Flying with a 13 month old

I must have read every article and blog post there was on flying alone with a baby in the weeks leading up to Emma’s and my trip to Oregon/Washington. I was terrified that I was in way over my head. Emma barely stays still, needs to constantly be experiencing new things, and cannot walk yet (which means that while there is little chance of her running away on me, I also am her sole means of transportation).

But it turned out the flight up to Portland was a parent’s (and other passengers) dream come true. Emma had missed her nap that day in order for us to get to the airport so she was subdued-tired but not OMG-so-exhausted-I-will-scream-until-I-crash-tired. Added to having the calmest Emma I’ve ever experienced was the fact that I miraculously had an empty seat next to me in the bulk head row open so we totally spread out without bothering our neighbors. By the time Emma got fussy there was no seatbelt sign in sight so I was able to get up and rock her in the space next to the bathrooms until she passed out. Thanks to that open seat I was then able to make a bed for her on the floor where she slept until it was time for us to land. Countless people came up to me to tell me what a wonderful baby I had. I was so happy and proud.

But if you have ever travelled with a baby and had a not-so-stellar time that reading this makes you want to poke my eyes out… keep reading… because then there was the return flight.

I freaked out a couple days before we returned to Honolulu. As great as my flight up had been, if it wasn’t for that empty seat next to us it would have been a nightmare. So I decided to say goodbye to my money and called the airline to ask them how much it would cost to upgrade to first class. It could have been worse. For an extra $300 I got a nice 3-course meal, twice the seat space, and 2 free checked bags. I’ll take it!

Thanks to baby-pre-boarding status we were completely situated in our seat by the time the other first class passengers trickled on to the plane. Those snooty people took one look at Emma and started to loudly complain to each other about how their money was wasted because it was going to be the worst flight ever. Jerks! I smirked to myself, thinking “I’ll show you! Emma’s going to be perfect.” And that’s when she started screaming. *TMI Alert* (And apologies in advance to Emma for telling a story that will mortify her someday.) Emma has had constipation problems ever since she started solid foods. Usually with enough prune juice and puree it doesn’t get too bad but sometimes it turns into a loud, crying affair. Because when Emma tries to poop when constipated she grunts… very, very loudly. Imagine a cow grunting and mooing at the top of its lungs. That’s Emma. And that’s what she started to do after everyone was settled in their seats awaiting take off. EVERYONE turned and stared at us. And they were not nice stares. And then the smell from her diaper started filling the air. And it was bad. The ladies diagonally in front of me called the flight attendant over and asked that she “keep the wine flowing because [they] would need it to get through this flight.”

I kept looking at the open airplane door behind me. No one was out of their seat but the door was still open so I asked a flight attendant if she thought I had time to change Emma. She gave her blessing and so with a determined look on my face I grabbed my diaper bag and Emma and sprinted for the bathroom. The bathroom right next to the cockpit. The open cockpit. Want to see something amazing. Race towards an open cockpit door and see how fast the barricade of flight attendants amass to stop you. While fast, they did look equally shocked that out of everyone on the flight the trouble maker was going to be the single lady with the baby in her arms. Very stressed out by the mooing cow in my arms and the death glares by both the passengers and the flight attendants, I explained that my destination was actually the bathroom. I was given the go ahead to continue, but no sooner did I slide the lock on the bathroom door that the flight attendant started to announce over the speaker that everyone needed to be seated or the door couldn’t close and the flight would be delayed. Great. Just great.

I won’t go into the gory details of how I basically had to push my daughter’s poop out of her and race back to my seat with her sobbing hysterically, at which point I realized that I hadn’t washed my hands and my hands smelled like poop. It’s a wonder that I didn’t burst into tears either.

After that, Emma was actually a real trooper. The first 2 hours was pretty touch and go but she settled in to sleep for the next 2.5 hours and woke up towards the end of the flight happy and thrilled when the flight attendants gushed over her and took her to see the galley and all their carts. Needless to say, I’m pretty ecstatic that my next plane flight involves both Emma AND Ryan and is only a 30 minutes trip to a neighboring Hawaiian Island. Phew.

One of the things that helped me prepare for the flight was reading everyone’s tips and things to bring when traveling with a baby… so here is mine:

  • Toys, toys, toys – I bought these little finger puppets thinking I could entertain her by acting out different characters. Hahahaha. She easily pulled the finger puppets off my fingers but spent her time picking them up, kissing them and placing them back in the bag.
  • Extra seat space – bulk head, first class, his/her own seat… whatever you think would work best for you. But get as much space as you can. Outside of it being more expensive, getting Emma her own seat was out of the question because I knew I couldn’t carry my stuff, Emma AND a car seat on and off the plane. I also don’t think the flight would have worked out that well for me if Emma had her own seat since she’d be strapped in for take-off and landing instead of getting to sit on me. We bought Emma her own seat for our flight from CT to HI and she cried hysterically anytime we put her in her car seat/seat. But most things I’ve read recommend getting your baby his/her own seat.
  • Sympathetic people are all around – I mostly just brought up the meanies (who treated me no different that I treated parents prior to having Emma… so I think it’s just karma biting me in the ass), but flight attendants were wonderful and doted on her. And grandparents were great too! I received a bunch of offers from others willing to help open and close her stroller, move luggage for me, etc. Since I’m pretty into being self-reliant it was humbling to accept everyone’s offers but I needed any help I could get. And these good Samaritans responded to my profuse thank yous with comments such as, “my daughter is traveling with our granddaughter… I know how hard it is.” Thank you Thank you Thank you!
  • Baby carrier – I strapped Emma to me in my baby carrier to get on and off the plane and to rock her to sleep – that kid is heavy! And much more squirmy when just in my arms.
  • A rolling suitcase that doubles as a backpack – I fully intended on taking a backpack until about 5 minutes before we left for the airport when I weighed my luggage and found out that I was 1 pound over the 50 lb max. In order to meet the weight requirement I needed a bigger carry on bag. And the only way I was able to maneuver everyone/thing through the airport was carrying my carryon suitcase like a backpack. Or just pack less… I guess that’s another option.
  • Bring several change of clothes for your child – Emma peed all over herself TWICE on the flight back home. So we had fashion show hour with the constant clothing changes (and naked walks back to our seats).
  • Bring a change of clothes for yourself – I actually had breakfast with the CEO of my company a couple days before my vacation (what what!) and he told me about how his kid threw up all over him on a flight and he was forced to sit in his seat in his vomited on clothes, for another 4 hours. Yikes! So glad that didn’t happen to me but I definitely headed his warning!

On a separate note, can someone please tell me how the mile high club even works logistically? I spent a whole bunch of time crammed in the airplane bathroom with Emma and a diaper bag and there was absolutely no extra room.

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