Traveling can often seem intimidating. It can be doubly so when traveling with kids. In these situations, knowledge is power, and knowing what to expect can save a lot of time and tears. Logistically speaking, navigating airports under the best of circumstances can be a challenge. Navigating an airport with a baby strapped to you or while steering a stroller while trying to figure out where Terminal XYZ is in a whole different ballpark. Add in short layovers and delayed flights and you have a recipe for a disaster.
With two flights under our belt, I feel semi-qualified to talk about this. For my money, the best ways to stay sane while traveling with a baby are pretty simple:
1. Plan ahead. When you book your flight, plan ahead. If you can, book any connecting flights* through airports you are familiar with, which will alleviate the stress of not knowing where you’re going. For both flights, we flew through Atlanta, an airport I have traveled through probably 11 billion times (okay, maybe closer to 10 billion…I’ve connected through Atlanta a lot is what I’m getting at here), so I knew I would be able to navigate it on my own should I need to for any reason. If you’re flying though unfamiliar airports, do some research. Check out their websites and look at airport maps. You may not know what terminals you’ll be arriving/departing from, but at least you’ll know how far Terminal A and D are from each other. Also the earlier you book your flight, the better seat options you have. The closer you are to the front of the plane the better, since A) It minimizes turbulence, and B) makes for a speedier exit with a restless child.
2. Figure out how long it’s going to take you from leaving your house to getting through security and plan accordingly. If you live in or around a major city, chances are you are within an hour or so from an airport. Maybe you fly all the time and know exactly how long it takes to get to it. If not, figure it out. Google map it, and factor in the time of day (more on that in the next point) you’ll be driving. You definitely don’t want to be “cutting it close” when it comes to traveling with a baby, so add in a few extra minutes. Add in ten more if you are checking bags, and 15 (at least) for security**. How are you getting to the airport? If you’re driving yourself, you’re all set, but if someone is giving you a ride, be sure to add a few minutes there, too. For instance, if you’re flight is at 10:00am and you want to be at the gate for 9:00am and you live an hour from the airport, you should leave your house around 7:00am. This should give you enough wiggle room if you hit traffic or security is horribly long. If you live more than two hours from an airport and plan on flying early, I would recommend getting a room at a hotel the night before your flight. Leaving at 4:00am for a 10:00am flight is probably bad news with a baby.
3. Figure out the best time to fly (for you). Everyone has different theories about this. It really depends on what kind of kid you have, where you live, where you’re going, and what time of year you’re traveling. Example: Weather gets worse in the afternoons in the Summer in Louisiana. Because of this, I flew early to avoid bad weather. Also, Boston and Indy weren’t that long of a plane rides (an hour to Atlanta, two hours to Boston; both legs one hour for Indy), so leaving early worked well with A’s schedule. Sometimes you don’t have options about flight times (international travel), so you’re kind of stuck there, but for most domestic flights you should have options you can fit to your travel needs.
4. Practice makes perfect. Planning on using a baby carrier or stroller you seldom use at the airport? Take it for a test spin. Or two. Or five. Practice getting baby in and out of it as well as breaking down/assembling, especially if you’re flying on your own. You don’t want to be scrambling to get to your gate dragging your kid and your stroller because you don’t know how to use it. I used my Ergo on the Boston flight in the hip carry position. The weekend before we left I used it on our LSU excursion. I made sure to get A in and out of it several times on my own, even though I was traveling with my parents. I used our new lightweight umbrella stroller, The First Years Ignite, on the Indy trip. I made sure I was able to collapse it and open it one handed, but I did get plenty of help from passengers and airport/airline employees with this.
5. Bring a lot of distractions. Your diaper bag is your arsenal of tricks, so plan accordingly. Bring a variety of small, quiet toys/things that will amuse your baby for a while. Snacks are also good. When in a pinch, A loved all the stuff in the seat back pocket (after I wiped it down with an antibacterial wipe, of course) like the safety brochure and Skymall magazine.
6. Don’t panic (go with the flow). You’re traveling, so hiccups are bound to happen. Maybe you hit traffic on the way to the airport and miss your flight. Maybe your baby has a total meltdown on the plane that you can only soothe by singing “The wheels on the bus” horribly off key at an embarassing volume. Maybe your baby pees so much her diaper leaks while she’s sitting on your lap in the plane (that happened on both flights). Stuff happens, so just take it in stride. Just remember no matter what, you’re making memories, so don’t forget to have some fun.
*There is a magic number for layovers. And it’s somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half. Shorter and you run the risk of missing your flight, longer and both you and your kid get bored. Finding flights that hit this magic number is harder than you think.
**A note about security: I didn’t have to take A out of the Ergo in either New Orleans or Boston. Instead of going through the bodyscanner thing, I went through the normal metal detector and they just wiped my hands and tested me for, I’m assuming, bomb residue. Easy peasy.