Lori Savery was anxious before her first flight with her then-eight-month-old son, Spencer. “I had no idea how I was going to do it solo,” she says. The mom from Halfway Brook, NS, worried that Spencer would cry inconsolably and that she’d have trouble getting his formula warmed up during their trip from Halifax to Ottawa.
We asked the experts—experienced parents and flight attendants—for a few ways to make flying with your baby more bearable.
Strategic scheduling You know your infant’s sleep schedule (and crankiest hours) best, so try to work with it. Nikki Tews, a mom in Sherwood Park, Alta., took three relatively stress-free flights with her daughter, Hazel, during her first year, always booking them for the early morning, when Hazel would normally be asleep. “At three months, she slept the whole way to Palm Springs in her baby carrier,” says Tews. When Hazel was older, around 12 months, Tews made sure to book flights with stopovers, so they could walk around together and stretch their legs before getting back on the plane.
What to carry on Many airlines allow parents to bring umbrella strollers through security. You can use the stroller up until boarding, then it’s gate-checked during the flight and will be waiting for you as soon as you deplane. Younger babies may do well in a front carrier, too. Pack lightly, but wisely, when it comes to a carry-on: diapers, burp cloths, a pacifier or lovey, snacks and water, a change of clothes for the baby and an extra shirt for yourself.
Choose the right seats Parents flying together should book the window and aisle seats, and hope that no one books the middle one. (Many passengers will happily switch if needed.) WestJet flight attendant Leigh-Anne Peterson says solo parents should choose an aisle seat. “If you’re on your own, pick the aisle, so you’re not crawling over strangers. If you’re travelling as a family, your baby is probably more comfortable in a window seat where she can look in and out, and you can nurse in privacy if you want.” Most flight attendants will try to give parents an extra seat, even if you haven’t paid for it (provided the flight isn’t full). Don’t be afraid to ask about moving to an empty row.
Ask for help Karris Wiber, a flight attendant with Porter Airlines, advises parents to strike up conversations with staff and take advantage of the pre-boarding option. “Getting on last minimizes time on the plane, but it’s actually better for you to get settled early and have an opportunity to chat with us,” says Wiber. She adds that attendants won’t mind warming up a bottle, providing an extra bag for dirty diapers, putting the changing table down for you or holding your baby while you go to the washroom alone.
Coping with ear pain In Wiber’s experience, infants rarely have issues with cabin pressure changes during takeoff; it’s always on landing. Try feeding or using a pacifier or teething toy during the descent. Anything that encourages a sucking or chewing action will help clear the pressure in your baby’s ears.
Dealing with stink eye Don’t let passengers irritated by sharing their flight with an infant get to you, says Peterson. “Some travellers get pretty wound up, but babies are babies and they’re going to cry—it’s just part of life. If the parent is relaxed and calm, the baby is more likely to be calm, too.”
Parent tip If you’re flying internationally, check with your airline to see if they offer in-flight bassinets that attach to the bulkhead. (British Airways has them, as does Virgin Atlantic and Emirates, to name a few.) Make sure to reserve ahead of time (there’s no extra charge), along with a nearby seat for yourself. If you’re lucky, your infant will be able to sleep in the bassinet and you can enjoy the flight with your hands free.
Fortunately, Savery’s flight went smoother than she expected. “I was given an empty seat next to me to spread out on, and it helped that Spencer wasn’t mobile yet,” she says. She also dressed him in a T-shirt that said, “Pooping in Progress,” which seemed to break the ice with airport security staff and everyone else they met along the way. “It ended up being a positive experience that really boosted my confidence as a parent.”
This article appeared in our April 2014 issue with the headline “Babes on a plane,” p. 50.
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