Air Travel With An Eleven-Month Old

My Father-in-Law has been mercilessly teased for the past 30 years for something he said to my Husband when he was a little boy.

Chris asked his Father if he had a fun vacation?

Father’s response?  “I made two crucial mistakes on this trip.  I brought the wife and kids.”

I used to howl with laughter at that comment but with Mac’s arrival, I wondered if I should heed Father-in-Law’s warning?

We put it to the test late last week.  We got on a plane and visited friends in Florida for 5 days.

It was awesome.  I’m not drunk.  I promise.  Everything honestly went pretty smoothly.

This was our first trip on an airplane and I’ve lived to tell about it.  Here’s what I’ve learned:

1.  Careful preparation is absolutely necessary.  I didn’t want to pay for extra heavy bags.  I didn’t want an unexpected meltdown because Nandy Bear was stuffed in a checked bag in error.  I left nothing to chance.  I made a packing list broken down by each piece of luggage.  I started packing the day before.  Everything that went in the bag was checked off the list.  The list came with us and when it was time to pack up for home, we followed the same checklist.

2.  Pack as Little As Possible.  We got through a five-day vacation with my large purse, a large backpack (both came on the plane with us).  One large suitcase, a toiletries (small duffel) bag, and a car seat (all checked).  The less you have to drag through the airport the better.  Better for your back and your sanity.

3.  Wear your kid in the airport.  Before we left for the airport, I tied on the Sleepy Wrap.  As soon as we got to the airport, I put Mac in the wrap.  I carried Mac and my purse.  Chris  put the toiletries duffel on top of the wheeled suitcase, wore the back pack,  and carried the car seat in the other hand.  I watched parents with strollers.  It looked like a lot of effort to get those suckers packed up and ready for a gate-check.

I know I was lucky to be traveling with a companion, but even if I were alone, I would have worn Mac through the airport.  I could have still managed the backpack and purse to the plane by myself.  I’m not certain I would have enjoyed having him  and a back pack strapped to me trying to watch my purse, and collapse a stroller for gate check.

4.  DO NOT pull out all the stops the minute you get on the plane.  We had two secret weapons for the plane:  a cookie and a few little educational cartoon apps on our phones if it really started to hit the fan.  They were our last resort.  We tried every other option for amusement and soothing before busting out our cheap tricks.  On the way home, we needed them.  

The key is to show the kid the stuff a few times before you go but do not allow them to have it routinely.  This way, it’s novel and fun and interesting.  Also?  We didn’t want to pay for wi-fi on the plane, so make sure if you are using apps as amusement, they don’t need an internet connection to work.  Fisher Price makes a couple of cute, short, educational ones. Plus they are FREE.

5.  An aisle seat is a God-send.  Even though Mac was well-behaved on the plane, he still squirmed and stretched and did all those other things a small child is expected to do.  He sat in the aisle seat on my lap for half the trip, Chris sat in the middle seat.  Half-way through the flight Chris and I switched seats with Mac remaining in the aisle seat.  There’s just the slightest bit more breathing room with the aisle right there.

6.  BE GRACIOUS and FLEXIBLE.  Honestly, traveling doesn’t allow you much control.  You can only control how you react to what’s happening.  Being kind, and gracious, and flexible endears you to the flight attendants and fellow travelers.  Being relaxed and flexible really does make things go more smoothly.  After Mac kicked the living shit out of the poor man’s seat in front of us for the last 30 minutes of our return flight, we made sure to apologize and thank him for his patience after we got off the plane.  Had he been having a cocktail, I probably would have purchased it as thanks.  Especially if it was a longer flight.

7.  Consider purchasing a seat for the adorable little monster.  Young kids can sit on their parents’ laps.  However, the airline industry reminds us that the safest way to fly with a little one is to install their child safety seat in the airplane.  Should you choose to purchase a seat, they offer reduced fares for small children.

This time, we did not purchase a seat.  We figured he would never tolerate being in the seat with us right beside him.  However, we also worried about how much of a beating our infant safety seat would take as checked baggage.

Since Mac was nearly ready for a larger safety seat, we purchased a new car seat and installed it in our car.  We took the infant seat and base with us.  The new seat stayed safe in our car at the airport, and the seat he has nearly out-grown, was used for the trip. The infant seat is essentially garbage at this point and we do not have to worry about how badly it was knocked around.  (I will of course, recycle it or whatever it is you do with seats that have possibly suffered a collision).

However, next trip, we will likely purchase a seat for Mac and install his safety seat on the plane.  He’ll be older and probably need to be ummmm strapped down.

8.  Look for a Sucker.  If you are really worried your child will be disruptive on a flight, start stereotyping (in a favorable way) people before you board the plane.  While I was walking around the gate with Mac, I was watching for individuals who kept looking at him and smiling.  I was looking for older women or men who perhaps have grandchildren themselves.  I was watching for those that seemed to react favorably to children.  I was attempting to avoid folks that looked as if they were traveling for business – for their sake and ours.

9.  If you are wearing the kid onto the plane, don’t count on wearing him during the flight.  On our outbound flight, I walked onto the plane with Mac in the Sleepy Wrap and he remained in the wrap for at least half the flight.  On our flight home, the flight attendant informed me he couldn’t be in the wrap during take-off or landing.  Once I took him out of the wrap, that was it, he wanted no part of going back in it.  I guess it all depends on the flight attendants and the airline.  The Sleepy Wrap was awesome on the outbound flight though, Mac was contained and happy and I was very comfortable seated with him in the wrap.  The flight home was much more effing squirmy.

10.  What’s with the ears?  My ears have never bothered me on an airplane.  I find more discomfort in my stomach flipping around when the plane banks left or right after taxi than I do in my ears.  However, Chris has had a few bad flight experiences with his ears.  So when he asked me how I was going to make sure Mac’s ears properly popped and were comfortable on the plane, I was dumbfounded.

And we all know when I’m dumbfounded I pour wine and Google.  Jesus, don’t Google this subject.  I had no way of deciphering what was good info or bad.  Mac didn’t have an ear issue as best as we could tell.  I think if your baby is healthy, without congestion or ear infections when he gets on the plane, it shouldn’t be an issue.  However, if you have concerns, call your doctor.  Don’t waste your time on the Internet or money purchasing lollipops or other junk to remedy ear pressure concerns.

Have you been ballsy/smart/stupid/needy enough to take your 2 and unders on an airplane?  Older children?  What have you learned?  I would love to hear your tricks and tips. . .

Who am I kidding?  Mostly, I’d love to hear your amusing/horror stories!  Please comment!

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15 thoughts on “Air Travel With An Eleven-Month Old

  1. I found travel a LOT easier before A was walking, and while she was still nursing. Like you, I would frequently use the Moby Wrap in the airport, and by the time we got on the plane, she’d be so exhausted, she’d just nurse herself to sleep. Now that she’s so much more mobile and down to one short nap, I’m not really sure what I’m going to do to entertain her. I did pick up a couple of Sesame Street coloring books in the dollar rack at Target yesterday, since they seemed like good airplane material. Ugh, I can only imagine the horrors!

    – Evanthia

  2. My husband brought my son to Italy when he was 4 months old…we thought that was stressful because my son was sausaged in the “roomy” bassinet aboard the plane. When we returned home he was 7 months…now that was stressful! We alternated between sitting down, walking him up and down the aisle…I don’t know how we did it for 10 hours!!!! This summer we are going back to Italy and he will be 16 months (then 18 when we return!) I’m VERY worried because he does NOT sit still!! I like the idea of using the apps as a last resort…however, even those wont keep him still for longer than 5minutes!!! Everyone says to “medicate” him but it’s not my thing!!!

    • I would not “medicate” my child either. And I agree, apps are a short term solution. I wish I had some magic to offer. I will say I think it is absolutely fan-fricking-tastic that you do travel with your little one. Many folks would be intimidated. I love how you and your husband are undaunted in your travel even with a young child. Would you please keep us posted? Please? And share pics from Italy?!

      Anyone have comments/tips for an extended international flight with small children?

      • Thanks! I think it’s so important to go on with “every day” life and not be “hindered” (as many people say!) by your children. They are so resilient and adaptable-more than we expect! I’ll definitely be posting about my time in Italy this summer…you can follow me at http://www.bitesforbabies.com.

  3. Here’s my tip: choose a flight time that is really early or really late. It’s not my time of day to travel, but if it makes them sleep for most of the flight, I’m game. If it’s early, we put them to bed a couple of hours later than usual and wake them up a couple of hours earlier. They are more cranky in the airport, but once the plane gets going, they are down for the count. My kids are in the horror movie screaming stage, so I’m sure all of the other passengers appreciate their sleeping too.

    • I hear you! That is invaluable info. On the flight out, we went early. That was a huge help because little guy was definitely still sleepy. I hate to take an early flight on the way home because you almost lose a day of vacation, prepping for the return. I was afraid to wait too late in the day for fear the kid would be all kinds of cranked up so I split the difference and aimed for a flight that happened during his typical afternoon nap. He didn’t nap. If I had it to do over, I’d prob stay an extra day, and get an early flight as he seems most docile and exhausted in the wee hours of the morning. I’ve heard a few nightmares about red-eye flights where the child doesn’t sleep at all. It seems like a super smart idea to try to time flights.

  4. Really good post and advice. My wife wants us to take our kids (4, 4, 3) to Disney and I keep balking because of the flight. BTW, I travel every week, so your comment about thanking the person in front of you was priceless. As a father of young kids, I am very tolerant and understand the challenges parents face (and would be one of those people you stereotype since I tend to smile and such at the kids). However, what I do not like is the parents who either 1) do not try anything to keep their kids attention or b) say a small thanks if their child has been kicking, pulling seats etc. So great advice – loved it!

    • Thanks! It sounds like you have a great amount of experience (as a traveler and Dad!) and I’m glad you thought this info was useful.

      I do not blame you for hesitating to take so many young children on a plane. I guess if you are a passenger on a flight to Orlando, you should expect the flight to have children on it. Do you “threaten” your kids with Santa, the Easter Bunny or other magical beings that only bring presents to good children? Perhaps you could do the same with Mickey Mouse? 🙂

  5. Oh yeah, I have pulled the Santa threat out. I can’t tell you how many times I would pick up the phone and tell them I was calling Santa and telling him that he shouldn’t come to our house because they were being bad. They would yell, “Nooooo we’ll be good”. Is April too early to start that again?

    • Ha! That certainly solves the problem of taking your kids on one doesn’t it?! I also wanted to let you know we are in love with coconut oil! I smell like a pina colada. It’s glorious. I can’t wait to try out your suggestion to whip it so it has more of a lotion consistency.

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