When my husband and I met, it was love at first flight.
Well, not really, but our common passion for travel certainly sped things along toward the road of holy matrimony. What could possibly be better than jaunting off at a moment's notice, except to have that special someone to accompany you along the way? So when this duo made it official in the fall of 2009, we couldn't wait to embark on our next great adventure. In the fall of 2010, our next great adventure arrived: our son Bennett. We were thrilled to be parents, but we were determined not to let it slow us down. One trip through airport security with our three-month-old provided a rude reminder that these unencumbered adventurers were now officially encumbered.
With a healthy dose of realism and an equal measure of patience, we discovered that though travel with a baby does present its fair share of challenges, it is possible and dare I say, enjoyable. With a few tips and tricks, traveling with an infant can be pain-free.
Before You Fly
Call the airline and ensure that they know that you have an infant in arms; that is any child under the age of two that will sit in your lap. You will only be charged taxes and fees for your child, but you will be allowed two extra carry-on items. In addition, you can gate-check your car seat and stroller if you choose. However, if your flight is not very full, you may be able to arrange it so that you are sitting in a row with an empty seat and you can place your child in his or her car seat next to you. Keep in mind you can choose your seats online in advance or at the airport during check-in.
If traveling overseas or a long haul flight, check with your airline to see if they have baby bassinets. These are located in the bulkhead and are usually blocked until 24-48 hours before flights. Call your airline and find out their policy on obtaining these bassinets. Some require you to call in advance, others require you to get to the airport early and inquire upon check-in. These are fantastic, especially for overnight flights. Some airlines even offer baby food on flights, so make sure to check before you fly.
Around the Airport
Get there early to check-in to ensure plenty of time to get everyone through security and onboard. Ticket and gate agents tend to be more understanding and accommodating when they are not trying to check-in people that are arriving at the last minute.
When going through airport security, the most challenging aspect is the amount of baggage you have. For our family of three, we usually have two back-packs, a computer case, a purse, a diaper bag, a car seat and a stroller. Throw in the removal of shoes, belts, loose change and zip-lock baggies with liquids and our trip through TSA begins to resemble a rummage sale. Less is definitely better, so try to travel with only what you absolutely need and place non-essential items in checked baggage. If you can get away with it, try combining the diaper bag and your carry-on. If traveling as a family, go ahead and bring along your car seat and stroller. That way, your spouse can hold the baby as you collapse the stroller. Both car seat and stroller must go through the x-ray belt with wheels up. If traveling alone with an infant, consider forgoing the stroller and car seat and opt for a baby carrier such as Baby Bjorn or Moby Wrap, as security agents do not always require you to remove the baby, especially if your little one has fallen asleep.
Make sure and arrive at the gate early, because most airlines allow families traveling with small children to board first. This is extremely helpful and can provide you with the opportunity to acquire ample space in the overhead compartments before anyone else boards. Also, this will give you the opportunity to ask the flight attendants for wings for your baby's first flight.
In the Air
If at all possible, schedule your flight times around the time your child is due to eat. I recommend breast/bottle feeding during your ascent and descent. The act of continual swallowing will prevent your little one from getting a build-up of pressure in their ears. If they won't eat, try using a pacifier to help relieve the pressure.
Like adults, babies get bored. Bring a few no-fail toys that your child loves to cuddle or play with. Also, use your technology to their advantage. If you have an iPod or iPad, download songs or programs that your child enjoys. Also, try getting up and moving around. Your baby will love seeing all the faces of the other passengers and walking is beneficial to you for preventing deep vein thrombosis.
All in all, we are not as footloose and fancy-free as we used to be. Gone are the days that we enter the expert traveler line at airport security, instead opting for the less glamorous families line. And yes, I have been known to change a diaper on my seat on a train in Italy, instead of enjoying the scenery. But we love our tiny traveler, whose first words just might be "Ciao Bella!" And even though it has most definitely slowed us down, especially getting on trains and busses, it certainly hasn't stopped us.
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