 5 years, naps are dropped. What I think is perhaps most useful about this graph is it gives a lot of color to the average napping ages that we often hear.

Note: Survey data came from the ParentData audience and users of the Nanit sleep monitor system. Both audiences skew higher-education and higher-income than the average, and mostly have younger children. The final sample is 14,919 children. For more insights on our respondents, read the full article.
...

Happy Father’s Day to the Fathers and Father figures in our ParentData community! 

Tag a Dad who this holiday may be tricky for. We’re sending you love. 💛

Happy Father’s Day to the Fathers and Father figures in our ParentData community!

Tag a Dad who this holiday may be tricky for. We’re sending you love. 💛
...

“Whilst googling things like ‘new dad sad’ and ‘why am I crying new dad,’ I came across an article written by a doctor who had trouble connecting with his second child. I read the symptoms and felt an odd sense of relief.” Today we’re bringing back an essay by Kevin Maguire of @newfatherhood about his experience with paternal postpartum depression. We need to demystify these issues in order to change things for the better. Comment “Link” for a DM to read his full essay.

#parentdata #postpartum #postpartumdepression #paternalmentalhealth #newparents #emilyoster

“Whilst googling things like ‘new dad sad’ and ‘why am I crying new dad,’ I came across an article written by a doctor who had trouble connecting with his second child. I read the symptoms and felt an odd sense of relief.” Today we’re bringing back an essay by Kevin Maguire of @newfatherhood about his experience with paternal postpartum depression. We need to demystify these issues in order to change things for the better. Comment “Link” for a DM to read his full essay.

#parentdata #postpartum #postpartumdepression #paternalmentalhealth #newparents #emilyoster
...

What does the data say about children who look more like one parent? Do they also inherit more character traits and mannerisms from that parent? Let’s talk about it 🔎

#emilyoster #parentdata #parentingcommunity #lookslikedaddy #lookslikemommy

What does the data say about children who look more like one parent? Do they also inherit more character traits and mannerisms from that parent? Let’s talk about it 🔎

#emilyoster #parentdata #parentingcommunity #lookslikedaddy #lookslikemommy
...

SLEEP DATA 💤 We asked you all about your kids’ sleep—and got nearly 15,000 survey responses to better understand kids’ sleep patterns. Comment “Link” for an article that breaks down our findings!

This graph shows sleeping location by age. You’ll notice that for the first three months, most kids are in their own sleeping location in a parent’s room. Then, over the first year, this switches toward their own room. As kids age, sharing a room with a sibling becomes more common. 

Head to the newsletter for more and stay tuned for part two next week on naps! 🌙

#parentdata #emilyoster #childsleep #babysleep #parentingcommunity

SLEEP DATA 💤 We asked you all about your kids’ sleep—and got nearly 15,000 survey responses to better understand kids’ sleep patterns. Comment “Link” for an article that breaks down our findings!

This graph shows sleeping location by age. You’ll notice that for the first three months, most kids are in their own sleeping location in a parent’s room. Then, over the first year, this switches toward their own room. As kids age, sharing a room with a sibling becomes more common.

Head to the newsletter for more and stay tuned for part two next week on naps! 🌙

#parentdata #emilyoster #childsleep #babysleep #parentingcommunity
...

Weekends are good for extra cups of ☕️ and listening to podcasts. I asked our team how they pod—most people said on walks or during chores. What about you?

Comment “Link” to subscribe to ParentData with Emily Oster, joined by some excellent guests.

#parentdata #parentdatapodcast #parentingpodcast #parentingtips #emilyoster

Weekends are good for extra cups of ☕️ and listening to podcasts. I asked our team how they pod—most people said on walks or during chores. What about you?

Comment “Link” to subscribe to ParentData with Emily Oster, joined by some excellent guests.

#parentdata #parentdatapodcast #parentingpodcast #parentingtips #emilyoster
...

Humility. That’s why. That’s the whole reason.

#emilyoster #secondbaby #parentingjokes #parentinghumor

Humility. That’s why. That’s the whole reason.

#emilyoster #secondbaby #parentingjokes #parentinghumor
...

Bug season is upon us. Besides annoyance, this can bring up safety concerns, particularly with ticks. They are carriers of diseases, most notably Lyme disease. So what’s the best course of action?

Prevention is key! I suggest:
⭐ Regular tick checks
⭐ Using bug sprays with DEET 
⭐ Wearing long sleeves and pants in the woods

Some parents worry about DEET, but repellants with up to 30% DEET are recommended by both the CDC and AAP. The data says you’re in the clear, so go for it. Enjoy your summer!

#parentdata #emilyoster #tickseason #bugbites #bugspray

Bug season is upon us. Besides annoyance, this can bring up safety concerns, particularly with ticks. They are carriers of diseases, most notably Lyme disease. So what’s the best course of action?

Prevention is key! I suggest:
⭐ Regular tick checks
⭐ Using bug sprays with DEET
⭐ Wearing long sleeves and pants in the woods

Some parents worry about DEET, but repellants with up to 30% DEET are recommended by both the CDC and AAP. The data says you’re in the clear, so go for it. Enjoy your summer!

#parentdata #emilyoster #tickseason #bugbites #bugspray
...