Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Traveling with Baby - Airplane Mode

I wasn't planning on flying with my son during his first year of life. I wanted to avoid flying for several reasons:

1. Safety
2. Illness exposure
3. Stress (flying stresses me out!)

My family recently traveled for a funeral. We attended because of this wonderful man, my son's great-grandfather:

Henry Raymond and Great-Grandpa Ray
Here are my Top 3 Airplane Travel Tips!

1. Excess baggage is, well, excess baggage. Evaluate carefully what you need for each trip. Remember you have to transport everything you bring to and through the airport (unless you check items at the counter).

If your baby likes the carseat and you will need a carseat at your destination, consider buying an extra seat for baby to be in the carseat on the plane. This is the safest way for baby to fly. A friend of mine also recently brought this Airplane Harness to my attention, this seems a safer option as well, it allows you to thread your seat belt through a vest for baby without incurring the extra cost of an additional seat. See my "Packing Observations" below for notes about strollers.

2. Bring a dry, tired, and hungry baby onto the plane. Easier said than done, I know. But ideally, immediately after takeoff (once the plane has leveled), you want to feed baby (breast or bottle) and then you want baby to take a nap. If baby will take a pacifier, offer one during take off and landing as sucking helps the ears to pop. See my "Airplane Observations" below.

3. Bring something for baby to do. Unless very young, I recommend some type of toy which lights up and is interactive. We brought this Light up and spin toy which did not suction cup the best to the tray table, but we made it work. This is one of my son's loudest toys at home, even on the low setting, and we could barely hear the music over the noise of the plane. My husband also downloaded a Fisher Price app for his phone with barnyard animals. We don't do screen time at home, but if there ever was a situation for an exception...an airplane is it! If you are on a large plane and there isn't much turbulence, you should be able to walk around a fussy baby if you absolutely need to. The plane we was on barely had enough clearance for walking so we did not attempt it.

Packing Observations

Here's my packing list for Henry. I ended up inputting it into the Reminders app on my phone so I could check off the items and reuse it again later. Plus my husband and I already use family sharing for a bunch of Reminders lists and it is the way he prefers to keep organized.

Since we were flying, I laid out everything for Henry, my husband, and myself on my bed and then I packed. We ended up taking: a diaper bag, one large duffle bag (carry on), and one small duffle bag (carry on). Three bags for 2 people and a baby, I thought I did great! 

I did not find I was missing anything during our trip! We ended up having too many diapers...but Henry wears the Honest Co diapers during the day and they are packed so tightly that 1 unopened pack of 29 diapers took up less room than around 18 loose diapers so I elected to err on the side of having extra. He wears Pampers Baby Dry at night. 

We were worried about the Baby Food pouches. I wanted to bring enough for the whole weekend. I thought since they were sealed (plus don't require refrigeration) they were a better idea for travel than homemade food. However, the pouches exceed the # of ounces allowed in the liquids rule. 

TSA says, "You may also bring gel or liquid-filled teethers, canned, jarred and processed baby food in carry-on baggage. These items may be subject to additional screening."

Here's the Link to TSA - Traveling with Children. I put all the pouches in a gallon size zip lock and the rep just looked at them and passed us through.

We went back and forth on bringing a stroller. We really just needed one for the day of the funeral, I thought Henry would be able to take a nap during the morning service if we had a good stroller. American airlines has very strict allowances for gate checking strollers. Both our Bob single jogger and our Chicco stroller were larger than allowed. Tip - Allowances vary by airline, check your specific carrier.

So I asked my friends on FB for their stroller experiences and my cousin usefully commented that she had a stroller she could bring for me to use for the day! Tip - Consider sources of supplies at your destination! We elected to bring only a small umbrella stroller which was really only useful in the airport for feeding solids at the gate. But here are the tips I received:

We've flown with our BOB a couple times. It was never a problem. I would recommend a big strap to hold it in the folded position while they handle it.

Have gate checked our chicco many many times without problems

We checked our baby jogger before and it was good. Maybe the rules changed though. Good luck flying. I'm sure he'll do great.

I've found it cheaper and easier just to buy an inexpensive umbrella stroller when I get to my destination... car seat too.

Sounds like you've got a plan, but for the future....they are often rough on things that are gate checked and our strollers and car seats never looked the same after traveling. We used the click stroller with carseat (since we needed the car seat anyway) for as long as possible on airplanes since it was our cheapest option. If we were traveling with our bob, I'd likely invest in a good cover/carrier to protect it (or strap like someone else suggested).

We brought our Chicco stroller last year to Disneyland and had no problem!

Breakfast at the Gate

Airport Observations

I've noticed for years, parents with small children getting special treatment at airports. They traveled to the front of the security line and they boarded the plane early. Those days seem to be past, the system now favors people who "luckily" have the TSA pre-check designation on their boarding pass or those people who pay for the privilege.

The only airline which flew non-stop was American and being short notice, we paid greatly for that non-stop privilege. I called to book the flight over the phone and discovered American offers no bereavement discounts. The man who booked the ticket for me knew I was traveling with an infant for a funeral and still...no TSA pre-check on my boarding pass. My mother has flown no fewer than 4 times in the past year and every single time she magically gets the TSA pre-check designation. Whether it's her age that affords her this privilege or her very Christian first name and very Polish last name, she's going to the short line and I am not.

At my local airport, there is still a "cut" line for people who need assistance (babies and wheelchairs). It was blocked off when we arrived and the line was very long, but a nice man who worked there let us in so we could skip to the front. TIP - When traveling with a baby, feel free to ask airport personnel for assistance. Try to look extra tired and be very polite and grateful if they assist you.

On the way home, it was TSA pre-check or nothing so I waited with my 20 pound baby strapped to my chest through the regular security line. (He had fallen asleep in the carrier during the walk from the rental car return, otherwise, I would have tried to put him in the stroller for the line wait or asked my husband to hold him.) I had my husband take off my shoes while we were in line...hey they needed to be off once we finally got to the front anyway. 

Boarding for people who need assistance (again, babies and wheelchairs) was with zone one. Everyone with some type of "special" status or who paid for the privilege got on first.

Airplane Observations

The changing table in the airplane bathroom is not a changing table. It is a shelf that folds down over the toilet. If your baby is over 4-6 months, this table is going to be too short to change on. I flew on a small plane both ways, but the plane there was much newer and had a slightly larger bathroom. I think if absolutely necessary I could have managed to change my baby in there, placing the diaper bag at my feet (gross!). The plane back, there was barely room to turn around in the bathroom, the floor space was probably a 12 inch square, and changing would have been extremely dangerous if not impossible. 

The best seat for breast-feeding is the window. My flight there luckily coincided with my son's morning feeding and I delayed his feeding for the return flight to feed once in the air. My son has not taken a pacifier since around 5 months and although I brought a bottle to put a little water in for him to suck if needed, I preferred to just feed him. My son isn't used to being fed in public, so he does not like to have a cover over him. Instead of bringing a breast-feeding cover, I just brought a large swaddling blanket. I love these Swaddle Blankets which are thin and roll up pretty small. I unfolded the blanket and threw it over my head so it draped around me and my son, keeping the blanket off his face and allowing him to see me. This was hot! But he eats in around 10 minutes max and being uncomfortable is part of motherhood.

The noise and vibration of the plane is similar to a car for putting baby to sleep. If baby is a little tired he will be out like a light!

Rental Car and Rental Car Seat Observations

We rented a mid-size SUV and an infant car seat from Hertz. We had flown into a small airport, so no trouble getting the car. The car seat and base were packaged in a plastic bag. The whole thing weighed maybe 5 pounds. My son has a Chicco Keyfit (nothing fancy!) infant car seat at home which weighs around 20 pounds (car seat + base). The rental car seat (all 5 pounds of it) must have met some minimum safety standard at some point in the past. It was a Britax, they currently sell the B-Safe 35, and this was not the seat we were provided. It must have been some older, discontinued model, or perhaps one designed specifically for mass use and easy cleaning. It did not even have the waist belt, just the shoulder harness. The base was secured with the backseat seat belt by my husband after some difficulty. We were driving roughly 5 minutes to our hotel and 15 minutes to the funeral the following day, no highway travel. If the situation had been different, I'm not sure what I would have done, but we decided to accept the seat and I rode in the back with my son. TIP - If renting a car seat, call and ask for the model information when making your reservation.

Hotel Observations

If you like to stay up later than baby, a suite is your best friend. Something like Homewood Suites (Hilton) or Residence Inn (Marriott) will have one or two bedroom suites where the bedroom is closed off from a sitting and kitchen area. We shared a two bedroom suite with my brother and sister-in-law who were also in town for the funeral. The hotel provided a pack n play with mattress (rather than a crib). To conserve space in our room, we placed the pack n play halfway in the closet. These were tiring days and my son went to sleep with no difficulty. He even slept in a little, I think partly due to the blackout curtains in the hotel room!

Hotel Room - You can see the top of the pack n play in the closet past the bed.
Ellie the Elephant made the trip with us.


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