Flying with a baby

If you think your nerves are on edge when you see a person boarding a plane with an infant, imagine being the person holding the baby watching all of your terrified expressions.  Then go one step further and pretend you are one of those anxious-types that realizes you are attempting to fly with an infant during hurricane season.  There you have it.  That’s me.  One step away from needing either a beer or a Prozac.

Every September, we go to Georgia for Bradley’s family’s annual dove shoot.  They all get together for opening day, eat some lunch, and then shoot a bunch of birds.  This year’s trip was a little more interesting because of sweet, baby Jefferson.  While we have made the six hour car ride to Newberry, we were pretty unsure about the 9.5 hour drive (that is how long it takes without stops…and we all know there would be stops aplenty with a baby).  I wasn’t looking forward to that all day adventure so I decided that Jefferson and I would fly.  It is a short flight from Newport News to Atlanta, Bradley would already be in Reynolds when we land so I only needed to carry the diaper bag with me, and his family already has a car seat.  Sounded perfect to me.

Here are a few things I learned…

  • Children two and under can sit in your lap during a flight, which saves you from having to buy them a ticket.  I bought my ticket online and then had to call Delta to have Jefferson added because there wasn’t an option to do that online.  (I was pretty sure I couldn’t just show up with a baby.  Glad I listened to my instincts.)  Fun fact:  not all planes have dual oxygen masks on both sides of the plane, especially on smaller planes.  When I called to have him added, she moved my seat to the side of the plane that did.
  • I stalked prices and splurged to get the extra 3 inches of leg room since I would have a 16+ pound baby on my lap.  I found that I could get the extra leg room $100 cheaper if I left Friday evening instead of Saturday morning.  Well worth using my vacation time to leave work a little early!
  • Another thing worth using my PTO for was getting Jefferson from daycare early so that we had time to go home and get in a good nap before we left for the airport.  A sleepy baby will either nap like a precious angel or turn into a screeching banshee.  I lack all ability to predict which it will be.
  • Per TSA rules, you can basically bring whatever you need to feed your baby.  I brought formula and…wait for it…BOTTLED WATER!  They let me bring in bottled water!!!  I was the envy of the TSA pre-check line.  That being said, they ended up pulling my bag both times and doing a search.  The search didn’t take long but you might want to keep that in mind when you are planning out how much time you will need to get through security.  Even if you don’t bring any liquids with you, they scanned my diaper wipes, too.  Just be prepared for a little extra attention.  You can totally go through the security line with your baby in a carrier – thank goodness!
  • I was the very last person to the board the plane – I only had the diaper bag so I didn’t need overhead space.  Those extra minutes of wide open space before we crammed into a sardine can were good for both of us.  We also stayed on the plane until everyone else had left since we didn’t have a layover.  People turn into maniacs when it comes time to give off of a plane – I was grateful not to be part of that mess with my baby.
  • Say nice things to the woman with the baby.  She is a nervous wreck and even a small word of encouragement can do wonders.  Also offer to help her with her bags.  The saint sitting beside us on the way to Atlanta held Jefferson for me so that I could get the baby carrier unstrapped and get his bottle in easy reaching position. As we got ready to sit down, she said “I have six kids at home.  I’m probably the best person a first time mom could sit next to!”  Thank you sweet Denise – I hope you had a blast in Orlando.
  • I fed Jefferson during take off on the way to Georgia.  I read that it can help them pop their ears as the elevation changes.  On the way to Virginia, he napped through take off and still seemed fine.  Either way, have a bottle or boob ready just in case.  I have also heard that a pacifier will work, too!
  • You need more than one spare outfit.  Jefferson peed on himself twice during our adventures back to Virginia and I only had one spare outfit.  (Thank goodness he peed during diaper changes and didn’t actually pee out of his diaper because I forgot to pack a spare shirt for me!) His tummy rolls where on prime display walking out of the Newport News airport.
  • I opted to pay extra and park closer to the airport.  If it fits in your budget, do it.  It took me all of three minutes from my car to the front door of the airport.  Any small thing to relieve some pressure and worry is worth every stinking penny.
  • I could have flown out of Norfolk for a slightly cheaper fare BUT our teenie tiny local airport was perfect for our first flight.  There is literally one plane there.  One.  So there are only one plane’s worth of people to deal with.  I got to the airport about 45 minutes from departure.  Not from boarding.  From departure!  It took me about five minutes to get through security, I had time to change the baby one more time, got a bottle ready for take off, and did some bouncing/swaying moves to help Jefferson get nice and sleepy.  Flying home out of Atlanta felt a little more hectic but we were seasoned pros by then.
  • Definitely bring a blanket so that baby can have some wiggle room on the floor of the airport!  Jefferson was strapped to me or in my lap for most of the travel.  He is a huge fan of eating his feet and swinging his arms and legs around.  I think that wiggle time was good for his sanity.  I chose a really fluffy, snuggly blanket and it was also great for helping him get cozy on my lap on the plane.  At five months old, he is becoming more tactile and he loved rubbing his little hands over the soft fabric.
  • I didn’t have the stroller with me because Bradley drove it down.  While that was ultimately nice because it was one less thing for me to lug around, it made going to the bathroom tricky.  Most public restrooms have the changing station out in the open, not in a private stall.  If your child is strapped to you, this can make going to the bathroom tricky.  I was slightly terrified of having to go to the bathroom while on the plane so I didn’t drink any fluids an hour before the flight and stayed bone dry until we got to the house.  If you have a longer travel time, avoiding the restroom may not be an option.  Plan accordingly.  That being said – pretty sure you could totally take a tinkle with your baby in the carrier and everyone would be just fine.

Overall, it was a positive experience (despite the crippling stomach ache I gave myself from all of the worry and stress).  He handled it gracefully and most of the passengers were really kind.  They made baby talk, waved to him, told me how wonderful he was, and a few offered to help along the way.  If there were angry stares, I didn’t see them.

One of our friends shared some wonderful advice from a plane ride they took with their two small children.  The woman in front of them asked them to keep their small child from kicking the back of her seat and they replied with “We apologize but we are doing the best we can to keep them entertained.  If you want to help and hold him, then at least he won’t be kicking your seat!”  It was said with honesty and playfulness and she ended up changing her perspective on the situation.  There is something so pure about admitting when you are trying your hardest even when the outcome isn’t perfect.  And haven’t we all be there??  Whether it is holding a screaming baby in a public place, watching your dog poop in your neighbor’s yard the one time you forgot to bring a poop bag, or realizing that you forgot your raincoat in the middle of a hurricane.  We don’t always get everything right.  But when you see someone else trying, give them a splash of grace and understanding.

Any tips from other seasoned momma travelers?!?


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