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Saturday, October 20, 2018

tips: long haul flights with a baby

Our 17-month-old daughter Ruby has spent 30 hours of her life on long haul flights across both the Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean. When she was 14 months old, she flew with us from Taipei to Seattle. When she was 16 months old, she flew with us from Seattle to Reykjavik and back. Each flight was a learning experience for us. This is our advice to other young travelling families.

The Best Choice: Baby in a Car Seat
When we flew from Taipei to Seattle, our international school paid for the flight. Therefore, we didn't think twice about getting Ruby her own seat. The EVA Air flight was 12 hours long, and I called six weeks in advance to ensure that we got bulkhead seating and a bassinet. Many people may not know this, but a lot of airlines offer free items to parents travelling with a baby. We were given two baby meals, juice, diapers, and some toys. All of it was free. I only knew this because Ruby's babysitter told me. When we found out we were expecting, we imported an FAA approved car seat from the United States to Taiwan. These car seats have a special sticker on them that airport agents at the check-in counter examine before allowing you to carry on your car seat. Sean made sure to look at a youtube video about how to install our car seat in an airplane seat before we boarded the plane. As most airlines allow people travelling with small children to board first, we were able to get the car seat installed very quickly without too many impatient people trying to push past us to find their seats. Having Ruby in a car seat was a life saver on this 12 hour flight. It was a place she was comfortable and familiar with, and it also contained her movements so that she couldn't cause too much of a ruckus with other passengers. It also allowed her to play with her toys and books and eat in a contained space. Ruby did so well on this long flight, and I was so happy that we brought her car seat on the plane.

The Second Best Choice: Baby Sits in Her Own Seat
When we flew back from Iceland to Seattle, our Icelandair plane had one empty seat. The flight attendant kindly asked the woman in our row if she would move so that we could have extra space since Ruby was flying as a lap baby. Thankfully, the woman said yes, so we had a row of three just for our family. We put Ruby in between us. This arrangement was okay. It was definitely harder to keep Ruby in her seat, and she definitely was walking all over us and the seats and playing peek-a-boo at the passengers sitting behind us. Luckily, they were gracious with us and our girl. Meal times and turbulence were difficult. Ruby figured out how to unbuckle her seat belt within ten minutes of take off, and then for the rest of the flight, we were trying to make sure she didn't get her fingers pinched or unbuckle during turbulence. She also made quite a mess with her food because she couldn't really reach the drop down table. I felt pretty bad for the flight attendants who had to clean up our mess after we disembarked even though I tried pretty hard to get most of it myself. If I didn't have an FAA approved car seat, this would definitely be my first choice for flying with an infant.

The Worst Choice: Baby Flies as a Lap Baby
I understand the allure of doing this, which is saving money. However, you would not believe how long 7 hours feels when you have an angry, wriggling lap baby. We flew from Seattle to Reykjavik with Ruby as a lap baby, and I have never been so happy to land in my entire life. The work never ended. I had to make sure Ruby didn't poke the sleeping man next to us (even though she did despite my best efforts). I had to make sure she didn't kick the seat of the woman in front of us (even though she did despite my best effort). I had to make sure she didn't drop her toys, food, bottle, etc. into the aisle of the plane (even though she did despite my best effort). It was horrific, and I will never do it again. Saving money is just not worth this torture (in my opinion). For full disclosure, I should say that Ruby is a very independent baby who does not like to be held or cuddled for a long period of time. I knew better when booking our tickets, but the allure of saving money got to me. I should also point of that this can be a really unsafe option as well. Trying to keep the lap baby seat belt on Ruby was nearly impossible, and we were lucky that there was no unforeseen turbulence or issues with the flight. Lap babies have been very, very seriously injured on flights, so this is something to research and consider as well.

Packing for Flying with a Baby
  • Stroller: You can bring your stroller to the gate at most airports. When we flew EVA Air, we took it to the gate in Taipei and it was waiting for us at the gate in Seattle. When we flew Icelandair, we took it to the gate in Seattle and had to pick it up at baggage in Reykjavik. The same happening coming back to Seattle. Both times I was pretty annoyed that we didn't have a stroller while we navigated the airport, security, and customs. 
  • Baby Carrier: We have an Ergobaby 360, and we carried it on the airplane just in case. We were glad we did when we found out we wouldn't have our stroller until baggage claim. We also used it when Ruby was a lap baby; we wore her in the galley of the plane when she was crying and wouldn't go to sleep. Also, our Icelandair flight did not pull up to a gate for passengers to disembark the plane. Instead, we had to walk down slippery stairs and then get on a bus that took us to the airport. I was so glad we had our ergo carrier for all of those in case times. 
  • Diaper Bag: These items all fit in her diaper bag-- 2 10-ounce bottles with the dried formula already in them; 3 changes of clothes (onesie, socks, pants, shirt) in separate, sealed lunch baggies; 1 sippy cup; 5 different kinds of snacks such as rice crackers, yogurt bites, fig newtons, animal crackers, and dried vegetable bites; 2 books; 5 small toys; 1 stuffed animal; 1 blanket; 1 bag of wipes; 10 diapers; 1 bottle of handsanitizer; and 1 empty grocery bag.
  • We also downloaded some episodes of Peppa Pig and the movie Sing on our iPads. Ruby loves watching these shows, and we figured that in case of a total meltdown, they would appease her. 

Managing Security and the Airport
I am not going to lie-- there is a lot to juggle in the security line at the airport when you have a baby, especially in America where you have to take off your shoes and sometimes do the full body scanner. My suggestion would be to get all of your items on the conveyor while leaving your baby in the stroller. Only when you are completely ready, then worry about the baby. Most security officers want strollers to go through the x-ray machine, but many--including ours-- are too big to fir. Therefore, my husband ended up pushing it through the metal detector without the baby in it. Then, I walked through the metal detector holding Ruby. In Iceland, I had to stand on a raised wooden box while the security officer waved a wand over me and Ruby. I think every country handles this a little bit different. Know that you can bring formula or breast milk through security. As far as the rest of the airport, we hunkered down in a restaurant that had high chairs. Luckily, Ruby loves to people watch!

Thoughts About Flying with a Baby
Was it fun? Not really. Will I do it again? Absolutely. In general, everyone on our flights was very nice and understanding. We didn't have one rude comment or glare. We did try very hard to minimize Ruby's impact on the other passengers, but sometimes, there is only so much you can do. My best piece of advice is to relax. Don't let your baby poke or kick others, but also don't freak out because your baby is acting like a baby. While the hours may feel long, the flight will land, and it will be over eventually. 

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