As we prepared to leave for Colombo the other day, my husband remarked that our not-yet-one-year-old daughter had been on more flights than he had until he was twenty seven! She’s quite the little traveler. eM and I have our travel routine down pat by now, since we often travel alone. Of course, this doesn’t mean she’s a complacent traveler, or that she peacefully settles down to watch some in-flight entertainment or snooze for a couple of hours. In fact, even when she’s in a ‘good’ mood, i.e., has slept, fed, and played well, hence is feeling a little more open to my setting the agenda, being on a plane with a baby is always going to be work.
We’ve probably all done it at least once pre-baby: quake at the sight of a baby on an aeroplane. They’re notorious for wailing uncontrollably, which isn’t the most pleasant ambient noise. For some, the air pressure triggers them off. For others, like my baby, sitting in one place for an hour, after being subjected to an hour’s drive to the airport and then a long wait time there, is simply unacceptable.
For a long while, I considered not travelling anywhere for two years, five years, as long as it took to get her ready. After all, that’s my approach to the theater – I either skip it, or leave her with my husband or mom while I rush out for a quick one. The latter is so logistically difficult (I breastfeed) that I invariably go for the path of least resistance and sit out movies. However, I soon realized this wasn’t going to be feasible for travel. For one thing, my parents live in a different city. For another, my friends are still of the age where weddings in other cities are still happening. Possibly most importantly, I rely on travel as a stress-buster. I physically feel restless when I haven’t explored a new city every few months. So cutting travel out was out of the question.
Once the baby arrived, my parenting philosophy, if there is such a thing, was: this baby’s a part of my life, she’s not my entire life. I started figuring out ways to incorporate her into things that I enjoyed doing. She’s been to restaurants with me, she’s come on hikes. We’ve checked out art fairs, and shopped at book exhibitions. Why not flights?
As I said, it does take a fair bit of preparation – and an awareness that she may still not appreciate the experience. The first thing I do is make sure the flight’s no longer than two hours. Next, I find a flight that doesn’t interfere with her sleep. She sometimes manages without her daytime nap, but her bedtime of 6:30pm is the Holy Grail. There’s no messing with that if I want any peace that night or the next day! I also check to make sure our accommodation is easily reachable, and that they’ve flexible check-in times, just in case I need to stay at the airport I land in as long as she wants to.
The night before the flight (I usually leave on early morning flights), I put together a snack box for my baby who tends to get hangry at least 3 times in the course of reaching & taking a two hour flight. Most carriers and airports let you carry dry food. eM’s repertoire usually includes some grilled paneer, roasted makhanas, a few steamed veg, some kala channa, and a couple of homemade biscuits. I provide both variety as well as quantity to be on the safe side. I also set a reminder for all the things I’ll only be able to pack the next day – from this snack box to my toothbrush to eM’s comb. These are obvious things, but so easy to miss in the chaos of trying to leave the house with an infant!
On the day of the flight, I leave for the airport a fair bit in advance to give us time to get through security. Since I babywear, I have both hands free to handle my own luggage – usually one check-in bag and a diaper bag (hurray for free check-in baggage on most Indian flights!). Most flight carriers are great about bumping you to the top of the line when you’ve an infant, but I pack a couple of toys and books in my diaper bag too, just in case a diversion is needed. If it’s a toy she hasn’t seen in a while, so much the better! I try to find an aisle seat, preferably near the back of the plane, so I can easily walk her.
I still have no idea why they ask people with infants to board first. I guess it makes sense if you have a lot of baby luggage you want to stow away. For my part, since I usually have a small bag that fits in the seat in front of me, I’m happy to board at the very end, walking eM around as much as I can until then, and even leaving her to play on the ground for a while if possible.
On the flight, I keep her stuff easily accessible in the seat pocket in front of me. I then prepare to entertain her non-stop for the next hour or two. This means showing her each toy, talking her through what they do, reading her each book, handing her snacks… and that’s just take-off! I invariably walk her during the course of the flight itself. If she naps – hurray! More often though, it means an hour or so of walking around. And then we return to our seats for some more mama-entertainment during the landing.
It sounds like a lot of work – and it is, no doubt about that. It’s a far cry from my pre-baby days when flights were the only times I got to relax without having to work. Have I mentioned I get motion sick, so it’s really better for me if I close my eyes and stay still during takeoff & landing? Fat chance of that happening now! But it’s remarkable how you adapt when you have to. And at the end of the day, I still maintain that it’s totally worth it.
Have you flown with your infant? What do you think?
Eight years into her journey from digital marketing newb to ninja, Akshaya has worked with the giants (Google), as well as startups (Anahat), and start-ups on their way to becoming giants (Zomato). She’s now working with the most challenging startup of them all – her baby girl – while freelancing. Every now & then, she gives up on the three hours of sleep available to her, and blogs at New Girl in Toronto.
Read these other posts on traveling with a baby on Parentous!