Flying tips with a baby
March 4, 2013 8:29 PM   Subscribe

My Wife and our 1 year old and I are about to embark on a 3 leg trip. I'm after generic airport/airline tips for babies but I have a few specific things to address.

I'd love to be able to have some sort of priority check-in. I am a Qantas Frequent Flyer and I'm flying oneworld airlines, but I don't have any of the exclusive club access or platinum cards or anything like that. We just have regular economy tickets with JAL and American Airlines. Are there any services that allow us to bypass the long arduous wait to check in?

We have 5.5 hours in Narita airport. If there is a lounge we can access during that time I'm keen to find out. I looked into priority pass but as we are leaving Sunday I don't have time to get it processed and have the card in my hand. Any tips for lounge access in terminal 2 of Narita airport?

And any other airport/airline tips greatly appreciated. I've read the other links I could find on this topic which were very handy (change of clothes for us! Brilliant!)
posted by Admira to Travel & Transportation around Narita, Japan (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Looks like the TEI lounge in Terminal 2 is available for simple paid entry.
posted by jacalata at 9:04 PM on March 4, 2013

Is the baby walking at this point? I always used a sling in the airport and if the baby was walking, I let her walk as much as possible before we boarded. I also boarded as late as possible to minimize airplane seat time.

Just be aware that you won't do much on the journey except take care of the kid. Don't expect to read anything or do the sort of stuff you would've done pre-kids. If your expectations are in line, it's really not that hard to travel with a kid.
posted by dawkins_7 at 9:05 PM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've been in your position, and the absolute best thing you can find is a place quiet enough for your baby to fall asleep. This is remarkably difficult, even in airport lounges: they usually have all the lights on, all the time, and blare announcements VERY LOUDLY every few minutes. I don't know if this will help you, but there are dayrooms available inside terminal 2 at Narita. If that doesn't work for you, I recommend bringing a blanket or something else to spread on the ground, and perhaps a sheet to make things a bit shadier if possible.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:54 PM on March 4, 2013

It's worth checking whether you can get placed in an "infant location", which they may be able to arrange. Even if you don't need a bassinet or infant seat for the bassinet platform, being in an infant location means that anyone who ends up sharing a row with you is well-warned. If you think you might use the infant location, check what the seat/bassinet is: Quantas uses these weird box-like things that a 1-year old may not tolerate, other airlines sometimes use sit-up seats that children who like car seats may like.

While I agree with dawkins_7 in principle, bring one book or a kindle or something for yourself, and keep it available. You will not be able to sleep if the baby sleeps, so you need something to keep you awake and sane. Try, if you can, to time feedings, etc. so as much as possible is done on the JAL leg or in Narita....American is notoriously unwilling to accommodate kids or help travelling parents. Alternate baby care duties with your wife, so each of you gets at least a tiny bit of sleep.

If you can, arrange a last-minute stroller-check (a gate check), so you have a stroller for your entire time in the first airport, and make sure the sling/carrier you bring on the flight has good lower-back support - your baby may be in it for longer periods than you are used to carrying a 1-year-old!
posted by Wylla at 11:53 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had an opposite experience on American. After years of abuse from United FAs we took an AA transatlantic flight and had the best crew ever when it came to accommodating our child. Then we flew UA years later and had a great crew there.

Lesson is, if you don't expect anything out of the flight crew when it comes to helping with the children, it will be a pleasant surprise when they do. International crews usually are the most friendly an airline can offer.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:17 AM on March 5, 2013

I am in the middle of this trip on my own with a busy (and now sick) toddler. We fly home tonight. Two legs with an almost 4 hour layover in the middle. What has worked so far: the iPad. The kid loves it. I loaded up some videos and toddler apps like bubbles and my play house and that has passed a lot of time. He also likes looking at pictures of himself and the family. I also bought 2 new board books for the flight and a travel magna doodle. He likes me to draw familiar things like dog, car, ball etc... I decided to gate check a small stroller as carrying him through the layover is just too much. My little guy will also sleep in the stroller which reclines and has a shade (first years ignite).
I also packed a cooler with lots of his milk and snacks. Bring extra as a long delay is killer with a baby and not enough food. Last week my 1 hour shuttle fight between cities ended up with us flying back and forth 3 times and sitting 5 hours on the tarmac as we couldn't land due to bad weather. I only had 4 hours or so of food for him so the last few hours were rough.

Bring a favourite blanket and comfortable clothing and at least one extra outfit for you and your wife in the carry on. Having to travel while peed, pooped or vomited on is horrible.
I also bring a full sized pillow with me as I have found I can put it on my lap and the baby can sleep pretty well on top. While still in my arms I am no longer holding all his weight so that was more comfortable.

Finally the take off and landings are hard on their ears. Have a soother, a bottle or a boob handy to get them sucking to reduce the pressure. With my now non nursing toddler I have found huge success with a small sucker/lolly pop.

Good luck.
posted by saradarlin at 6:41 AM on March 5, 2013

Also, as much snark and stories you will read in comments sections about complaints directed towards parents flying with babies, MOST (as in 99.9%) people do not care and are NOT bothered if your baby makes noise, cries, etc.

Good luck! I have two tiny ones and I can't imagine how I would ever fly with them, so I look on with pure awe when I see other parents flying with their babies.
posted by TinWhistle at 7:26 AM on March 5, 2013

Also, work the local landscape. That is, on the plane, play with the sun shade and the table and the barf bag (puppet!) and... In the terminal, watch the planes out the window, and walk up and down the halls, and talk about what's in the shops, and ride the escalators, and maybe ride in a luggage cart, and . . .

Many airports have entertainment/play lounges for kids. Yours is pretty young but might still find some diversions there. Layovers seem (and can feel) scary, but keep in mind what you'd do to fill that time in your livingroom (or out and about) and you'll probably be ok. Good luck!
posted by acm at 7:43 AM on March 5, 2013

It's tough for a child to be still that long, and seeing it from her perspective was important for being able to address hermy daughter's needs.

I always brought lots and lots of little toys for my daughter. Even before she appeared to be tiring of one, I'd replace it with another, so that she was constantly faced with novelty. As most kids love unwrapping things, most of these were wrapped in colorful paper. She could then also play with the wrapping paper.

She used a pacifier, and I would bring half a dozen differently shaped pacifiers. Again, I'd swap them out regularly, so that she had something novel to suck on. (Having several is also handy if they fall on the floor, get lost, etc.) But most important for her happiness was the variety of shapes (and presumably tastes and textures) so that she was always given something novel.

Many of the lessons I wanted my daughter to learn were abandoned while flying. Just getting her through the long, boring trip was my goal. All thoughts of "this isn't the right thing to be teaching Caprietta" were abandoned, because this is one flight, not her whole childhood. Ditto diet. She would eat things I'd never let become part of her diet because it wasn't a pattern I was establishing (and again, the novelty helped keep her amused).

Having a variety of clothes for her helped too, in case of spills, changing temperatures, diaper accidents, etc.

And definitely it's a good idea to let the little one wiggle, walk, crawl, etc. as much as possible before boarding. I've been chastised for letting her run around the boarding area, and said simply, "I'd rather she got her wiggles out here than on the plane," and had instant acceptance from the chastiser.

Check in online before heading to the airport, and the in-airport part will be shorter. Also ask for help as soon as you get there.

And really, it's not that bad. There can be bad times, but they're the exception not the rule.

Have fun!
posted by Capri at 7:50 AM on March 5, 2013

As far as priority check-in goes, you won't be able to take advantage of it without status or a premium fare, but you should definitely check in online and take advantage of JAL's Fast Baggage Drop counter so you can minimize your time spent waiting in line. It looks like they have reciprocal check-in with AA, so that should be useful.

I know AA doesn't allow passengers traveling with infants or children to pre-board, but JAL will. On a flight I just took, I boarded with a father who went ahead separately to get the stroller gate-checked, car seat installed, and carry-on bag in the overhead bin. The mother, who had the baby and diaper bag, boarded in the last group, and by the time she got to their seats, all she had to do was put on seatbelts and shove the bag under the seat in front. It was a masterfully-choreographed organizational ballet, IMHO.

This goes regardless of whether or not you're flying with a kid, but I always stop at the duty-free shop and pick up a small box of chocolates (individually wrapped so that they can be distributed easily) to give to the crew on longer flights. Since airlines no longer allow cash tips, it's how we say our thanks.
posted by evoque at 7:58 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm a frequent flyer and I don't have kids, but I like kids and I don't begrudge them their seats on the airplane.

1. Bring a few extra changes of clothing. Your kid is going to have a blowout. Trust me on this. Also some zip plastic bags to put all the stinky clothes in. You can burn it at your destination.

2. Talk to your doctor about Dramamine Jr, or the equivalent in your neck of the woods. It will settle an upset tummy and has the delicious side-effect of drowsiness.

3. If you can get your kiddo to nurse or drink liquid from a bottle on take off and landing, he'll be a happier camper. The pressure changes on little ears can be painful and sucking really helps.

4. Bring a tablet/DVD player with things that entertain your child. His favorite movies, games, etc.

5. There's a playroom at Narita in Terminal 2. You might want to check that out for a while, let the kidlet blow off some steam.

6. There are also showers at Narita. I would have killed to have showered on my 6 hour layover in Seoul. They also have dayrooms, which you may want to use.

7. Relexology and Massage at Narita too. Japan is so freaking civilized!

8. At some point your kid is going to lose his shit. He's going to meltdown, scream and cry. Be prepared for it. You'll be helpless! Don't worry, most folks are parents and will commiserate with you. There may be an asshole in the crowd, but for the most part, we understand.

You can do this, it won't be so bad! Have a great time wherever you're headed to!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:58 AM on March 5, 2013

We've been on a number of flights with lil ubu, including overseas trips at 4 months & about 20 months. He's always been really well behaved.

Here are a bunch of random notes:

- Airline staff will often do heaps to make things quicker & easier for you, eg ushering you to the business / platinum checkin.

- If you check in online (usually available a day or two before departure) there's an accelerated queue for your luggage checkin anyway.

- You can either take your stroller to the gate, or check it in as luggage & borrow an airline stroller for use in the airport. If checking it in at the gate, they rush it downstairs & load it into the luggage compartment. When getting off the plane, be sure to ask where your stroller will be! On one flight it was unloaded to the bottom of the stairs & waiting on the tarmac - I had to talk security into letting me go back to get it because we thought it would be in the normal luggage collection area.

- Boobies or something else to suck on takeoff & landing. Sweets as a last resort because of sugar high issues.

- Tire the little one out as much as possible before boarding. They sleep a lot on planes anyway.

- Have lots of little snacks & toys ready. Wrap the toys up as little presents, so the kid will spend time unwrapping them. Pro tip: toys should be small, but not so small that they can fall easily into gaps. We probably destroyed a premium economy reclining seat-bed with half a dozen small pencils irretrievably dropped into the mechanism.

- Do you use those sickly sweet smelling odour-neutralising nappy disposal bags, available at most chemists & supermarkets? You should. Other users of the plane toilets will thank you, and baggies aren't generally findable on planes.

- iPads are good. Inflight entertainment in my experience is useless for somebody so young...lil ubu hates headphones.

- lil ubu also hated being strapped into the double seatbelt thing they give you. Bring something to divert the little one during this period.

- Start telling them weeks beforehand how they'll be going on a plane, and how much fun it will be. Maybe see if your library has any "Baby Boo Goes on a Plane" type books. Point out planes flying overhead & talk about them. If in the Inner West, this should be easy.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:10 PM on March 5, 2013

PS - they'll usually call families with small children to board first. You're probably better off boarding as close to last as possible - less time stuck motionless in a seat.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:11 PM on March 5, 2013

You have lots of good suggestions here. I'll just add (repeat) one thing:

Ask for help!

I fly (used to fly) a lot, and even before I had kids of my own, I had nothing but sympathy for stressed and harried parents with cranky babies and kids. Most people will be very glad to help you out in any way they can, whether it is switching seats or holding something or getting out / putting away a carry-on. Just ask, and let people surprise you with their helpfulness and generosity.

(And of course, air crews are trained to help and it's part of their job. I've seen long haul cabin crew walk babies up and down the aisle so that parents could nap for 10 minutes.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 8:09 AM on March 6, 2013

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