My husband and I took our (then) eight-week-old son on his first flight for a so-called ‘vacation’ to Florida; Fast-forward six months and he’s been air born 11 times. Now, as mom to a 10-month-old, and step-mom to a 10-year-old, I am far from a parenting expert. But what I am an expert in is flying with kids. Read on to find out how to make the friendly skies just that – your friend!
1. Simplify. I know it seems impossible and perhaps cliché, but less is more. For that first flight I looked like a pack mule hauling everything I might possibly need through the airport (three travel bags for the plane alone). Bad move. In hindsight, it’s all about packing only the in-flight essentials. Airplanes are not known for their luxurious leg room and when you add a baby to your lap, toys, books, blankets, bottles and (possibly) breast-feeding, every inch of space is that much more valuable.
2. Invest in the right diaper bag. Acquiring the right bag for travel might mean that you buy something specifically for flights. Whatever the justification – just do it. For us, it took trial and error (and four different bags) but I finally found my ideal bag for flights (The Fisher-Price Fast Finder). Look for lots of exterior pockets so you can easily reach down under the seat and access key items. We keep antibacterial wipes, baby snacks, a bottle and teething toys readily available in outer pockets. A bottle compartment (cooler) is also a good feature for travel. You also want to consider fabric – since you’ll be scanning, swiping, x-raying, cabbing, storing and on-the-flooring your bag you are going to want to wipe it down. Fabric is crucial – make sure you can give ‘er a good clean.
3. Make a schedule. Similar to how I survive each day at home, schedules = sanity. If your flight is four hours, for example, know ahead of time how you hope to pass the time. If not, you will be staring at your watch as time drags on (and in the air it seems to move much slower than on land). I break the time up into 20 minute intervals for the first and last hour (take-off and landing) and 30 minute chunks for the remainder. And be realistic — babies rarely nap when you want them too so don’t count on it.
SAMPLE 3-hour itinerary
20 min – board plane, explore seat/wipe down seat area
20 min – Take-off (feed, hold in lap)
20 min – snack
30 min – books
30 min – colour/crafts/eat crayons
20 min – new toy
20 min – walk around plane and explore
20 min – landing (feed, watch video in seat)
**if you divert from the above plan – no biggie. It is just there for peace of mind.
4. Make friends. When your baby starts to fuss or squeal (despite how cute you think the sounds are, no one else does) you’ll want allies. Parenting Expert Alyson Schafer talked me through this one – “when you first get to your seat,” advises Schafer, “smile and crack a joke about how lucky everyone is to be near an infant.” Self-deprecation can lead to sympathy when you need it. I’ve had to ask someone to hold my baby while I used the restroom and you’d be surprised at how eager some people are to play with a baby. A change of scenery (away from parents) can also buy you some quiet time as your kid explores new people.
5. Pack extra essentials. Delays can happen. So can accidents. During a wicked winter storm my hubby and I were trying to get to New York City with our 8 month-old. Our flights were cancelled and delayed repeatedly for two days until we finally caught a dreaded connecting flight. Needless to say my lack of experience resulted in chasing down another mom begging for spare diapers. Airports and airlines do not carry baby-needs. Make sure you have enough (plus multiple back-ups) of items you cannot buy in transit – special food, diapers, clothes, extra bottles, wipes, baby Tylenol and so on.
6. Embrace Type-B. Have I mentioned I am Type-A? Sleepless nights plague the lead up to every trip I take with my baby. Will he cry mid-air? How will he nap without his crib/routine? What if he takes an in-flight dump? What if the person sleeps in the aisle seat and we are stuck by a window? How can I ensure his ears pop? Questions flow like a river through my mind. The solution: toss Type-A instincts out onto the tarmac and embrace Type-B.
Overall, try to relax. Time will pass. You will land at the other side no matter what and minutes later you won’t even remember the stressful moments (especially after some wine). Safe travels!