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Friendly skies - Flying with a baby

Airlines and babies

Traveling with an infant can be tough! Seattle Expert Marianne Hales Harding offers some tips.
A crying baby and icy stares
I never expected to be standing barefoot in the middle of a busy airport while the contents of my carry on flew down the conveyor belt, my eight-week-old daughter was crying at the top of her lungs, and a line of frustrated travelers backed up behind me at the security area. Traveling with an infant, I learned, was harder than I thought!

We arrived at the gate a mere eight minutes before the flight was scheduled to depart, even though we had arrived at the airport over an hour early. We were the last passengers to board, and as we made our grand entrance I could feel the icy stares of a packed plane where everybody was thinking the same thing-"Oh no. A baby." By the end of the day, though, my fellow passengers were cheering. My little traveler and I did pretty well.

Check in
The key to traveling with an infant is to be prepared and to allow yourself plenty of time. This begins with your arrival time. We had allowed ourselves more than the recommended hour, but we got into trouble when we couldn't check our bags at the curb.

Even though you can check your car seat along with your two bags for no additional charge, you can't check it at the curb because they can only print two tags. If you have any additional items to check, you have to wait in the long line indoors. Do yourself a favor and arrive twice as early as you think you should. With air travel nowadays, there are always unexpected delays and, with an infant, one delay could make or break the whole trip.

Security
First things first: Be sure to have a pocket in your shirt, pants or skirt that you can reach easily -- even when holding your baby! When you get to the airport, tuck your ID in there -- you will probably be asked for it several times before you take your seat on the plane.

If you are traveling alone, be sure you can take the baby in and out of your frontpack without assistance. You will have to put any frontpack you may be using through the X-Ray machine and anyone who came to see you off will not be able to help you on the other side of the security check point.

You may want to wear small-framed shoes; the bulky heel of my clogs were what caused them to have to be run through the X-Ray machine. Otherwise, plan to take off your shoes and put them in the plastic container even before they ask. You will also need to put your jacket, sweater or any other bulky items of clothing into a plastic bin for X-raying. If you are bringing a laptop, you will have to take it out of the case before you go through security. (You may also need to turn it on -- but only if asked.)

Plan ahead for delays. Having extra time at security will also cut down on your stress level. The security guards were very helpful until they were finished scanning me and my stuff. At the other end of the conveyor belt I was on my own to put back together my carry on, unfold my stroller, and put my baby back in the frontpack. This was all do-able, but if the thought of missing my plane wasn't looming large on the horizon, I wouldn't have cried all the way from security to the plane.

Boarding
There has never been a nicer policy than the policy of pre-boarding people traveling with children. With all the hassles of traveling with children, at least you don't have to fight for space in the overhead compartment. We were able to pre-board with our connecting flight and things got off on a much better foot.

The only struggle was the carry-on bags. Since we were going to be gone for two months I had checked two rather large bags and packed two large backpacks as our carry on bags. One bag contained my laptop and two months worth of my medication. The other bag contained my purse and the diaper bag. I tried to pack everything the baby might need in a day (three outfits, three blankets, 12 diapers, four burp cloths etc.). In reality, we only needed a couple of diapers, the wipes, and a burp cloth, but you never know. It could have been an explosive poo day. I'm sure I was a humorous sight with my stroller full of carry on bags and my baby in a frontpack.

Looking back, I probably wouldn't have packed my diaper bag so heavily. Of course that would have ensured that it would have been an explosive poo day. Remember when you pack your carry on, though, that you will have to lug it around all day. A fellow passenger will probably be kind enough to carry it onto the plane for you, but no one is going to walk you to your connecting flight.

In flight
Your first line of defense against a fussy baby is food. The first thing I did after settling into my seat was to feed the baby. This helped ease her through the pressure change (the swallowing helped her "pop" her ears) and put her on the fast track to naptime. The frontpack was very helpful here too since we both could take a nap once she was secured.

You don't have to buy a ticket for a child under two, but airlines do offer half price tickets for your toddler or infant. I experienced it both ways. On my first flight they were kind enough to move me to a seat in an empty row. This proved to be invaluable when she needed a diaper change mid-flight. It was wonderful, also, to have the extra room.

On the second flight I was sandwiched between two very understanding grandmothers. They helped me in and out of the frontpack and didn't seem to mind the occasional fussiness, but it was still pretty tight.

After all, the seats in economy aren't big enough for one person, let alone two. Even with this experience, though, I can't quite bring myself to spend the extra money to buy the baby a ticket for the return flight. I'm hoping for another flight with at least one extra seat.

When we finally landed and met my husband at baggage claim, I was never so happy to see someone in my whole life. In addition to finally seeing someone I missed tremendously, I also knew that when I saw him I would have finished running the gauntlet and survived.

Ideally, the next time I travel with an infant I will pack lighter and bring along another adult. But if that doesn't work out, I know I can do it on my own.

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