Monday, April 16, 2012

Flying with the boy

Earlier this month I took Kaelen, who had just hit 3 months old, from Seattle to Boston by myself.  With a plane change each direction ranging from 45-60 mins.  And with cloth diapers.  It was a spur-of-the-moment decision based on the fact that my grandparents are in their 80s, Kaelen is their first great-grandson, flights were quite cheap, and I was still on maternity leave.  Gene's and my trip last summer brought my New England family and me much, much closer together and it was an honor to share our little boy with them. 

Kaelen's first airplane

The stars were aligned, and so I blindly jumped at the chance to spend 12 hours alone each way for door-to-door travel with a little baby. 

(screeching tire sounds)  Say what now?  Am I a crazy glutton for punishment?  Travel with an infant, cross-country, alone, with a flight change, and using cloth diapers. 

Full disclosure: we did have some problems but they were relatively minor.  Kaelen fussed a little as we descended into Boston.  I could see his eyes open wide and feel his little body go rigid as we landed, and I knew it was because his ears were popping.  Mine were, too. 

After we finally got to my aunt and uncle's house, Kaelen freaked the eff out.  And I do mean wake-the-entire-household-up screaming fit that lasted 30 minutes.  I felt awful because it was 1:30 a.m. and my cousin is a baker who has to leave the house by 3 a.m. to get to her job at an amazing bakery in Cambridge.  Not to mention my aunt and uncle who also get up at the buttcrack of dawn to start their jobs.  Hush, hush, baby!

After he relaxed a little I tried to put him down only to get his epic pouty mouth and signature lip quiver that happens microseconds prior to an ear-splitting eruption.  I was certain I was going to be forced to sleep in my travel clothes with him in my arms because I couldn't open a suitcase one-handed while holding a scared baby in the other.  He eventually allowed me to put him down long enough to change.  I let him sleep with me that night as reassurance that he was OK as long as I was there.

The start of our 6-hour snuggle fest

All in all, I had planned really carefully and the flights each way did go smoothly.  Hey, I'm a Virgo.  We're anal-retentive avid planners.

Here are my tips for taking an infant on a flight:
  • Preload bottles with formula but not water (unless BFing, which is awesome but since my boobs went on strike so it's formula for us).  Take way more than you think you'll need because if you're delayed you won't be able to buy more easily.
  • Slip-on shoes and pull-on pants for you are a must.
  • Use a front-carrier for baby, & a backpack (forget a diaper bag) for baby's stuff.  You'll feel like a pack mule but your hands will be free.
  • Take easy-to-eat, non-messy food for yourself on the plane: crackers, cold cuts, cheese, pre-cut apples, nuts, grapes, yogurt-covered pretzels, etc.
  • Be sure to have something for baby to suck on during take-off & landing: bottle, finger, pacifier, toy, anything.  Keep encouraging them to suck, even if they're sleepy.  Don't chew gum & only clear your own ears when you see baby sucking so that you can gauge what's going on with theirs.
  • As you board, ask flight attendants which lavatory has a changing table and let them know if you need water for bottles.  Based on my experience, they won't offer any info or aid unless you ask.  In fact, the post-flight survey Delta sent me got a diatribe about the lack of any courtesy shown to a mom who was clearly travelling alone with an infant.
  • If you can, keep baby in the carrier for the entire flight, including take-off & landing.  My air crews never challenged me on this but it *is* against airline policy.  You'll be sweaty by the time you reach your destination but you won't have to jostle your little one around.
  • I bought a kindle on craigslist for the trip.  It was lightweight and gave me something to read that I could quickly put down & pick up one-handed when my baby didn't need my attention.
  • Don't be afraid to seek out the family bathrooms in the airports.  They're roomy & quite clean.
Kaelen didn't need a toy in-flight b/c he was too little for them.  He slept most of the way and only cried a little when I had to wake him to change his diaper.

Did I mention I used cloth diapers the entire trip, including the flights?  I felt like such a mommy rock star for having managed it successfully.
Waiting to board at Logan Int'l

The flights weren't comfortable but they were manageable.  I had enough space to rock and comfort Kaelen when he needed it, to read when he slept, to relax when I needed it, and to eat a healthy snack when I got hungry.

Having grown up on separate coasts, I'd never seen my family - grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins - with babies.  On the way to the airport I looked into the backseat and saw something I'd never seen before.  It's a sight that is forever carved into my memory.

It was my gramp, aged 89, holding hands with my son, aged 3 months.


  1. I hate to tell you, but that's the easiest trip you'll take with Kaelen for several years at least. (When we flew with Hayden at age 7-8 weeks -- direct flights SEA-ORL -- I nursed him up and down when I could, and that seemed to take care of his ear-popping issues. He's a sucking MACHINE, though.) That Seattle Mama Doc blog has some great advice for flying with a toddler, which is (IMHO) MUCH harder.

  2. I love the photo with your gramp in it. It speaks so much of family and the best things about being human. Thank you. (I ended up here after reading a Australian parenting forum that referenced pioneer woman. The World moves in mysterious ways.)