Traveling with baby
June 29, 2012 9:10 AM   Subscribe

Flying for 10+ hours by myself with a 1 year old - crazy, or doable?

I'm in Oregon, and I want to go back home to Puerto Rico for Thanksgiving. I want to take my one year old son. Normally I would not attempt such a long trip with him, but my grandfather has pretty advanced cancer and hasn't met him yet. If I don't take him this year, I'm not sure they will get another chance to meet.

It's a long trip: two longish flights with a layover in between, usually between 10 and 12 hrs depending on the length of the layover. I'm usually exhausted by the time it's over, so I'm not sure how he would handle it. I'd be going by myself because finances don't allow for my husband to come, too. I'm getting pretty anxious about managing him and keeping him happy, and also juggling all the stuff I'm going to have to bring -- I want to get him his own seat so that I don't need to have him on my lap for so long, and I understand I need to bring a car seat for that.

Has anyone done this and survived relatively unscathed? Or is this a bad idea?
posted by DrGirlfriend to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It would've been just fine with my daughter. It would've been a living hell with my son. How do YOU think it would be? Do you think he'd be ok? Can he sit still? Can he deal with being trapped on the plane? Will he sleep most of the time? You're really the only one who can make this call, you know him, you can probably guess how he'll be on such a long trip. That being said, you have a good reason to go, no matter what.
posted by Blake at 9:12 AM on June 29, 2012

You should go, it will mean so much to your grandfather. That said, do as much as you can to make this as enjoyable as possible.

Get the car seat the goes with the stroller. One less piece of equpment to schlep through the airport.

Pack one bag and check it. Again, less to wrangle.

Pack a diaper bag filled with everything you think you might need, toys, diapers, and lots and lots of food, also a couple of extra outfits.

Take advantage of early boarding and anything else you can get out of the airline.

Talk to your pediatrician about Dramamine Jr. This will help with any nausea and it has an awesome side effect of making your little one sleepy.

Does he like watching movies, or TV? Then a portable DVD player might be for him.

Take him for walks up and down the aisle. I love talking to babies on the plane. Find one of me and get me to help entertain him. Find other families who are traveling with kids the same age. If nothing else you can all commiserate together.

Have 1 cocktail towards the end of the flight, you'll need it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:18 AM on June 29, 2012

It will either be the worst day of your life, or go perfectly fine! Good luck! One tip that I've had several friends thank me for: Pack an extra outfit for yourself also. I have learned from unfortunate experience that in the close quarters of an airplane, your child is not the only one that might need an extra outfit.
posted by molasses at 9:42 AM on June 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

This is doable.

I myself flew with three toddlers and no other adult to include a four hour layover. We all survived.

I flew another time with one one year old while also pg. He slept most of the way.

Do bring little toys and snacks.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:02 AM on June 29, 2012

We've traveled quite a bit with our 14 month old, including an international flight last year. Last month's trip was the hardest, I thought he would sleep from the times of the flights, but he hardly slept on either flight (5 hours each). It was definitely easier when he was younger. Here's my strategy (most of the flights have been just him and I, or with my parents, who try to be helpful but don't always know what to do, so I try to be as self sufficient as I can):

Take a good look at your carseat and what it weighs and if it's heavy consider buying something cheaper/lightweight for the trip. If he's using an infant car sest (bucket kind) and still fits in it, take that. If he's using a convertible and it's heavy (like a Britax, etc.), consider buying something like a cosco scenera or evenflo tribute, they each weigh about 9 lbs. and are about $40-60.

I usually take a diaper bag, and a backpack, no purse, I keep my wallet in the diaper bag. If you can get by with just 1 bag even better! I carry on at least one change of clothes for him and myself in case of blowouts. I bring twice as many diapers as I think I will need. I bring a lightweight umbrella stroller to haul everything in, check it at the gate, and for the most part I wear my son - checking in, on/off the airplane, through customs, etc. (The carseat doesn't have to 'match' the stroller since i'm not hauling my son in it, just bags ontop of it. ) The last few times I've flown I've been able to wear him through security, but I think that's at the discretion of your airport tsa folks.

You can bring a 'reasonable' amount (whatever that means, but more than the standard 3oz) of baby food liquids, so I've been packing yogurts (you can get shelf stable ones at target/walmart that don't need to be refrigerated) and applesauce squeeze containers. I get milk for him after security or on the plane. I tend to distract him with lots of food on the plane, snacks, etc., our home rules about puffs, cookies, etc. go out the window.

Don't expect any help from the airlline folks. The airlines seem to have adopted policies designed to discourage families from traveling, intentionally not seating families together (though they will seat you together given his age), eliminating preboarding, etc. (You might find a sympathetic airline attendant who will offer to help carry the carseat on the plane, but they can't carry it off the plane legally, etc.) Plan on basically being on your own. Breathe deep and take whatever time it takes you to get through security/on/off the plane, it is what it is and people can just wait for you to be finished. You may be able to have a family member/friend accompany you through security to help you, different airports have different policies about that, you can check with the ticketing agent when you check in, ask what their policy is for folks needing extra assistance. We've had varying success.

This last trip I burned some sign language videos that he loves onto my ipad, and we watched on mute for hours upon hours.

hope that helps - Have fun!
posted by snowymorninblues at 10:03 AM on June 29, 2012

Best advice I've received for such trips

Bag of endless surprises!

Pack a little bag with many (1 per hour) little surprises that can be brought out once in a while during the trip to offer new and exciting distraction.

Then ... be prepared to give lots of attention -- reading books, playing games, mini puppet shows

Also, if your kid gets ear pain with the descent, ask the stewardess for two hot towels inside coffee cops, then put over kids ears. Relievs the popping like a dream.
posted by chapps at 10:18 AM on June 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

You can do this, and given your grandfather's health I think it's worth it to do it. It might have some miserable moments, but it will pass - you're a pro at getting through the hard stuff with a small kid by now :)

I agree with getting him his own seat - that is really worth it for your sanity and for making things a little easier for the people in your row. Bring small toys and food that are novel or special treats. Extra clothes for both of you and lots and lots of diapers. Also the umbrella stroller will help a lot in the airports and be nice to have when you get there.

I agree with the comments above that airlines basically aren't set up to make flying easier for families. It is what it is. Most people who run it to you will feel sympathetic for what you're doing, and many will be outright friendly and helpful. If your kid cries, has a smelly poop, throws something - it is what it is. You can get through it. Breathe - and enjoy your family time on the other end.
posted by handful of rain at 10:21 AM on June 29, 2012

It really depends on your kid. I did a 6 hour flight with a 13 month old and here's what I learned-

Snacks, snacks, snacks.

GoGoBabyz Travelmate was wonderful!! If there's a stroller you can borrow in PR then you're set.

Earplanes earplugs seemed to help.

Load up an iPod Touch with a bunch of games. Don't forget to include a plain doodle/color app. The iPod worked better than the iPad because she could hold it comfortably.

People can just wait. Ignore the groans or irritated huffs you will undoubtably hear. Just do what you need to do and take care of your kid.

It will NOT be a fun vacation for you. Traveling with a kid that young sucks, it just does. The enjoyment you'll get out of this is watching your son interact with the rest of your family. Bon Voyage!
posted by PorcineWithMe at 10:22 AM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I flew as the sole adult with a 1 yo lap baby and a 3 yo on an 20-hour, 4-segment trip from Bolivia to Chicago when my kids were little. It wasn't fun, but it was doable. The kids were actually not bad, but it was tiring just keeping everything together.
posted by drlith at 10:26 AM on June 29, 2012

Totally doable; just make sure you try to go into it well rested and prepared for it to be not great. Then if it turns out great, you're happily surprised; if it's not, you're not extra frustrated. We flew a similar flight with our 18 month old; it was okay. If you can buy the second ticket and let him sit in his car seat it will be infinitely easier; agree to check as much as humanly possible.
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:27 AM on June 29, 2012

I took a 2 and a 6 year old solo on a 9 hour flight -- totally survivable! 2nding the GoGoBabyz car seat wheelie-thing. Oh, and know that the airplane seat must be in its full upright and locked position before you attempt to install a car seat in it.

This blog written by a former flight attendant has lots of good advice. You might also check out resources geared toward the Indian communities in the US/UK, because in every such family I know, one parent takes the 14+ hour flight home every year with young children and they all come back alive.
posted by apparently at 10:42 AM on June 29, 2012

Take off and descent = hippie candy or snack time. Chewing stops the ear stuff.
posted by couchdive at 10:44 AM on June 29, 2012

I traveled alone with my daughter frequently. The things that helped the most were snacks, new little surprise toys, extra clothes for both of us, favorite stuffie, blanket, something to suck on for ears, the GoGoBabyz car seat, and a wheeled backpack like this. This way you can put everything in the pack and put either the baby or the pack in the car seat while traipsing through the airport. Put your regular stroller in checked baggage for use at your destination.

To me the hardest part was juggling baby, car seat, and carry-on through the airport, the plane ride itself was often slept through.
posted by lunaazul at 10:58 AM on June 29, 2012

I was on a longish flight next to a lady with a one-ish year old kid on her lap a while back. She had a bag of "goodies" ready to go whenever the kid got cranky. She had wrapped them individually like presents in newspaper (tightly, and with plenty of tape). The things weren't anything special (one of them was even a used tube of chapstick), but the unwrapping gave the kid something to concentrate on and a new "toy" to play with afterwards. I think she probably had about 10 or 12 things with her.

Seemed to work very well.
posted by phunniemee at 11:11 AM on June 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

You will be okay. I traveled with a one and a half year old for about that length of trip and it...sort of sucked but not as bad as I thought it would, if that makes sense. DEFINITELY get him his own seat and DEFINITELY load movies/tv/games onto your iPad/phone/whatever.

I also found that more people are kind about your baby on the flight than you would think, because many many people in this world have traveled with kids and are therefore sympathetic. My other feeling is that, even if the kid screams the entire time, eventually the flight will land. If it's a living hell, at least it is a finite one.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 11:37 AM on June 29, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you for all the suggestions, I'm starting to feel better!
posted by DrGirlfriend at 12:11 PM on June 29, 2012

I've done long trips with young children quite a few times. Sometimes it's okay; sometimes it's not. I personally find it helpful to inwardly chant "One way or another, this ends in 10 (9, 8, 7, 6...) hours" over and over. It's one day of your life (well, two, with the return trip) and then it's over. It'll be okay.
posted by Alexander Hatchell at 12:35 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

intentionally not seating families together (though they will seat you together given his age)

Make sure about this one. We just flew on 4 American flights with our nine month old, and for one of the flights, "together" meant three aisle seats in a row. (!!! In what universe would that work?) We had to pay about $25 per person per flight to actually sit together.
posted by that's how you get ants at 1:24 PM on June 29, 2012

Even though you could just buy one ticket & keep him on your lap, for a long flight like this definately buy him a separate set --- there's no way either of you will be happy with 10 hours sharing a seat!

I know you want to share the holiday with your family, but that's one of the biggest travel periods of the year --- could you perhaps go in mid-November instead, and avoid the Thanksgiving crush?
posted by easily confused at 5:23 PM on June 29, 2012

You can ask the ticketing agent for a Guest pass to allow your husband a pass to allow your husband to come with you through security and help you to your gate. It is up to the ticketing agent and some require you to be there 2 hours before the flight to get a pass but if you can get one it is sooooo helpful.
posted by HMSSM at 5:25 PM on June 29, 2012

Sorry I wrote that one handed with a 5 month old who won't take his nap.
posted by HMSSM at 5:45 PM on June 29, 2012

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