Baby On Board: How to Fly +1

By Tiffany Hawk

When I told my pediatrician that my son isn’t in daycare, the doctor, astoundingly, said, “He’s not seeing very much of the world then is he?”

As a travel writer and a former flight attendant, I cringed. Not seeing the world? Because he doesn’t go to daycare?

I promptly booked flights to visit family and friends, then, just as promptly, began to panic. I would be that mom. You know, the one carrying armloads of overstuffed bags, the one venting noxious odors into the cabin, the one subjecting an entire plane to the ear-piercing screeches of a teething five-month old.

A few weeks later, I rolled up to the gate with my brave-face on and instantly saw that I wasn’t alone in my fear. Instead of oohing and aahing and fawning over my oh-so-adorable infant like people do at the park or the mall, these folks were staring us down.

Fortunately for all, I had a flurry of flight-attendant mothers to tap for advice. Armed with their suggestions, I was determined to be model passengers. You’d hardly know we were there.

Okay, maybe you would, but these were still great suggestions.

Buy a ticket and bring a car seat.

You know how they say firefighters respect fire? Well, flight attendants respect turbulence. They know that a bad air pocket can throw everything that isn’t belted down into the ceiling, including co-workers and three-hundred-pound beverage carts. Although many parents take advantage of free lap fares for children under two, all of my airline friends buy tickets. That’s all the convincing I needed to splurge on an extra fare. In the end, we only experienced mild turbulence, but between spit-up, a catastrophic diaper malfunction, and a 12-hour travel day, I was happy to have my hands free to read a book while my son napped in his seat.   

Ask your airline about stroller restrictions.

Most airlines will check your collapsible stroller at the gate and bring it up to you between flights, but there may be fine print. American Airlines, as I discovered, won’t gate check strollers over twenty pounds, which includes most jogging strollers. I’m thankful that, at only 17 pounds, my ultra-light City Mini made weigh-in or I would have collapsed while trying to carry my son and his car seat through three terminals.

Turn your suitcase into a stroller.

I couldn’t try this because my son is still in a rear-facing infant seat, but several moms I know swear by either the Traveling Toddler or the TOTEaTOT. Retailing for between $15 and $35, these tools allow you to strap a car seat to your rolling suitcase so you can wheel your little one from gate to gate without bringing a stroller. If you aren’t taking a carry on, you might want to try the GoGo Kidz Travelmate, a set of razor wheels attached to a telescoping handle that will keep your car seat rolling along.

Carry a backpack instead of an over-the-shoulder diaper bag.

Tested and approved. I easily sped down narrow aircraft aisles while balancing a baby, a car seat, and a Jansport packed for every imaginable contingency — from breastfeeding to blowouts to boredom.

Resort to bribery.

Before traveling, my more enterprising friends stock up on cheap toys from discount stores and dole them out periodically as rewards for good behavior. Seriously, I can’t wait until my son can be bribed!

Bring earplugs to pass out to seat mates.

At the recommendation of Sara Pinto Keagle, mom and flight-attendant blogger extraordinaire, I stuffed one of the side pockets on my backpack full of foam earplugs. Even when my son stayed quiet, the Girl Scout in me relished the peace of mind that came with being prepared. Then, on the last leg of our flight, fussing gave way to crying, which quickly turned into inconsolable wailing. When the man next to me began huffing and puffing and slapping his forehead in frustration, I whipped out my trusty earplugs. He laughed and waved them off, but it lightened the mood and he appreciated that I recognized his pain. As I learned in my flying years, that’s all most people need.

Throughout our 10-day trip, there were moments when I thought the TSA would be wise to ban infants along with liquids and weapons. Just try changing the monster of all diapers while the plane is rocking, you’re both strapped in because the seat belt sign is on, the baby is screaming, and the people around you are covering their ears and plugging their noses. (So much for being model passengers.)

But, you know what? When we landed, I walked away with the confidence that can only come from facing the worst and making it to the other side. After all, it will always be easier to stay home, but then my son won’t see much of the world, will he?

Tiffany Hawk is a writer and new mom who can’t shake her love of air travel. Love Me Anyway, her coming-of-age novel about flight attendants, will be published next spring by St. Martin’s Press. Follow her on Twitter @tiffanyhawk or on her personal blog, tiffanyhawk.com.