Sunday, January 17, 2010

Away We Go!

I promised a post about traveling with an infant, and here it is.  Please take any and all advice held within with an enormous grain of salt.  We have done this only once, and we have a generally magical baby who is rarely upset and is very easy to calm.  So, we had a great experience, but the odds were stacked in our favor by Olivia's easygoing demeanor.  We also could have just had lots of dumb luck, too.

I took lots of advice from Mightygirl's blog posts on traveling with children here and here, much of which came from the comments following each actual post.  If you're planning on taking your little one flying, you'd do well to at least read these over.  Her plans are so detailed that they seem daunting, at least they did to me before we left, but when put into practice they really do help.

So, without further ado, here's SLB's and my advice for flying with an infant.  Aaaaaaaaaaand GO!

1.  Get there early, but be prepared to wait.
With fears of crotch-bomber-inspired intimate glovings dancing in our heads, we arrived at least 2 hours early for both of our flights.  Then we cleared security within about 15 minutes each way and had some valuable hangout time in the Seattle and Maui airports.  This actually wasn't so bad.  Given how much extra time it takes to do everything with a baby, like bathroom trips (SLB goes while I watch the baby, I take the baby in to change her diaper, SLB watches her while I go back in to the ladies' room to wash my hands and go - at least 10 minutes JUST TO EMPTY OUR BLADDERS) and eating (she lingers over her bottles as she likes to luxuriate in the sensory pleasures of powdered, reconstituted synthetic breastmilk), these extra hours can come in handy.  I was surprised in both airports how quickly the "extra" time passed.

2.  Bring a baby carrier in addition to gate checking your stroller and/or carseat.
We have an Ergo baby carrier that we loved when Olivia was a newborn, then couldn't use because she was in between the newborn- and sturdy-baby-carrying capabilities, and now love again that she's bigger.  We stowed this in a backpack in the airport while we pushed her in her stroller before boarding the plane.  Then, on the plane, we were able to take turns holding her in her baby carrier both standing and bouncing when she was unhappy and seated while she slept on us.  This way we could keep our hands free to eat and read while she snoozed snuggled next to us.

Here's a good shot of the Ergo and me being an idiot.  "We are two mariners / our ship's sole survivors / in this belly of a whaaaaaaale!"

3.  Overpack necessities and keep them with you.
Right before we left I filled a plastic container with a few bottles' worth of "extra" formula and brought an "extra" clean bottle with us.  We used all of that formula and the additional clean bottle on the way to Maui.  I hate to think of what would have happened if I hadn't grabbed these things at the last minute or if I had tossed them in with the checked baggage.  My advice would be to keep at least a full 24 hours' worth of diapers, wipes, medicines, food, and feeding implements on you as you travel.  If you're hesitant to do this, imagine being one of the people held hostage on the tarmac by airlines.  See how much you WANT to bring those extra wipes now?  Yeah, you do.

4.  Also pack these seemingly nonessential essentials and keep them with you.
Pack extra clothing for you and your partner.  Poop, barf, and pee come easily flying out of your baby and onto your person.  You don't want to wear that all day long on the plane, and people sitting around you don't want to smell that on you all day long, either.  An extra shirt apiece ought to do it.

Additionally, remember that airplanes are FILTHY places.  I was so glad to have packed Clorox wipes in a baggie so that I could disinfect our armrests and tables before we sat down, and I was happy to have a trio of thin receiving blankets to place over the backs of our seats for Livy to touch instead of the airplane upholstery.

5.  Be nice to people.
We were extremely blessed with warm and friendly TSA agents on our way to Maui and benignly indifferent ones on the way back to Seattle.  Regardless of the reception our efforts received, we went out of our way to make processing us through security as pleasant and easy for them as possible.  I declared all suspicious materials (bottled water, bottles filled with medicine-treated filtered water for bottles, powdered formula, etc.) immediately upon arriving at the conveyor belt, and we had our system for getting all of our belongings onto and off of the belt as quickly as possible pretty down pat.  We also made it very, very clear that we had never done this before by stating it to anyone who would listen.  That way no one expected us to be very good at it, and we scored lots of extra help from sympathetic TSA moms and dads at security and gate agent moms and dads later when we were boarding the plane.

6.  Understand that TSA, although a federal agency, is not uniform among states.
Yes, it's asinine.  In Seattle the agents had no problem with me bringing baby bottles of water for formula through security.  They had some kind of exterior test they performed that proved that Livy's bottles wouldn't kill us all, performed it quickly, and had my bottles back to me before I could get my shoes back on.  In Maui the agents had NO IDEA what to do about these bottles and, after much conferring over whether to confiscate them or not, ran them through the metal detector.  Nope!  No metal in those clear bottles of water!  Thanks for checking, guys.  Now, a lesser version of myself, or perhaps just one not desperate to make traveling with an infant as easy as possible, would have launched on those jokers like SLB on a feast of cookies and bourbon.  But I was ready for the asininity, and so I was able to smile at it instead of losing my composure.  For once.

7.  Dress comfortably.
Yes, I gave up a piece of my soul when I boarded the plane in yoga pants and a hooded sweatshirt, but it was worth it.  Since I wound up spending hours strapped in a waist-buckled baby carrier and seatbelt, I'm so glad I didn't have an additional belt and buttoned waistband to negotiate.  The marsupial pouch of my sweatshirt came in handy, too, as a convenient and relatively clean receptacle for burp rags and baby toys.  I was not pretty, but I was able to withstand the discomfort of traveling with a baby strapped to me just fine.

8.  Rent baby stuff.
We rented a Pack-n-Play and an exersaucer from an independent baby-crap-rental agency instead of packing travel equivalents of her usual furniture and toys.  It was so worth it.  It set us back about $40 for the week, but saved us hours of discomfort in traveling with extra pounds of baby gear.

So, there you have it!  Be bold, friends!  Traveling with Livy took extra care and attention to detail, but I'm so glad we put forth the effort to go to travel with her instead of passing it off as too difficult to manage.  Sure, it could have been awful, and we were ready for that.  But then it wasn't.  Then it was AWESOME instead.  Huge win!

Salud!  Congratulations on your huge win, baby!

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