Another flying-with-a-baby question
December 10, 2013 5:59 PM   Subscribe

In about three weeks I will be embarking on a trip from Australia to the middle of America (solo!) with a very active 14-month-old. In an effort to stave off the anxiety that this prospect raises in me, I'm overthinking the logistics. Would love some advice on a few things.

First, I've read a bunch of other questions on this topic, and found them very helpful (e.g., here and here). I still have a few special-snowflake ones of my own, though.

My son will be 14 months old, and he and I will be the only travellers. He has been on a plane before, at 4 and 7 months, but those were single 2-hour flights. He's pretty big for his age: about 28 pounds, and routinely gets mistaken for at least 18 months old. I do not nurse anymore.

This time we'll be flying from Sydney-San Francisco, then a 2.3 hour layover, then San Francisco - Denver, then a 3 hour layover, then Denver to Grand Junction, CO. I think it comes to about 20 hours total in planes. The Sydney-San Francisco is overnight so I hope he sleeps then. He will have his own seat for most of the flights, especially the long one. I am not sure but I think I will probably have to pick up my luggage, take it through customs, and then recheck it; I don't think they will check it through to my destination (at least, very often they will not). The SYD-SFO and the other tickets were bought on different itineraries, though all are United.

I have three main worries: (a) how to deal with entertainment; (b) how to get through the airport; and (c) how to deal with jet lag.

Entertainment My son is super super active. All he ever wants to do is move, move, move: he started walking at 10 months, his favourite activity is throwing basketballs around, he climbs stairs and all our furniture and ladders(!), and every night we walk about 1/4-3/8 of a mile up a big huge hill to tire him out enough so he goes to sleep. He also doesn't say any words yet, although he understands a decent amount (50-100 words maybe?). I can't picture him sitting still for more than 20 minutes, much less 14 hours. He doesn't really get into narrative stories so apps and books with stories, as opposed to just pretty pictures, aren't great. He loves music and things with people in them. He also loves trains, fire engines, kitties, and doggies. This post had a lot of great apps for toddlers, and I plan on downloading a bunch of them, but I don't think that by itself will hold him for the whole journey. He doesn't normally watch TV but I'm happy to show him episodes of things on my iPad. However, I have no idea what sort of TV kids this age like. I tried him on a Youtube video of the Wiggles, and he liked that. Other ideas for TV, or entertainment in general? I will be bringing loads of snacks and stickers. He is no longer interested in just holding and manipulating objects, although putting things in and out of containers will keep him still for a little bit, and I plan to bring some things for that too. He does not understand crayons and drawing.

On the plus side, he loves novelty and people so I don't think he'll be bothered by all the new things. He is also a really amiable and cheerful little guy as long as he is not bored.

Getting through the airport. We pretty much hardly use the stroller because my son doesn't like it much and will just walk everywhere, which is great normally but we're not going to be able to make it through customs and our next layover at meandering-toddler speed. I don't know if he'll sit for very long in the stroller though. I also can't see how I will juggle the stroller plus one large piece of luggage plus my carryon. Is not bringing a stroller a mistake? We haven't used his Ergo in ages, since he started walking, but I could try that instead(?)... I also don't know whether to bring a carseat. We will be borrowing one on the other end so I don't need it except for the journey. On the one hand, I think he might sleep much better in the plane if he's in a carseat rather than in his own seat with his head in my lap. (Does he have to be in a carseat?) On the other hand, I really don't see how I'll make it through the airport with all of that stuff plus a large carseat. The layover in San Francisco is the one I'm really worried about, because it's so tight, time-wise, and I think I will have to pick up all my luggage to go through customs. I'm kind of stuck here and just keep going around and around. Would love advice from people who have been there, or suggestions for ideas I'm not considering.

Jet lag. Our destination is about 7 hours difference from where we are now, and we'll be there for 3 weeks. I'm thinking of aiming for a schedule where he goes to bed at 9:30pm and wakes up at 8:30am there, maybe 10:30pm/9:30am. (Normally he goes to bed and wakes up around 7:30pm/6:30am). I figure this will work there, and involves fewer hours of adjustment than trying to get back onto his actual schedule. I've read a bunch of advice about how to get babies onto different schedules, but not much on whether this kind of halfway-thing is a good idea. Anything I'm missing here?

The things I'm most worried about are the entertainment and getting through the airport, though. Suggestions that have worked for you, advice of what didn't, and just general reassurance (if appropriate) would be awesome. I'm feeling pretty nervous about this.
posted by forza to Travel & Transportation (36 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sure many others who have travelled with kids before will give you great advice, but I just wanted the address the third part of your question.

You have every right as a person and a mum to travel with your child!

I know a lot of people feel anxious about disturbing others and reactions to them travelling with children but honestly, forget them. People and staff members of airlines and airports are generally understanding, especially if you are on your own.

Being a mum is all about flexibility, so no matter what happens on the day just do your best. That's all anyone can do!

*My daughter (7) flew with a stomach bug that just came on randomly and was sick all the way. The airline staff were fantastic. You just gotta roll with it sometimes.
posted by Youremyworld at 6:21 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Logistics of getting through the airport: Car seat is one of those ones that attach to the stroller, so the kid sits in that through the airport, one less piece to carry. So far as carryon, make it a backpack. That leaves one hand to (awkwardly) push the stroller and frees your other hand to deal with your luggage. To summarise: carryon on back, stroller, kid and car seat in one hand, luggage in the other. No it's not ideal, but it can work. Will your kid throw a fit? Maybe. You'll deal with that too. Just don't go into it thinking everything will be a breeze, resign yourself to the fact that it will probably be difficult (at least parts of it) regardless of how many toy etc you bring but you'll cope.

If you can't get your fellow passengers on board to help out, at least appease them with a free drink and let them know you'll do everything possible to make it smooth for all concerned. Obviously getting them to act as entertainment is ideal if you can swing it. Lots of walks for toddler, DVDs etc. The Wiggles, Yo Gabba Gabba, In the Night Garden, try them all. Be prepared for the fact that eventually they will stop working as he just won't want to be in a confined space and will want to move. Everyone feels like that on a plane, it just so happens that a toddler is not backwards in letting you know. I'd love to reassure you that your toddler will be an angel the entire time, but you know him better than us. Ultimately you can only do what you can do, plan as much as you can and then grit your teeth and get through it. Most people will sympathise as they have been there.

Try to get an evening flight or time it with his sleep so that you can have him unconscious for as many hours as possible. (I tried this with my son but he was so excited to be on a plane he was awake through the whole thing. He spent the entire flight playing peekaboo with the other passengers but it was 5 hours, not 13.)
posted by Jubey at 6:24 PM on December 10, 2013

You will be fine! I used to fly with a friend's very squirmy child around that age --albeit on a shorter flight -- and we all lived. I basically let him do whatever he wanted that was safe and would keep him occupied, and yes this including basically letting him cover my iPhone in gummy bears. (I love that child dearly, which helps.) He had one HUGE fit and you know what? We all lived. (The rest of the time he was a delight.)

At some point, let him get out and walk up and down the aisle of the plane. DEFINITELY let him run around during your layovers as much as possible to burn off some energy. He will certainly sleep for part of the time. We had a doohickey that you attach to the carseat to make it into, basically, a roll-y piece of luggage, and that helped very much, but it's up to you to decide if you want another piece of gear to juggle. A car seat that clips into the stroller is also useful in this scenario. I do think I would consider bringing something that you can sort of contain him with, be it the stroller or the Ergo or whatever -- just because him yelling and irritating but safely contained might be the lesser of two evils, the other being him darting off all the time. Take advantage of pre-boarding so you can get all your stuff settled away.

The best advice I can give you is the one my mom gave me: kids have as much a right to fly as anyone else! Even if he is A NIGHTMARE on the flight, it's finite. EVENTUALLY you will get to your destination and the nightmare will end. (My bet is that it will go better than you're anticipating, though. Sincerely.) In my experience, the stereotypical grumble guses about kids on planes are fewer and farther between than you think (and you know what? Too bad for them. I don't like traveling next to people with colds, but shit happens. If you're doing your best to keep things under control, that's all anyone can ask, and obviously you will be. NO ONE likes being confined on a flight for X hours. It's just that the adults are screaming on the inside). In my experience, most people -- especially flight staff -- are sympathetic and nice when you're traveling with a kid, because SO MANY of us have been there. The fact that your little dude is an amiable and cheerful kid is going to help so much here.

People make this trip every day and get through it! So will you two!
posted by Countess Sandwich at 6:31 PM on December 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

The car seat will offer extra protection if anything happens, turbulence wise. etc. I know a former federal Air Marshall, and he doesn't let his own children fly without their own seats, because of the danger. He saw too many accidents where children "basically became the mother's airbag..." followed by graphic details.

Additionally, in American airports, we have carts that drive people from one gate to another. You can request this, and they'll pick you up when you arrive and drive you where you're going. Makes the luggage seem less daunting.

You can do this. Crayons, favorite snacks, new surprise toys for particularly antsy moments of the trip. Music he likes, a special movie to watch. Things for him to chew on/eat during take offs and landings. Maybe talk to your pediatrician about sedatives and relaxation techniques. Beware that Benadryl can have a confounding effect in kids, making them hyper instead of drowsy. Seriously, talk to an actual doctor about your options instead of just taking advice from other moms.
posted by bilabial at 6:33 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I really like the Denver airport, particularly when I'm in the United terminal. Lots of places to eat and the terminal is nice and long. I know you'll be exhausted at that point but rest assured you can let the little one get a lot of energy out by walking walking walking walking. If at all possible, I'd check all the baggage I could, even if it means checking it at the start of the journey and again in SF. Why bother paying attention to more than you have to?
posted by adorap0621 at 6:36 PM on December 10, 2013

Another option for logistics that I have actually done (just for a shorter flight) would be to put kiddo in the stroller, car seat in a backpack type bag such as this, assuming your kid is out of the infant car seat that attaches to the stroller, push the large piece of luggage with your free hand and for your carry on, assuming its a diaper bag type carry on and not a piece of luggage, order clips like these So you can hang your bag off the stroller in the airport.

This will allow you to carry the heavy car seat on your back which is much easier. I have totally done this as a 100 pound woman and it's doable.

Use this set up all the way to the gate. At the gate, at the end of the ramp before you board, you can gate check the stroller so all you have to worry about is getting to your seat with the kiddo on your hip, car seat on your back and diaper bag over other arm. Plus to the car seat being on your back is that it will be easier to navigate the aisle as opposed to carrying it.

I have never take a flight of this length with a baby so I can't speak to if you SHOULD bring the car seat on the plane but if you do, this is a good option.
posted by polkadot at 6:37 PM on December 10, 2013

While I have no personal experience, I've seen some families with things like this in the airport.

SFO has a lot to offer little ones.
posted by oceano at 6:39 PM on December 10, 2013

I'll probably get some criticism for suggesting this, but with an active kid who hates strollers, one of those monkey backpack leashes might really help. He won't be struggling in the stroller, you won't be carrying him and he'll get to do a little walking/running around while you're in the airport.

I've linked to one from a US retailer but I'm sure they're also available in Australia.

I'm not a parent, so if this is totally off-base, please forgive me. I've seen them used by lots of tourists in the park where I used to work and kids seemed okay with them.
posted by sciencegeek at 6:41 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Bring more diapers than you can possibly imagine you might need. also, changes of clothing for both of you. Do not ask how I know this. Search youtube for videos of trucks, fire engines, backhoes, and especially planes, etc. Apps exist to let you download them for plane viewing. Or buy some. My son would have been spellbound by them.

With your doctor's permission, Benadryl is a sleep aid usually considered safe for children. In case he just can't get to sleep, or you are overwhelmed.

Airports - Very active kids often enjoy driving a shopping cart, or other wheeled, pushable toy, and it does seem to help them meander less. If there's any way you can rig a smaller piece of luggage for him to be able to push it, it might help you get him & your stuff from Gate A to Gate 24 and use up some of his energy.

You and your son have a right to fly. Screaming kids make everyone, esp. the kid, unhappy. Bring things he can chew, suck, lick, etc., especially at takeoff and landing - kids can't clear their ears easily, and chewing will do it naturally.

For long car trips, I always packed a selection of new small toys to be opened at intervals. The novelty of a new toy, and the anticipation, really helped deal with some of the being-confined-for-too-long issues.

We always flew with our child in a carseat.

Have a safe trip.
posted by theora55 at 6:47 PM on December 10, 2013

I think my niece watched 20 hours of Peppa Pig on an ipad when doing a similar trip at a slightly older age. Before Peppa she was all about In The Night Garden. If he likes ITNG then *you* should be dosing up on all the drugs because that show is insufferable.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 6:50 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Bring his carseat, definitely. Safer, easier, and a thousand times easier to keep him contained on the flight and get him quickly through the airport-because you'll also get one of these to make your car seat work as a stroller:

Rolling suitcase, kid strapped in car seat rolling in other hand, carryin over shoulder.

Also, don't be afraid to ask for some help in the airport-I had a businessman, clearly a father, stop and offer to carry my car seat to our gate for me once. Lifesaver.
posted by purenitrous at 6:50 PM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Not a parent myself, but passing along a suggestion I see a lot on a travel forum I visit regularly. If you're not sure whether or not you'll need the stroller, and you have other things to carry, maybe get a cheap, light, folding umbrella stroller. If you find you can't use it, you can hook it over a bag or strap it onto your suitcase. And if you become sure you can't use it at all, it's cheap enough to just ditch at the airport (you can get them for $12 new in the U.S., used for peanuts).

My two cents on the "other passengers" issue: 99.999% of people will cut you amazing amounts of slack if they can see that you're making an effort. In my observation, the parents who get the dirty looks and the comments are usually the ones who appear to have tuned out and adopted the "We've tried doing nothing and we're all out of ideas" method from that episode of The Simpsons.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:51 PM on December 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

My kids have been making a trip of similar length (eastern US to Japan and back) annually since they were infants. And once, my wife made the trip alone with our son, who was about your child's age and of similar temperament.

For the flight, episodes of shows to watch on your iPad and in-flight entertainment will be a boon if you will have individual video screens on your flight. You should also be prepared to walk with him up and down the aisle when he gets restless, maybe a lot. Mrs. Tanizaki had to do this with our son.

Jet lag is something you really can't fight with kids, in my experience, especially when traveling the direction you are (it should be easier on the way back). Everyone is different, but it takes my kids the better part of a week to recover when they come back to the US from Japan. I don't think you can do much to fiddle with this. I have found that jet lag is minimized when arriving in the evening. That way, you can have dinner and go to sleep at a reasonable hour for the local time, and that does a fair amount of good to reset your clock, although it can still take a few days to get there.

Related to your aport question, make sure your son has a passport. I'm sure you have that covered but I have seen people overlook it because they don't think a baby/toddler needs one.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:07 PM on December 10, 2013

This will eliminate the need to bring a car seat on the plane. It's quicker and easier to use. If he's active it has the added advantage that he can't kick the seat in front of him the whole way and will keep him as contained as a car seat with more room around him for toys and distractions. The website says it is sold in Australia.

My SIL travelled to Denmark with my niece at about that age, she didn't take a stroller and she walked pretty much everywhere, the added advantage is that it ties them out so they sleep more on the plane. Maybe consider baby benadryl or something that might make him sleepy, that depends on how you feel about kids and such things. You can also pick up a cheap umbrella stroller in the US for $20 (they'll be crap quality but last the trip) or a second hand at a consignment store one even cheaper to see you through the trip and then donate it to the Goodwill or something before you leave. It would be so much easier than lugging the stroller and risking it being damaged.

Make sure he has something to suck on during take offs and landings as kids ears are weird and the pain from an ear that won't pressurize is excruciating, I've had it happen thanks to allergies on a flight.

My SIL had lots of little packages of treats and toys made up. They were mostly things like dollar store colouring books, cheap toys, lollies etc, every hour or so she'd bring out a new zip lock bag to keep my niece distracted. I'd also suggest some story books on tape err showing my age there MP3s or whatever you young people call them, and they usually have a kids channel on flights now a days so he can always watch the in flight shows too.
posted by wwax at 7:19 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Car seat on plane?
I can see that you've gotten a bunch of suggestions on this already but I just wanted to add - you don't have to bring the car seat onto the plane, it would be mainly for comfort. The airlines have these seatbelt attachments they hand out that you thread your seatbelt through and then clip the baby into, and they are enforcing the use of these during takeoff and landing, so I think it must be from the olden days that people were using 'babies as airbags'. If you have the belt attached and adjusted correctly the baby shouldn't be able to go anywhere.

I wouldn't bring the Ergo, that will be really hard on your back with a 30lb toddler in it.

Also do not forget that you can gate check items, so you could use a car seat or stroller (or car seat that clips onto a frame or whatever) up to the gate, check it at the gate and not use it in the plane, and then have it waiting at the gate at the other side. So he does not have to be in a car seat. All that said, if he's used to sleeping in his car seat I can see how bringing it on the plane might be the best option. Remember, you'll be able to priority board so you can get yourself set up before the other passengers come aboard.

Getting in between gates
I can see how the idea of collecting your luggage and going thru customs in SFO would be very intimidating. However, be aware that airlines should be equipped to help you deal with this. You should not have to carry anything. I'm trying to remember from the last time I flew international thru SFO, but I know many airports have luggage carts which you could load everything onto and then easily push from one place to the other. I think it's definitely worth a phone call to your airline/the airport to ask how they can ease the transition (i.e. providing the little golf carts for you in Denver) and to get their assurances about whether luggage carts will be available for you at SFO.

Other stuff
If you don't have an aisle seat, trade for one. Agreed to pack more diapers than you think you will need. I would just be prepared to physically be shielding him from causing too much of a ruckus for some of the time. This is what happened to me with my 9 month old when I last flew with her (a 5 hour flight that was a red eye - she did not sleep for most any of it, got grouchy and wanted to just grab things and cause trouble). I sat towards the back thinking that I'd be close to the bathroom, but it turned out that was hardly important because we only use the bathroom once on a typical flight, and I would have preferred being close to the front where there are areas by the exits that you could walk around with him. It's hard to walk a baby up and down the aisles a lot because there are other passengers also trying to walk in the aisles and you have to lean into other people's space as they squeeze by a lot.

As regards the jet lag issue, I think you should just aim for whatever bedtime works for you. You're going to be doing such a big changeover with so many time zones, and he's probably not going to get much sleep during almost 24 hours of travel time, so I think he'll probably be ready for whatever time you want to put him to sleep. I've taken my baby both east and west and it seemed to me that her sleep was much more tied to how comfortable/quiet/dark an environment I could get for her to sleep in, rather than the specific time of day I was putting her down. I do agree that going east is worse - be prepared for a night or two of fitful sleep on the other end even if he is exhausted and usual a good sleeper.

I think the bottom line is, this is going to be a huge challenge and really tiring for you and for him, but you'll get through it and have an amazing trip, and whatever happens in transit will become a faded memory while the memories of the trip will remain vivid. At least that has been my experience.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:59 PM on December 10, 2013

Came a few minutes late to recommend the CARES harness, for a number of reasons, not the least of which are:
  • many car seats are not approved for airplane use.
  • car seats are a PITA to lug through the airport, even with a backpack carrier
CARES is really easy to set up, and it will help your little guy feel more like a big kid (and, perhaps, a little less likely to squirm). Our now-3-year-old's been flying in a CARES harness for most of the last 18 months.

For sleeping, you may be surprised at how well those squishy neck pillows work, especially for little ones.

Entertainment's a little tougher, since no-one knows your kid as well as you do, but we've had a lot of success loading up the tablet computer with Thomas and Friends, Sesame Street, and other familiar things. Note that you don't necessarily need 20+ hours of content - most kids are more than happy to watch the thing they like over and over and over and over again, even in the same sitting.
posted by hanov3r at 8:00 PM on December 10, 2013

I have a fifteen month old. I was a little car seat obsessed during her first year of life. I can't offer any additional tips about the actual traveling, but I did want to say that you should bring the car seat (make sure it's airline approved) for your toddler.

This is an item you should research on your own before making a decision. Here are some links:
Past AskMe post, which has some good input.'s page on airplane safety, which has the FAA and American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations. She's a little more guilt-tippy here than I would like, but it's a comprehensive site.

Finally, the folks at the forum are really helpful. There are a number of safety techs on there, and they can help with the international issues as well as with the CARES device and whether or not it's good for your toddler's age (one of the issues with toddlers and is that they can't really sit properly without the car seat/booster, so it could be a comfort issue on a flight that long, even with the cares harness).
posted by smalls at 8:29 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm a single mom of an almost 16 month old. We just did two weeks of travel with several flights, one of which was 6 hours. It all went much more smoothly than I'd imagined. My guy had no interest in the iPad - the big hits were putting things in & taking things out of cups, a book with lots of animal photos, playing peekaboo with people around us, a few strolls through the aisles, lots of snacks, and a special truck I saved till the painfully-slow deplaning process. I use the Ergo all the time and love it for travel, but if you don't use it regularly, it might be hard on your back. Good luck - remember that at this age the people around you still tend to think of them as "cute babies" vs "annoying toddlers", which helps.
posted by judith at 8:37 PM on December 10, 2013

As a mom whose flown a fair bit with her kiddo: If it's at all possible, have your child travel in their car seat. It's safer and means you have hands free for entertaining the child. If the airline and your infant seat will permit (and space allowing) some car seats can be installed rear facing for toddlers, which means the only seat they can kick is...their own! It also makes eye contact easier for you with your child. But this is very dependent on your child seat, your child and the airline seat.

If you are (with medical permission) going to give medication that can be sedating (Gravol/Bendaryl especially) make sure your child is a) not allergic and b) not the odd child who gets a paradoxical reaction to it (as both these meds can make some kids HYPER!!!!!! and 35k feet is not the place to discover your child is that child). You may want to try a 'test dose' at bedtime a few days before. With, or without, any help, if your child sleeps the whole flight, and you do not...your first 12 hours on the ground can be very rough for there is something to be said for the child who wont sleep on a plane :-)

On longer flights I always packed some of the '10 ml' Saline Nebules (from the drugstore) which are perfect for wetting very dry noses, and loosening stubborn 'boogers'. Especially if your child has a 'snotty nose' (as toddlers are often inclined to have) these can be super helpful in the very dry cabin air which tends to make noses extra crusty and sore. My daughter HATED me squirting them in her nose, but it was the only way to perform 'booger-ectomies' when her nose got dry.

Remember the airlines rarely have milk for children to drink onboard, so you may want to purchase some (lots) once you are thru security or bring whatever you are allowed by local rules, if your child drinks milk.

For getting around the airport/layover, don't be afraid to ask for help, as needed. I also put an extra luggage strap/bungy cord in my carry on, for attaching bags to each other/toddler to me, in order to make one 'mobile unit'. It sounds silly, but at least try and carry the bags yourself + child in tow, the night before at your house to figure out what the magic configuration is, if you think you might have to manage it at some point during the trip.

You and your little guy can absolutely do this! Have a great trip!!
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 8:37 PM on December 10, 2013

Response by poster: This is all super-useful. On the carseat issue, I don't know what we'll decide yet, but there is tons of new info here. I didn't know about the things you could attach to make carseats rollable, and I didn't know about the CARES harness either. I will also check that our carseat is airline approved; I don't know that either, and if it's not, that will be very useful information to have!

One question -- in an AskMe someone linked to upthread, a commenter noted that carseats have to be in window seats. Is that correct? Because I got the aisle + centre seat on all my flights, for the reasons treehorn+bunny enumerated. If I can't use a carseat in one of those seats, then I have to either plan to trade with someone (and struggle with having him at the window, wanting constantly to wander up and down the aisles), or it makes the CARES harness look more attractive.

I really appreciate the reassurances as well. Maybe this is actually possible. :)
posted by forza at 9:05 PM on December 10, 2013

Response by poster: Oh, and those of you who have used the CARES harness -- are toddlers able to sleep very well in them? That's my main worry about that. I think the extra space and lack of hassle it provides will be nice, but will sacrifice that space if it means my son gets better rest.
posted by forza at 9:08 PM on December 10, 2013

It is true that carseats must be in the window seat, so that everyone in the row can get out in the event an evacuation is necessary. I'd definitely not want a window seat with an active 14-month old. He'll likely want to walk the whole flight. Good luck!
posted by Capri at 9:35 PM on December 10, 2013

I wonder if that rule could be bent if the window seat next to you were empty? (thus you wouldn't be impeding anyone's evacuation with the car seat). It might be a long shot, but on my recent flight with the 9 month old, when I called to make the reservation and told the agent I'd have a baby, they said "oh, we should give you and your husband the window and aisle seat, and try to keep the middle seat between you open" - this is despite the fact that we did not purchase a separate seat for our baby. Sure enough, the seat between us was empty, although the flight was just about full otherwise. It was a wonderful thing. This experience suggests that airline folks might be willing to work with you if you were trying to make this happen for the first leg of your flight, and the flight does not end up being full...
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:30 PM on December 10, 2013

I came here to make the last point the Underpants Monster made: if you make an effort, your fellow passengers will cut you a lot more slack.

I say this as someone who doesn't have kids, and doesn't always like kids, and spends too much time trying to work or sleep on planes. The only time I get unhappy about an unhappy kid is when the caretakers don't try anything at all. (And this is pretty rare! In fact I don't think I've seen it in more than a year, not on a plane.)

So here's my advice, since I can't say anything about taking care of the kid (I've only flown with friends' kids who were younger): don't forget to take care of *you*, especially before the flight. This might be pretty tiring for you, so do your best to be rested/well fed/ hydrated yourself before the whole trip starts. That way you'll have that much more energy to deal if something wonky happens. And hey, it's air travel, wonky things happen.

Best case : you're in good shape ahead of time, the flights are all on time, your son sleeps tons and is cheerful and happy and delights everyone around him otherwise.

Worst case: you start out in good shape, but, shit happens. (Well, more than the normal amount). So? You deal. And you're better able to because you were in good shape to start.

(Your kid is a train kid? the Silverton-Durango narrow-gauge railway isn't far from Grand Junction. I was *fascinated* by it as a kid, and I wasn't even much of a train kid. Maybe you can include a video of it in your preloaded youtubes. They do run it as The Polar Express while you'll be around, but tickets are probably really hard to get.)
posted by nat at 12:09 AM on December 11, 2013

You may not need the stroller, Smartecartes are available at all US airports (I've never NOT seen them.) Just throw your gear on them, and pile Jr on there and wheel everyone away! They're free at customs, you just can't leave the area with them.

Ask United if they can provide an electric cart to get you from the gate at SF, through customs and immigration. That will help a LOT. Also, you'll get your luggage, and then have an option to check it through to the next stop before leaving the customs area.

Bring some remedies for Jr just in case. Dramamine Jr or Bonine Jr. The Dramamine will make him sleepy, so heads up on that. Speak to your pediatrician about appropriate dosages and medications.

As a non child-having person, I have no issues with folks traveling with children. I know that kids get antsy and cranky and hungry and all of that. So don't worry about other people. We're fine!

Also, don't try to keep to a time-table while in transit. If food is offered eat it. If you have an opportunity to get more food, buy it. If either he or you falls asleep, sleep away. You can sort yourself out when you get to the distant end. Always have something to eat if you or he gets hungry. Don't count on the airline having something when he's whinging because he's hungry.

Have him drink durning take-off and landing, it will help with ear pressure. A sippy cup or juice box is fine.

Ask for help. If you see an older lady with a smile on her face trying to engage you, smile back and ask her if she can entertain Jr while you use the loo. It's okay, she'll love to play with him, he'll have a novel person to get to know and you can use the john in peace.

You'll be fine!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:16 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

don't forget to take care of *you*, especially before the flight. This might be pretty tiring for you, so do your best to be rested/well fed/ hydrated yourself before the whole trip starts. That way you'll have that much more energy to deal if something wonky happens. And hey, it's air travel, wonky things happen.

This is SUCH a good point! If you have another adult or two who can come over the day before the flight and help you with last-minute packing, laundry, list-checking, etc., so you're not running yourself ragged and making yourself so tired you can't focus on helping Baby through the trip, I wouldn't hesitate to ask them! I usually wear myself out packing for one, but in my case it's a good thing because it helps me sleep on the plane. If I had to look after someone else, I'd definitely want help getting ready!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:16 AM on December 11, 2013

I've done trans-Atlantic with a baby, but not trans-Pacific. My only advice is that the flight does eventually end! My son could not be contained and was a miserable wreck, but we all lived - as did everyone else on the flight. I sincerely hope your experience is better! In the end, there's really only so much you can do and the rest is just grit your teeth.

A few things:

- The Ergo was a godsend getting through the security line. Even if you never use it for the rest if the trip, if you wear baby through the line, they can't remove him. So, you both go through the metal detector together and get a quick pat down. Easy peasy. With a stroller, you have to take him out of the stroller and fold up the stroller itself and place it on the X-ray, leaving you to go through the metal detector with a loose toddler - plus then having to retrieve and reassemble the stroller. Perhaps others have been lucky enough to have security personnel allow their kiddos to stay in the stroller, but that has absolutely not been my experience. Even though I uses the stroller for 99% of the rest of the trip, I was still glad I had the Ergo for the security check. ESPECIALLY at customs where everyone is rushed and cranky.

- I personally wouldn't give a child any medication they'd never had before when on a plane. Side effects can be... Well... My parents did this for my first flight and found that no, I didn't fall asleep and OH HEY EXPLOSIVE POOPS. I learned from their experience and didn't bother with my son. He did sleep on an overnight flight, the rest of the time I felt like the known frustration was better than the unknown side effects.

- Absolutely bring more diapers than you could possibly need. I have so many horror stories from parents with delayed flights and running out of diapers in the airport. I would pack as many as I could fit in my carry on.

- Snacks. SNACKS. ALL THE SNACKS. Constant grazing helped my son stay somewhat entertained and distracted. He didn't do many meals, but always had some kind of finger food. Crackers or cereal or anything else that's bite size is great as the act of eating is more important/entertaining than getting full. I found on our first flight that my son devoured everything I had before we'd landed so the second time I packed more food than he usually eats in two days and had just about enough. Seriously, ALL THE SNACKS.

Have a great trip! Remember to eat, stay hydrated, and just roll with it. Even if it's the worst day ever, it's one day and you'll have a hell of a story to tell. (That one time when we had a trans-Atlantic flight and a baby with an ear infection who had stopped nursing two days before and my boobs were about to explode... Yep. One day, and we lived.)
posted by sonika at 6:46 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Great advice to ask the airline to drive you between flights, as that covers all the luggage management, and gives your son something exciting to do. Just be sure to let him run around — in fact make him run around before each segment. Running the kid ragged when there is space will really help. (I was once doing this with my daughter when someone complained, and I asked her, "Would you prefer she did her running on the plane?" And she laughed and said, "Run!! Run, little girl!")
posted by Capri at 6:47 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

My kid flies in the CARE harness, although on much shorter duration flights. He has drifted off in them, but if we think we can get substantial sleep out of him we'll often unbuckle him and let him lie across our laps (realize the risk of turbulence issues here makes this not-ideal, we rebuckle him if the lights go on, but it's not the safest thing). Maybe some kind of inflatable pillow might be a good thing to bring if you're wanting to make him comfortable for long-haul sleeping, so you can kind of prop him up against it and let him relax.
posted by handful of rain at 7:13 AM on December 11, 2013

There is some fantastic advice upthread. One thing I haven't seen mentioned is baby headphones. A lot of flights have in seat tvs, but you need to have headphones in order to hear the sound. We have ones like these: Maxell Safe Soundz, which also limit the volume. This is also convenient when you're into your fourth hour of The Big Red Car or playing iPad games.
posted by valoius at 7:27 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks again for all the fantastic advice -- I feel much more prepared and reassured. As usual I've found most of the comments really helpful, and don't like giving best answers particularly - but I've marked those that first brought up issues I think are important and hadn't considered, or that made me feel most reassured. Again, all of them were really appreciated though.

After more consideration I think we're going to go with the harness rather than the carseat. The window seat issue means I don't know how well the carseat will work (and there is indeed a person sitting there, so we won't have access to all three seats). I think he'll be much happier on the aisle being able to see all the people, and get out and roam up and down the aisles more freely when it's safe. He's also usually a good sleeper so (keeping fingers crossed) I hope he'll sleep okay in the harness.

Also, if I can get help through the airport with luggage carts or whatever, then needing something I can roll him in (like a carseat) is less of an issue. I'll use an Ergo as a backup, and hopefully we'll have time that he can walk some too.

Thanks again. I may update with how it went, just for completeness' sake.
posted by forza at 6:02 PM on December 12, 2013

Response by poster: Oh God, on second thought, I can't possibly mark a best answer. These are all awesome.
posted by forza at 6:03 PM on December 12, 2013

I'm off on a UK-AUS plane trip with a 22-month-old next week (about 24 hours of travel all-in), I'll try and report back about anything I learnt. I've prepped by buying a Magnadoodle thing and loading up the iPad with as much CBeebies as it can hold. We're taking a car seat since he uses one every day and is used to it/is very happy to sleep in it. I would totally use the CARES harness on a shorter flight though, I just think (hope, desperately wish) that a car seat will encourage longer sleeps.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:27 AM on December 13, 2013

if we think we can get substantial sleep out of him we'll often unbuckle him and let him lie across our laps (realize the risk of turbulence issues here makes this not-ideal, we rebuckle him if the lights go on, but it's not the safest thing)

When my little guy was on laps instead of having his own seat, the cabin crew gave us a small belt extension that attaches to the parent's belt and then clips around the kid. See if they have one of those to spare next time, that way he can lie across you but still be belted in.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:29 AM on December 13, 2013

When my little guy was on laps instead of having his own seat, the cabin crew gave us a small belt extension that attaches to the parent's belt and then clips around the kid. See if they have one of those to spare next time, that way he can lie across you but still be belted in.

That is brilliant! If all airlines have that, I wish more crew members offered it or more parents knew to ask for it or they stocked more of them or whatever needs to happen to get more of them in use. Even if it only reduced the number of overtired, miserable children by a few, it would be a blessing for everyone involved.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:04 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Now that I'm back, I thought I'd update this with information other people might find useful!

Overall, my little guy did awesomely. The airlines less so (two cancelled flights, bureaucratic error causing them to not give him his separate seat on several of the legs, lines doubled back across entire terminals, etc) but he rolled with everything and had not one single meltdown at any point. His love of novelty and people carried the day and he charmed everyone in sight. He also learned the word "airplane", invented his own sign for it, and has become obsessed with airplanes.

Things that really helped:

- The lots of little toys that I took out at intervals were great. I probably packed too many, but it was very helpful to have them.

- Timing the flights so he did a lot of sleeping on them. He only slept in my arms but it was way less difficult to sit there for 9 hours with a sleeping toddler on my lap than I thought it would be, and it meant even the long long flights were pretty tractable, entertainment-wise.

- I brought headphones for the iPad but didn't get him used to them enough beforehand so they didn't help much because he mostly refused them. They would have been really useful, though, so it's a good idea to get the kid used to them before.

- On one of the legs where he was denied his own seat, we were at least given seating in economy plus. That was actually almost better, because he spent a lot of time sitting on the floor in front of the seat playing, able to move around a bit. I think in future we might only get one seat in economy plus, at least for the domestic flights, rather than two seats in regular economy.

Things worth noting, perhaps:

- I'm glad we went with the harness, because carrying the carseat everywhere would have been horrible, but he couldn't sleep in it at all. He would slouch over and the harness then dug into his neck, leaving horrible red marks even after only 10-15 minutes. So we used it on takeoff and landing and that was pretty much it. The rest of the time he used the normal lap belt or sat in my lap.

- In the US they have discontinued giving kids the separate lap belt extension that they attach to yours so they can sit on your lap. (They even refused when I asked, citing recent FAA regulations). As a result, if he was on my lap, he was entirely unsecure. he still spent a lot of time on my lap, e.g., for sleeping, not buckled in. They said that was the safest thing, which seemed odd to me.

- Sydney airport does not have trolleys that let you go from the international terminal to the domestic terminal. If you have a baby and four suitcases, you have to move them all yourself. This was the worst part of the trip. Double check this kind of thing!

- Aisle worked way better than window for us.

- If you try to bring warm water in a thermos for a bottle, US security lines will freak out (if the thermos is insulated and not clear). You have to undergo loads of special screening because they can't test the water. I don't know if there is a better option if you need the water to be kept at a particular temperature, and hence can't just bring an empty one and refill it on the other side.

- Friendly people who love children in airports will be your biggest friend through all of this.

Thank you everyone.
posted by forza at 9:53 AM on January 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

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