First things first, keep in mind that every flight is going to be slightly different – time of take-off and landing, temperature in the cabin, aisle vs window seat, turbulence – all these things can throw a wrench in the best laid plans, so my Main piece of advice is to Be Flexible.
1. Lap Infant?
Always check your specific airline’s policy, but as of the publication date many airlines allow children to ride free (while sitting on your lap, not in their own seat) before their 2nd birthday. If you’re a family on a budget, this helps cut down on vacation costs. Some airlines, like Jet Blue, also allow the child to bring 1 carry on like a diaper bag in addition to your carry on and personal item.
Chris and I took advantage of both of these policies on our recent cross country flight from Portland, Oregon to Boston, Massachusetts. Hannah was ticketed as a lap infant (free!) and we carried on two small suitcases, a backpack, a large purse, and a diaper bag with no additional luggage charges. However, this meant we lugged 5 bags and 1 sleepy toddler on and off a plane while onlookers just shook their heads and prayed that she wasn’t going to scream and that I wasn’t going to peg them in the head with a stray bag while navigating the skinny aisle way. We were flustered before the flight even started, but I’ve never been a ‘light packer’.
2. Give them the Time of Day
Since having Hannah, we’ve flown in the afternoon, at dinner time, and overnight - and they all pose different hurdles.
If your flight falls during nap time or bedtime, then you have to take sleeping rituals into account. Do you usually read them a story? Pray? Sing lullabies? Do they sleep with a special blanket or stuffed animal? Do they need a bottle of milk? To nurse? Pacifier or lovey? Preparing for these requests, and making sure that these items are packed in the personal item at your feet – NOT in the overhead compartment – will make things easier for you (and those around you).
If the flight falls during snack or meal time, plan ahead to either bring food that will get through security or allow yourself time to purchase food at the airport. Even if the flight Doesn’t fall during these times – I’ve yet to meet a toddler that will turn down goldfish crackers, even when in the foulest of moods.
If your child should be wide awake during some portion of the flight, make sure you pack something for them to do, like a toy to play with or crayons and paper. Test the toy out ahead of time and make sure that it is a ‘silent’ toy for the sake of those around you. While most parents have been inoculated against the random beeps and songs of baby toys, not everyone wants to listen to that when they’ve paid hundreds of dollars to fly. Just be courteous to those around you. You can’t control whether or not your baby will cry, but you can control how much noise their toys make.
3. Come Prepared
Hannah has been having some fairly epic meltdowns lately, and just in case she lost it on the flight I kept the other passengers in mind. Not only did I bring an arsenal of snacks – gold fish, trail mix, applesauce packs – and lug on her favorite fuzzy blanket, but I also put ~10 individually sealed packs of ear plugs in a sandwich bag in an easy to reach pocket of my diaper bag. (Ear plug are readily available at Home Depot or Lowes and you should use them anytime you use power tools for home renovation projects, so they’re not bad to have on hand.) Had Hannah thrown a tantrum or start crying uncontrollably, I would have quickly handed them out to those around me.
4. High Tech Entertainment
Worst comes to worst, nothing cures a cranky Hannah quite like an episode of Yo Gabba Gabba. I’m pretty sure Hannah would trade me in to go live with Foofa in a heartbeat. We have an iPad and downloaded a few episodes off iTunes before our trip. We also had an entire series of Backyardigans that really came in handy while driving to Boston from Upstate New York. If you’re going to go this route, make sure you bring appropriate headphones. If you’re going to wing it and hope that the in-flight entertainment will suffice (most airlines change their TV and movie selections monthly and have them listed on their website), then consider a headphone jack splitter and two sets of headphones so that both of you can enjoy the show.
5. High Pressure Situations
While in an airplane, the pressure changes significantly during takeoff and landing. When I was a kid I remember preparing my carry on before a big flight and getting to pick any flavor of bubbalicious chewing gum I wanted. As an adult, I STILL remember to pack a few sticks of gum to help my ears, but babies and toddlers do better if they’re nursing – either on breast or bottle. I dug out a small 4oz bottle and filled it with water after going through security for our most recent flight, but I’ve nursed Hannah on previous flights (before weaning) and she’s yet to have any flight related ear issues (Knock On Wood!). Take stock of how comfortable you’d be nursing your baby next to a stranger (and consider how they might react) and pack a cover or thin blanket if you feel like it’ll come in handy. No pressure! (Pun intended.)
6. Is there such a thing as a
Mommy Mile High Club?
Just like the seats, leg room, and in flight services, airline bathrooms seem to be shrinking by the minute. Between getting to the airport hours in advance, being one of the first to board the plane, drinking during takeoff, and sitting through a seemingly never ending flight, consider yourself lucky if you do not have to change a diaper while on board.
So do yourself a favor and make the inevitable diaper change as easy on yourself as possible. Put everything you’d need for the worst of the worst diaper change in a small easy to grab bag. Space will be at a premium, and you don’t need your ENTIRE diaper bag taking up precious room. You also don’t want to have to go BACK to your seat and grab a forgotten item, so take a minute and really think about this quick grab bag.
- A diaper is obvious.
- Plenty of wipes
- Diaper rash cream
- Extra pants or onesie depending on in-flight outfit
- A ziplock bag for soiled clothes?
- And if you’re going for bonus points – a pre-treating laundry stain pen to prevent set in stains.
7. Be Flexible
Kids can give our patience a run for its money in the most relaxed situations. Add a hundred strangers, confined space, and limited supplies (even with the extra diaper bag *wink*) and things can go south quickly.
But don’t worry Mama – You got this.
Just remember that the flight will eventually end, and you just have to keep it together for a little bit. Put it in comparison to all the hours you’ll spend parenting in your lifetime, and this flight is just a blip, so there’s no need to stress. Take advantage of what you DO have – a window shade that opens and closes, beautiful clouds or twinkling city lights to look at, an aisle way to strut up and down while the seat belt sign is off, a cell phone in airplane mode with lots of buttons to push, a sandwich bag full of ear plug party favors, and a ‘funny’ story to tell them when they’re all grown up.