This is third in a series of posts that offer effective air travel strategies to new parents traveling with infants. The first shares CheapAir tips on how to research and book flights and can be found here. The second covers packing and airport logistics.
You’ve done it! You’ve logged precious time painstakingly planning and booking the optimal baby-friendly flight times for your holiday, you arrived at the airport early, breezed through security and are now strolling down the jetway, getting ready to step onto the plane with your little bundle of joy. You’ve done everything possible to insure a successful flight. So why are you terrified? Well, we can’t say we blame you. You’re officially now at the mercy of your infant’s state of mind and whim. This is simply where you have to let go of your control issues, hang on to your sense of humor and hope for the best. In addition, here are a few in-flight coping techniques to help you through any rough waters:
1. Take the high road.
People will roll their eyes when they see you coming. The businessman sitting next to you may harrumph and sigh his way through the entire flight if your baby so much as makes a peep. Your job is to be unfailingly polite. Grin and bear it. Do not change your baby’s diaper on the tray table (flight attendants say they see it all the time). Do not let your wee one kick the seat in front of you. The best you can do if your baby is disturbing the other passengers is to apologize and mean it. Don’t be “that guy,” the parent version. No one cares if you’re tired or having a bad day. That’s the bad news. The good news is that if you keep your sense of humor, someone will usually pat you on the back and say “I have two kids of my own. You’re doing fine.” Or a grandmotherly type will actually want to play with your kiddo on the flight. We spent our pre-parent years actively avoiding in-flight conversationalists like the kindly grandma with any number of accoutrements – ear plugs, headphones, books. You name it, we tried it. When you have a baby, you’ll be grateful for anyone on the plane who wants to entertain or distract your little one.
2. Find a flight attendant friend.
If you anger the staff, you’re going to have a long flight. New parents who hit the flight crew with a litany of special requests before the flight is even in the air will be branded as high-maintenance. When your tone comes across as imperious demand rather than polite request, you will not get the best service. We always try to grease the skids when the first parent boards, (if you’re using our tried and true “divide and conquer” boarding technique). Have your partner let the attendant know you are traveling with a baby and ask them if there is anything you can do to help the other passengers around you have a more relaxing flight. There’s not, but it’s the thought that counts. If you’re a dream of a passenger and the flight is not full, now is when a kindly flight attendant might move you to a better part of the plane (i.e. one with an empty row.) That’s new parent nirvana, right there.
3. Feed your baby on takeoff and landing.
The sucking reflex will help adjust your baby’s ears to changes in cabin pressure. You must do this for his or her comfort. If you’re bottle-feeding baby, the flight attendants will either warm the formula for you or can bring you warm water. Breastfeeding mamas are self-sufficient! Public breastfeeding is (somewhat surprisingly) still a controversial subject in 2014. Know that not everyone will be as comfortable with your right to breastfeed, but that it is your right nonetheless. Some airlines do have a written policy about breastfeeding, so if you are concerned, it can be worth an email to ask for clarification. Keep in mind that an airplane is close quarters. You’re just not going to be as comfortable as you would be at home. Some women like a window seat for the privacy. Some prefer an aisle so you can move around a bit more. If while you’re breastfeeding someone says something unkind or intrusive, just take a deep breath. Your baby is the priority. And a happy, sleepy baby with a full tummy is the goal for everyone. Squabbling with passengers over ideology is not the point. And honestly, we can’t think of a worse time and place to debate any issue than in the air on a flight. If you’ve been treated unfairly, when you deplane you can get the names of the flight personnel and write a letter to the airline detailing the incident.
4. Bribe your baby.
Bring a couple of baby’s favorite toys (don’t overdo it-see our packing tips in part 2). Some parents put the toys away a couple of weeks prior to travel so they seem that much more interesting when you bring them out on the flight. Babies have short memories – this is a good thing when it comes to toys!
5. Bribe the other passengers?
Of late, there are countless Internet stories about parents who get guerilla-style proactive with their seatmates. We’ve heard about couples who hand out goody bags filled with things like candy and ear plugs, accompanied with a charming notes from baby apologizing ahead of time for any inconvenience they might cause. This is adorable and sweet so go ahead if it makes you feel better. If your baby has some sort of a major meltdown on the flight, some other parents swear by buying people in the vicinity a cocktail. We think kindness and a bit of self-deprecation go a long way in placating Passenger Cranky Kidhater. Be polite and be apologetic if the situation warrants. Bribes are no substitute for basic good manners. Some people just do not like kids. Because yours is the most perfect human being ever produced, it will be hard for you to understand this (trust us, we’ve been there). Try not to take it personally.
Overall, and it can’t be said enough, keep in mind the endgame. If you’re traveling with an infant, odds are that it’s a happy occasion, and that you’re slogging through the air travel in order to introduce your little nugget to friends and family who can’t wait to meet him or her. Give yourself a break. You’re doing just fine. And one last thing: remember what it’s like to travel with a new baby. Someday you may be in a position to say a few kind words to another new mom or dad and ease their anxiety.
Hope this primer was helpful. Please feel free to comment and ask any questions you might have. You can also email us at Ask@CheapAir.com. We love hearing from our readers and customers.