Monday, 18 May 2015

Flying with an infant

Babe #2 is still incubating in my (surprisingly gigantic) belly, but when a good friend asked for advice on travelling with an infant, I realized I didn’t have any posts about this. So, while it’s been more than 3 years since I flew around Australia and across the Pacific with Ryder as a tiny babe, I’ll do my best here to provide some useful (read: quite possibly bad) advice.

Packing your suitcase
As you know from being at home, babies are insanely messy. They are constantly peeing and pooping and puking on themselves and you. While it’s tempting to just bring enough clothes so that you won’t have to do laundry while away, this may result in a ridiculously large and/or extremely smelly suitcase partway into your trip. It’s a good idea, therefore, to pack a bit of laundry detergent that you know the child is not allergic to so you can hand-wash some of the really bad stuff in the evenings or, if needed, visit a Laundromat.

In addition to clothes, don’t forget some of the essentials you find yourself using around the house: barf rags, extra pacifiers, a few (like 2) special toys/books if they are of-that-age. Other stuff that may come in handy and is a pain to acquire on the road: thermometer, baby medicines of various sorts, bathing liquids/lotion/etc., baby bug repellant and/or sunscreen (or, if they are too little for these things, then something to keep biting bugs and excess sun off them if you are planning to be outdoors). A few small blankets of various weights are also handy.
It's pretty convenient when they can't go anywhere themselves

Packing for the plane
On the plane, you will need all the usual diaper-bag stuff: diapers (bring more than you think you’ll need), wipes, butt cream, pacifier, extra clothes for the baby (and a waterproof bag for the dirty ones), barf rag, and hand sanitizer for changes in places without hand-washing facilities. It’s definitely possible to travel with cloth diapers – you just need to be sure you have enough dirty-diaper storage capacity to get between convenient washing locations (for instance, the plane is not a convenient place to wash and dry nappies). However, I admit that most of our travel – aside from long trips to our relative’s houses or short weekend trips – was completed using disposables.

Note: airline employees and fellow passengers do not enjoy it when you change your baby at your seat, even if it’s just a pee diaper. There are pull-down tables in at least one bathroom on every plane (that I’ve been on) for this purpose.

In addition to these typical baby-clean-up items, you should also pack a change of clothes for yourself. It is super unpleasant to fly halfway across the ocean after being voluminously puked on and having nothing to change into.

Also, bring some sort of blanket/swaddler, and a carrier – a sling, wrap, ergo, whatever you like. Note that it’s inconsistent how airport security and airlines behave when it comes to carriers: in some cases you can wear the baby through security but get some extra patting-down and explosive-hand-swabbing-tests done, and in other cases they make you take the kid out and awkwardly put the carrier through the x-ray machine and then somehow get the kid back into the carrier on the other side without putting him on the floor in the interim (I guess it helps if you are travelling with a partner). Similarly, some airlines will let you wear the baby on the plane in your seat, and others will make you take them out and hold them (I’ve been told this is because they want to be able to easily get the baby off the plane if there is a crash and you are incapacitated. My thought is that the baby would probably be in better shape for survival during a crash in a carrier, but some airlines think otherwise…also note it’s not a good idea to argue about this with the airline people, as they do have the authority to judge you hostile and kick you off the plane). 
Don't forget to take differences in weather into account. Sydney to San Francisco in December? Thank goodness for clever grandparents showering warm clothing upon the babe.

Other accouterment
Things you should not attempt to bring on a trip:
            -Baby bathtub
            -Breastfeeding pillow
            -Baby towels
            -A bunch of toys
            -A behemoth stroller, if you can help it
            -Baby bed, unless it’s collapsible
            -A travel crib
            -Baby swing
            -Other large and bulky items

That said, when we went to the US for over a month when Ryder was 6 weeks old, we brought: a collapsible bassinet, a bouncy chair (that came apart), carseat, and relatively small collapsible stroller with carseat attachment capability. In hindsight, the bassinet was not necessary. On a subsequent trip, we just put him in a drawer – literally – that we pulled out of a dresser, put some padding into it, and voila. However, he was a bit older then and we were less worried about SIDS. So, if you’ve got a baby bed that you like and doesn’t require a separate suitcase, toss it in the bag. Similarly, the bouncy chair was nice to have on such a long trip – he could sit and be part of the action at dinner, for instance, but we could have survived without it, given all the extra arms available.
Don't underestimate the ingenuity of grandparents
I know people who have travelled without carseats – they either rent them on arrival, or in places with less strict laws just say – “hey, the local babies don’t use car seats!” I personally find this second idea insane, as I prefer my children not to be killed in easily preventable ways. But, that’s just me. Also, renting car seats can add up quickly. Given that airlines allow you to check a car seat for free, it doesn’t make sense to leave it behind (unless the carseat you own won’t pass for legal in the country you are visiting – check the local laws).

I also know people who have made a point to travel without a stroller. They just pop the baby in a carrier of some sort, and whisk off. I find this way too exhausting: carrying the baby, the carseat, the diaper bag, and dragging the luggage is too much for me, so I would rather bring a stroller to help get the load off my back.

That said, I check the carseat and stroller with my luggage at the counter, and then wear the baby around the airport. Of course, if your baby hates going in the stroller or the carrier, then leave the hated one behind.

On the plane
I’ve seen stories about people touted as being “so thoughtful” for handing out earplugs and candy, etc. to fellow passengers seated near them when travelling with an infant. Well, screw that! Here’s why:
(1)  Most babies do not actually cry that much on planes, particularly little ones. The white noise is soothing, they get to sit on the parent’s laps, there are interesting things to look at, and they generally just eat and sleep most of the time anyway.
(2)  If you are the kind of person who is bothered by other people’s kids crying, then get your own damned earplugs, or don’t fly.
(3)  People who get to spend a flight drinking whiskey and reading trashy magazines—instead of being puked on and fretting about whether a tiny person is too hot or needs a nap—need to just shut their traps and smile kindly at those of us doing our best to ensure the survival of a fragile human.

While Ryder has never exhibited ear discomfort on planes (not sure how this is possible), I was always somewhat religious about nursing him or giving a pacifier on takeoff and landing. After a brief few days of trying and failing to use a nursing cover, I realized that unless I am nursing in front of people I work with, I don’t really care if people potentially see some portion of my mammary glands. After all, humans are mammals and that is why we have these lumps on our fronts: to nurse babies. So flying between places like the US, Europe, and Australia I had no qualms about nursing Ryder in my seat without a gigantic mumu-style cover-up hanging around my neck. I did use one while transiting through Dubai, and around Singapore, and I would use one in other places where modesty is an important part of the culture. 

On long-haul or otherwise international flights, we always requested a bassinet. The bulkhead seats on a lot of the international planes have space for bassinets to be attached to the wall. It’s pretty fantastic to be able to put your baby into a bassinet to sleep (particularly on overnight flights on airlines that don’t allow carriers – it’s basically impossible to sleep without dropping your kid on the floor otherwise).

 Oh yes – and the best two pieces of advice a lovely older woman gave me: you’ll almost certainly never see any of your fellow passengers again, and the flight will eventually end. So you’ll be just fine. 
Just taking a little break on the ground at the train station with our camping and surf gear, as you do.

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