Friday, January 4, 2013

{International} Flying with Le Bebe: Travel Series Part II

{Domestic} Flying with Le Bebe: Travel Series Part I

Clearly, I'm not good at these series posts. But, I have had this on the whiteboard for an obscene amount of time, and the post is definitely overdue.

We last flew international with le munchkin around 8 months old in September. We'll be traveling again in March when we escape the end of winter in Chicago for four nights in an ocean view room on St. Kitts! I sure hope they have a big bathroom for the pack 'n' play.

Let's get started.

Airplane must haves:
  • Snacks - puffs, crackers, Cheerios, graham crackers, goldfish, B's new favorite crunchy green bean snack, {insert here whatever your kid like for a snack} or squeeze packs are what we use (Happy Baby, Ella's Kitchen, Gerber Organics, Plum Organics) + bib. 
  • Food: If on solids, food is a must, unless you're paying for your kid's seat. Under 1 year is tax-only. It was roughly $100 for B to travel to Germany and will be another $100 for St. Kitts. Over plan on this one. Oatmeal is a good meal with a mix-in because it's filling and hot water can be found on all airplanes... thank you flight attendants! Any food that doesn't need to be refrigerated is your best bet. Don't forget the utensils, either!
  • Nursing cover & Aden & Anais blanket (used also as padding for a sleeping baby and cover to darken things up a bit on bright airplanes.
  • Boppy pillow. If you aren't lucky enough to have an extra seat or bulkhead seating, you'll really want a pillow for the baby to sleep on. It will also take the strain off little limbs kicking and jabbing you.
  • Change of clothes. Maybe even multiple. For an overnight flight to Europe, we dressed B in feet pajamas, but honestly, planes are dry and the temperature isn't predictable. Feet pajamas are always a good idea!
  • Passports & baby boarding pass. This is required. Babies are required their own pass, even if they are a lap child. See the ticket desk once you get to the airport for printing this.
  • About 5 toys. Though honestly, B really likes wrappers from snacks (texture!) that come free on many flights. We bring Sassy A-Z letter links, iPhone/iPad with kid apps, {insert whatever your kid likes to play with that is small & able to be sanitized-- in case it falls... ick!}
  • 3 Clorox wipes to wipe down all things babies like to touch. {read: everything} I put these in a Ziploc.
  • Ergo carrier: Hit or miss on this one. I'd say it's good for kids around 6 months and younger, but it could be very valuable if you have no free seat and they'll sleep on your chest.
  • Diapers, wipes, Ziploc bag (I stuff all of this in here and LOVE this thing. I don't even use a diaper bag anymore because this is amazing. It slips into my purse and goes everywhere with me.)
Airport must haves:
  • Lightweight stroller with carseat adaptor to snap in so you don't have to carry it! {gate check item} 
  • Stroller bag - we have one because the workers aren't exactly careful with our expensive strollers. {gate check item}
  • Carseat {gate check item} B is onto a convertible seat now, but he can use his infant carseat until 32lbs. It's easiest to travel with that as it does snap into the stroller, but if not, gate checking the carseat is a really great idea if you did not purchase a seat for the baby. However, they will gate check it for you if you would prefer to not check it.
  • Ergo carrier because sometimes the baby doesn't dig the stroller
  • Carry-on backpack: All those airplane must-haves from above are stuffed in our carry-on backpack that always houses our laptop, iPad, chargers, JJ Cole diaper pod, toys, nursing cover, blanket, snacks, clorox wipes, wallet, etc.
The great thing about those gate check items is that they can all be consolidated for airport walking. We throw everything in the stroller and are usually only left with baby in the Ergo and wearing a backpack. It's actually easier walking around airports with all that stuff than it is without it because the wheels make it super convenient!
Always bright. Impossible. to. sleep!
Recommendations for before and in-flight:
  • Babies require their own boarding passes. This is very important and needs to be printed out at the airport ticket desk. No more iPhone scanning of your boarding pass or printing at home. At least for the freebie first two years. You can still print yours, but they'll be re-printing them at the airport anyway... so why bother? You can check-in online early still, however. For international travel with a lap child (airline terminology), babies aren't entirely free as you must pay taxes. They usually run you around $100.
  • Babies also require identification. A passport is required. Allow TONS of time to get this in the mail when ordering one. We had B's snapshot done at Walgreen's, but anywhere will do. And bonus: you have the most adorable passport ever.
  • Make sure the international customs people stamp that passport. Sometimes they don't and it makes me sad. Are you listening, border patrol in Canada? Hmph.
  • Before boarding, consult the flight desk for potential seat change if the flight isn't full. You might get lucky and be moved to a row without someone next to you! That extra seat can be invaluable. While you're there, ask about tags for your gate check items {stroller, stroller adaptor, stroller bag, carseat} that are required before boarding. This is SO important for international travel. You might get lucky and receive bulkhead, but if that's already taken, you could ask for movement to allow for a seat for the baby. Now, you aren't paying, so don't be rude. You're not entitled to such luxuries, but note that they usually are very nice and already upgrade people to bulkhead who have small children. We've had both bulkhead and a free seat during an international flight. Honestly, while bulkhead is super cool because you have access to the bassinet, the extra seat was WAY cooler to us. B slept between us and it was just perfect. When we had bulkhead, B didn't sleep in the bassinet more than an hour because the bright lights overhead were way different than his blackout shades at home. ;) No amount of blankets can black out an airplane, sadly. 
  • Allow for lots of movement before the flight, especially if you have a crawler/walker on your hands.
  • Change diaper before flight. Airplanes are small and accommodations are minimal. Getting at least one diaper out of the way is smart thinking.
  • Boarding: they'll allow you to board early for international because you are a family, but considering you probably checked the majority of your luggage, having more roaming time in the airport for little people is so much more valuable... at least to us. We board later because we already have plenty of time on the plane.
  • Have all your items accessible from your chair. That's why we bring a backpack as our all-in-one for B items and our in-flight snacks, etc.
  • Wipe down your area immediately with anti-bacterial wipes. Babies aren't patient.
  • Once doors to cabin are closed, scan the area for empty seats. If you have a seat partner, they probably don't want to sit with you because babies = invasion of space and noisy. Either try to relocate their seat for them or try to move yourself. It helps if you're extremely nice to the flight attendants. We did this on our flight back from Germany. There were plenty of empty seats and we kindly asked the window seat partner if he wouldn't mind moving up one row. There was no one sitting in the middle seat in that row either and we'd all have more room. He kindly obliged. But like a true German, he didn't want to break any rules... we insisted he was fine and he moved. Best. flight. decision. ever.
  • Try to hold out feeding until the flight takes off. I try to breastfeed during takeoff and landing, but honestly, it almost never happens. B has never reacted poorly during this time, thankfully. I mostly recommend holding off because it's a perfect activity to occupy the little one during flight time.
  • Drink cocktails? Okay, so really, long flights are enough to make a parent want to hyperventilate. The thought of your kid who might not always be so angelic being within just inches of complete strangers for MANY, MANY hours? Enough to drive you to drink. And lucky you. There are drinks available. Get a European airline like Lufthansa, and the wine is free! Cheers to that. And your neighbors will appreciate the free drinks, too. 
  • You could also do this: 

If you're lucky enough to get bulkhead:
  • Thank your lucky stars. That's some prime treatment. Not only does your kid get a bassinet that hangs from the wall, but you get extra leg room! And a place for the kid to move around!
  • Flight attendants will secure the bassinet once the plane is at cruising altitude. 
  • Have cover blankets ready. It's never dark enough. Ever. Especially if they take 2 hours to turn off cabin lights for an overnight flight. Not that this has ever happened to us. Le sigh.
  • Store all luggage above. That's the downside to bulkhead. No where under the seat to store your crap.
  • Strap the kiddo in for take-off and landing. Not all airlines require it, but most European airlines do. You might as well practice safe travel and do it anyway. Wrangling a kid during takeoff and landing sounds like loads of fun otherwise.
  • Make nice with your seat partners. They most likely also have a small kiddo. The downside? If your kid does miraculously fall asleep in the bassinet, the other kid probably won't. Because that's how luck would have it. They might be loud enough to wake your kid, too. Most likely. 
If you have an empty seat for the kiddo:
  • Thank your lucky stars. Also, if booze aren't free, offer to buy your former neighbor (who moved so you could have this luxury) a drink. If no one moved, buy yourself a drink. It will be a long flight.
  • Still use the seatbelt. Especially if you fall asleep, it's important that they don't fall out of their seat. You don't need any reason to upset them or the seat partners around you. Falling = massive baby tears.
  • Invest in some kid-sized noise-cancelling headphones. We don't have them, but if we ever take another flight that far, we just may need them. 

On dealing with jetlag:
  • Once you arrive at your intended destination, wait until the local nighttime to sleep. This is very important. Do what you can to stay awake... and keep your baby awake, until at least 8 p.m., local time. 
  • Follow regular bedtime procedures with your child. Try to make things as familiar as possible.
And remember, traveling is a luxury. An expensive one with quite the price tag, but one that is to be enjoyed! You will lose sleep. You'll probably have to deal with a screaming baby from time to time. Naptime will probably go out the window as soon as you leave your house. Relax a little and know that once you're home, things will get back on track. Try to enjoy your limited time away. Happy & Safe Travels!


Rachel said... [Reply to comment]

thank you thank you thank you for writing this! I'm traveling ALONE with Livia (who will be 6.5 months) to Brazil in February and realized I need to start planning NOW (we already have tickets and passports). I think I'm going to buy that backpack as a carry on. I've been really stressing over the stroller/carseat combo because once we get there we have to cram everything into tiny brazilian cars and I will probably just use our ergo. Anyways, this helps and I especially love seing the pics of the bassinet, I requested one so hopefully it is available!

Rachel said... [Reply to comment]

OH, and also YES I 100% agree traveling is a privilege and an adventure and that's what I want to teach Livia too. GO YOU!

Brooke said... [Reply to comment]

Love this. Zuzu takes her first flight to Phoenix in March (she's not quite the jet-setter that B is!). I'll be clicking back to this post even though it's not international.

sarah said... [Reply to comment]

Ok I'm kind of hyperventilating now, worrying about everything I should try to do before our flight on Friday. YIKES!

Megan Morlok said... [Reply to comment]

This is a fantastic article! My husband and I are about to take our 8 month old on her first flight that also happens to be an international one. This made me feel so much better. Thank you.