Flying With a Baby
I researched flying with a baby a few months ago and enjoyed reading the stories of other parents’ experiences. So I decided to write my story about my first experience flying with a baby.
In August of last year I had to decide if I my baby and me were going to the Philippines with my husband and 10 other people in December. Part of my concern was traveling with a 7 month old. I researched flying with an infant and spoke to many parents. They all agreed that this would be a great time to travel with Ace, because she would not be crawling yet. So we bought the tickets and in December we left to travel to the other side of the world.
Getting through security would have been a bigger challenge if I had to do it by myself. Luckily my husband was with me to help Ace and I get through the lines. Between the three of us we had five items: a car seat, a car seat frame stroller, a diaper bag, my backpack, and Daniel’s bag with a laptop computer. Almost each time we had to put everything through the security ex-ray machine, including breaking down the stroller. In addition, we had to take off all our shoes, even Ace’s little knock-off Robeez. The first time we went through the line my husband thought he lost his mobile phone. He found his phone, but we agreed to get through the line slower next time and not care about the people behind us. Going slow through the line may not have made the people behind us very happy, but we were much more relaxed and less stressed.
In the Los Angeles airport there was a special line for strollers and wheelchairs. We zipped right through the line while we waited over thirty minutes for our friends to get through the regular security line. In the Hong Kong airport before Daniel and I went through the security line a nice security man with clean white gloves held up his hands and asked for my baby. I handed him my baby thinking, he just wanted to see her. Then, on the other side of security we saw three security personnel crowded around my baby trying to get her to smile. They had sat her sitting up in her car seat. I wasn’t sure what to think about all of it, I was tired and just glad that my baby was okay after passing her off to a security guard.
Finally On The Plane
My husband, baby, and I did not always have our three seats assigned together. Imagine if I had left my baby in the row behind me next to two unassuming passengers! Every time we would not completely settle into our seats until we made sure that the seat next to us was empty or until after we asked someone to exchange seats with us. Everyone we asked politely obliged to move seats even though they did not have to.
Having a stroller and a baby lets you get on the plane first, but sitting on the tarmac is one of the worst parts of the trip. I waited to nurse my baby until after take off to help her ear pressure, but if your baby is already crying of hunger while waiting for take off, what do you do? I went ahead and fed her. We entertained her the best we could with toys, kisses, and smiles.
The Great Car Seat/ Buckle/ Lap Debate
There are many opinions about the safety of infants on airlines. The Consumerist posted a scathing commentary on his experience with his car seat in Business First Class on Cathay Pacific Airlines. The Jet Lag blog on the New York Times exclaimed how unsafe it is for infants to sit in their parents lap. There is a new safety harness that just got FAA approved. We decided to purchase an additional airline seat and use our car seat, because the duration of the flights were long.
We had no problem using our car seat on American Airlines, but there was some confusion on Cathay Pacific. They made us buckle in our rear-facing car seat facing forward. One time they made us stow the car seat. On another leg three Cathay Pacific flight attendants debated how to install the car seat for almost ten minutes. Every time we complied with their requests.
Cathay Pacific also made us use child lap seatbelts when she was sitting in our laps. The seatbelt loops around mine and then connects another loop around my daughter’s waist. I loosely put it on her just to comply, but I didn’t really use it. She kept slipping out of the seatbelt every time she moved.
I honestly did not have any problems with holding Ace in my lap on take off and landing. My pediatrician told me to nurse Ace during take off. I asked her about the car seat and she said it didn’t really matter. So I didn’t worry it and Ace liked the comfort of being in our laps. She would have been screaming in her car seat anyway.
In The Air
So what is it really like with a 7 month old on a plane? Depends on the length of the flight. Short flights are a piece of cake. Our 15-hour and 12-hour flights were not fun. We have learned our lesson – don’t start 40 hours of traveling already exhausted. We are not super humans! We had stayed up until 3 a.m. packing the night before having to be at the airport at 9:30 a.m. Caring for an infant on a plane requires energy and every brain cell you have.
Many people told me that their child slept right through it, just like they were in their car. I was not so lucky. I learned that my child was going to sleep whenever she darn well felt like it. No amount of lying down, coddling, rocking, walking up and down the aisles, or breastfeeding was going to help. It was so hard to get her to sleep. Finally, I let her nurse as long as she wanted, even though she wasn’t really eating. She finally fell asleep nursing and we quickly placed her in her car seat and she slept for five hours. She woke up crying and a little later she slept for two hours on Grandpa’s shoulder. So she slept for a total of 7 hours on a 15 hour flight. She was awake for over 8 hours on the very packed and crowded flight.
We did not use the bassinet on the first long flight, because every time we hit turbulence we would have to take her out. They were button happy with that dinging seatbelt light. Even though I tried to stay hydrated I was out of milk by the end of the flight. I couldn’t get her to nurse. They tell you to nurse upon ascending and descending, but what do you do if your baby doesn’t want to nurse? I gave her a pacifier, but she stuck her thumb in it and chewed on it.
By the end of our last lag Daniel and I were very upset that nothing we could do could comfort her in any way. That is hard on a parent. We were physically and emotionally drained. I like to let Ace cry it out every once in a while, but that is hard to do when 400 other passengers are sleeping in their contorted forms. Adding the pressure of trying to keep your baby quiet is draining. On the way back, I didn’t care so much about what other passengers thought. Babies cry. That is just what they do.
The journey back home was better. We were rested and the flights were shorter. We used the bassinet, because there was not as much turbulence. The seatbelt light came on a few times, but we waited until an airline attendant would come and tell us that we had to take her out. Luckily they were busy passing out drinks and didn’t make it to us before they turned off the seatbelt light.
The hardest part of traveling with an infant is that you can’t sit back, relax, and watch the movie of your choice on the personal monitor in front of you. You can’t just sit there and peacefully read your book. I brought three books that I never read. You are constantly caring for a child, even when they are asleep. You don’t get a break. The breaks from your baby that your spouse gives you don’t help much, because you can still hear her crying in the back of the plane.
Flying with Ace was exhausting, but one of my biggest accomplishments of the trip. It was hard, but do-able. I made it. We all survived and made it to our beds.
- Always travel with a partner when flying with an infant.
- Start the trip as well rested as you can. Don’t stay up until 3 a.m. the night before.
- Stay hydrated.
- The extra seat is nice.
- Call ahead and get the bulkhead seat. Use the bassinet.
- Don’t care about what the people around you think. Most of them slept right through Ace’s fussiness anyway.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you have done everything you can and still your baby is not comforted. You are not a bad parent.