Monday, September 15, 2014

Traveling with a Baby on a Plane

A word of caution: This is a LONG post with tons of information. Look for bold headings if you’re searching for something specific. Also, I'm not a flying-expert. These are just my opinions and things that have worked well for me. 

He finally fell asleep 10 minutes before we landed.

Our Travel Itinerary

Before I jump into sharing my experiences and learned travel information with you, here’s our travel itinerary. Basically, we went from Kentucky to Reno for a wedding and then Reno to Idaho to visit family. It sounds so easy when I say it like that but here we go …

Drive from Catlettsburg, KY to Louisville KY (3 hours)
Stay overnight in a hotel – (we did the last-minute Hotwire thing and got a room at Best Western Plus in Louisville for $66.16. Free breakfast. Close to airport. Not bad at all.)
Drive from hotel to Louisville Airport (SDF)
Check luggage (including car seat)
Gate check umbrella stroller
Fly from Louisville to Las Vegas (LAS) 
Change planes
Gate check umbrella stroller
Fly from Las Vegas to Reno
Pickup luggage at baggage claim
Get Rental Car at airport 
Install Car seat

Stay at a hotel for 3 nights in Reno (go to wedding)

Return Rental Car to airport
Uninstall and re-pack car seat
Check luggage (including car seat)
Gate check umbrella stroller
Fly from Reno to Las Vegas
Change planes
Fly from Las Vegas to Spokane, WA
Get picked up by Hubby’s parents at airport
Install Car seat
Drive 2 hours from Spokane Airport to Hope, ID

Stay for 10 days

Drive 2 hours from Hope, ID to Spokane Airport
Check luggage (car seat will stay at grandparents from this point on)
Gate check umbrella stroller
Fly from Spokane to Las Vegas
Change planes
Gate check umbrella stroller
Fly from Las Vegas to Louisville
Pickup luggage at baggage claim
Pay $169 parking garage fee
Drive 3 hours from Louisville to home.

Side note: We could have flown out of Huntington, and saved ourselves a three hour car ride, but plane tickets were cheaper out of the Louisville. Also, we liked the idea of a longer car ride and one less flight.


CAR SEAT: to bring your own, use a rental or buy one there?

Here’s my car seat dilemma. Obviously, I need a car seat once I get to Reno. I pretty much have three options:

1.) I can bring my own from home
This will be a pain in the ass to lug around. It’s also a gamble if it gets damaged because Southwest will replace it only if it is lost, not damaged.

2.)  Get a rental
This sucks because its $12+ a day without any knowledge as to the condition of the car seat.

3.) Sit at the airport with baby and wait for hubby to run to Walmart and buy one there.
I actually considered this option, but we were on a really tight schedule. Once we landed, I had to get to the already-started bachelorette party. (Hey, I wasn’t able to attend the engagement party or the bridal shower. I’d be damned if I missed this one). Anyway, this could work if you have the time to wait around for one parent to go buy a car seat, install it and pick you and baby up at the airport.

I have this weird need to come up with the most economically and least pain-in-the-ass way of doing things so I decided to go with option four …

Pack the carseat in two large, clear trash bags for luggage check.

4.) Buy another car seat for your home car, travel with your old one and leave it at the destination. We bought the Safety 1stAlpha Omega Elite Convertible Car Seat on Amazon for $97 with free Amazon Prime shipping (minus the $48 we would have had to spend renting one, which makes it really like $49). I put the new car seat in my car and packed the old one. I used the old one in Reno and Idaho but didn’t have to worry about lugging it home because it stayed at Nana’s and Papa’s house. It’s a convertible one that goes from infant to 100 lbs. Its more than likely we’ll be back up to Idaho before our son outgrows the need for that seat and if (and that’s a BIG if) we have another baby, child #2 will be able to use that seat as well.

To pack the car seat for luggage check (not gate check), I double-bagged it in two CLEAR Husky DrumLiners Trash Bags (the 55 gallon bags). Before I knotted it, I strapped a luggage tag to the side on the car seat. Make sure it’s INSIDE the trash bag. When you get to the luggage check, they will strap a sticker tag on the outside too.  Checking condition of the trash bag when you pick up the car seat at luggage claim will give you an idea of how well or poorly the car seat was handled. We had a few scuffs, but it held up really well and I felt safe using it after both sets of flights.


LAP CHILD: to buy a ticket or ride free on the lap?

If you’re traveling with a child under the age of 2, they can fly for free on Southwest. It’s called a “Lap Child”. You can read all the details here, but I will remind you to bring a copy of their birth certificate. You’ll need it to verify the child’s age.

If I had balls, I’d bet my left one that your pediatrician will recommend that it’s “statistically safer to purchase the child his or her own seat,” and that you should also “travel with an FAA-approved car seat.”

This sounds wonderful and all, but let’s get real for a second. 

First, if the airplane is going to go down, you, your baby and everyone else on board will all probably be equally screwed. A car seat is not going to change that. I understand how a car seat could be beneficial in harsh turbulence, but again, I’ve never actually been on a flight where the turbulence was so bad that I was hitting my head on the window. And I’ve flown a lot. Mostly by myself. It was much easier back then. 

Secondly, we were booked for a total of SIX flights that equaled out to $1,000 per person. If we were to purchase a third seat, our now $2,000 tickets would have cost us $3,000. Umm. No Thanks. No Thanks.

As a little luck and knowledge-gathering would have it, we got a row to ourselves on two of our six flights. Even better, the two flights were the longest of all of them. Hooray! 

Some people might think I’m a bad person, but here’s our strategy for getting a row to yourself if you’re traveling with one other person and a lap child. When you get to your gate, ask the gate attendant how many open seats there are on the flight. You’re not asking “Is this a full flight?” because they’ll probably say “Yes” because the airlines don’t want you to assume you’re going to get your own row or be a dick about not making eye-contact and making it difficult for people to sit next to you. So, you ask how many open seats there are. 

On one of our flights, there were seven open seats. We board in the A group, oh and yes, get the Early-Bird Check-in. Granted, with Southwest, families board after the A group, but this way, you are guaranteed a good spot WITH the A’s AND you don’t have to worry about checking in 24-hours to the second in advance. Hey … one less thing to have to remember. Where was I? Oh, so we board with the A group, go get our seats in the back of the plane (read below for WHERE TO SIT) and put the baby in his own seat. This makes it look like he actually has his own seat. 

Honestly, I don’t think anyone would have wanted to sit with us anyway, but two people on other flights (that were NOT full) plopped right down next to Mason. Maybe they thought he was cuter than hell. Maybe they were psychopaths. I’m not sure. Either way, he could have gotten his own seat, but we didn’t use our “strategy,” and it made for a more difficult flight. I would have felt worse about it, but he struggled a little on the longer flights and I don’t think anyone would have really enjoyed being stuck next to a crying 20 month old. Unless, of course, they’re a psychopath.


WHERE TO SIT on the plane with a crying baby:

My father-in-law retired last September from his 20-year career as a piolet with Southwest. He also had another 15 years under his belt with other airlines. According to him, the loudest part of the plane is in the back. If you’re flying with a baby, I recommend going as far back of the plane as you possibly can. This is for two reasons:

Check out SeatGuru for more information about plane layout.

1.) The noise from the jets will act as a muffler for screaming, crying babies. This will hopefully limit stink-eyes from your fellow travelers and embarrassment, if you are one of those people who still give a shit about what other people think of you.

2.) The engine noise (along with the vibration of flying) can help soothe babies to sleep. It worked really well when my son was three months old. It was like I put him in his MamaRoo and changed the settings to white noise and vibration.

I should add that (according to the flight stewardess at least), most changing tables are in the FRONT lavatory of the plane. But being in the back of the plane, we were closets to the back lavatory. 

My perfect and wonderful Coach baby bag (that was later soaked in milk … which also destroyed my new iPhone 5 … fml) came with a black padded changing pad. If Mason was smaller, I could have easily laid the pad over the potty seat lid and changed him on that. He’s a giant though because of his 6’6” father, so that wasn’t going to work. So, I picked him up, had him hold onto the bar and changed him standing up. I always bring one of those smell-proof plastic diaper bags with me too. You can get a box of 75 of them at the Dollar Store. Had he pooped, I would have flushed the poop first, but he didn’t so I just wrapped up the used diaper, tied it in the bag and threw it in the trash. I washed all of our hands and got the hell up out of that teeny tiny bathroom.



On one of our nearly four hour flights over, Mason tucked his knees under and fell asleep leaning over my thigh. He slept for two hours. It was fantastic. I didn’t move at all. Okay, well maybe to skip songs on my phone. Before it was later destroyed.

If you can get your baby to fall asleep, it’s like the most perfect thing. This does not mean, however, that I agree with drugging your child. On the flight from Reno to Vegas, Mason was totally exhausted and couldn’t get comfortable enough to fall asleep. We were all tired from the wedding the day before and were up until past midnight packing for a 9 a.m. flight. Yuck. 

Baby sleeping on the airplane. Wonderful and unlikely. 

Anyway, Mason has a shit-fit. We’re talking screaming and crying at the top of his lungs. He. Was. Pissed. And everyone in the back of the plane was going to hear about it. His father and I struggled back and forth to try and soothe him. Binky. Blanket. Snacks. iPad. Books. He was having none of it. 

So there I am, frustrated out of my bleeding mind when the old woman in front us felt compelled to chime-in with her “parenting advice.”  In short, she told me that she has three children (now grown), all of whom she gave Tylenol to before the flights to (AND I QUOTE) “knock them out.” I simply responded that our Pediatrician only recommends Tylenol for pain and fever (neither of which he had) and left it at that. 

But I really wanted to punch her in the ovaries for that comment. 

I didn’t. 

But I really wanted to.  

So moving on to useful information, here is a list of distractions that hubby and I continually rotated on the flights:

      Snacks – Nature Valley Breakfast Bars, Wheat Thins, Gold Fish, Chips Ahoy Thin Crips, Cheez-Its, Chips Deluxe Rainbow Cookies, Welch’s Fruit Snacks and finally, a bag of M&M’s (as a last resort … trust me, you’ll need it.) Basically, food acts as a distraction too. Forget about the super healthy hummus. It will make a mess. Be realistic. Keep it simple. And make sure they are snacks that the kid likes. You can go back to being healthy when you get off the plane. Or in our case, when we go back home and finally get around to going to the grocery store.

Individually packed variety snacks are perfect for flights.

      Movie – Hubby downloaded Free Birds on the iPad. Mason wasn’t having anything to do with the earphones that I bought him, but he watched the movie on silent for a little while and pointed to the cartoon characters. Even on slient thought, it looks super funny. Hubby and I have a plan for date night after Mason is alseep this weekend with the couch and this movie.

Download cartoon movies on your tablet for the flight

      Books – I brought the small edition hard back copies of Goodnight Moon, Where’s Spot? Dear Zoo, and more. I REALLY recommend the last two because they are lift-the-flap books. The interactive elements they bring to the (tray) table are great for distractions.


      Where is the ___ Game – So this is just listing things within the baby’s view that he/she can point to. Where’s the clouds? Where’s the airplane wing? Where’s the window? Where’s the tray? Where’s the floor? Where’s Daddy? Where’s Mommy? Where’s your nose? Where’s your shoes? Where’s your ears? Where’s your hair? Where’s your shirt? Where’s a book? I’ll stop there. You get the point.

      Tablet Games – I totally recommend purchasing and downloading as many levels as possible of the Endless Reader by Originator Inc. It is truly an amazing app. Our 20 month old son was moving his fingers to move letters around and place words into sentences. Huge Shout Out to Mallory for telling me about this wonderful app. I love you, sister friend! Also, I’ve read that some parents buy those miniature travel games too, but my kid is learning about gravity, and I didn’t want to crawl around the plane floor looking for game pieces in-between shoes and seats.

Endless Reader by Originator Inc

      Peek-A-Boo – Self-explanatory, but our baby loves playing. We can easily get 5 minutes of playtime with this game.

      Etch-A-Sketch – I bought one at Walmart for $3. It was awesome. Unfortunately, it didn’t make it home. I have no idea where it ended up.

So think about it this way: every minute counts on a plane when the baby is distracted. Out of everything, the rotating of snacks and the Endless Reader game seemed to keep him happiest. But we used everything on the list. Oh, and he also really enjoyed turning the tray table latch.

Pack a last-resort bag of candy. Serioiusly. Do it.


OTHER TIPS for Flying with a Baby:

1. Make sure baby has a binky or bottle or boob during takeoff and landing. The swallowing/sucking will help their ears pop and prevent ear pain.

2. Once you get on the plane, put wipes and a plastic bag in the seatback pocket in front of you. Use the bag for trash. It accumulates quicker than you think.

3. Put together a mini changing pack – use a zip lock gallon bag with two or three diapers, a small pack of wipes and disposable diaper trash bags for a quick and easy trip to the potty. I also brought a traveling changing pad. You probably won’t want to bring your big diaper bag into a closet-potty.

4. Strollers – I traveled with the big traveling system stroller when he was three months old because the car seat attached right on it. Because we weren’t really going to need a big heavy-duty stroller at our destinations, I used a $19 Light weight umbrella stroller. I totally recommend it. It folds up quick, goes on the conveyor belt through security, is easy to get the baby in and out of, served as a distraction at the airport (he pushed it around at the gate), and gives your arms a much-needed break when walking through the airport. It’s also much easier to maneuver through crowds and fits in the bathrooms better. Speaking of bathrooms …

5. Bathrooms – Get in the habit of looking for Family and/or Companion Care Bathrooms. They are becoming more and more available and they’re wonderful. Hubby, baby and I could all be together while we changed diapers and went to the bathroom. They usually have a changing table, or at the very least, a large space on the countertop and even the floor for diaper changes. I’ll be honest though … at one point, I went into a handicapped stall, laid down a changing pad and wiped his butt right there. You gotta do what you gotta do. Haha. Doo doo …

Hope you found some helpful information. 
Good luck on your journey!

No comments:

Post a Comment