Advice for flying with a baby
January 27, 2004 11:43 AM   Subscribe

Advice for flying with a baby, please. (more inside)

My wife and I will be flying cross-country with a 6-month-old this summer. Before buying tickets, I wanted advice on the following topics:
1. buying a seat for infant
2. red-eye or not
3. renting car with car seat base
4. anything else I should think of?

posted by msacheson to Human Relations (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Our inclinations are:
1. Not buying a seat, but buying an aisle and a window and hoping for nobody in middle.
2. Not taking a red-eye, even if that's when baby is most likely sleeping, because if she doesn't we'll have a plane-full of people P-O'd at us.
3. Shouldn't be difficult to rent a car with an infant-seat base, and we'll take the baby in our seat/carrier.
posted by msacheson at 11:53 AM on January 27, 2004

Bring one of those econo-jars of earplugs. You can probably get the flight attendant to offer them around if the crying gets super-bad.
posted by scarabic at 12:06 PM on January 27, 2004

I have flown with young children many times (although not cross-country). My thoughts:

1. Agree with your inclination. Obviously, try to pick the most empty flight possible. Most people who find themselves sitting next to a six-month-old on Mom's lap will try hard to give you that empty seat (Of course, in your case they're missing out on a delightful baby-bonding experience, etc. etc.)

2. Don't worry about the red-eye. I don't know your baby's sleeping habits, but put a baby on a plane and all bets are off. As above, if you have flexibility, try to get an unpopular flight.

3. Don't newer cars have the little grab bar behind the seat that the car seat hooks to? Instead of looking for a "base"?

4. Many parents, about to board a long flight with their small children, suddenly find reason for concern in a slightly warm forehead or an extra-runny nose. Better medicate! What's this? "...may cause drowsiness"? Oh well. Drink up little one, and sweet dreams.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:11 PM on January 27, 2004

As someone who recently flew across the country surrounded by six (6!) screaming babies (not crying -- screaming), my advice to you would be to talk to your doctor and see if there's any safe methods of sedation available for your child.

Failing that, rent a seat and bringing the baby's familiar carseat into the plane, so that the flight doesn't seem so alien to the child. Have a pacifier for takeoff and landing (and dry cheerios will make the baby thirsty so that they'll use it), have lots of toys, and take the baby for walks up and down the aisle during the flight so they have a change of scenery.

Mostly my advice is this: Have a plan for if your baby starts screaming. Figure out what's going to work before you get on the plan.

Best of luck!
posted by Jairus at 12:12 PM on January 27, 2004

1) Agree: for 6 mo you don't need a seat.
2) Take a red eye. Babies can sleep through almost anything, and actually planes are not so dissimilar from cars in many respects.
2A) consider taking benedryl along, but be careful with dosage, etc. I have no actual idea how this would work w/ 6 mo. old, but I wish we had it when our 18 month old flew with us last.
3) Skip bringing the car seat altogether. Rent the full deal at the destination. You won't need it on the plane, and Baby will sleep better on your lap anyway. DO bring their baby blanket...

Oh and I also wish we had scarabic's earplugs on the last flight, excellent suggestion...

When we did fly with Jasper when she was less than a year, she was a major trooper and basically slept through the whole thing. Chances are you'll get by just fine.
posted by daver at 12:15 PM on January 27, 2004

Regarding the 'screaming baby plan' that Jairus mentionedL: the thing that worked for us when J. threw a fit was to walk her down to a bathroom and let her cry it out inside for 15 minutes or so. I'm surprised that doesn't happen more often...
posted by daver at 12:18 PM on January 27, 2004

My personal experience - try for sleep. Whatever you can do to encourage the baby to sleep - time of day, warm milk, comfy clothes, etc. Planes are Hell for babies - boring smelly Hell (come to think of it, that's my experience too). We have tried a car seat and a jumper (one of those strap-the-baby-to-mama contraptions), and both have their drawbacks. If your baby does well in a car seat, then it's worthwhile, but if they get cranky - then you have to hold them and deal with the bulky seat. All of my best flights have involved lots of sleep. Most of the wakeful trips have been ordeals (even if they don't cry, they are bored and you are the closest plaything they are allowed to touch). You can always ask for help from others too - it's in their best interest to swap seats with you if it will make the baby happier (quieter). Good luck!
posted by kokogiak at 12:19 PM on January 27, 2004

2. Don't worry about the red-eye. I don't know your baby's sleeping habits, but put a baby on a plane and all bets are off. As above, if you have flexibility, try to get an unpopular flight.

i cannot second this enough. too often parents try to get the last flight out thinking the kids will just sleep on the flight, but the last flight out (particularly on weekends and holidays) is the most crowded and usually the most delayed. so the kids just end up tired (like the rest of us) and crabby (like the rest of us), but they act out (more than the rest of us). and no matter how good a sleeper the baby is, there's no guarantee she'll sleep through a flight.

my parents flew back and forth across the atlantic with me & my sister during our ages 6 months to 5 years and there's not much you can do, except hope the people around you understand that infants cry and no-one is more perturbed by it than the parent. don't be bullied into sedating your infant just because someone is likely to be irritated. my child (when she was no longer an infant) once harfed all over herself (seated in between me and a businessman) on a short flight and while i was getting her cleaned up, some ginger ale and resituated by the window, i nearly embarassed the poor man to death with my gratitude when he wasn't a complete asshole about something that no-one had any control over. (the stewardess did find him an empty seat, shortly thereafter--in first class, i think)

sucking a pacifier helps the baby's ears pop, so if you have to coat it in sugar to get the baby to use it, do it. walking the aisle often helps calm the baby, too, but isn't always practical (turbulence, drink service, &c)
posted by crush-onastick at 12:27 PM on January 27, 2004

"don't be bullied into sedating your infant just because someone is likely to be irritated."

Seconded most vociferously.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 12:35 PM on January 27, 2004

I strongly second the pacifier/binkey or whatever you want to call it. Nurse/bottle feed when every s/he wants. A great deal of discomfort from flying comes from the air pressure change. Chewing/sucking help relieve that discomfort.

Booking a seat for the kid is a great idea for space if it's affordable, but the flight attendants may not let you take on the car seat, and if they do, it may not fit, so safety-wise it's a toss-up.

In my experience a red-eye is worse 'cause the kid stays up due the stimulation (new sounds and sights) when they really want to sleep.

Don't rent a car with a seat base, as 1, when you get there you may find out they forgot and don't have any more car seats, let alone seat bases available an 2, the seat base may not fit your seat. Bring your own car seat.
posted by dchase at 12:37 PM on January 27, 2004

when my son was 5months, we flew from DC to Buenos Aires w/o major throwdowns. some things we did included:

-- when getting yr seat assignments explain your situation and ask for the seat up by the bulkhead if possible. (really no reason to pay for an exra seat.)

-- feed the baby during take-offs and landings. folks are right, the pressure changes are your biggest risk of a meltdown....allowing the baby to suck at these times minimizes that risk.
posted by danOstuporStar at 12:54 PM on January 27, 2004

We've taken our now 9 month old cross-country 3 times now and have always bought a seat for him (half price on most airlines). It avoids the hassle of having someone else within such close proximity as well as allowing you to relax a tad more.

We take the redeye (from SF to Boston) and he generally has slept most of the way. On the way back it's a day flight and he sleeps for perhaps half of it and the rest of the time is spent 'entertaining' him so he doesn't get bored and start screaming, crying, pounding on the seat in front of him, etc.

My wife nursed (or fed him a bottle) during take-off and landing and this seems to alleviate any discomfort from pressurization changes.

It's really not that bad and probably a good idea to get them used to air travel early on if you plan on traveling as a family a lot.

Good luck!
posted by birdsong at 12:57 PM on January 27, 2004

Be careful about the Benadryl-occasionally a kid will have a paradoxical reaction to it.

When I flew with my first child he slept most of the time. A seatmate of mine told me that the lower cabin pressure does make them drowsy.

You may not want to gamble on an empty seat. Trust me.

Also a bottle or pacifier on takeoff and landing is just about mandatory.

Make sure you and your wife are wellrested. Babies pick up on adult tension, and how!
posted by konolia at 1:03 PM on January 27, 2004

I forgot to mention that we did bring his car seat and this may have made the flight seem a little more normal to him. Also bring his favorite toys and food - anything to make the experience less foreign...
posted by birdsong at 1:04 PM on January 27, 2004

Response by poster: Thank you, one and all, for your advice and anecdotes. (I love AskMeFi!)
posted by msacheson at 1:33 PM on January 27, 2004

We flew with my daughter at 9 months, and again at 18 months. We did not buy a seat at 9 months, but did at 18 (and brought her car seat). I think both decisions were good -- I think at 6 months you should be OK with holding her.

While I'm not in favor of indiscriminate sedation, I would bring some Benadryl to use as a last resort. To me, the issue of quieting the baby is not so much to avoid pissing off other passengers, but because I wouldn't want my kid to suffer through a miserable flight when she could be sleeping.
posted by pardonyou? at 2:09 PM on January 27, 2004

Oh yeah. PORTABLE DVD PLAYER! Rent one if need be. I'm not usually a TV dad, but being able to break out the 'Tubs was invaluable for our 18 month old. Not sure if it's as big a deal to the 6 m.o. kids.
posted by daver at 2:36 PM on January 27, 2004

We recently flew coast to coast with our 9 month old and we asked our doctor ahead of time on good ways to help weather the flight. She suggested Benadryl (but try it out ahead of time to make sure it does what you think it will), try to arrange a feeding after take off and before landing (helps clear the ears), and don't be afraid to ask for help.

We bought three seats and brought the car seat and base with us along with a ratchet for ease of installation in the car.

Alot of it has to do with the personality of your child, too. Our baby is very amiable and charming, so she made friends all the way and was a gem throughout. YMMV.
posted by plinth at 4:14 PM on January 27, 2004

I'm used to transatlantic flights with babies, so a cross-country flight would be a walk in the park. From taking nine hour flights with two young children, here's the advice:

Seat for a 6 month old - probably not, unless they're big. They'll sleep peacefully in one of your laps. Depending on who you're flying with, try and get the bulkhead seats and request a bassinet if they have them. Ask their 1-800 number. You will NOT be allowed to reserve the bulkhead until you check-in, so get there early. The bulkhead IS kept for people with kids, so you'll have a good chance. Advantages of bulkhead: more legroom and you can (depending on the personalities of the cabin staff) stick your baby to sleep on some pillows on the floor if the bassinet isn't available.

If they're nursing, do it on takeoff and on landing (helps with the ear pressure).

For a 6-month old, I'm not sure there's any sedative which you'd be allowed. When they get older, try Phenergan - works wonders. Our doctor recommended a shot of whisky in their milk if they needed to sleep - his reasoning was that there was not enough research on how prescription drugs affected young children so he wouldn't prescribe anything, but they know a lot about what alcohol does. Take it easy, though - and before you fly, pick a calm day at home and try out any sedative / alcohol there. You do NOT want your child to suddenly react to whatever you've given them on the plane. Whisky had no effect whatsoever on our one-year old. Nothing.

Take twice as many changes of clothes and diapers as you think you'll need. Babies have a habit of being sick onto / pooing in / wetting through things on planes more than they do elsewhere.

Cabin staff can be very variable in their attitudes towards you. Usually, they're lovely. If they're stressed, they can be horrible. They will usually be prepared to bring your food at different times if the baby is in the way, warm up bottles for you, etc.

Some people find the gentle hum of the engines on a plane puts their youngsters to sleep - just as they do in the car. Our two are not that way. They will sleep in the car, but the plane annoys them and they need help to sleep. So more nursing / bottles than you might expect.

When our first child was about eighteen months, he was sick all over me at the very start of a delayed flight from Atlanta to London. So, for the next ten hours or sitting on the tarmac and then flying, landing, and getting our suitcases, I stank of baby sick. So also consider a thin cotton blanket to have on whichever parent's lap is holding them.

Flying gets easier as they get older. The worst time is when they've just started walking... they hate being confined, can't amuse themselves very well, don't want to sleep because they're all excited, and just want to run up and down the aisle the whole time. When they get to 2-3, they know what's going on and are calmer.

Most important thing: make sure you are well rested and your child is as well rested as possible before you go. Get a very good night's sleep. If you're getting the red-eye, try and nap or rest that day. Don't fly tired... you'll get a headache and it's horrid with children. And keep drinking water.

Car-seat: get the package from the rental agency. You don't want to be stuck at the end of a long flight trying to get your car seat to fit in a car that won't take it.

Feel free to email with any questions! We've had pretty much every experience with children on planes as possible... email on user profile page.
posted by humuhumu at 3:01 AM on January 28, 2004

We flew at Thanksgiving from NY to FL (our son was 3 1/2 months) and I just flew with him again, alone, on Saturday - same route (he's almost 6 months now).

You don't need to buy an extra seat. Just make sure you get seats together; the 2-across rows are probably better than the 3-across so it's just you two and the baby, and s/he can sleep across your laps. Don't bet on getting that empty seat in a 3-across. Do ask at check-in for the bulkhead row. Many flights keep it open for people travelling with small kids. Some planes have bassinets that attach to the seats in the rear rows, if you want to ask, but we just sleep our son on our laps and he's perfectly comfortable.

Put the car seat in a car seat bag and put it in cargo. Our critter is 18 lbs and he is hella heavy to haul around in that thing - even though it has a handle it makes things more of a hassle not less. Just carry him/her or use a little stroller. They will tag and take your stroller at the gate so you can use it until you board and then claim it as you exit the plane. If the stroller's small enough sometimes you can take it right on with you and stow it overhead.

Carry as little on-board with you as possible. Otherwise you're stressed trying to juggle all your stuff. This time I had just a backpack with his diaper kit and a stroller. Take a change of clothes in case there's a diaper accident; the pressure change can make 'em poop. Dress him/her warm or bring a blankie. It's cold on planes plus it'll help the baby sleep.

Nurse at takeoff or give him/her a pacifier. If they won't take either you blow in their faces a few times whenever you feel your ears popping - it makes them swallow so they can pop their ears too. Otherwise they will fuss because their ears hurt.

Don't take a red-eye; you will be tired and stressed and so will everyone else on the plane. The baby might have a hard time getting to sleep in a new environment and you will be called on to entertain when your energy is very low. To that end, make sure you are well-rested before you fly whatever flight you take.

You are their playground the whole flight so be prepared to sing, make faces, bounce, rock, walk the aisle a bit, and so on until they go to sleep. Play pass-the-baby between the two of you so the baby doesn't get bored and neither of you get too frazzled. I had a couple of baby magazines on this flight and showed my son the pictures of baby faces. He loved that. Flying makes most babies drowsy eventually, it could be the drone of the engines or the cabin pressure or the reduced oxygen.

"don't be bullied into sedating your infant just because someone is likely to be irritated."

Absolutely agreed.
posted by Melinika at 11:42 AM on January 28, 2004

BTW, anyone needing a good laugh should google-up "The Story About the Baby."
posted by five fresh fish at 2:55 PM on January 28, 2004

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