Don't make the same mistakes I did.
We’ve all lived through various versions of this airplane scenario. You’ve boarded, taken your seat, and are just about to takeoff. Suddenly, the baby two rows from you starts crying. No, make that screaming. And your soul fills with dread, your head starts to explode, and you figure the only way to cope is to have multiple Bloody Marys. Why can’t the parents keep the kid quiet? What is wrong with these people? Why me God, why me? Why did I take seat 12A instead of 33A?
We’ve all been the miserable passenger, but what if you’re that miserable parent, the person who can’t quiet their screaming kid, knowing that an entire PLANE full of people is targeting their wrath at you? I was that unhappy parent for the first time this February as I flew back from Charleston with my six-month old son, Bobby. Getting to the airport was relatively stress-free (as was my flight down, for that matter). But my flight home to La Guardia was a total nightmare. In hindsight, I see that my husband and I did a few things wrong on this flight—which is why I’m here to tell you some helpful tips and tricks for how to survive flying with a baby.
Fly in the morning, not afternoon
One thing any new parent will tell you is that 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. is the witching hour for small babies. They fuss, they cry, and you really can’t do anything to soothe them. Somehow, I forgot this tidbit when booking our return flight home to Charleston. I was thinking like the old me—you know, a normal person trying to maximize a long weekend vacation. The old me thought flying at 4:15 p.m. gave us a nice leisurely Sunday morning and brunch in Charleston before heading home to New York City.
The new me now realizes: babies don’t know what a long weekend is! They just know their comfortable routine. So, by the time we got to the airport, boarded the plane, and were ready to takeoff, Bobby was desperate for a nap but way over-stimulated by all the passengers boarding. He screamed for an hour and a half straight, and he could not be consoled.
I’ve now flown with him three times in the morning, and overall, he’s been a pleasant baby—albeit one that lets out a shriek every now and then. Lesson learned.
Window seats work best
I normally prefer aisle seats. But I found they totally stink when you’re flying with a baby for three reasons. One: there’s nothing for you (or them) to lean on. Two: it’s beyond easy for the flight attendant to inadvertently bump into you with the drink cart. And three: your baby will be distracted and stimulated by every person who walks past you—particularly when boarding. It’s overwhelming, and can also send them into spiraling into a meltdown. Window seats give you (and your baby) a little bit more separation from the rest of civilization.
Changing a diaper on a plane isn’t that bad—when there is a changing table
I have to confess one of my biggest fears about flying with Bobby was the prospect of changing a dirty diaper mid-flight. Hell. Sheer hell if sudden turbulence is involved. I was in my seat for all of fifteen minutes when my fear became a reality, and he pooped. I asked the flight attendant if there was a bathroom with a changing table, and she said, wait, let me double check. (!)
Double check? What? Airplane bathrooms without a fold-down changing table above the toilet, you might ask? It’s for real. In smaller or older planes, they just don’t have them. It’s totally hit or miss—except on Jet Blue, which has changing tables on every single plane.
When there’s no changing table in sight, parents are forced to sit on the toilet and change their kid’s diaper as said kid lies across their lap. Or, horror, spread out your portable changing station on the lavatory floor. Not ideal. I was in luck on this flight (and have been on every other flight since): the changing tables on Delta were clean and wide. Going through the whole process was actually not as bad as I thought. But I have discovered that these Babies "R" Us diaper trash bags come in handy when traveling, as they are scented—and the whole roll ties easily on to your changing pad.
Keep bottles, pacifiers, and toys handy
Babies don’t know enough to pop their ears during takeoff and landing to relieve pressure. So that’s when a bottle, pacifier, or nursing comes in handy, as sucking and swallowing can help relieve the pressure.
Be patient with your baby—and yourself
Back to my nightmare of a flight. Boarding went well, but as we took our seats, Bobby started crying uncontrollably. He cried during takeoff (pacifiers and bottles didn’t help) but fell asleep. Ah, relief! The nap was short-lived, and he cried for the rest of the flight. We did everything to soothe him, from bouncing him in our laps to walking with him up and down the aisle to feeding him. Nothing worked, and we were those people with the crying kid.
I was mortified, but quickly realized that the other passengers around us were sympathetic. A woman in first class started making funny faces at him. The man next to me said not to worry, he had his noise-canceling headphones. A Delta flight attendant came by to give Bobby his “wings,” a little pin that was quite cute. We smiled, but I wanted to use it to stab my own eyes out.
I was a ball of stress, but we got through it. I’ve since learned that it helps to be patient and not get worked up, because kids feed on stress. Once on the ground, we put Bobby in his gate-checked Britax stroller, and he was smiling and happy as a clam. Sometimes, you just have to throw your hands up and not let the little things—like a baby crying on a plane—get to you.