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In Babies on a Plane Part 1 I discussed getting your baby locked and loaded on the airplane. Amazing that just getting on the plane and getting ready for take-off can encapsulate an entire post! In this post I will talk about how to retain most of your sanity during Take-Off, The Flight, and Landing. The upcoming final installment in this trilogy will include De-planing, Exiting the Airport, and Ground Transportation.
Now that you are settled in your seat, and the pilot has announced that you are cleared for take-off, you can start counting down the miles (and minutes) until your final destination. It is a really good feeling to know that you are in the air and getting closer to being able to exit the large metal container you are in with your little one. I am always extremely worried about a ground delay until I feel the wheels of the plane leaving the runway! It is very important that you have your little one sucking on something during take-off and the ascent to 35,000 feet. The changes in air pressure can effect little ears just as they can adult ears – only little ears don’t know what is happening and why! Painful ears will almost always result in tears.
Little C has always had a keen ability to suck down a bottle or sippy cup in record time (or nurse for that matter). That means that the time that she will be sucking is pretty limited to a couple of minutes. So, we have to be very selective about exactly when to give her something to start drinking/sucking during take-off. If we started right when the pilot said we are cleared for take-off, she might be done before we get very high in the air. So, I don’t give her the bottle/cup until we have already taken off and gained a little bit of altitude (maybe 30-60 seconds after actual take-off). This has always worked to keep her sucking until we get through much of the initial rapid ascent when her little ears might be bothered the most.
When she was little we would give her a bottle of formula, but now that she is older and doesn’t drink formula or use bottles we give her something we know she will never turn down in a sippy cup……CHOCOLATE MILK! On an airplane, all rules are out the window. If something keeps her happy and doesn’t cause real harm to her or anyone else, we do it. That means, chocolate milk is on the menu! We don’t want to risk her not drinking/sucking and thus be in pain due to her ears not popping. Many of the fast food restaurants in airport food courts sell chocolate milk. We have found it at both McDonald’s and Wendy’s at airports. We also have juice ready as a back-up on the incredible off-chance that she is not in the mood for chocolate milk (or “choc”, as she calls it).
After the initial ascent is complete, we usually begin snack or meal time. As I mentioned in Navigating the Airport, we try to make sure that C is hungry so that eating can be one of the main activities on the airplane. We feed the meal in very small, slow portions to stretch out the activity. Just like with the drink selection, this is probably not the time to worry about the quality of the food – go for toddler crowd-pleasers such as chicken nuggets (readily available in airport food courts!) and Goldfish. If you have a younger baby, you just need to bring your own pureed baby foods/puffs/etc… Little C can eat Goldfish one at a time for at least a good twenty minutes.
Usually around this time the flight attendants come around taking drink orders – if you are so inclined, order a real drink for yourself. Might help calm your nerves and keep you cool. 🙂
After snack time, we start going through our arsenal of planned activities. Books, playing with the new toys you brought along, coloring, and watching movies are the main time killers for us. Even if you don’t normally let your little one watch cartoons, you may want to consider it while flying. It is amazing the hypnotic power that Dora, Mickey, and Toy Story can have! Every time a Dora episode ends I smile inside knowing that we are 22 minutes closer to exiting the aircraft. As I mentioned in Babies on a Plane Part 1, never move on to the next toy or activity until your little one loses interest in the current activity. Sounds silly, but really every minute they are happy and entertained is a successful minute – don’t mess it up!
We usually fly with C in a night-time diaper so that we don’t need to change her unless there is a “Code Brown” (as my cousin recently named it!). On our 3-4 hours domestic trips that means that we thankfully don’t usually need to change her on the flight. If you do need to do a change, do it in the restroom. DO NOT DO IT AT YOUR SEAT! That should go without saying, but I have seen it happen. Don’t give the rest of us flying parents a bad rap. 🙂
If all else fails, it is amazing how entertaining the overhead light can be. I think we did “on and off” for about a half hour on one flight. We also look at the in-flight magazines for a while. Skymall has lots of pictures of “puppies” – always a big hit with the toddler crew.
All of this assumes that things are going well, and hopefully they will be. If they aren’t, here are a few things to try: If your baby is young, try more nursing/bottle feeding. For any age, get them out of their seat and walk around holding and shushing them just as you would at home – assuming the pilot has turned off the fasten seat-belt light. Take them to the restroom and let them see “the pretty baby in the mirror”. If you are flying with your partner or another family member, let them take a turn while you take a little break. Your stress can just start to make the situation worse. Let other passengers around you see that you are trying everything that you can. The last thing you need when you have an upset little one is flak from others who think you aren’t trying. A crying baby is hard on everyone (especially the parents), but no matter how hard it gets remember that the flight will eventually land and the whole experience will be behind you soon.
If you get lucky enough to have your baby fall asleep during the flight, do everything you can to help keep them asleep. Be quiet, don’t turn on the overhead light, don’t snore, don’t jostle their seat to get up and go to the bathroom. Just sit quietly and thank your lucky stars you are sitting next to a sleeping angel!
Keep track of your arrival time, and as you start to get close to time to start descending, pay attention. Often your descent will being before the captain actually announces it. We don’t start the drink at the very first sign of descent, but we do start getting it ready. We have to do this in “stealth mode” because C would throw a fit if she saw you get her drink ready and then not hand it over. Your kiddo needs to be sucking on the way down, just as on the way up. The only exception would be if they are sleeping – I say, let sleeping
dragons babies lie. Depending on the length of the flight, you may want to use a different drink than you did going up. We usually start with chocolate milk and end with juice. Typically, we don’t offer many other liquids on the flight (if it is only a couple hours) to ensure that she is again thirsty on descent and will guzzle down her drink.
Pat yourself on the back at this point – you are almost done! Since you have to store away most of your carry-on gear during landing, now might be a good time to use the inflight magazines and over-head lights I mentioned if you are in need of a distraction for your mini-me. Here is C at 11 months fascinated with the over-head lights!
Once the plane actually lands and docks at the gate, I start unbuckling C from her car seat and start getting it ready to be taken off the plane. Hopefully, you have secured a seat as close to the front of the plane as possible, as I can assure you that waiting the extra several minutes it takes to get off the plane if you are in the back will be the last thing you want to do. Normally, you will want to gather all of your items and exit as soon as you are able to. However, if you have an angel child who is content or sleeping then you may as well wait for the plane to empty and then haul the kiddo and all their gear off. It never gets easier hauling a car seat, a baby, and all the other carry-ons off or on the plane!
Now you have successfully survived your flight with your baby or toddler! Regardless of how the flight went, it is now over and you made it. That really is an accomplishment and something to be proud of. It’s not easy, but it is worth it in the end! Stay tuned for the final installment of the Babies on a Plane Trilogy…..Exiting the Airport and Ground Transportation. It can be trickier than it sounds! Any parents have additional tips that worked for them while flying with little ones? Please share!
Since this is my first official post while being over on the BoardingArea side of things, I just had to close it with a video of Little C showing her enthusiasm for being “aboard” BoardingArea to the grandparents (G’ma and Pa). Thanks again to everyone who helped me get to this point – I’m very excited to be “all aboard”!