Before I had a child, I’d see beleaguered mothers of babies in the airport–especially around the holidays–with mounds of luggage and small humans to keep happy, and I’d think: God, I’m so glad I don’t have to take a baby on a plane. It’s hard enough schlepping Christmas presents and carry-ons, to say nothing of TSA lines. I figured I’d simply never go anywhere again once I had W.
But after I stayed in my house for three months, getting cavity searched in a mile-long line of shoeless adults didn’t seem so bad. Or at the very least, the idea of being home for the holidays with the first grandchild was too wholesome to deny. So was the free babysitting from grandma. It’s the only way I could triangulate sleeping in. I booked a ticket.
Then panic set in. What if the baby cries? What do we do about the car seat? Can you take extra stuff? Does a baby count as my one “personal item”?
I have now done five round trips (including layovers) with my son who’s under age one–some of these totally (*shudder*) by myself. And I’m here to tell you that it’s actually not that big of a deal.
You are so used to prioritizing your baby’s comfort at home that doing it in an airport is not so different. Compared to when you could sit there, sipping your coffee and flipping through magazines at your gate *with combed hair* as a childless person, it’s hard. But compared to any other day of your life? No biggie. However, there are some cardinal rules you should follow.
1. Use a baby carrier
Whether your baby is 9 or 29 pounds, you need to keep your hands free. I see people all the time with strollers, but that looks like a pain to me because it’s one more thing to deal with. Plus you have to gate check them (and what if you have a tight connection?). Also you might have to take escalators, trains, or buses to change terminal, as one does in many airports. With the baby carrier, you can zoom through the busiest of airports (ahem, Atlanta during Thanksgiving) without needing a police escort.
2. Baby carrier
No really. I forgot one on my last trip, and I had to carry my 28 pound kid (in my arms), plus a purse, carry-on, and coat. Yikes. My biceps are still shaky.
3. Something to drink
Uh, for the kid. For the first three flights I nursed directly from the source. Honestly, that was the easiest because: no gear. I was so sleep deprived I’m sure I would have forgotten something anyway. Once I stopped nursing, the bottle worked just as well. Sucking soothes babies. At this point W is supposed to use a cup so getting the bottle made him happy. **Definitely make sure they drink on the ascent and descent because it will make their ears pop.
4. A nursing top
Aka, quick release shirt and cover, if applicable. I actually forgot a nursing apron on my first flight, but I had a “quick release” nursing top and I honestly don’t think anyone noticed. Also, if they did, I doubt they cared since my baby was quiet.
5. Pre-packaged powdered formula
My son is drinking whole milk now, but I’d seriously have to carry a half-gallon given how much he consumes on a plane. With the prepackaged stuff, you don’t have to measure during turbulence and you only have to buy a bottle of water to make it. Bring way more packages than you think your kid would ever go through. (TSA will let you bring liquid breast milk or formula on-board, but there are limits.)
6. Novel toys
It’s the same thing as going out to a restaurant. Save a new one (or a vintage one) as a last resort as preparation for DEFCON 5 (screaming and kicking). Keep them coming like that bag of yours belongs to Mary Poppins.
7. Get old school
Itsy bitsy? Check. Little piggies? Check. Pat-a-cake? Never lets me down.
8. Move it!
If your baby can move at all (crawl or walk) and you have a layover, try to find a quiet gate to let your child get some exercise. I know those floors are nasty. But come on. You caught your little sweetheart licking the soles of your shoes at least once. It won’t kill them. Wear ’em out.
9. Utilize the natural marvel of travel
W loves smiling at other passengers (and to my shock, many people love a baby!). He flirts and watches, wide-eyed. For at least 20 seconds at a time…
10. TSA Precheck
This should have its own category because it’s that important. If you have this, you get your own fast-track line, you don’t have to take your shoes off, the baby off, your jacket off, or your computer out. You’ve never been so grateful for the privileges. It’s a little bit of a pain to apply, but so worth it. For a nominal fee, you can do Global Entry, which allows you to bypass immigration lines if you travel abroad, and you’re automatically enrolled in Precheck. You’re welcome. (http://www.tsa.gov/tsa-precheck-application-program) (http://www.cbp.gov/global-entry/how-to-apply)
11. A car seat duffel bag
Visit any baby store and buy luggage (looks like a car seat duffel) that you zip your car seat into. This way it doesn’t get dirty when you check it. Yes, I said: check it. Every airline we’ve been on so far (Delta, Southwest) checks car seats FOR FREE!
12. Pack wisely
Though baby doesn’t count as your “personal item,” you can only bring the same amount of luggage on board as though you were traveling by yourself. Think ahead.
13. Warn the airline
Most airlines let infants under two travel for free on your lap. One time I was asked for proof of W’s birthday. I told them he didn’t exactly have an ID, and they let him on board. However, it wouldn’t hurt to photocopy or photograph your baby’s birth certificate.
And if all of this doesn’t work, remember you can always pour yourself a glass of wine when you get home. The other passengers will!
Q: How do YOU cope with air travel? Any tips?