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The Truth About Airports, Airplanes and Babies

Baby on mother's lap on airplaneIt’s July and all across the county, people everywhere are embarking on vacation! That feeling of excitement, awaking early to catch that flight, the anticipation of travel. Yeah, well, you can add that to the ever-growing list of things that have changed since you’ve become a mom.

Unfortunately, when you’re flying with an infant or small child, way too much of the “adventure” happens in getting to your destination. Nowadays when you take to the air, the skies are not so friendly, no one wants to sit near you, and to be honest, it’s not always what you would call a vacation. You can read all the travel guides; scroll the best parenting websites for how to have the perfect flight. Light incense, cross your fingers, pray – whatever gets you through – but no matter how you slice it, air travel is one of the crosses that moms get to bear. So, let’s chat about what it’s really like . . . and offer a few tips for flying with a baby. Here’s the truth about airports, airplanes and babies.

1) From the moment you walk into the boarding area with your little love, you are persona non grata or as the Latin translation goes, “an unwelcome person.” While this may not be fair, it’s true and back in the day when you were hip and cool (and childfree) you didn’t want to sit next to the mom with kids either. So as persona non grata, you have a few options:

• Be ingratiatingly sweet and polite. Yes, this may seem like overkill, but in this situation, you really do want to kill them with kindness. Apologize even if there’s nothing you can do. Smile – a lot! Do not assume that you have some extra rights or privileges because you’re traveling with a baby. People will respond better, and who knows, you may even attract the sympathy of another mom.

• Don’t assume your seatmate wants to help. You had better believe the businessperson next to you does not care where you dropped the Binky or the Paci and he’s really not interested in holding Junior while you search. On that note, no one will appreciate it — or you — if you try to change your baby in your seat or on the tray table. No matter how cute your baby is, that is uncool.

The Flight Attendants are your best friends! Seriously, be nice to them from the very start because life will be much more pleasant with them in your corner. That might be the person who offers to hold your child while you run to the restroom or who helps you open up your airline pretzels or gets the movie started on your iPad.

Bribery will get you everywhere! One mom once told me she carries chocolates and mints to give to her seatmates – and not just the cheap ones but good stuff like Altoids, Tic Tacs and Ghirardelli’s! I thought that was brilliant and yes, I have been known to buy my fellow passenger a cocktail for being a trooper and bearing with my family.
The bottom line is that yes, you paid for your seat so you and your baby have just as much right to be there as anyone else on that flight. But, when it comes to flying with babies, your principles may not get you as far as a little bit of false bravado – and a big smile.

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2) Toys are key! And, no this isn’t necessarily about bringing the knickknacks and gadgets that will enhance your baby’s mind and expand their sensory experience. It’s about what will get you all through the flight with the least amount of movement, the smallest amount of noise and as much of your sanity that you can keep intact. These are the best travel toys for babies. So if your Burberry scarf is the key, you may want to let Junior play with it. If your toddler is fascinated with Daddy’s iPad, just thank goodness for Apple. So, what are the best travel toys for babies? Small and soft is always a good thing. New is great, so think about buying a bagful of “surprises” that your child hasn’t seen yet. Bring multiple things as you may lose half of them before you even board and a few are sure to go rolling to the rows behind you (no, don’t try to go after them). One mom I knew would make a Goody Bag for her toddler, including a whole array of little things so just going through them all occupied the child for 30 minutes. Arts and crafts supplies – depending on your child’s age – can be great, including Play-doh, dry erase markers and crayons. Please, please do not bring indelible or permanent anything or the passengers next to you just may mutiny. Magnets are awesome so look for some games, puzzles or just tins with which your child can play. Plush animals and blankies are always good because your little one can not only play but also cuddle. Headphones are a plus as your child – even your baby – may listen to music or watch a video and if this can happen silently, kudos for you! And while the American Academy of Pediatrics definitely advises against screen time for babies and toddlers, unless they’re traveling on your flight with you, now would be the time to let it go.

3) Keep everyone fed and watered. Snacks and liquids are critical for an essential flight. When it comes to these as well as diapers, pack enough for 1-2 days; you just never know what may happen and more is definitely better. Be sure to read up on TSA security guidelines so you know what to bring through the checkpoints and how to bring it. Don’t be THAT mom tossing perfectly good formula into the trash because you forgot your quart-sized Ziploc baggies. And for goodness sake, please don’t be afraid to go off your normal schedule when you’re traveling. Babies and toddlers should always be drinking or sucking on something during taxi and takeoff, and if your child has a few too many puffs or Goldfish in the course of a day, everyone will survive.

4) Airplanes, as well as airports, can be somewhat gross, if for no other reason than the fact that thousands of people go through them every day. If your child can so much as sit up, she will try to reach and touch everything she possibly can. As hard as you try to keep your precious little ones in a clean, healthy environment at home, all bets are off once you enter an airport or board a plane. Your little bundle of joy is going to touch the tray table, the armrest, the air mall magazine that 8000 other passengers have touched this month. As you’re waiting to board, your baby wants to crawl around on that lovely carpet that may not have been shampooed since – well, ever. That chair that your child is eating Cheerios off just supported an overweight businessman who had a bad taco experience for lunch. And let’s not even start on the bathrooms. Yes, those cramped little bathrooms where your child in the stroller can reach wall to wall — everything from the sanitary napkin disposal bag to the toilet seat, and then lick his fingers all while you’re trying to have one last tinkle. The best you can do is come prepared with baby wipes and some hand sanitizer. Wash hands as often as the opportunity presents itself. Remember that exposure to germs builds up immunity, thank your lucky stars your baby is up-to-date on immunizations – and well, try not to throw up in your mouth. Because those moments might come.

Do you know why we hug our family members when we arrive? Not just because we’re happy to see them but because we have survived! I often like to think that the sailor who kissed the dry land when he finally reached the shore had been traveling with an infant. It’s no walk in the park, not for the faint of heart and if you do it a lot, you’re bound to end up with a family memory or two that may have made you cry then but will be the source of many laughs down the road.
So, here’s to a summer of happy times and mildly successful travel. The skies may be a little less friendly with all those families up there, but hey – at least it’s never boring!

Happy Parenting!