How to Survive Flying with Your Infant

I recently took a very long trip with my eight-month-old son. The last two legs of that trip involved flying on a commercial airline. I used to fly a great deal when I was in the Air Force, but traveling with a small child opened up a whole new world for me. At times it was blissful, like the first flight when he fell asleep before takeoff and woke up just after landing, but there were other times that were less than pleasant, like during the second flight when he had no leg room because the gentleman in front of him reclined his seat and then we hit turbulence that made it impossible for him to sleep. Just a side note here: when an eight-month-old baby has no leg room in a commercial airliner, shouldn’t that make an airline reconsider their seating configuration? Following are a few tips which should help parents who may be planning to travel by air with their infant.

Purchasing Tickets
Few Americans are aware that most domestic airlines offer half-price fares for infants under two-years-old. For someone like me whose eight-month-old is off the growth charts at 30 inches long and 28 pounds, having that infant sit on my lap through the flight was really a dreaded thought. Purchasing a seat on the plane for my son was just the first step. He would need an approved infant seat to sit in on the plane as well as in the car that picked us up at the airport. That meant that I would have to carry on at least my child and his car seat. Had I known about the fabulous new car seats that convert into strollers, I would have surely spent the extra money and bought one of those. Since the airline allowed me to carry on an umbrella style stroller, I managed to safely strap the car seat into the stroller for ease of motion through the airport as well as down the aisle of the plane.

Choosing Your Seats
I had never enjoyed sitting near a plane’s engines, but I was very thankful that on my first flight, my son and I were seated in the seats nearest the engine. Although you may hate the sound yourself, the hum of the engine may do for you what it did for me – the noise and vibration put him to sleep before we even took off. It was just wonderful! Of course if you can sit in the very front of the plane or in First Class, it will certainly make it easier for you to carry your child and all of his and your gear onto the plane.

Most domestic airlines allow you to carry on a diaper bag, car seat and umbrella style stroller (the lightweight, fold-up type) without counting all of them against your carry-on allowance. Since I was taking a laptop computer and two digital cameras with me, I also needed a single carry-on bag for myself. Plan carefully when you pack these bags for you and your child. If you can pack everything conveniently into a backpack that you can strap on to your back, you’ll be happy you did. Only you can know what needs to go into your own carry on, but let me offer a bit of advice when it comes to packing your diaper bag.

First, count how many hours you will be traveling and pack exactly that many diapers. An uncomfortable baby with a soiled diaper on an airplane is a nightmare for everyone on the plane. (Remember to pack enough in your checked luggage to get you by until you can shop at your destination. You’ll also want to be sure to pack plenty of baby wipes. These are not only for your baby’s diapering needs, but they help to clean up feeding accidents, messy noses and any accidents you may have as well. They are also great for freshening up after a long flight.

The best way to insure that your child doesn’t experience painful ears during takeoff and landing is to feed them at both times. Every time they suck, it will help their ears to adapt to the changes in cabin pressure. If you are nursing your child and are a bit modest around strangers, wear a light scarf or wrap. Although I have no problem with mothers who are comfortable nursing in public without cover, it may be nice to consider the sensitivity and comfort levels of those you’ll be sitting near on the plane and in the airport. If you aren’t nursing, pack two bottles for each flight – one for takeoff and one for landing and then pack a couple extra bottles just in case. If you prefer to mix your formula as you go, either measure out single servings in each bottle and pack your water separately or fill your bottles with water and measure single servings in snack sized Ziploc baggies. However you decide to prepare your formula, make sure that it is a way that is quick and easy. If your child is anything like mine, he’ll finish his bottle on the taxiway and leave you empty handed for takeoff. In the event this may happen to you, pack extra pacifiers. Murphy’s Law rules in these situations so if you only bring one pacifier, plan to lose it when you need it most. Some other things you’ll want to pack for baby are baby food, plastic spoons (metal may not make it through security), a favorite quiet toy, a blanket and a few over the counter medications that I never leave home without: Vick’s Baby Rub, Infant Tylenol, Infant Cough & Cold Formula, and Little Teether’s Ointment. If you leave home without these things, Murphy will surely reward you with a sick child.

When planning what you’ll be carrying on the plane, and walking around the airport with, consider you personal strength and stamina. Consider also your little stroller’s ability to work as a pack mule. How many items can you control while still maintaining positive control over your little one? It is a very delicate balance.

Checking In
Skycaps, those often gruff people standing on the curb outside airline check in areas, can be quite helpful when you’re traveling with a child. They’ll check your ticket, give you your boarding pass and check your bags. There are just a few things to remember about the care and feeding of skycaps:
1. They are in great demand and like to work quickly.
2. They need your identification before they can do anything for you.
3. They’ll need to know if your child has a purchased seat or if they’ll be riding on your lap. (This has everything to do with how many bags you can check.)
4. They expect to be tipped. Sure, you can skip the tip and check in inside, but do you really want to schlep your baby and all your gear inside when you can drop it on the curb? The choice is up to you. Personally, I prefer to tip three to five dollars per bag and have the skycap do the schlepping.

Airport security in the United States is very tight in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Bear in mind that the security agents are just doing their jobs and not actually out to get you. Because of heightened security, you’ll want to allow yourself plenty of extra time to get checked in, so get there as early as possible. The first time I flew with my son, I didn’t know the protocol for the security checkpoint and fear I may have upset a few people. If you’re packing a laptop computer, remove it from its case and place it in a screening bin by itself. Don’t bother bringing keys with you – after all, you aren’t doing the driving. Another thing not worth bothering with is jewelry. Most moms give it up once baby reaches the grabbing stage anyway. Wear slip-on shoes as security will likely expect you to remove them. Holding a baby in your arms is hardly conducive to efforts to tie one’s shoes! (Don’t bother with shoes for your little one – the hassle is not worth the fashion statement.) If you’re bringing a stroller, you’ll have to fold it up and pass it through the security screening machine as well, so be prepared for that.

In the Airport
If you’ve left early and checked in through security early, you’ll have plenty of time to cater to your and your child’s needs at the airport. Remember to keep baby’s diaper as fresh as possible. There is nothing more disconcerting than getting on a plane with a baby with a soiled, stinky diaper. Your baby will be uncomfortable and insure that you know about it and chances are that your traveling companions on the plane will smell it. Once baby’s needs are taken care of, you’ll have time to grab a bite to eat, have a cup of overpriced coffee and relax a bit. Just remember to be at your gate well before the boarding call so that you can take advantage of early boarding for parents with small children.

Getting Seated
Once you are allowed to board, be prepared for inconveniences. You’ll need to get baby, car seat, diaper bag and other carry-ons on the plane and few if any of your fellow travelers will even notice that you are overloaded. If, like me, you had to change an emergency “number two” diaper and miss the early boarding call, you’re in for even more of a treat. During general boarding, there is always a businessman who has to stand in the aisle checking and rechecking the carry-on he stowed in the overhead compartment. Then there is the lady who has to stand in the aisle for several minutes to decide whether to store her carry-on above or below. These are just a couple of the people who will be boarding before you, completely oblivious to the fact that you are behind them, your arms are falling off and your baby is about to erupt into a very aggravated wail. Once you get to your seat, get baby situated and secured first, then get yourself situated and secured in your seat. Once you are both seated, you’ll want to get that first bottle (for baby, not for you) ready for takeoff. Keeping baby’s gear convenient during the flight is a very good idea here.

However you decide to travel with your child and no matter what you decide to pack, keep one thing in mind: Be Cool! By cool, I mean dress in cool, comfortable clothing and keep your emotional cool. If you haven’t traveled with a child before, you have no idea how much sweat you can build up if not properly dressed for it. Most importantly, you should always remember that when your child finds himself in an unfamiliar location or situation, he takes his emotional cues from you. If your emotions are boiling over, so will your child’s. Think about this: people are more inclined to help a friendly person in a good mood, with a happy child, rather than an angry person in a nasty mood with a screaming child. If you appear calm and happy, your child will generally be calm and happy as well. When you get right down to it, no matter what else you do, if you can keep your child calm and happy throughout your journey, you’ve done it well.

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