Baby in the air
January 3, 2013 1:36 PM   Subscribe

Travel with baby filter: which of these flights is a better idea for an 8 month old baby?

In a month or so, I have to travel cross country for work (from the east coast of the US to the west coast). For various reasons (largely breastfeeding but also nearby family to visit) Mr. Kestrel and baby Kestrel are coming too. Baby Kestrel will be 8 months old.

Her schedule: typically she wakes up between 6 and 7, takes a 1.5 hour nap about 2 or 2.5 hours after she wakes up, takes a shorter nap about 3 hours after the second nap, and goes to sleep at 7.

Our choices: one outgoing flight leaves around 5:30 in the morning, has two stops, and we arrive at the final destination about 3:30 East Coast time. Another leaves around 11 in the morning, has two stops, and we arrive at the final destination about 9:30 East Coast time. A third option would be to fly to a different city -- only one stop -- and drive the rest of the way. That would mean trading in the final ~2 hours of either itinerary (layover plus short flight) for renting a car and a 2 hour drive.

Clearly, either trip will suck in various ways. But, oh parents of metafilter, which will suck less? Getting her up way early and arriving at a reasonable hour? Or letting her take at least part of her morning nap at home, and arriving late? I'm somewhat inclined towards the latter, because I think it will help her cope with the time difference.

Any other tips appreciated, though I have read various Asks about flying with babies (from which I learned that I should nurse her during takeoff and landing, for example.)
posted by kestrel251 to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Honestly, when my baby was that age (and still now, actually) I just do what works best for me, and he will sleep when he can, or not. And that has always worked out fine (but of course every kid is different). There's a time change involved so no matter what you do there will be sleep disruptions.

So my advice is to do what's most convenient for you, and to not worry about sleep.

Also, when we flew with the kid, he nursed at takeoff and slept most of the way, both ways, so if she's tired at takeoff that might actually work in your favor for having a more peaceful flight.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:47 PM on January 3, 2013

Arrive late. Waking the baby up early is never good. My vote is for option #3, where you drive the last 2 hours. Expect to make a few stops during the drive.

Being able to get out of the car, clean up the vomit at a McDonalds, and get a new shirt out of the trunk is much better than sitting in it while waiting for the plane to land and the Fasten Seat Belt sign to go off, as half the plane gives you withering glares and the flight attendants sprinkle the area with coffee grounds. I know this from personal experience. Every time you fly with a baby there is a risk that this will happen.

Make sure to reserve seats together, preferably as far away from other people as possible and as close to the bathrooms as possible.
posted by steinwald at 1:47 PM on January 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

Are those the only options? Can you do anything with no stops? Getting on/off the plane and dealing with takeoff and landing have always been the worst part of traveling with our little ones. If those are the only options, take the third one.
posted by zsazsa at 1:50 PM on January 3, 2013

If I was on the 5.30 flight I would much rather not have a crying baby on it with me. Crying during normal daytime hours is much more bearable, and it sounds as though she may sleep in the evening anyway.

Option D sounds best -- catch the 11.00 flight, having tried to avoid or cut short her nap so that she will sleep more.

Please never see changing planes with a child as a chance for some quiet time, always try to use up some child energy around the airport so that they will sleep more during the flights. That is kinder to them as well as to the other passengers, even if while she is a baby you feel an idiot wandering round chatting to her brightly trying to hold her attention.
posted by Idcoytco at 1:52 PM on January 3, 2013

I think the later flight. The early flights will have more business folks on them and in the event baby is not particularly happy about flying that day, leaving at 11:00am will be much better for you, baby and everyone. Also, you need to consider lines at check-in and security. IF this is a weekend flight, take the early one.

I also think that you are traveling, so baby may have to deal with messing up his schedule. Do what is going to be most convenient for you.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:53 PM on January 3, 2013

Later flight, but the fewer stops the better. If your baby sleeps in the car, that's the best choice by far.
posted by snickerdoodle at 1:55 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, do nurse or offer a soother for takeoff and landing, as the pressure changes can hurt babies' ears.

And travel goes better if for a few weeks beforehand you prepare by loosening up on the daily schedule and for older kids offering foods that they don't usually get but you are pretty sure will be available in every cafe.
posted by Idcoytco at 1:57 PM on January 3, 2013

Are those the only options? Can you do anything with no stops?
Unfortunately, it's traveling from small town to small town -- there's no way to do it nonstop.

A further complication: I just remembered a complication with ending the flights at the nearby big city and driving the rest of the way. At that airport, all the car rental agencies -- all of them -- are off site. You have to get on a shuttle bus and go to this massive Rental Car Facility. I think that axes that option, no? It'll add an hour and a bus trip to the 2 hour drive.

(Then again, if we fly to the final small airport, we still have to take a shuttle to where we're actually staying, which we would avoid with a rental car.)
posted by kestrel251 at 2:18 PM on January 3, 2013

I'm not a parent, but I've traveled enough to see how to do it the best way possible.

Are you buying her a seat and taking her in her car seat on the plane? It's more expensive, but if she likes her car seat and she usually falls asleep in it, it could be a Godsend. Plus she gets her own luggage allowance.

The fewer stops the better. I'd much rather rent a car and drive the last bit, than deal with a second stop. Schlepping through airports with baby detritis is for the birds.

One airport, one flight is 10 times better than a connecting flight. Please trust me on this. ESPECIALLY if the connection is through Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago or Philly.

Bring lots of little amusements for her, be sure to bring her favorite blankie and stuftie, and introduce her around to the other passengers.

Check with your pediatrician about Dramamine Jr. It can help if she gets queasy and it has the lovely side effect of making little ones sleepy.

As for you, be sure to have lots of healthy, high protein snacks with you. Delays and issues with food service could strand you and leave you hungry when you can least afford it. Drink lots and lots of water. Flying is so dehydrating and nursing won't help matters at all.

It may not exactly be fun, but it can be done with as little hassle and stress as possible.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:23 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

We went with early flights - we would barely wake her transferring from home to car, strap her into a babycarrier once we got to the airport and nurse as needed. The earliest flight we took (0430 departure from our house, 0600 flight) she went to sleep as the plane took off and woke up when we landed, close to her usual schedule. Then a bit of breakfast (we usually trvel with our own food), snuggling with people and into the car for a few hours drive. It meant we arrived mid-afternoon and were able to chill for a bit and get her acclimatised to the weather difference, the people and the house, before getting her down to sleep there.

I nursed as much as possible, let her have a lollipop one flight (offered by the very nice dad a row over - he had no English skills and was travelling with two little ones so I didn't want to knock him back over something so trivial and so kind) and in the 10 flights by 10 months had one incident where she cried on takeoff (she came down with the flu that night). Babycarriers, preferably front carry, were a godsend. With that, a messenger bag with the essentials and jeans with pockets, we were set. We only took a pram once, the rest of the time someone usually had one we could borrow (and at 8 months you can just use cheapo umbrella ones and leave it at the airport). We pack light, so it was one rolling bag and the carseat strapped to that - usually he had the bag, I had the baby and the carryon and we were off. Hell, a couple of trips we didn't even bother checking luggage, but we're notorious for packing super light. And we coslept.

We never once had luck with 'skip the nap, she'll sleep more' method; inevitably she would either fall asleep at the absolute worst time and short of shaking her/screaming, would sleep through anything, or she would be so tired and wound up she would cry, piteously, and not sleep. And meds were never reliable.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:28 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

A couple of years ago I was in a similar dilemma, traveling with a 3 year old and a six month old, and elected a shorter flight + longer drive combo. We were very glad we did. Flying can be tough, and if your kid is melting down its doubly stressful both because you want to soothe your baby and you are also aware of the people around you. Fly less, drive more.
posted by ambrosia at 2:34 PM on January 3, 2013

If the mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

Get enough sleep, leave lots of time in your schedule for nursing breaks and catnaps, and make sure you have enough to eat and drink yourself. When your baby is trying to decide whether to have a meltdown or not, sometimes she looks at you and does what you're doing. If you're calm and collected, she'll be calm. If you're anxious and agitated, she'll be anxious and agitated.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 2:51 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Having traveled with kids a lot (we have five), I suggest the earlier flights.

As others have said, the baby is still sleepy during the first take-off, which is nice because they will usually nurse and fall asleep for the first part of the trip. Then when it comes time for the connecting flight, if you have kept the baby from napping any more, they will be sleepy again and will fall asleep nursing during take-off again.

My real suggestion is to bring baby Tylenol because it helps the kid sleep better and it keeps their ears from hurting due to pressure changes. And bring plenty of diapers and wipes, a change of clothes, and lots of snacks an 8-month-old can nibble on (Cheerios?).
posted by tacodave at 4:26 PM on January 3, 2013

Seconding the advice to do what works for you. If it were me, I'd go with option 2, because never wake a sleeping baby. Or a sleeping me.

Please never see changing planes with a child as a chance for some quiet time, always try to use up some child energy around the airport so that they will sleep more during the flights.

I agree with this, too. When my daughter was a toddler, I'd have her do wind sprints in this deserted hallway in our connecting airport. It didn't make her sleepy, but it got some of the yayas out. Baby Kestrel might not have yayas yet, though, so maybe this advice is too early.

My kid is an excellent traveller, and I think it's because I started her young. I found that when she was really little, she just kind of loved having my undivided attention for 5 hours. Bring easy portable snacks for all of you and lots of water. Bring a change of clothes (or two!) for the baby, and if you can manage it, a change of shirt at least for yourself isn't a bad idea. Dress you both in layers.

For pastimes, I always brought a mix of old reliables, sure-fire pleasers and brand new things she had never seen before. Novelty is a good time eater. Don't stress about her schedule and naps, once you're in the air, flying is really soothing, it might just lull her to sleep.

Nursing on takeoff and landing never worked for us, but in the dozen or so flights we took in her first year there was literally only one landing that caused a problem, a particularly steep descent in a badly pressurized cabin. She screamed and it was horrible, but it was over in a couple minutes.

I was always travelling alone with a baby, so I don't know if it will be the same in a couple, but flight attendants were always very eager to make me comfortable. I never bought a seat as long as she was under 2, and honestly, dozens of flights segments and only once did they not find me a seat with an empty spot beside it for her. Smile at them a lot and don't hesitate to ask for help if you need it.

The real trick is to just take it one moment at a time. If you get freaked about OHMYGOD it's 9 a.m. and we're leaving the house and are going to be on the road for 9 hours it just seems impossible.
posted by looli at 4:51 PM on January 3, 2013

Oh and special treats, too, if she has anything that she doesn't eat often, but loves (and isn't messy).
posted by looli at 4:53 PM on January 3, 2013

I don't have kids, but I've traveled with plenty of 'em and shared a plane with plenty more: please, for everyone's sake --- your's, Daddy K's and Baby K's, as well as everyone else on your flights --- choose the option with the fewest takeoffs and landings. That's the part that's worst for infants, because of the changes in cabin pressure and the resultant pain in their ears.
posted by easily confused at 6:11 PM on January 3, 2013

How disasterous will the next day be if your kiddo doesn't get to sleep until 9:30? That's really key. With mine, the earlier would be better because they get nutso the next day if they don't go down sometime around their normal bed times, and at 8 months, the 1 layover and then driving would be better than 2 layovers for a couple reasons: 1) at 8 months he doesn't mind car rides and if is tired, will fall asleep easily in them, which is not quite as true with the plane and it is certainly easier on me if he is asleep in a car seat in a car than in my arms in a plane (especially when his older brother keeps insisting on going through me to the bathroom multiple times, but that's not something you have to worry about), 2) you only have to worry about making 1 connection and only about 2 flights being delayed (both of my recent travel excursions have involved massive delays with a 3 year old and infant, oh so much not fun), 3) driving gives you a bunch more freedom in terms of what you do than the plane does and if they times are comparable, then freedom and flexibility is way better with an infant. Oddly enough, I find the layovers (my parent's house is always a 2 plane trip to get to) way worse than being on the plane, you have to stress over getting to your next plane, getting potty and food breaks in, entertaining them during the break but also keeping track of all your carry-ons and make sure you can be ready to board when called, ugh, just horrible. In the plane it's just entertain in one place, much easier actually.

Don't necessarily stress over takeoffs and landings, each kid is different, but neither of mine have had any trouble with those even without nursing or sucking on anything on all the flights they've been on (we are now up to at least 10 with my 9 month old and numerous more than that with his older brother), be prepared with something to suck or to nurse if they get upset, but otherwise, don't worry about that. As others have said, bring the fun things to do with your little one, I wouldn't worry too much about treats with an 8 month old, that's usually a toddler concept, but a favorite toy or two and/or books, and maybe some videos to watch. My youngest loved travelling because it was a rare time he got to watch videos. We had the They Might Be Giants kids music videos when he was younger and now he can have a movie or come Curious George or Pocoyo, though oddly, he's preferred reading/playing/coloring to videos the past couple trips. But at 8 months old they are easier to entertain usually. My 9 month old mostly just people watched or slept.
posted by katers890 at 8:16 PM on January 3, 2013

I think that axes that option, no? It'll add an hour and a bus trip to the 2 hour drive.

Not sure why you'd think that or where you get the hr from. You'll be relieved to be off the plane and out of the airport building so it will feel very different. And it won't take anywhere near to an hr because they don't normally build these things the other end of town or the neighbouring state, they are a very short way away from the airport. And the shuttles run really frequently because they can't get the arriving passengers out of the building otherwise and shifting people is what airports do quite well. You turn up at the bus stop and there's one bus being loaded and the next one just pulling up. And the journey is not normally more than a few minutes. So you're probably looking at upwards of 20 minutes, not an hr. And 20 minutes, in the grand scheme of things and given the kind of journey you're making, is nothing. And yes, there is time to pick up the car itself etc but you'd have that if they were located in the same building, too.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:01 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Thanks, everyone! We ended up going with the last option: later flight to the nearby larger city, and renting a car. I think it's the right call.
posted by kestrel251 at 7:54 AM on January 5, 2013

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