Baby Jetsetter: Flying the Friendly Skies

Kim HeadshotBy Kim, The New Mom

Pregnancy had a way of sending my vacation dreams to a screeching halt. After all, Zika is practically EVERYWHERE I want to be. This left us having a 2017 mini-cation at a mountain resort not too far away, in Western Maryland. It was lovely, but not representative of our usual travels. So once Nathan arrived, we geared up our travel plans. In this family, we travel – and we were going to make every effort to stay true to ourselves, even with our baby in tow.

St. Louis first for a conference, then Miami to visit friends, then Seattle to visit my dad for Thanksgiving, then to the Caribbean for Nathan’s first birthday. We celebrated and said “yes, back in the swing of things” without fully realizing how STRESSFUL it is to travel with a baby. As someone with a pre-existing touch of travel anxiety, I found myself going halfway crazy leading up to our first trip, trying to figure out what to pack for Nathan. What if he has a blowout (or three)? What if he spits up on me? How many backup outfits do I need? Should I pack diapers and wipes, or buy that when I get there? How the heck does this stroller even fit into this gate check bag? Do I need to take his real birth certificate with me to the airport, or do they just want a copy? Are there changing tables in airplane bathrooms? Are his ears going to pop on the airplane and make him scream the whole way? How to deal with ground transportation and the carseat? I was so worked up I almost cancelled the conference in St.Louis. But I didn’t. I took a deep breath and started making lists, googling grocery and convenience stores walking distance from the hotel, bought 2 extra pacifiers, did a test run with the gate check bags (and learned how to remove a wheel from the stroller) and otherwise attempted to pack every possible scenario into a bag weighing under 50 pounds.

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After the planning and packing frenzy I found myself at BWI with my mom and my 3 month old boarding our plane. This was it. The moment of truth. And as we started our slow ascent, I looked down to find that my son was knocked out asleep. He didn’t make a peep the whole way! So much worry for nothing! Now, this is not to trivialize the annoyance of having to lug a LOT of gear through the airport – but overall things were a hundred times smoother than I would have expected. So much so, that three months later when we were heading to Miami I casually told my husband, “listen, he is going to sleep the whole way, it will be fine on the plane”. WRONG! In a mere three months, Nathan went from a peaceful plane sleeper to using us as his human jungle gym in the sky. We hadn’t really considered how his newfound mobility and motor skills would change the flying experience. We spent about 70% of the ride trying to get him to sit still (note: once your baby can pull up, or crawl, or cruise, the LAST thing they want to do is sit still….ever). When we weren’t engaging in a near wrestle match, Nathan was smiling and actively seeking the attention of every flight attendant that passed us by. Somewhere in the last 40 minutes of the flight he finally decided to take a snooze. We did the same.

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Thinking that we had learned from our Miami experience and preparing for a long flight from DC to Seattle, we got proactive and did the unthinkable – we got a tablet. Yes, yes, I know all the screentime warnings and cautionary tales, but warnings can take a pause for this 6 hour flight. This time the focus was less on what to pack and more on how to navigate 6 hours in the air with Nathan as he blazed towards full walking. This would undoubtedly be another wrestling match unless we could keep his interest and attention, or get him to sleep. Plan #1 – book an evening flight. With a 5pm departure we hoped that maybe only 2 of the 6 hours would be spent trying to contain him and that he would fall asleep around 7pm. Plan #2 – snacks, tablet, books, and toys. I specifically downloaded a couple of kiddie Netflix shows and a few Baby First apps to the tablet.

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Again, we found ourselves on a full flight but felt confident in our strategies. Similar to the last flight, Nathan was excited and wound up. He wanted to stick his hands between the seats to touch the people sitting in front of us, and he wanted to stand on our laps to smile and capture the affection of the people sitting behind us. After entertaining the shenanigans for a little while I pulled out the tablet only to discover that when you download a show from Netflix, its only accessible for 24 hours. TWENTY FOUR HOURS??? I had been strategizing for weeks! The episodes of Word Party and PJ Masks were long expired and any hope of him sitting still for more than 15 seconds was fleeting. We played with a few of the apps and tried our best to get him to play with his other toys but nothing was more interesting to him than the dozens of new faces on the plane. His normal bedtime came and left and he was STILL going. When we landed in Seattle at 8pm, we were reminded that this was really like 11pm and Nathan had not slept on the flight AT ALL. My husband and I declared the ordeal a complete disaster.

By the time we picked up our rental car and got to our hotel, he was completely passed out and slept until 6am the next morning. As we woke up the next morning, I had an epiphany. He’s on west coast time! We just knew that we would spend our holiday coordinating naps at odd hours due to the time difference from east coast to west coast – but now everything was fine. Maybe the 6 hour circus show on the airplane worked out for us in some small way. Maybe this was the silver lining?

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As I think back on all of it now, the chaos of traveling with little ones is very real. But the true silver lining is being able to share really fun experiences and make memories worth capturing. We did a lot of that on all three trips, standing under the arch in St.Louis, his first trip to the beach in Miami and getting to meet his godsister Cati, and of course fun times with his granddad in Seattle.  As stressful as it can be, I know its all worth it, and something tells me that the fun is just beginning.

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