Henry is only 11 months old but he's already been on 14 airplanes. We were perhaps a little overzealous with our travel in his first year but for the most part we've had fun taking him all over the country. He's a really easy going flier (so far, knock on everything) and the most he's ever cried is about 5 minutes on a flight home from San Diego. Otherwise, he's been happy to hang out, play with whatever random items he can get his little hands on, and flirting with flight attendants.
Flights 1 & 2 - SFO > LAX > SFO - this was our first trip with the little guy. He was small and immobile (3.5 months) and it was a short flight so it was pretty easy. I believe he fell asleep on both flights but this was during the "can fall asleep anywhere" phase.
Flights 3 & 4 - SJC > OGG > SJC - our first long trip! We upgraded to first class on Hawaiian in both directions to give us a little more room. He was happy as a clam the whole way. Slept, flirted with flight attendants, happily sat on our laps. He was sitting up by this point (5.5 months) and could roll over but was still happy to sit still for the most part.
Flights 5 & 6 - SFO > SNA > SFO - quick one night trip to visit Disneyland for Becca and Jenna's third birthday. Our only flights on Southwest this year (the less I fly Southwest the happier I am). In general we've found bulk head is the best place to be with a baby so I paid for early seating (SWA does family boarding AFTER A, so it's not that much of an advantage) to guarantee is the front row. On the way home the flight wasn't full so we took a whole row and Henry got his own seat, despite not paying for it, which is an advantage of SWA, but not a frequent enough occurrence that it's worth flying them more often. This was a short flight but I think he still slept both ways.
Flights 7 & 8 - SFO > SAN > SFO - this was our first trip after he was more mobile (9 moths) so I was a little worried. We didn't upgrade so we were a little tight, but it's a short flight so it wasn't too big of a deal. But Henry wanted to touch everything which does become problematic when someone is sitting in front of you. This was probably our most difficult trip, but that is really all relative. He cried once for 5 minutes trying to fall asleep on the way there then he was out in the oddest position on my leg. On the way home the people in front of us reclined their seats which was suboptimal (also, really?).
San Diego was also my first trip with Henry after breast feeding which meant packing was far more simple.
Flights 9 & 10 - SFO > JFK > SFO - our first long flight since Henry became mobile. We purchased Main Cabin Select seats so we could have the bulkhead row on the way to New York and Henry was able to play on the floor. On the way home Scott was not with us so I purchased Henry his own seat for his car seat, which once the seat belt sign was off was great for dancing and jumping.
Flights 11 & 12 - SFO > ORD > SFO - our first bad luck struck this trip when we had a 3.5 hour delay from SFO to Chicago. We knew about 1 hour before we left for the airport so thankfully we didn't spend the whole delay in the airport. We had upgraded to 1st class so hanging out wasn't terrible except for screwing with nap timing for the rest of the day. Henry even got to sit in the pilot's seat. On the way home our bad luck continued when Henry had an accident in the security line and we did not have any extra clothes. The one time I don't pack extra clothes! He flew home pantsless and then got a good bath when we arrived home.
Flights 13 & 14 - SFO > LAX > SFO - our last trip for the time being. This one was short and sweet, Henry didn't even need to nap on either flight. We didn't feel the need to upgrade for a 55 minute flight and Henry was fine for the short journey to and from LA.
Scott and I pretty much have the travel routine down. Some tips and tricks we've learned along the way:
- Pack light. I know this seems impossible with a kid but we've got it down to as light a load as we can. I keep a packing list in Henry's room that I refer to whenever we pack his bag. We usually have one carry on each (mine is the diaper bag), the stroller, car seat, one piece of luggage for Henry, and one piece of luggage that Scott and I share. If it's a short journey, we also carry on our luggage. We gate check our stroller and carseat if we're carrying on our luggage, and check them with our luggage when we check bags. If you gate check, the stroller and carseat come to you in the jetway. We prefer to bring our own carseat to renting one. Yes it's one extra item, but we feel it's worth it. When I was breast feeding we had one extra carry on and would check our luggage.
- Pacifiers are the best. Seriously. Helps Henry pop his ears, helps him fall asleep, and keeps him from making too much noise. Henry doesn't cry a lot but sometimes he screams with happiness which can be just as annoying to people who aren't his parents.
- It's all about the baby carrier. We don't use the stroller in the airport. I always carry Henry in my Ergo. It allows us to use the stroller to carry bags (Henry's is usually a duffle and fits right where he'd sit) and the car seat and gives me the use of both of my hands.
- Know the security routine.
- I wear Henry through security. I use the metal detector instead of the xray and then get a little hand swipe. I still have to take off my jacket and shoes so I tend to wear slip ons and wear my jacket over the carrier. I usually make sure my shirt is long enough to hide my belt since I know it doesn't set off the metal detector but security makes me take it off if they see it, which is annoying while wearing the carrier.
- Liquids: you can carry liquids for the baby, even squeeze pouches and water, as long as you separate it from the rest of your stuff. Sometimes they do a liquids test, usually they don't. I've carried water pre-measured in Henry's bottles, in my own water bottle, and in his sippy cup, and I've never had an issue.
- Ask if the flight is full. Or keep your carseat until you board. If it's not, you may be able to use one of the extra seats for free. On the way home from Orange County we were able to give Henry his own seat and so brought on the car seat. On the way home from Chicago we had our row to ourselves but didn't know that before hand. If we had asked we would have been able to bring it on.
- Don't buy hot coffee at the airport. We usually arrive sleep deprived and in my pre-child days I always got a large coffee for the plane. This makes just about everything impossible later on. Hot coffee has to be carried. In a hand. A hand that can be carrying bags, pushing a stroller, or dealing with a small child. Iced coffee also requires these things but can be drunk much faster, thus giving the caffeine boost without the hassle.
- Hire a car. We've traveled to and from the airport in a number of ways. Our favorite is a car service that comes with their own car seat. We've also parked at the airport. Henry rides on the shuttle bus in his baby carrier. When in LA and San Diego we rent a car. It's easier than worrying about installing and uninstalling the carseat in various family vehicles.
- Upgrade, upgrade, upgrade. We're usually able to upgrade on our carrier of choice (Virgin America) and do so when traveling long distances. It's usually about the same as booking Henry his own seat and I prefer 2 seats in Main Cabin Select or 1st to 3 seats in coach (not a luxury we'll have much longer once he's old enough to require his own seat). We love the bulk head row. Henry plays happily on the floor at our feet and we don't have to worry about him disturbing anyone in front of us.
- Everything is a toy. We've mostly stopped traveling with toys. Henry usually plays happily with everything BUT his toys when he's some place new so I scope out kid safe items and let him play with those. On the plane his favorites are cups, safety information cards, airplane remotes, my wallet, and anything he can pull out of his baby bag.
- Just go with it. Things go wrong. The more you can roll with it, the happier you'll be, because when it comes to travel, anything that can go wrong likely will. If you're not a parent who can go with the flow, I wouldn't recommend traveling with a baby.
We're definitely going to keep traveling as long as Henry is happy to do so, but we're definitely going to travel much less in the coming year. We're already planning to return to Hawaii in December but that may be our only long flight in year 2.