We boarded a plane and flew across the western United States this past week. I hadn't flown since before the pandemic. My four-year-old enthusiastically yelling, "mom, we are flying, look, look, we are flying," during takeoff reminded everyone how amazing the modern world is. How fun it is to be out in the world and connect. Flying is not without excitement at any age, especially when you forget about the change in air pressure and open a bottle of milk for your infant because they are crying. That milk bottle has just reached 32,000 feet and is firmer than you remember, so when you pop the top and geyser-like explosion rockets at the quiet man sitting in 19D, you find yourself paralyzed. He also appears frozen, to turn to stone as, like a perfectly illustrated Tom and Jerry cartoon, he is sprayed full in the face. The front of the plane is unaware of the excitement, while the back twenty rows jump as if a gun has gone off. Confusion continues as you crawl down the aisle, apologizing and mopping with wet wipes and heart-stopping embarrassment in an attempt to clean up the incident. You keep your head down, knowing you will be sitting with these people for the next three hours to San Diego, and you won't have any milk to soothe your very temperamental 18-month-old as the 12 oz you had such great forethought to bring aboard are still dripping from 19Ds face. Not that that happened to me. If that specific incident occurred on a flight, you were on. It definitely wasn't me…
If possible, it is wise to wait to travel with a child until they are a few months of age. Especially now in the world of Covid 19, we are aware of how germs can be circulated in airports and on planes, so it's worth it to wait if you can. Exposure aside, 32000 feet up in a confined space means parenting has varying degrees of difficulty. Depending on your child, the physical closeness and relative sole focus of the experience can be exactly what they like, and if it's a short flight, you may be in for some sweet comments from strangers and a bit of a sweaty cuddle with your little one. But we all know even the most amiable child can have a bad day. If it is a long flight, there is nothing more uncomfortable as a parent than when you can't console your little one. We as a society tend to reinforce to parents that we don't like flying with their upset children, and it can be a very anxious and embarrassing position to be in if you are doing what you can and still your baby is struggling.
The comforting news is that on most flights, several people feel for you and your child and if you can let their kind looks reassure you that this is a part of life and you shouldn't be confined to home just because you are a parent of a young child. There are also many tips and tricks for getting through a rough flight with a baby. I knew a mother who passed out foam earplugs at the beginning of the flight. Everyone enjoyed the laugh.
When preparing for your flight, you can assess whether you will need a seat for your child. If it is a very long flight and you can afford the ticket, it can be nice to carry on a car seat and have a place to put the baby when they are sleeping. Lap infants fly free, so don't let your pocketbook be the deterrent if you are looking for a getaway. A lap infant is a child under the age of two, and though they don't require a seat or a fare, they do need a ticket, so remember to add the child to your reservation when you book and bring proof of age and guardianship. We have done both, and we were glad for every minute of personal space on the former and grateful for the additional funds on the latter, so it is about what works for you. Until they are two, that is, then they are a full fare.
Before heading to the airport, read through the airline's car seat and strollers policy and consider gate checking so you have access during layovers or delays. There is nothing like saving your back during a long layover and letting the baby nap while pushing them around the airport terminal.
Once on the plane, time your baby's feedings for takeoff and landing. The act of swallowing will help their ears pressurize and keep them calm and distracted while you cannot stand up. My daughters always liked making me pace back and forth up the aisle, and the meal helped me get through until the fasten seatbelt sign turned off. Which reminds me, get an aisle seat. Towards the back of the plane so you can stand and bounce by the bathroom instead of right next to someone's head. Location location location.
I like to pack some snacks and a few compact toys for distractions so I can have a moment here and there but don't expect to settle into your novel on this flight. Baby is going to need your total attention. But, on the other hand, it is a nice chance to have some face time with your child, you aren't going anywhere, and neither are they, so get some real snuggles in and enjoy that tiny human.
Whatever you do to get through your flight, remember that having a child isn't a sentence to house arrest. They are a member of your family, and your family still gets to take vacations, attend family weddings, jet off to an island during the holidays, or maybe fly to grandma's house because she makes the good cookies, and things have been a bit routine at home. Pack a change of clothes for the baby (and one for yourself) in your carry-on and hope for the best.