That is pretty much what every person was thinking as they stared me down at the airport while I wheeled E around in her stroller. Behind their polite smiles and their, “Oh, he’s so cute,” (no, that is not a typo. I can’t tell you how many people said HE to the child dressed in ALL PINK. Seriously, people?) they were all thinking, “Crap, I hope I’m not stuck next to her.” How do I know they were thinking that? Because I used to think it. Every time I saw a child that had to be held by their parent to board the plane I thought, “I’m totally going to get stuck next to them…” But now I am that parent. I felt like I was a zoo attraction. I just wanted to scream out, “YES I HAVE A BABY AND IF YOU’RE NOT CAREFUL I WILL MAKE HER CRAP HER PANTS!”
You know what made things worse? Like everything else I have been doing/am going to do for this deployment, I was by myself. There is nothing like traveling with an infant by yourself. Its an…experience. So in light of my recent travels alone, I’m made a list of things that might help you if you have to travel alone with your baby. Or your husband. Usually they are one in the same.
1. Be wary of your choice in airline. Obviously all experiences may vary but here are the pros and cons of the airlines I have used:
- Southwest Airlines: You’d think that the whole “choose your own seat option” would suck with a baby but honestly, its quite awesome. You get to board between the first two boarding groups so you can choose your seat before most of the people board. If you choose Southwest, you can pay an extra $10 each way to board with the first group so you have better options instead of waiting to go in the second group. And guess what? Since you have a baby, NOBODY wants to sit next to you so the likelihood of having an open seat next to you is pretty great. People will skip past you to find a seat without a cranky, pooping baby next to them. Also, the flight attendants are super nice. They offered to hold E while I got settled and while I went to the bathroom, brought my stroller down to the gate and back up, and the captain of our flight held her while I got the stroller set back up when we landed. Also, Southwest gives you 2 free checked bags! Sweet! But make sure you have proof of age for your lap child (birth certificate or shot record)- they are pretty strict about it.
- American Airlines: J and I traveled together with E on American when she was about 2 months old. Honestly, we didn’t like this airline before we had E and we really don’t like it now. Their customer service is less than impressive and they don’t really go out of their way to help you. They have told us that because we’re military we get our bags for free, but then when we get to the terminal to check in they tell us its only with Orders. And then other times they give it to us. Currently, however, they are the cheapest airline for pets in cargo but I can’t say they are the best because I have no experience with other airlines for this. They certainly aren’t accommodating to people flying with small children either: as of June 2011, they established a rule that strollers carried to the gate must be less than 20lbs. Very few strollers meet this criteria, and those that do aren’t usually recommended for children under 6 months because they can not recline fully (they told me only umbrella strollers are allowed, which oftentimes don’t recline all the way). I called American to discuss this with them and they said that if you didn’t have a stroller that meets their criteria that you have to carry your child. Awesome. Because every parent, especially those of us traveling alone, really looks forward to carrying our baby through the airport and possibly during layovers along with all our baggage. You guys are awesome ::enter sarcasm here::
- Virgin America: Although we have yet to fly with E on this airline, we LOVE it. They are awesome. When we were dating and in a long distance relationship (I think our whole relationship has been long distance. Thanks USMC), it was our go-to airline. Their seats are super comfy (leather and BIG), they have a TV in the back of every headrest and you can watch tv, play games and chat with other people on the plane, listen to music, order drinks and food…its amazing. Most of their flights have Wifi now too, but its kind of expensive from $4.95 for flights 1.5 hours or less, to $17.95 for flights 3 hours or more. Nonetheless, their crew is so super nice and I’ve never had an issue with customer service. They give military up to 3 free bags, no questions asked. Oh, and lots of celebrities take VA- I saw Kim and Kourtney Kardashian on a flight once! We are now besties.
2. Choose an AISLE seat in THE FRONT. Most people choose the back with kids but a crying baby is more annoying in the back of the plane because the sound travels forward. Also, if you’re on Southwest and choose your own seat, people will be more likely to bypass you in the front to see if there are empty seats a little further back- empty seats sans baby. Aisle seats are great if you need to get up quick to walk the baby around, diaper changes (you stand in the aisle and use the seat as a changing table), and general entertainment for the little one (i.e., people watching). Also, if you’re holding your munchkin for naps, his or her feet can go into the aisle so they aren’t kicking the person next to you.
3. When they offer you a drink (or if they do), ask for a cup with a lid like they give kids. This helps to prevent spills from crazy hands (you know, the baby’s hands- not yours. Unless you’re drunk. Which you might be, given that you are flying with a baby).
4. If you have an itty-bitty baby, get a Snap n Go. Given that some airlines (achem, American) are giant a-holes about strollers, use a Snap n Go. All it is a little frame that you sit your infant carseat right into. This way you don’t have to take your big stroller and you have your carseat for when you land. We used it the first time we flew with E and it worked out great. Sidenote: If you choose Southwest, ask if the flight is full. If its not, they will allow you to bring your carseat on the plane so that ensures you to have the seat right next to you open and gives you a place to put munchkin pants while you sip/gulp down that Jack&Coke.
5. Bring a bag for your carseat and/or stroller especially if you are checking it in at the terminal. Sometimes airlines will give you plastic bags to put them in, but its likely that it will still get damaged because the baggage people could give a rat’s behind about being gentle with your luggage, including baby products. I got a cheap-ish one from Amazon that is more heavy duty in case I needed to check at the terminal, but they also sell these at Babies R Us or Amazon if you want something for your gate checked items too.
6. Have entertainment and snacks handy. Make sure you put toys and snacks (and maybe some diapers and wipes) in a bag small enough to put under your seat. This way if you can’t get up for whatever reason, you have something right there to keep baby occupied. Heck, download some shows, books, and/or games on your phone or tablet (iPad, Kindle, etc) for in a pinch, too!
7. Get a pacifier clip if you use pacifiers. This way when baby spits out his or her mute button, it doesn’t go flying down the dirty aisle 12 seats behind you and you have to ask some stranger if you can reach in between their legs to get it. Awk-ward.
8. Don’t be afraid to ask the crew to hold the baby while you pee. Seriously, where are they going to go? YOU ARE ON A PLANE and there are approximately 300 potential witnesses. Don’t hold it (meaning your pee), just go.
9. Have a baby carrier. E doesn’t really like her baby carrier for that long, but if you’re traveling by yourself its a God-send when going through security because you can strap the baby to you and then close up the stroller, take off your shoes, take off your belt, take off your sweater, take out your laptop, take out your liquids, and put everything on the belt with both hands. TSA will wipe your hands with a little wipie to test for bomb residue (you know, in case the living child on your chest is actually a bomb. Well, it kind of is but it explodes poop. Which can be deadly.). And if you have liquids like breastmilk or formula, the 3oz rule doesn’t apply to you- they will just put it in some machine that juggles the bottle around to make sure its not dangerous.
10. If you have a layover, find a USO. Oh my God, these places are amazing. They give you free food and drinks, a comfy place to lounge, TV to watch, internet to surf, and toys for the kids to play. I’ve been to two different ones and they are a lifesaver. It makes the layover so much easier and more comfortable.
11.THE HAIL MARY OF FLYING WITH A BABY-Nurse, pacify, feed a bottle- whatever you can do to make them suck on something- when you are taking off and landing, or there is a change in air pressure. Landing seems to be the big one though. This helps for their ears not to hurt when with the pressure changes. And although you’ll be tempted, don’t fill the bottle or dip the paci in your Jack&Coke. You will be frowned upon.
By the time E is one, she have flown on at least 14 flights. 10 of them I will have done on my own. 4 of 10 those trips are across the country. Its do-able. You will survive, the baby will survive, and so will the rest of the passengers. You will get to your destination and then you will be in for a whole other set of issues such as sleeping (or not) in new places, stranger anxiety, and major clingy-ness (more on that later). And then you’ll get home and you’ll have the same things to deal with but this time on your own turf. Sweet.
I hope my little long list of travel tips help you when you fly with your poopy pants. And by that I mean the baby. If you have poopy pants, please change them before you get on the flight. Your neighbors in the air will thank you.
**Note: My opinions of the airlines are mine and mine alone. I was not compensated or paid by any of the above mentioned airlines in any way for my opinions. Except maybe for American because I gave them such rave reviews ::sarcasm, lawyers, sarcasm::