I used to fly a lot. Once a quarter-ish, I would get on a plane in Tokyo and fly to a city a day for two weeks in the United States. Then I would do the same in Europe, then do that for a week in Asia. Some days were great, as it was the ultimate tasting menu for the travel junky. I flew so much that a good percentage of the time, I was automatically upgraded when I showed up at the air port. I stayed in nice hotels and dined on someone else's tab. I had frequent traveler status in Heathrow so a retina scan, not my passport, would let me in the country.
Sometimes it was not so great. A bad day started in Edinburgh, then a flight to a lunch meeting in Copenhagen, and then I finished the day in London. Another bad day started with waking up in Chicago, flying to a meeting in Atlanta, and then finishing the day in Boston. There was a trip in in which my luggage was lost and never ended up catching up to me until I got home.
The worst was when I was seated next to a crying baby. I was convinced that as a single female passenger I was always placed next to a woman with a kid. Crying, screaming, messy babies. Yuck. Don't they know I have a presentation to finish? Can't that lady control that kid?
In the first 9 months of the Bunny's life, we have made six trips between Boston and Silicon Valley. Each time, I've traveled alone with the baby in cattle class. Some trips were great: she was up for first 15 minutes and then slept the entire flight. Then there was the trip in which she was THAT baby. She screamed for the entire flight, except the last 15 minutes.
I thought I would share my travel kung-fu for the powers of good. Here are a few tips for traveling alone with a small baby. I hear it only gets more difficult once they are mobile, but while they are squishy and portable, this is what worked for me:
Before you fly
- First, know that you can do this. It's not going to be awesome, but it's probably (!) not going to be as bad as you imagine.
- This sounds obvious, but if you can, book a non-stop flight. A non stop flight is different from direct flight: the latter may have stops.
- If you can, booking an empty seat (and taking the car seat) does make life easier. (But I've never done that).
- A smaller regional airport may be a good choice (ie Providence instead of Logan, San Jose instead of San Francisco). However, larger airports have more choices for non-stop flights.
- Chose the right airline: if you have lots of miles, check-in luggage is often a free perk, so check with your plan. However, now that I no longer fly so much, I often fly JetBlue: they offer a free check-in bag (and flying with a kid means lots of stuff), preferential boarding for families, and changing stations in every plane bathroom. (And if JetBlue wants to pay me for this endorsement, let me know!)
- Choose a seat toward the back: you'll have access to the bathroom and the flight attendants. I like the ailse if I'm traveling alone. You'll also get to board earlier.
How to pack
- Pack early and practice moving your luggage alone. If you can't do it easily, it's time to repack. Backpacks are your friends.
- If you are carrying your baby, practice using the bathroom (more on that later) while wearing your baby.
- In your go-bag, pack whatever you usually have for an outing. Pack the number of diapers you need, then pack 3 more. Pack a spare outfit for the kid and a clean shirt for you. Saline drops, and and inflatable neck pillows are also handy things to have.
- Aside from one bottle (placed for easy access) put all your bottles one large in a zip lock bag. The TSA will test each bottle with a machine: they will not open then bottles. The TSA fluid limitations do not apply to formula and breast milk.
- If you are packing formula, pre-measure and put them in your bottle. You can buy water to fill them later. Pre measure your back-up and pack them in clean paper and then in a zip lock bag. Paper makes it easy to dump the powder into the bottles. I once used saran wrap to pack pre-measured formula. The power went everywhere; my seat looked like a hastily vacated Columbian cocaine factory.
- Put all your other creams and liquids in a zip lock bag (like that thing of hand sanitizer).
- Put all your food in a zip lock bag.
- If your kid is eating solids, screw top baby food in bags are wonderful stuff. No spoons to drop on the floor. Bunny sucks them down like a bottle. However, as the TSA can't scan foil packs in the liquid testing machine, so you will have to submit to a pat down (so plan for more time).
- Don't pack a squeaky toy in your go-bag (ie. Sophie, la girafe). It will drive your fellow passenger nuts and when she decides it's the only toy she wants to play with.
- I love my Moby wrap, but they are awful to put on and take off in the confined spaces of a plane. I used a Baby Bjorn and now wear an Ergo to accommodate the bigger Bunny.
- I know some people like to travel with their stroller, but I found it to be hassle. I always had a car seat ready to go at the other end of the my flight so I always carried Bunny. If you do travel with a car seat, the Air Trend Snap and Go strollers are great. We got ours on Craig's list so I didn't really care when it got thrashed in travel. Make sure that at the end of your flight you have a car seat and base ready to go!
At the airport
- Don't be nervous-- put on your best Happy Face. Your baby is going to be exposed to a whole lot of new experiences. If you pretend this adventure is the Most Fun Thing ever, it will make everything better (sometimes).
- Wear slip off shoes. This is is important: if you ever tried untying shoes while wearing a baby, you'll know this is key.
- If you are of the female persuasion (or not) and are wearing your baby, wear a longish skirt (no hose or tights). It's much easier to use the bathroom this way. Try zipping up your jeans while wearing an Ergo whilst trying not touch any surfaces-- not fun.
- Arrive early at the air port. This is important. You'd be amazed how long it will take to get through security. As I don't want Bunny to be exposed to Backscatter radiation, I opt for a pat down, which takes time. The TSA ladies are generally really nice and will let you wear the baby while you get the pat down.
- I've found that most airlines will allow you to check in at the gate strollers, car seats and car bases for free.
- If well meaning people want to touch your baby, and you don't want them too, my pediatrician said to take his name in vain. Firmly but politely, say "My pediatrician says Bunny has a cold and really shouldn't be touched by anyone right now."
- At the gate, tell the attendant you are traveling alone with a baby. Ask really sweetly at the gate if your seat can be moved to an empty row or next to an empty seat. Most times this does not work. But some times, it does!
On the flight
- Find that flight attendant. You know, the really nice one who not only really wants to hold your adorable baby, but you actually want her to. Say hi! Make sure Bunny does her most adorable antics in front of her. She will allow you to pee in peace when Bunny is asleep in your seat.
- Say hello to the people around you. I generally try to be apologetic about "being next to the baby" and ask them to tell me if she's being really disruptive. Ask them to help you put your luggage up in the bin. It's harder for people to be jerks to you if they met you. If they see you trying your best, most people will cut you some slack. If they don't, see the bit about Karma.
- Make sure everything you need is in the bag under the seat in front of you.
- Breast feeding during take off and landing will make everything OK. Pack a nursing cover! I felt pretty self conscious the first time I was seated next to two guys, but they were willing to do just about anything to NOT watch me breast feed.
- The white noise of the flight is pretty soothing: if all goes well, the kiddo will sleep.
- Breast feeding + the dehydrating environment of the plane= drink lots of water.
- Pack and eat "one-handed food". Mommy with lots of energy is better for everyone.
- Walk up and down the with the fussy baby if you have to. Ignore the eye rolls of Younger Me. Karma will get her someday too.