I love traveling. There’s such a thrill involved in the discovery and exploration of somewhere new. But more than just the final destination, I love the process of getting there. I love being propelled upwards through a ceiling of grey clouds to skim along the rays of brilliant sunshine. I like sitting thousands of feet in the air, jostled by turbulence, watching the world pass by below. Hmm… maybe I should get my pilots license, or something?
But add a baby to that combination and the magic of flight fades a little. When a screaming baby drowns out the rush of the engine, you start counting down the seconds until the plane touches down and that seat belt light switches off.
Gone is the ease and freedom of simply hopping on a plane and settling into your seat with a good book. But while the trip was significantly more challenging with a baby, I was excited to introduce this little one to the world of flight. Here’s a few things I learned along the way:
1. Some airlines are more “kid friendly” than others.
Usually, price is the greatest determining factor in which airline we choose to fly with. However, it’s also important to remember that different airlines have varying policies regarding children.
An hour into our trip, we found ourselves staring down a persnickety gate agent over the issue of pre-boarding with an infant – something that United no longer offers. The agent shut down our protests with this insightful quote, “Pre-boarding is for wheelchairs only.” As grammatically amusing as I found that statement, her condescending, “You’re an idiot,” glare was anything but funny. Okay, I realize that you probably have people trying to sneak through pre-boarding all the time. But seriously. We have a baby. That should speak for itself.
So to avoid finding yourself in a similar situation – hot and bothered before you’re even on the plane – check out the airline’s policies prior to booking your ticket. (Do they gate check strollers? Have changing tables in the lavatories? Offer bottle warming? Infant meals? Etc.) None of these are deal breaking issues, as long as you’re aware in advance and able to properly prepare.
2. Give yourself extra time.
Getting to the gate: Keep in mind that the check-in and security process may take a few extra moments if you’re dealing with car seats, strollers, and other baby related details. (Okay, why does it take THREE check in agents to deal with this baby ticket???) Not to mention that babies are notoriously unpredictable in when they decide to deposit a lovely present in their diaper or throw up all over your sweater. Little delays add up so give yourself a few extra minutes to avoid making the day any more stressful than it needs to be!
Connecting Flights: For the first time in my life, I actually enjoyed a three hour layover. It gave Alistair (and us) a few moments to settle down, eat, stretch and mentally gear up again for the second half of the trip. Also, when you’re loaded down with carry-ons, diaper bags and a baby, it naturally takes longer to get to your gate so booking a tight connection may be a bit ambitious.
I knew that spending a day in airports and on planes would require nursing in a close proximity to others. For the past seven months, I’ve dreaded the thought of nursing in public and avoided it at all costs. And then I realized that my discomfort was solely due to the horrible nursing cover I was using: the material draped over his face (are you breathing??) and he would only eat with his head stuck out the side (kinda defeats the purpose of a cover…).
So, before we left, I picked up this awesome nursing cover. It’s large and has a dual rim which gives a sort of tent like quality (no smothering this time) and allows me to easily see him while eating. I was amazed at how much more comfortable I felt with a good cover!
4. Use the carrier.
If you don’t have to bring the stroller, opt for a carrier instead. It’s easy to tote baby around the airport without any extra stroller hassle (i.e: gate checking / getting it through security.) It’s also nice to have two free hands for all the other luggage that you’re carting around.
And, keep in mind that if you’re using a sling or soft baby carrier, you don’t have to take it off to go through security! In hindsight, this seems fairly obvious, but I wasn’t that smart. After disentangling myself from the carrier (all the while juggling passports, tickets, and a diaper bag) I watched another momma waltz through with the baby and carrier snugly in place.
5. Checking the Car seat
If your child is sitting in your lap during the flight, then check your car seat (for free)!
Subject to availability, some airlines will provide (or charge you for) a clear plastic bag to keep the checked seat clean and dry. After reading a few online reviews, I questioned whether it would be provided and brought along a few clear, extra large, garbage bags – just in case. And if you’re looking for a little extra protection, a car seat travel bag can be purchased at most baby retailers.
Tip from my brother the baggage handler: Your car seat will get chucked haphazardly into the plane, on top of all the other luggage (even if you gate check). To avoid unnecessary damage, make the car seat as compact as possible by folding down the handle and removing any unnecessary accessories (toys, liners, padding and pillows, etc.) A plastic covering will help protect from grease or other stains. Be sure to check the seat thoroughly after flight for any cracks or damages incurred during handling.
6. And most importantly… Don’t stress it.
Flying out of Houston, Alistair screamed for the first fifteen minutes straight. (And when I say screamed, I mean SCREAMED his tiny lungs to exhaustion). I’m pretty sure the other passengers thought that they were in for the longest flight of their lives. Thankfully, he dozed off shortly after.
No one wants to be the mom of the screaming baby. It’s stressful and awkward. But your baby can tell when you’re tense. As difficult as it is, try to stay relaxed.
Despite their annoyance, the other passengers will survive the flight. And truthfully, there weren’t as many grumpy looks as I expected. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of sympathetic and encouraging comments we received. Most people understand that babies cry on planes.
Tip: When the plane is stable and the baby is calm, do a quick stroll along the aisle. Getting out of your seat for a few moments may help relax the little guy – not to mention that a small, toothless grin from him is usually enough to win over even the crankiest of passengers.
Traveling before baby was an adventure, traveling after baby is even more so! But in the rush of a busy airport and travel schedule, don’t forget to capture and hold onto a few of these special memories for later – it’s his first flight after all!