Thursday, August 1, 2013

Air Travel Tips with a 3 Month Old

This post is by special request of a friend of mine with a baby about the same age as Ben who is going on a trip in September. While I was on maternity leave, Ben and I traveled with my father to visit my sister and nephews in Texas. My sister and the boys had come to visit us right after Ben was born, but I wanted to spend more time with them. I rarely get to go for a whole week, and I wanted to take advantage of my time off!

Ben with his cousins, Bobby and Adam
We had a non-stop flight about three hours long each way. The flight there was relatively painless. The flight back was pure hell. It was just a nightmare travel day. Our flight was delayed first because of flight maintenance. Then, it was delayed all day due to weather. We were boarded and deboarded on and off the plane three times. We were kept on the plane on the tarmac for quite a while each time. The air conditioning in the plane and the gate was on the fritz. There were tears. Mine and Ben's. I definitely had a mini break down at one point where a kind stranger asked if she could hold Ben while I took a break.

This is not to scare you! I made it through, and I would have still gone! If you want to visit family or travel, you just have to nut up. I think that the travel experience on the way back was unique. My dad has been traveling for a while and was even an airline pilot, and he said it was the worst travel experience he has ever had. My dad and I are basically bonded through this traumatic experience. It is like we have been through war together. We try not to talk about it.

This is what Ben looked like in the aftermath. Two things about this pic:
(1) Don't worry, I tightened the straps once we were in the car.
(2) If your baby takes a paci, use a clip during the travel.
I am far from expert, but here are a few tips:

1. Fly Non-stop - I can't imagine how terrible it would have been if I had to worry about catching a connecting flight. I know that sometimes non-stops are not available. I know they are almost always more expensive, but it is worth it if you can afford it. One take off and landing is a million times better than two. And it is just less opportunity for things to go wrong.

2. Schedule the Flight for in the Morning - One thing (out of many) that was so terrible about my travel day from hell was that by the time our flight finally took off, it was about 7pm. We had been at the airport since the morning so you can imagine how exhausted Ben was. Don't ever plan on taking off during the time that you would be putting the baby to bed. It's terrible. Everything is better in the bright morning, and if things get delayed, at least you have an early start.

3. Bring Someone with You if You Can - I had originally planned to travel on my own, but my dad ended up coming with me. If you can, get someone to come with you. If you have to go own your own with the baby, that's OK. You can do it. Just make sure that you have someone take you to the airport, and help you all the way to security. On the other end, make sure you have someone pick you up and meet you at baggage claim.

4. Make a List, Check it Twice - Being prepared is half the battle. Start making a list of what you and the baby will need no later than a week beforehand. Add to it as you think of things. Start packing at least a couple of days beforehand. You will feel less stressed if you are prepared and not in a rush.

5. Weigh Your Suitcase - I made the mistake of not doing this. I have never gone over the weight limit before and thought I would be fine. Well, even though Ben weighed about 12 lbs at the time, apparently he needed 75lbs of stuff. Check what the baggage weight limit is, and then weigh your suitcase once it is all packed. Better to have to rearrange at home, than at the airport.

6. Stroller v. Carrier Through Security (Or Both) - I have a lightweight stroller frame that goes with my car seat. I took this through security along with a baby carrier. Then I gate checked the stroller frame and car seat at the end of the tarmac before boarding. You have to go to the desk at the gate and get gate check tickets for any items you need to gate check. I would do this again. It was nice to have the carrier for actually boarding the plan and walking through security. But it was also nice to have the stroller for naps while waiting and have an additional place to put Ben. However, if I only had a heavy stroller instead of a lightweight frame, I might not have brought the stroller with me. Also, this depends on what you normally use. If you never wear your baby, don't try to do it the first time on air travel day.

7. What to Bring - Try to bring the least amount possible (but be prepared). My sister had a pack and play at her house that I could use. Don't forget to bring a sheet for it. I had to bring a car seat and base. I checked the base (they will put it in a plastic bag there for you). Like I said above, I took the car seat through security with me as part of his stroller. I did not bring any baby tub with him. I just had my sister hold him in the sink while I bathed him. It was not as relaxing as his normal bath experience, but I wasn't going to bring a tub, and I certainly wasn't going to buy one for only two uses. My sister also was able to borrow an infant seat from a friend for me to use there.

8. Changing Diapers/Double Bagging It - Try to change the diaper in the airport right before you board. You may be able to get away with not changing him on the plane. It worked out that way for me on the flight there. I changed him right beforehand, and he didn't have any poops while in flight. It was great. The way back was a different story. As we are barrelling down the runway about to take off, Ben starts to have a poop-splosion. It started bubbling out of his diaper. Onto his clothes. Onto me. I couldn't get up, we were literally taking off. LUCKILY, I was sitting next to a mom that taught me this little trick: I put a diaper on top of his clothes to hold it all in until I could change him. We double bagged it. After we were at cruising altitude, I changed him in the bathroom. Most planes have little changing tables. After I took him back to the seat, he immediately pooped again. Don't forget to bring plastic bags for poop clothes.

I snapped this pic of Adam playing with Ben while he wasn't looking.
9. Sucking During Takeoff - Many tips say to make sure to bottle feed or breastfeed during take off. Ben was asleep during take off on the way there, and I wasn't about to wake him up. Never wake them up. So I sort of ninja-like slipped a paci in his mouth during take off. If they are uncomfortable and need to suck more, they will wake up themselves.

10. Breastfeeding Concerns - I purchased a travel boppy for the trip. My normal pillow of choice is a My Brest Friend. However, the My Brest Friend too big for the flight, and I do not recommend taking that with you. The travel boppy was good because it was portable and could be smushed better (if that makes sense). HOWEVER, feeding Ben on the plane was a pain in the ass. He is long, and when he lies down on his side to feed, there was just not enough room. This would be different if you were with two people you  know and in the middle seat, because you could stretch out. But if you are in the aisle, the baby's little head or feed may get swiped and if you are in the widow seat, you are scrunched by the wall. I recommend trying to get used to a more upright feeding position before you fly if you can. If your baby is less than 25" long (this is a very rough estimate), this may not be an issue. For this reason it may be easier to bottle feed on the plane, but then you have to deal with feeling possibly engorged. You don't want to be about to explode and then have to wait at the gate a while after you land. So that is up to you. Breastfeeding at the gate was no biggie. I just used my cover and it was fine.

11. Toys - Ben was young enough at 3 months that I didn't really need them. However, at 5 months now, I can see how a couple of rattle toys would be nice to entertain him. Be nice though and don't bring a musical one on the plane.

Hope this helps! The next time I go on a plane with Ben will probably be next year. I wonder how traveling with a toddler will be!

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