Monday, August 4, 2014

a mother's guide to surviving the airport with an infant

We just returned from Florida for a relaxing 7-day vacation and I can safely say that traveling with an infant is...well, it's exhausting. 
"Relaxing" soon became "mommy needs an adult beverage. NOW." 

A mixture of strep throat, teething, sleeping in a pack 'n play and lots of baby spoiling turned my adoring child into a monster by the end of the trip. 

In hindsight, she wasn't really that bad, considering the listed factors, but by the end of the trip I was over it and ready to get home to our normal routine. 

My biggest concern going into this trip was the travel it required to get there. 
The center of disease and bitchy TSA agents. And lest I forget old, cranky passengers. 
"Excuse me, Miss Flight Attendant, can you bring me a barf bag so I can put it over this guy's head that's shooting daggers at me and my daughter?"

It really wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Addi was good about 98% of the time, but when she was screaming in those few short moments I had about 40 panic attacks at once. Because keeping an 8 month old entertained in a space the size of a lima bean can just isn't easy. It's physically and emotionally draining.

In the end, I got quite a few nice comments about how well-behaved she was, but let's face it that was just pure luck. My parenting skills don't really come into play when she's this young. I took their comments to heart anyway because sometimes you just need to feel good about yourself. You know, to counteract the assholes who like to point out your every flaw as a parent. 

So, as an added bonus, and on behalf of my first trip ever on an airplane with my child, I want to offer the smallest bits of advice I can. If it helps just one mom figure out what to pack and how to handle the situation, then I'll consider it a win.
What to pack:

If you're sailing off on your maiden voyage with your youngster, you're probably am I going to fit all of this crap into one tiny carry on?! The answer is: you're not. You're going to need a big-ass carry on to bring all of the junk it requires to keep an infant quiet for a couple of two-hour long flights. Just start off with the essentials and go from there.

-Birth certificate [if they're sitting in your lap and are under 2]
-Formula/Breast milk
-Baby food pouches. These things are amazeballs. I packed 3, just in case.
-100 extra pacifiers. Okay, 4 would probably do, but it's your call.
-Puffs or some kind of snack. This little trick kept her busy when nothing else would.
-Diapers, 6-8 depending on how old the child is
-Wipes, I recommend packing a brand new package just in case. You do NOT want to run out of wipes
-Burp Cloth
-At least 2 new toys that they've never played with or haven't played with for a while, or a board book.
-Ibuprofen for you & for them [as long as they're 6 mo.+ ]. She was still teething during this trip so I kept her on a every 6 hours regimen during the flight process [her ears are already bugging her with the teething so I knew they could potentially get worse during the flight]. I also brought teething tabs along just in case. And Tylenol. You can never be too prepared.
-Change of clothes for the kiddo, change of shirt for you. I put ours in big zip lock bags and pushed the air out of them so they took up minimal space.
-Antibacterial wipes - planes are freaking DISGUSTING. You'll want to wipe down every surface within arm's reach of your child. Believe me.
-Antibacterial hand sanitizer - the ones from Bath & Body work great and are super portable. Plus they smell delicious.
-Ipad or some form of digital entertainment [if you allow it]. Yes, I let my kid watch baby Einstein on my iPad. I'm not even sorry. This saved us during some seriously potential scream fests on our flights. Our fellow passengers weren't judging me for early screen time when it kept her [and mommy] from losing her shit. After the trip I kept the screen away from her for the most part because it was getting a bit out of hand, but on a plane you've got to break some rules and just go with the flow.

After packing the above-mentioned supplies, plus my camera [I wasn't going to check my super-expensive camera and leave it in the hands of the ever-vigilant airport baggage folk], I was left with a bag heavier than my child. But, to be honest, I didn't regret bringing one thing. I used pretty much all of it.

Getting through security
This is the part of traveling by air that really gets my goat. I mean, I get that everyone's really tense after the 9/11 thing [thanks a lot, Bin Laden.], but I don't think that gives TSA agents the right to be total dicks to everyone who goes through their security line. Leaving from KC, they were total jerks and NO ONE would help me. So I'm stuck getting our stroller, baby, big-ass carry on, shoes, and anything else that might piss them off onto this conveyor belt, meanwhile 40 passengers are tapping their shoeless feet behind me, waiting to get their stuff through. Thank God for the people I was traveling with. My mom took Addi and walked her through while I got all of our crap onto the belt. Here are the keys to surviving this process:

-Getting huffy with the asshat TSA agents does you no good. Believe me I tried. If anything, it fuels their hate-fire. Just get your shit on there, get through, and get out. If you're sweating by the end of it you're doing it right.
-If you put water in the baby bottle and the agents are wearing their particularly large ego-infested hats, they're going to want to check it for...actually, I don't know what they checked it for. Bomb juice? Whatever. Just let them do their thing, otherwise you'll probably end up getting detained and questioned for 12 hours.
-Wear flip flops or shoes that are easy to get on and off during security. This is kind of "air travel 101", but it's worth noting.
-Bring a buddy. Don't be a hero, mom. If you can avoid it at all costs please do. Don't travel alone with your child. I honestly don't know how people do it.
-Wear your baby. We brought a lightweight stroller to keep her in on our way to Orlando. This became even more of a pain in the arse because we had to get her out of it, then carry her through the security line and then put her back in it - it was a small nightmare. On the way back home we used the stroller as a luggage carrier and loaded it with our carry ons. I wore her through security and it was the most magical of experiences. They ushered me to the shortest security line, let me walk through the metal detector, swabbed my hands for more bomb juice and let me be on my merry way. You do NOT have to take your baby out of the carrier to go through security. I repeat: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO TAKE THEM OUT. It's on the TSA website, so if you get any lip from the agents just direct them there. [Note: You will have to take them out of the carrier for the flight, so be prepared for that.]
-If you had to take stuff out of your carry on, just throw it all back in there and neatly arrange it when you get seated and situated. No use irritating any more grumpy passengers.

Getting ready to board
If you're anything like me and are fearing for the worst on this flight, you're anxiety level at this point in the trip has probably topped out at "I'm dying from the excessive amount of adrenaline pumping through my veins right now." No worries, it will get worse once you actually get on the plane.
But focus. The important thing now is to prepare for the flight.

-Get a tag if you're gate-checking your stroller. Do this early. I would also recommend having it available at your next destination if you've got a layover. It's simple to wait for and it's great for either carrying your luggage or your baby. I also can't stress enough about how important it is to kill them with kindness. Just act like you're so friggin' happy to be traveling by air that you can't imagine doing anything else. This may or may not frighten them, but it will more than likely make them more willing to help you. And when you're traveling with a kid, you need all the help you can get.
-Make sure they know you are traveling with a lap infant. If you're extra with it, you've already done this by mailing in a copy of the child's birth certificate to the airline at least 2 weeks before the flight. But I didn't do that. And it was easy enough to just do it at the gate. They will print you out new boarding passes and you'll be good to go.
-If you need to change seats: My mom and I didn't have seats together on the flight home, so when we went to gate check and take care of the lap infant thing, I asked in the sweetest voice I could muster "could you check to see if there are seats available for us to sit together?" Not only did he get us seated together, he got us some rockin' seats on both legs of our trip. The first leg was behind first class so we had ample leg room [score!] and the second leg, we had an extra seat between us [double score!]. Again, kindness is key.
-Make a bottle (or prepare to nurse on flight). And go over the top with it. Our formula lasts two hours refrigerated from the time you mix it with water. Buy a ridiculously overpriced bottle of water from the vendors inside the gate and keep the excess in your bag. You might need it again. Addi's drinking around 4 ounces at each formula feeding right now [since we started solids she's cut back], so I made 8 ounces to have a little bit of extra. Obviously this does not apply if you're pumping & giving breast milk. I know that shiz is more valuable than gold, so use your own discretion.
-Organize your bag. Make sure everything is going to be where you need it. Give them medicine if you need to. Do whatever you can before the flight, because once you board that aircraft your home is about 1 cubic foot of space for the next two hours.
-Change the diaper. Even if it's only a little wet, change it anyway. Even if you just changed it an hour ago, CHANGE IT ANYWAY. You want to avoid the possibility of blow outs or having to change them in that pathetic excuse for a lavatory.

If you're flying Southwest, hopefully you checked in the MINUTE you were able to [24 hours in advance] otherwise you're going to be boarding with the dogs in crates [aka - the end of the line]. Check in as early as possible to ensure good seats. By this I mean seats near the front of the plane, preferably with the people you're traveling with. The good news is people don't want to sit by babies, so they'll avoid your row until the plane fills up and there are no other options. If you're flying every other airline, you'll have assigned seats so you won't have to flip out about what group you're boarding with. When you get on the plane:

-Get everything you'll need immediately out of your bag and put it in the seat pocket. I got her bottle, lovey, extra paci's and the iPad. Also, I wiped down everything I could with antibacterial wipes. Basically, just get everything you'll need to avoid a tantrum. This is futile during take-off and landing because that's when their ears hurt the most.
-Put your bag underneath the seat in front of you. Hopefully it fits. If not, put it in the overhead bin and pray you won't need one of the 40 toys you brought.
-Take some pictures of their first flight before the potential scream-fest that's about to ensue.
-Buckle up. Shit's about to get real.

Take-off, landing and everything in between
-I'm sure you've heard this one a million times, but always give them a bottle or pacifier during take-off and landing. It's hard on their ears and they don't know how to pop them like adults do. The sucking motion helps their ears pop. Plus, it might put them to sleep which would be a major bonus:
I win all the things.
-Do whatever you can to keep them busy or entertained. For Addi, naps are a completely necessary part of her day. If she doesn't get naps in it's a miserable day for everyone involved. You can try to schedule the flights around naps but it's not a guarantee. She was really tired on our second leg during the trip to Orlando but she just wouldn't fall asleep. So I was doing everything in my power to keep her from screaming. Finally on the descent [while I was feeding her a bottle], she fell asleep and proceeded to sleep through the airport on my shoulder while we waited for our luggage. She slept through the entire first leg so I had it pretty easy.
-Make buddies with the passengers around you. Some of them won't want anything to do with you, but others are more than happy to try to entertain your kid, too. It helps pass the time. Luckily we weren't surrounded by any rude people who didn't want to sit by a baby [it helped that we were flying to/from Orlando and kids were just a part of the experience], but it's still a possibility. Let them talk and play with your little one. They are your ally. They will help you pick up toys that land in the aisle and sympathize when your kid lets out a shrill scream. If they do those things, they're good people. They realize how stressed you are and don't want to make you feel worse by giving you dirty looks.

Overall our first experience on a flight with Addi went much better than expected. Was it a lot of work? Hell yes. I needed a 12 hour nap when we got to our final destination. But we had a blast and that's all that matters. Most importantly, I survived the ordeal mostly unscathed.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thoughts? Love to hear 'em.