Kathleen and I just got back from a trip, surprising my parents on their 50th anniversary. It was the first time I had successfully pulled off a surprise, and the look on my mom’s face was worth the all-day trip to bring TD for a summertime visit1.
It was our first major trip as a family, and traveling with an infant created a fair amount of anxiety. Would TD lose her mind on the airplane? What about the three-hour car ride? Would we have enough “baby stuff” to survive the weekend? We didn’t know what we would need and what was superfluous, and given that we have another major trip coming up soon, this was a good trial run for how to go about traveling with the baby. Here is what we learned:
You Don’t Need As Much Stuff As You Think
Overpacking on the first trip is a rite of passage for new parents. Turns out we didn’t need about 25% of the junk we brought with us on the trip. You see parents fumbling with stuff in airports all the time, but most of the kids with suitcases of their own can walk. Infants don’t really require much beyond clean diapers and a food source. Have those two things nailed and the plane ride will be a piece of cake.
Where You Sit Matters (on Southwest)
We fly Southwest a lot because they’re flexible and have lots of direct flights to from Portland to Phoenix. Their first-come first-served seating style can frustrate the uninformed, but I’ve been flying Southwest my entire life and I vastly prefer their open seating policy to the assigned seats on other airlines.
On Southwest there’s always a chance that you’ll have an open seat next to you, and traveling with a baby in your arms dramatically increases those odds. There is no better passenger repellant than a baby. Most people would rather sit in a middle seat between two offensive lineman than sidle next to somebody with an infant in their arms. Families get to board after the first 60 passengers board, and your best strategy for getting a whole row for your family is simple: find an empty row. During Southwest’s Family Boarding period, this is usually toward the latter third of plane. The key is to find an empty row that is far enough forward in the plane for a potential passenger to look you over and think, “No way, not sitting next to that. Let’s find something else.” If you’re too far toward the rear of the plane then people will just have to commit or choose to swim upstream against the tide of other passengers. Give your fellow travelers a chance to pass on your seat and don’t sit in the last five rows.
How to Change a Diaper on a Plane
I’m a big guy2. I can barely fit in an airplane bathroom by myself, much less with a baby and a backpack full of diaper changing supplies. The first time I changed TD on the plane, I felt like the world’s least talented gymnast because I brought the baby and the backpack. Oops.
I learned my lesson and on the plane ride home, I left the backpack behind and stuffed a diaper, a receiving blanket, and wipes into my pockets. Still a tight squeeze, but at least I didn’t need to change a screaming baby with the bathroom door open.
Infants Are Not Toddlers
On the flight home, a 17-month old girl was causing chaos one row behind us. She screamed and jumped and laughed and cried. TD, conversely, was reasonably quiet. Not totally unexpected. At six weeks of age, our daughter doesn’t have a lot of needs, and her attention is easily maintained by simply smiling at her.
While we’re lucky TD is an easy-going baby, there was still a degree of uncertainty about how much of a ruckus she would cause3. Turns out: not much. TD sleeps and eats and that’s about it. She cries, yes, but it’s easy to shut her up at this stage in her life4. When she starts interacting like a real person things will get more frustrating. But for now, she’s essentially just another carry-on item that requires a bit of in-flight maintenance.
Every Trip Will Be Different
Today TD is a pumpkin with arms and legs, so traveling is a relative cinch. But we’re not taking a ton of trips this year, and every day she gets a little more aware and little harder to assuage. Baby behavior is a moving target; every time you think you have something nailed, a new software update gets uploaded and the whole thing falls to shit.
Still, I’m confident that we’re prepared for our next major excursion. Now watch TD make me look like a fool.
- My parents live in Phoenix, but spend summers in the Show Low, a tiny town about three hours away. At 6400 feet, it’s 25-35 degrees cooler than Phoenix.
- 6-foot-2, 245 lbs.
- Of course, if you’re on an airplane and don’t have a set of headphones and a white noise app on your phone, then really you have nobody to blame but yourself for your shortsightedness. It’s 2016, there is no reason any passenger has to listen to a baby crying on an airplane anymore.
- The answer is usually to shove a boob in her mouth.