Traveling with an infant or small child.
This is on-the-job training for most people, I'm sure. Anyone who's done any sort of traveling has heard the boarding announcements for people traveling with small children. They always get to go on so much before the rest of the passengers. At least that's what I thought till I started traveling with my son.
Just leaving the house with a baby, I felt like we were moving, we had to take so much with us, diaper bag, carrier, and so on. Flying is that much worse because everything has to be compact, you have to take food with you until you start paying for a seat, and of course, you have the usual stresses of travel.
I owe my sanity and success in flying with a small child to two friends, one of whom lives in France and travels to his home in New Zealand with his two young children, the other of whom had to make three trips across the Atlantic with her daughter before she was a year old.
I was concerned about my son crying on the flight because I'd been occasionally annoyed by crying or screaming children. My one friend said, "First of all, you will never see any of those people on that plane again in life. Secondly, babies cry. That's what they do. The other people will have to adjust." She then gave me the practical tip that the baby should be drinking, both during take-off and landing. This keeps them swallowing, which keeps their ear pressure normal. I've been on some flights with my son where there were other parents who clearly did not know this and their babies were shrieking during take-off and landing. The parents did their best, but didn't know this simple solution.
My other friend told me, when I asked him how he managed a nineteen-hour flight with two small children, "Well, you bring lots of toys and books and you try to keep them occupied." That sounds fairly simple and obvious, but everyone's been on flights where there were babies who screamed a lot or young children who drove everyone crazy. The children who travel well are with parents who are prepared and on top of their children's needs.
Don't kid yourself, traveling with a child is work! Here's what I've learned about traveling with babies and small children.
Demeanor. Your child reacts to your demeanor, so if you feel stressed, your child will feel so too. When your child cries, do your best to keep cheerful and patient and your child will calm down more quickly.
Also, don't argue with airport or airline personnel. They are there to help you and will often go out of their way to do so if you smile and are pleasant. If you are impatient and demanding, however, they will do their least. Even when having a problem, maintain your demeanor and a solution will come about more quickly.
Your baby's demeanor. First-time parents may not realize how stressful traveling can be for their babies. Traveling means that suddenly life is totally unlike all they've ever known and this can be quite unsettling for them, although they may not give you much indication of this. You find it out when your calm child suddenly goes berserk because you pushed him past the point where he could handle all the newness. Generally, this point has to do with physical contact and familiarity. For example, you put him down to open the stroller. The baby doesn't grasp the situation, but can only think about the fact that you just put him down and his fear of being left behind kicks in. But don't worry -- in every case I've seen of this (literally, baby screaming while mother is struggling with the stroller) the baby stops crying as soon as he's picked up again.
If your baby is young enough and light enough for you to carry him wearing a sling or Snugli-type baby carrier, this is the best solution. You avoid all that stroller nonsense, have your hands free and your child will feel secure and happy.
If you and your baby are traveling with a friend and you have to go to the bathroom, bring your baby with you. Don't leave your child with your friend unless the other adult is like a family member. I saw this happen on a flight and the baby screamed inconsolably the entire time the mother was gone, regardless of the distractions the friend tried to create. When the mother returned and took her baby back, the tears stopped. I'm not afraid to let a baby cry, but to me, those were unnecessary tears.
There may be a time, however, when boredom or fatigue simply sets in and your infant or toddler just starts to cry from it all and doesn't seem willing to stop. At those times, the best thing you can do is just give your child lots and lots of love. I have found that simply holding and kissing your child and singing to him will often do the trick. Even if you're not the singing type, just do it. You can sing right in his ear and not even the passenger sitting next to you will be able to hear you, but your child will and he'll relax at once.
Mothers who are stressed out about traveling are more apt to have crying, fretful babies during the trip. In this case, walking and bouncing the baby may not calm him, but singing, interspersed with kisses, probably will. The benefit, of course, is that calming your baby will calm you and you'll both have a better trip.
Babies fly free or do they? This is something everyone knows or has heard, but we never managed to get our son on a plane without paying, albeit a small sum. Up till his second birthday, we had to pay 10%, plus tax. For this, he got no seat, no food and was allowed no luggage.
However, you can stow a car seat, the diaper bag is not considered a carry-on and we also never had any problem bringing our son's bag of food (which for a long flight, can be fairly hefty).
If your baby is flying free or even for 10% he doesn't get frequent flyer miles. He's already flying "free"! The Qualiflyer program has an age minimum of two for its frequent flyer program, but I don't believe we encountered such a restriction when we signed our son up for Lufthansa's.
Though your child won't be guaranteed a seat unless you pay for it, quite often, particularly if you fly at times when traffic is down, you can ask your travel agent to "block" a seat next to you. They won't always do this, however. But if you succeed, you can strap your child in for play, lie him down across the seat for sleep and you get a break from having to hold him the whole time. On a long flight alone with your child, this can make a big difference.
Bassinet. Most planes are outfitted with a place for a bassinet, but with many airlines, you must call the airline yourself to reserve the bassinet after you have paid for your ticket. Don't put this off, as some planes only have one bassinet; others have three or more. Airlines differ, but there is usually an age limit of about 8 months for use of the bassinet. One airline told me there was no weight limit, which leads me to think that after 8 months, a child is just too active for a bassinet. Most bassinets hang from the wall, but all of them have to be removed for both take-off and landing.
In July 2003, I received an e-mail from a visitor to this site that said American Airlines no longer offers bassinets to its customers with babies. The rule change is due to some sort of insurance issue. Fortunately, there is an alternative to the bassinet.
Sling carrier. In the event that you're unable to reserve a bassinet, a sling carrier is a great alternative because you can sleep without worrying about dropping your child, plus your hands are free. A sling carrier also provides some nice privacy for nursing, if that is an issue for you.
Ear pressure. As mentioned before, babies and toddlers should be given something to drink during both take-off and landing. Nursing is easiest with a baby, but a bottle will do. If your baby takes a bottle, a flight attendant can warm it up for you.
On my first flight with my son, he was just a month and a half and he began crying just as we were boarding the plane, so I began nursing him just to quiet him, but then he fell asleep and I had trouble keeping him awake enough to drink during take-off.
We've since had flights where he's been asleep during take-off or landing and being asleep doesn't seem to be a problem. (I've slept through these events too!)
My rule of thumb is that if my ears are popping, my son's are too. That means he's got to be swallowing. All this drinking speeds up the need for diaper changes, as well. We've had extra clothing changes because we failed to take into consideration how very much our son was drinking. Finally, we learned to make sure we changed his diaper 45 minutes to an hour before landing.
Link rings. These wonderful toys (available in the US, I'm not sure about elsewhere) are great tools as well. We've hooked up teething rings, toys and bottles to chains made of link rings. When your child goes through the dropping-things-on-the-floor stage, it's nice to be able to just yank on the link ring chain instead of having to get up every two minutes to retrieve that toy he just threw on the floor. The bottles we hooked onto link rings are the small ones with handles made by the German firm, Nuk. Unfortunately, we haven't found these in the States, though Nuk does license their nipples and pacifiers for sale under the Gerber label.
Diaper bag. No doubt, you've evolved a system of what you like to carry based on your needs. But in addition to diapers, clothing changes, bibs, and other things you like to have, one friend of mine said a second blouse for herself would have been nice to have had when her child threw up all over her once.
Carriers, car seats and strollers. We only had a newborn carseat carrier on one flight for him. He outgrew the carrier while we were overseas, so we left it there. My cousin likes to travel with a car seat, which we did only once. She buys a seat for hers (you're not guaranteed one otherwise) but we checked ours with our baggage (at no extra charge).
Recently, I just happened on a styrofoam booster car seat, so I brought it on our last trip across the Atlantic. It's just the bottom part, very easily fits in a canvas bag (so it was easy to carry around) and my son loved being able to see out the window so well. We then used it as a car seat while on our trip.
We had a Combi stroller, which is designed expressly for airline travel. It folds up and can be hung in the closet, though we always stowed ours. You just collapse it and leave it right outside the airplane door as you board. When you land, they bring it up to you, again right at the door of the plane. Most of the other parents have umbrella strollers, but we've seen a few regular strollers as well. However, things have changed.
New rule about strollers. Once upon a time, bringing your child to the door of the plane in a stroller was standard procedure.
However, sometime during the summer of 2002, a rule was changed and now strollers must be checked as baggage (without charge). If your reason for bringing a stroller is to simplify changing planes with a small child in tow, you may have to stop by the baggage claim to get your stroller before proceeding to your connecting flight. If you don't have much time between planes, it may be better to do without the stroller.
We were told by two different airlines in September 2002, that this is now the system, but getting off our second flight, I saw a woman receive her stroller at the door, so this rule may be different from country to country or it may be possible to gain the sympathy of an airport employee in some places. If you're counting on using a stroller between flights, you may want to check with your airline in advance.
Travel gear. The best single source of travel gear for children that I've seen is the catalogue for One Step Ahead, which also has a web site. I've seen some of their items in a few stores (sometimes at cheaper prices), but some things, such as their inflatable children's mattress, I've only seen there.
Most of the travel cribs I've seen are heavy and when folded up, are like a piece of luggage. An inflatable mattress stores easily when not in use, is easy to transport in a suitcase and my son has always slept well on it.
The one we have has walls, so your child can't roll out of bed. It's actually supposed to be for age three and up, but we didn't know that when we bought it, so we started using it when our son was about seven months old. When he started crawling, he was really excited to be able to get in and out of bed by himself. The weight limit is 150 lbs. (68 kg).
We don't have a pump, so blowing up the bed is a bit of a nuisance, but most of our trips are for a week or more. Once inflated, the mattress needs only occasional re-inflating.
There is also an inflatable tub we like very much. We got it for home use, but took it when traveling as well. It was always a welcome familiar site for our son and it inflates very quickly, even without a pump. The tub is only for use up to age two.
Going potty. Of course, it's better to not schedule your potty training just in advance of traveling, as I did, but sometimes things can't be helped. We bought disposable "training pants" for two trips, just because we were worried about our son having to "go" at times when it simply would not be possible. It turned out not to be necessary, since by this time, it wasn't too hard to figure out roughly when he'd have to go, based on when he'd had something to drink. By carefully timing both trips to the bathroom and his drinking, we never had any major accidents in flight.
Once he was out of diapers, we also stopped letting him sit with a water bottle during landing and take-off. We just gave it to him for sips so that he was swallowing frequently, but not drinking continuously.
We had a toilet seat for our son that was just for traveling. It was nice to have in transit and at the airport, but I found it a nuisance on the plane. It was easier to just squat in front of him and let him lean forward, with his arms around my neck. Hugging Mommy relaxed him in the strange environment as well as kept him from falling in. However, squatting in airplane bathrooms doesn't work so well with my 1.95 meter (6ft. 6) tall husband.
Eating. If your child is flying free or for 10%, most of the time, you've got to bring his food, though you can get milk, juice or water for your child. Just recently, flying Air France, I was surprised to see they had baby food in jars available. This was the first time in my four-plus years of flying with my son that I've ever seen baby food offered by an airline. Air France also had the best baby toys I'd ever seen handed out by an airline.
Once our son turned two and became a paying passenger, we didn't need to bring his food anymore, just his flatware and a bib. Flying from Newark International Airport two months after 9/11, we weren't allowed to bring his baby fork on board, but at least we were allowed to keep it. (It was a silver baby gift.) We had to stow the fork as an additional piece of luggage (yes, one baby fork became an entire piece of luggage), but we didn't lose it. Never mind how absurd this is, since you get a plastic knife, but a metal fork with your meal. Nonetheless, be advised, your child may need to have a plastic fork for air travel in the US. His fork will have to be packed in your luggage, along with your nail file and your child's round-tipped baby nail clippers. After passing through numerous airports and security screenings with my son's round-tipped nail shears, an agent in Paris refused to let me board with them. Normally I argue with them and am able to keep the item by having it stowed in a huge envelope as a separate piece of luggage, but this time, the plane was about to take off, so I lost the scissors.
Toys and books. Small, lightweight, familiar toys are best for babies and toddlers, who will enjoy having something familiar during the otherwise bewildering experience of traveling. Link rings are good for attaching things and they can make a good rattle. With board books, we just brought two because they're heavy and there's usually plenty else to do. Clifford books or other lightweight books are great because you can bring more of them.
When our son started walking, we brought a little pull toy he could walk around the airport and airplane with. In addition, once a child is able to walk, a guided tour up and down the aisle every now and then is a great way to work off some excess energy.
By the time a child is three or four, you will want to start traveling with new toys, rather than familiar ones. At that point, boredom starts becoming more of an issue, so I have a lot of small toys and puzzles that are just for travel. Each one might occupy my son for fifteen or twenty minutes, but that's sufficient if you have a bag of these. We had more than two hours last fall waiting at the gate and no play area nearby. My bag of surprises, along with a snack and a great view of planes taking off made the time pass very quickly.
Pulling his own weight. Once our son turned two and got his own seat, we also got to have two extra bags. Of course, this is a misnomer because a two-year old is not going to schlep two suitcases. However, you can put a backpack on a two-year old and you can give him his own kiddie suitcase. (Pack it light, of course!)
We bought a really cute backpack that is brightly colored to stand out well in busy airports. The idea was that it would take the place of the diaper bag, which it did. If we really wanted him to wear it, we made sure it was very light, holding just the essential extra clothing changes for while we were in transit and maybe a light toy or two. Sometimes we put more in it, figuring we'd end up carrying it ourselves. He always started out wearing it, though. Now that he's four, he wears the backpack the entire time and pulls his own suitcase except going on stairs or escalators.
I got his suitcase in a children's consignment shop for $10. I had planned on waiting longer to get one, but figured for the price, it was a great way to see how my son, then not even two, would react to the idea of having his own suitcase. He loved it! He was thrilled to have a suitcase just like Mommy and Daddy. Getting him to carry it on a trip was a piece of cake. I packed lightweight things and he had no difficulty with it.
Identification. Once our child was mobile, we realized that while he could walk, he still couldn't talk. We don't expect to lose him, but since he's more valuable than any of our luggage, which has permanent tags, we fill out a paper airline luggage tag for him, too. We include his name, address, phone and our flight number/s and tie that on his clothing somewhere. Even though he's now fully verbal, we still put a tag on him because it's just an easy way to make sure he has all his flight and contact address information on him.
Speaking about identification, if you're traveling out of the country, even if you're going from the US to Canada, you must have documentation for your infant. A passport is best. (In fact, I believe new changes require a passport for travel between the US and Canada or Mexico.) I met one mother who didn't know this and had a huge delay while her husband brought the baby's birth certificate to the airport.
If your child has dual citizenship, including US citizenship, make sure you have a US passport for your child before entering or leaving the US. I was told by a close friend who is head of the consular division of a US embassy that it is an act of expatriation for a US citizen to enter or leave the US under a foreign passport. In other words, if your dual-citizen child is discovered entering or leaving the US with his non-US passport, he will lose his US citizenship.
Leaving the US alone with your child. If your child holds a US passport and you are leaving the US with him, but without your spouse, be sure to have a note from your spouse that you have permission. The note must be signed and dated, and specifically state that you have your spouse's permission to take your child out of the US. But otherwise, this note can be as hastily done as you want.
When I was asked to produce such a document, I took affront (bad move) and began to argue with the clerk. She quickly warned me not to argue with her a warning you must take seriously because they can keep you off the plane. I forced myself to calm down and she changed her tone and became very helpful. She explained that this requirement had come from the high number of spousal kidnappings and then hinted very broadly that I could write the note myself. She even offered to give me a piece of paper.
So, I excused myself and wrote a note and signed my husband's name. When I went back, she again asked me for some proof I had my husband's permission to take our son out of the US. I produced my newly-made note, she looked at it, smiled and thanked me and checked us in.
I've only ever been asked for this document once, but my husband and I now prepare this for every trip I take alone with our son, just in case the next clerk isn't as accommodating as the last.
Layovers. We have been pretty lucky, having mostly two-hour layovers, but we've had a few four- and five-hour waits. Toys, pull toys and books are essential for these long pauses. But what we only just found out is that some airports have special rooms devoted to families with young children.
We just happened on one of these nurseries in Zurich and heard from some parents that there's also one in Boston's Logan Airport. At Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, there's a "baby room" and "children's corner". It's worth checking every airport because these can be a safe haven where you can have a more relaxing wait, but also there can be toys, bathroom facilities, even cribs there.
A search on Google turned up 6,710 hits (though this number can change drastically, depending on how you define your search). For more about this, see the bottom of the page on the Zurich nursery.