It really doesn’t matter why I’m flying. If I’m doing it with my infant, it can seem like a dreaded task looming over the unimaginably fabulous vacation I’m surely about to take (isn’t the saying, “Expect the best and get the best”? No? Well then (shrugs shoulders)…). Anyway, infants. I’m not talking about those blissfully sleeping babes of mere weeks old. Not those tinies that spend their moments penduluming between sleeping and eating (ok, and crying, but crying because they either want to eat or sleep (or have that beast acid reflux, which is all too alive and well in this family)). I’m talking about those super wiggly, oh-look-I-found-my hands/my feet/my voice/my ability to crawl/my ability to clap/my ability to walk/your mouth/your necklace/your eyes/your phone/your response to my dropping every little thing I get in my hands kind of infant. This is the exhausting infant. And flying with them can be exhausting. They can’t carry their own things (which they need increasingly more of), and it’s questionable whether they even get their own seats. But with three little people under five, we seem to always have one of those types of tinies traveling with us, so we’ve got a few rules we go by.
Choosing a Flight, Timing and Connections:
My husband and I are not parents of little people who sleep on planes or in cars; in fact, they are quite the opposite. Our curse and our blessing is that our children thrive on routine. They like to sleep when it’s bedtime, and they like that sleep to be (Surprise!) in their beds. And this occurs by three months old. So, that means our infant is just as routinized as our big little people. We take this into account when booking our flights. I guess it’d be easiest to fly mid day so my tiny person could sleep in as usual and also be in bed on time, thus preventing an epic meltdown the next day. But really. Am I willing to waste an entire day on just sitting on a plane? Nope. Nope. Nope. No. So, it becomes a toss up. Early flights mean a day of adjusting and readjusting (we don’t ever manage to get breakfast on time, naps are weird, if at all, lunch on planes can be hard for tiny people), and late flights mean we’re cutting into bedtime (a sacred time for all parents). With our first little one, we could push her to fly at night and have a fine next day. With our last little one, we can do the same. But the middle one? Oh sweet, sweet heavens, he was a wreck once it hit bedtime. I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone. The point is, we had to feel it out for each. Just like grown ups, some tiny people are best in the morning, some are best at night. It’s important to spend a little time figuring this out at home prior to trying to figure it out on a plane. Additionally, we usually book flights that are direct whenever possible. At one point, we thought perhaps layovers would be great because our little person could get out some wiggles, but honestly, it never worked. In fact, I’m pretty sure Murphy’s Law states that the only time a tiny person will nap is when the plane descends. If I’m going to wake a sleeping tiny, I’d prefer to do it at my destination rather than just at a random layover in Cincinnati. Also, I don’t want to drag tiny person belongings all over an airport in an attempt to restow them in another plane after I just charged down the aisle throwing elbows so I could get some coveted overhead space. Once I’m in and settled, this tired Momma just wants to stay put. Done.
Getting a Seat (or not):
It is not often we get a seat for our infant. We try to travel with as little as possible, so we certainly don’t want to drag a carseat (or three carseats really) with us, especially if we’re not going to be renting a car on our trip or, super especially, if we’re dealing with a tight connection (there’s nothing fast about dragging carseats around). (Note: If you need your carseats at your destination, but still don’t want to bring them on the plane, most airlines allow you to check them for free.) There are exceptions, of course, that drive us to bring our car seats with us. When our flight is late late late and is long long long, we may opt for the seat so our little can get some sleep. (This only works if your tiny person is good at sleeping in carseats though. I’d like to say mine are, but I would be lying.) Usually though, if it’s a long flight, my husband works his points magic and snags us seats in first class. If this happens, we usually put the seats in lie flat and trap the tiny between the wall and one of our grown up bodies so the tiny person has a flat play space and a flat sleep space for night. If we’re just taking a short flight and don’t need or care about being in first class, I bring a nursing pillow (which I recommend even when not nursing). This provides a comfy way for the tiny nugget to lie across my lap, snuggled up, without creating a sweatbox by drooling across my chest. It’s also a nice little seat for them to sit on and face me, so we can play all those lovely games, like “Pull at Mommy’s Nose” or the ever popular “Try To Stick All of My Half Chewed Snacks in Mommy’s Mouth.” Good times. (Note: If you have a lap child, don’t change the seat you’re in without consulting with the flight crew as little people in laps are put in specific rows that have extra oxygen masks.)
Scoring a Bassinet:
If the flight is long, we contact the airline to see if they have any bassinets (or cots) available and request the bassinet. They need to be requested as early as possible as most planes carry fewer cots than they do babies. Even if they tell you they have one reserved for you, be persistent. Check. Double check. When you’re sitting parked in the car in your driveway because your tiny fell asleep on the way home from the grocery store .5 mi away, check again (and then spend the rest of the time wondering why said tiny person fell asleep in his carseat when you didn’t want him to, but won’t do it any other time you need him too). We double check that our seat assignments actually match with seats that can accommodate a bassinet (dependent upon type of airplane, so some research may need to be conducted here). In economy cabins, the bassinets connect to the bulkhead walls. They can also be found actually imbedded into a shelf in the wall in some aircrafts. Additionally, in the first class international cabins, they can connect right over the footrest of the seat. These are nice to have, but infants can max out on size pretty early on (approximately 20 lbs). Or they can just dislike them enough to cry every time they’re placed in them on an overnight flight to Italy, leaving you feeling trapped because they’re attached mere inches above where your feet are lying. And this can make the flight attendants quite a bit upset as they spent approximately 45 minutes putting the thing up because none of them actually knew how to put it up and they had to consult manuals and now this sweet little child does not want to be in the cot they spent an insane amount of time securing, so they effectively did it for nothing, ugh…I’m not saying that happened to me. I’m just saying in theory, it could happen, you know.
What To Bring Along for The Ride:
I’ll start with the easy, somewhat obvious stuff.
Snacks: Infants just entering the eating stage seem to be the hardest to accommodate. There are not many places in the airport selling ground, mushed vegetables and fruits in interesting and exciting combinations. And there are not any options on the plane itself. This means all food, milk (whether breastmilk or formula), snacks, etc., need to be brought with the tiny nugget. Generally, I pack as though my tiny person and I had an emergency landing and must stay overnight somewhere and continue our journey the next day. In other words, I pack two days worth of goodies for an infant 6-12 months old (admittedly, the closer to 12 months they are, the easier it becomes to find foods in the airport they can eat).
Toys: There are some favorites. I try to pack something that resembles a phone in case I feel like looking at my phone without little fingers trying to grab at it (I’ve found nothing so far). I bring a lovey because no matter what I still like to keep the hope alive that this tiny child may sleep. I bring a toy to chew on (teething goes on foooorrrrreeeevvvveeeerrrr). I bring a box of tissues. Tiny people love to pull tissues out of boxes. It’s quiet, and all I have to do is scoop them up, stick them back in the box, and voilà we get another go at it (the bigger littles still love to do it too). What I don’t bring are noisy toys, big toys, fancy toys. This age is still about exploring, so usually, I just use what I find. There’s nothing better than banging some plastic airplane cups around, tearing out some Skymall magazine pages and ripping them apart, or chewing on a coffee stirrer.
Comforts: Wipes. I bring wipes to wipe everything. I know those tiny fingers will be everywhere, and I don’t want to deal with a sad, sick tiny person on vacation (let alone any other day). Medicine. I always pack Children’s Benadryl (I get proper dosing amounts from my son’s doctor prior to leaving) because who knows where an allergy can exist. I pack infant Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen for the spontaneous fever or achy gum. A change of clothes for the tiny is necessary because the other Murphy’s Law while traveling with a tiny person is that they will spill something on themselves or have a diaper accident when traveling (common knowledge, really). I pack an extra set of clothing for myself too because…well…if I don’t I’m pretty much setting myself up for failure. I also always make sure I bring either a muslin blanket or a thin scarf that I can use to wrap my tiny person in if it gets cold or as a nursing cover. I also use it to wrap around my tiny person if they fall asleep on the nursing pillow (I will never give up hope) or if they fall asleep in their stroller at the airport. I tuck it around them and around myself as an added support in case of sudden turbulence. Pacifiers, bottles of water, smoothie pouches, or really anything my little person can suck on and chew while we’re taking off and landing are with me too. I usually use this time to try to nurse my little into sleep (seriously not giving up on this dream).
Transport: We bring a carrier with us when we have our tiny person along. Often, when trying to get our tiny to nap, we will need to walk or bounce, which can get pretty tiring without a carrier. I just slip the tiny into the little carrier, bounce a few minutes, and then slide myself back into my seat, safely clipping my seatbelt under those chubby legs. The issue here is that some flight attendants have made me wake the sleeping tiny to remove them from the carrier during landing, while some have simply made certain that the tiny person was not clipped into the seatbelt. It’s a hit or miss really. The carrier also comes in handy when we’ve decided against gate checking a stroller, something that is increasingly uncommon now that we have two under three. Although when we have tight connections, we avoid gate checking our strollers. The problem we have run into is that sometimes our stroller is waiting for us as soon as we get off the plane, but sometimes we can wait well over a half an hour for it to be delivered to us, which is a stress we certainly don’t need if we’re trying to desperately make another flight. (Note: Most airlines allow strollers to be checked through to the final destination free of charge.)
Dealing with Diapers:
When dealing with diaper age little people, I always try to save enough time to change my littles into clean diapers right before getting on the plane. While quite a number of planes have changing tables, not all do. And the worst is when I know I need to change a diaper and my options are limited to changing them on the seat and angering an already angry crowd or letting my little sit in their swampy, smelly, soggy diaper. It’s a choice no self-respecting adult wants to make. It’s the choice that I pawn off onto my husband. And let’s discuss those airplane changing tables, shall we? They’re smaller than a tray table and just as rickety. When changing my tiny I have to fight their exploring little fingers to keep them out of the sink and from pushing down the pump to the hand lotion. It’s a mess. And if I don’t want to change my tiny person in a dirty little shoebox of a bathroom, it’s important I change them early on since the changing table folds down to rest right above the toilet (I have nightmares about dropping important things into those toilets while I’m changing diapers). Needless to say, diapers can be a disaster, so I get them done prior to boarding as often as possible.
What to Expect from The Experience:
No matter how many times we’ve traveled, and how on point I think my travel is, that doesn’t mean other people know this. We still get looks of dread, the stink eye, from those who see us roll up to the gate, five thick. People avoid getting behind us in the security line (even though we can get through there as fast as any business traveler). It’s just part of the journey. We let it roll off of our backs and graciously accept the compliments about our “great little travelers” when it’s all over. We try to calm our tiny when he starts to cry, and usually, that act of merely attempting to do something to calm our tiny person is enough for those around us to, at least, hide their own frustrations. I’d like to think people give my tiny person some acceptance too when I can’t get him to quiet down since his communication skills are somewhat, shall we say, limited. Ultimately, some people will forgive me, some people won’t, some will forgive my children, some won’t feel there’s a need to, and others will seethe in their own anger. But between my husband, my children, and myself, we remember to forgive each other. I know that I just need to focus on my tiny people, my little people, because this is about them. And about us. And what we’re doing together.
Traveling anywhere with little people of any age means creating memories–strong, searing, sweet (mostly) moments for adults, but nuggets of memories for those little people. Even for tiny people. We plant the seeds of those nuggets of memories when we travel. And hopefully, someday, those seeds will be enough to feed some beautiful, kind, open-minded souls who are strong enough in spirit and in self to imagine themselves anywhere in this world, doing anything in this world.