Many parents shy away from flying with an infant or baby, assuming that the older a child gets the easier travel becomes. That’s almost certainly not the case. In fact, it’s much easier to travel when a child is an easily corralled and contained baby than when they are able to walk, talk, yell and complain.
The harsh truth is that parents don’t have that many months of optimal baby travel time. But when parents do decide to fly with a baby, they often underestimate the amount of planning that must go into making the flight as smooth as possible. In fact, there is a handful of crucial consideration to make the easy baby flights truly easy.
Harsh Truth #1: Parents Have a Limited Window for Easy Travel
Turns out that it’s actually easier to travel with a baby than it is to travel with a toddler. Which means that if parents want easy air travel with a child they should get it done before their kid start’s jonesing to roam the aisles.
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There is one caveat about flying with babies: It’s important to avoid the friendly skies until a child has had their first round of immunizations at two months. Airplanes are notoriously filthy places and there’s no reason to expose a baby to pathogens before their immune system is able to cope.
That said, flying with babies offers distinct advantages over flying with toddlers. They are cheap to fly with because they don’t need a seat, nursing mothers have a built-in system for soothing, and frankly, strangers are more forgiving of infants.
Harsh Truth #2: Fellow Passengers Will Pre-Judge Parents Flying with Kids
There are people who feel airlines should offer kid-free flights. That’s just a harsh reality. Since many of these people don’t have access to kid-free flights, they will view kids with automatic disdain before a kid even threatens to kick their seat. And because they’re primed to be annoyed, the smallest thing may very well set them off.
Parents don’t owe these people anything. While it’s nice to buy a seatmate a drink if a child screams away every mile between Cleveland and Los Angeles, it is not a requirement. Parents should do their best to remember that they can only do so much. The focus should be on the kid, not the people the kid might be annoying.
Still, parents should pack some damn headphones for the bleepy-bloopy phone game as a simple courtesy.
Harsh Truth #3: Naptime Should Determine Departure Time
One of the best ways to ensure a smooth flight is to plan it around when a baby is alert and happy. Getting a baby on a flight post-nap might just mean the difference between an awful flight and a perfect one.
That said, there is a school of thought that babies fly best during their naptimes. That’s not necessarily the case. While a plane does offer some white noise, it’s also a super interesting place. There are people, interesting sounds, lights and interesting things to touch and manipulate. So a baby that might otherwise be napping might be more motivated to stay awake and get cranky once the initial interest in the plane environment has worn off.
The better idea is often to aim between the naps. Parents should try to time the flight to the hours when they know their baby is most alert and happy. That might mean limiting flight choices, but it’s better than trying to soothe a screaming kid while trapped in a metal tube in the sky.
Harsh Truth #4: Screen Time is Fine on a Plane
Sure, it’s important for parents to keep an eye on a kid’s screen time. But, at the same time, the reason parents need to keep an eye on a kid’s screen time is pretty much the exact reason that screens work so well to distract kids on airplanes.
Look, parents who want to forgo screen time restrictions to anesthetize their kid with Paw Patrol on a flight aren’t doing anything wrong. A flight is one of those instances where the rules can be bent enough to make everyone life a little bit better. And there’s no evidence to suggest that the extra screen time will ruin a child.
Just, again, if a kid is enjoying a screen on an airplane, parents should make sure they are also enjoying headphones.
Harsh Truth #5: The Stroller Better Be Strong
It’s a very good idea to bring a stroller to the airport. It’s an even better idea to gate-check the stroller when boarding. But understand that airline baggage handlers are not known for their finesse. Also, items shift during takeoff and landing. Many strollers have met their demise somewhere between gates. In other words, make sure that the stroller you bring to the airport is either incredibly tough or incredibly expendable.
Harsh Truth #6: Babies Make the Security Line Slower
Parents should expect that they will be pulled aside by the TSA in the security line. It’s part of the agencies bold efforts to protect the skies from bombs disguised as bottles. Strollers will be swabbed, bottles of breastmilk or formula will be scrutinized. The diaper bag will be unpacked and repacked.
During all of this, of course, one parent will need to be available for the screening of the child. Thankfully kids under 12 can keep their shoes, jackets, and hats on. But that doesn’t mean the process will be particularly more speedy. It will be very slow. Parents should make sure they add the time they need for security.
Harsh Truth #7: Parents Need to Prepare to Miss the Flight
When traveling with a baby, chances of missing a flight increase. There are issues that range from illness to delay in nap schedules that can make it impossible to get to the plane on time. It’s good, then, to have a backup plan.
Parents who are seasoned at traveling with babies will always have a plan B. Often that means knowing the times for other flights to your destination, airline cancellation policies and who to speak to get a flight changed.
Harsh Truth #8: Benadryl is Not a Magic Airplane Sleep Aid
There are some parents who suggest that giving a child Benadryl will improve travel due to the fact that the drug promotes drowsiness. But the problem is that Benadryl is not recommended for children under 2 years old. Also, giving Benadryl for reasons other than allergic reactions or allergies is a bad idea. It is a drug. And like any drug it has side effects that could be harmful to a child.
Also, it’s important to note that artificially forcing a child to sleep at a given time can cause havoc to a sleep schedule. Plus, children will likely be affected by the antihistamine hangover for up to days after receiving the medication.