From the moment parents step on board, flight attendants can predict a lot about how a flight with a baby is going to go. Far too often we are introduced via the sound of sniping between the frazzled mom and dad, adults we can hardly see behind the wall of extra bags and accessories they’re limping down the aisle with, while baby looks ripe to slip from the crook of one overloaded arm. I help anytime I can, but if it requires three adults to load one baby on an airplane you haven’t got the hang of it.
I’ve been watching and interacting with passengers with babies for a long time now. We know a pro when we see one – and here are the tips I’ve most noted over the years and employ myself.
Carry as little as possible. Do yourself a favor and just don’t. Check everything you can (strollers and car seats are exceptions to luggage allowances). Alternatively, you can rent baby gear, delivered to your destination, by companies like BabiesAway [https://babysaway.com/]. Even better, consider shipping all your luggage or gear ahead. I find SendMyBag [www.sendmybag.com] to be reasonably priced and well worth every penny for the calm travels that ensue.
Plan for half speed. Don’t fight it. It’s hard to downshift when you’re used to zipping through the airport nimbly on your own with the whole routine down pat, but your life and travels will be so much better if you just embrace the slow lane. Arrive at the airport 30-45 minutes earlier than you normally would. This kids will be calmer as a result of you being calmer, and the extra time will also help with securing family friendly seat assignments [http://www.flyertalk.com/articles/should-young-children-automatically-be-seated-with-family.html] if you weren’t able to ensure that already.
Don’t depend on the bassinet (unless you’re willing to pay). Do your best to get it. However, these days those bulkhead seats where the bassinet attaches are blocked for high status fliers until the last minute or sold at a premium. Reserving those seats yourself could cost a minimum of $100 per seat, per flight – at which point you could possibly have just purchased another seat. I’ve had many families “promised” the bassinet by well-meaning customer service or gate agents who don’t realize how it will play out on boarding. Alternatively, we sometimes just have more families than bassinets.
Car seat dilemmas. If you can afford the extra seat (for an under-two), spend it. Everyone will be happier if baby has his own space. If your child is actually a baby, take the car seat regardless. You might get lucky with an extra seat (especially if you’ve reserved a widow and aisle towards the back), and if not you can gate check it at the last minute. Additional tip: if your child is a bit older but you’ll need a car seat on the trip, skip the seat and buy the Safe Ride vest [http://saferide4kids.com/product/ridesafer-travel-vest/] instead. It packs easily in a bag and will fit your child for years. The children in my family strongly prefer it anyway.
As for car seat positioning, baby is indeed safer during take-off and landing when rear-facing. The rub is this prevents the passenger in front from reclining. What hand-wringing articles like this one [https://consumerist.com/2016/06/13/why-did-american-airlines-make-me-move-my-childs-safety-seat-so-someone-could-recline/] fail to mention is it only matters for take-off and landing. Especially on a long flight, turn it forward once in the air. No risk to your baby and everyone is happy.
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Expect changing circumstances. I had a woman who wanted to breastfeed on take-off to avoid ear pain for the baby (another good tip). Our flight had a rolling delay that stretched to five hours. Her baby was screaming starving and she kept harassing us about when she could feed him. Many flight attendants are mothers; they know babies and airline tendencies. If we suggest you to just feed the baby already, listen to us. His ears might be fine anyway; by the time you take off he might take more milk, and if not a pacifier will suffice. This is just an example, but you don’t help your baby (or yourself) by clinging to an outdated plan.
Those are the big ones, but I have a handful of little tips it’d be a shame to leave out.
Don’t assume you’ve got the only baby on board, or the most special one we’ve ever seen. Again, I’m very happy to help out families, but we don’t always have time, and we get some who seem to expect everyone and everything on the plane will come second to their needs. (That’s when the crew will warn each other, “We got a Baby Jesus in row 22.”) Don’t take the whole diaper bag to the lav with you. Space is tight so give yourself breathing room and only take essentials. Don’t change nappies on the tray table, and don’t hand your dirty diapers to the cabin crew. The trays, and we, have to serve food and drinks. Besides, no one wants to handle someone else’s poop. Throw them away in the lav trash. Bring earphones sized for your child. They’ll be more comfortable and better quality, to boot. Also, always use them for your child’s toys, iPad, etc. No one else wants to hear games or Dora. Bring a series of small, wrapped gifts or toys to pull out when everything else has lost its luster. Practically anything “new” will do the trick to distract your little one from in-flight restlessness for a bit.
Last but not least, I like to bring a handful of good foam earplugs (I find the classic ones work best [https://www.amazon.com/3M-Uncorded-Earplugs-Conservation-312-1201/dp/B008MCU0N0/ref=sr_1_3?s=hi&ie=UTF8&qid=1467071084&sr=1-3&keywords=classic+foam+ear+plugs]). If your little one is fussing and you’re surrounded by grumpy seatmates, at least you can offer. They’re cheap, but the mere gesture can go a long way. If someone stays grumpy with you after that it’s their problem. After all, you’ve shown you’re one of the pros and done all you can. That’s all anyone can ask.