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Flying with a Baby (Commercially)

I’m a private pilot. I can fly an airplane on my own, and even with that fact, I sometimes choose to fly commercially. I’ve flown commercially twice with my son, when he was about 9 months old, from Southern California alllllll the way to Long Island, New York, and again when he was 17 months old, from Southern California to Indiana and back. Here’s what I learned, from before we took off to when we landed. Ready?

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At Home:

  1. Pack smart. You’ll need one bag for you and your baby, full of your clothes, extra diapers, toys, bibs, and whatever you think you’ll need at your destination. If you’re going somewhere warm, remember a swim diaper for your little one. The important message here is to only have one bag to check. Make sure it has wheels, a lock, and no tears. Then CHECK THAT SUCKER. Cough up the extra money, and save yourself a huge headache.
  2. Bring a backpack full of snacks, diapers, toys, a blanket, a sippy cup, and single serve formula packets if you need them. Bring a book for yourself, too. Pack as many snacks and diapers as you think you’ll need, then add more. I really like those pouch purees, like the ones from Happy Tot and Plum Organics. I also like the yogurt melts they make, Cherrios, fruits, and a PB and J.
  3. Buy your baby their own seat. If they’re young enough they haven’t realized they control their limbs, you can probably hold them, but once they start getting wiggly, just cough up the extra bucks. Buy a seat for your little wiggler, and bring your carseat.
  4. Try to book your seats in the back back of the plane. It’s a little bit bumpy, but you’re right next to the bathrooms, and watching the stewardesses is free baby entertainment!
  5. If you can’t get seats together, don’t panic. When you get to the airport, talk to the person behind the desk about changing your seat. Let them know you couldn’t book two together and you’re travelling with an infant.
  6. On the subject of carseats: make sure yours is approved by the FAA. Most are, but check the sticker on the side. There should be a little airplane that says something like “This restraint has been approved for use in aircraft by the FAA.” If it’s not, buy one that is. You’ll need it as your child grows. Also, measure it to make sure it’ll fit in the seat.

At the Airport:

  1. Check your roller bag. Do NOT check your carseat, stroller, or backpack. You’ll need some extra time to check the bag, so keep that in mind.
  2. Wear your baby in a carrier, and use an umbrella stroller to hold your carseat and backpack.
  3. Going through security is going to take a lot longer. If you have open puree pouches, you’ll need to have them tested. Breastmilk and formula bottles that are premade will have to be tested as well. Unopened puree pouches have to be removed from your bag and put through the xray machine, so pack them in a gallon size bag. The stroller has to be folded and put through the xray machine, and the carseat does too. You may have to take your child out of the carrier, or you may not- it seems to depend on the airport. For the love of all that is holy- if your child wears shoes, make sure they have velcro. Take your sweater off before you get to the security line, and pull out your laptop. You sometimes have to remove baby’s sweater, but this seems to depend on the airport and that particular TSA agent.
  4. The TSA agents SHOULD allow you to go through the regular metal detector, but if they try to send you through the spinny huge one, ask to go through the metal detector and a patdown. It’s easier, and there’s no chance of whatever radiation those things let off hurting your little one.
  5. When you get to the gate, let your baby crawl or walk around. I know, the floor is gross… but trust me, let them get their wiggles out NOW. Just sanitize their hands after you pick them up.
  6. Buy fruit, water, or milk before you get on the plane. The plane may or may not have milk, so if you need it, buy it.
  7. There are two schools of though on when to load. First is the thought that you should load first, when they announce family boarding. This means you can get everything situated, packed away, and installed before everyone else starts shooting glares at you for holding up the plane. It also means more time you spend with your baby in a small, enclosed area with limited entertainment. The second school states you should load last, and let your kids run around until the last possible second. This means less time in the limited area, but you’ll have to hurry to get everything put away. I would say to think about how your kid does with small areas. If you decide to load first, refrain from buckling your kid up until the stewardess starts glaring at you and telling you, “Ma’am, your child needs to be buckled up now”

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On the Airplane

  1. Nurse during takeoff, or give baby a sippy cup or bottle. If you have a toddler, consider those gummy fruit snacks. I know they’re full of crap, but they’ll keep your baby from screaming because their ears hurt. One pack won’t kill them.
  2. Keep the window open for a while to give baby a view, but close it when they lose interest and turn off the lights. Keep it dark, and baby might fall asleep.
  3. Keep baby buckled up as much as possible. It’s safer, and babies seem to understand that car seat time means sitting still.
  4. If your child has a lovie (a stuffed animal, soft blanket, or random scrap of fabric), make sure they have it with them in the car seat. It’ll go a long way to keeping them from crying because of scary noises.
  5. Change diapers a little more often than you normally would. Sitting down makes baby more aware that they’re wet, which is not a good thing. I imagine it feels gross. Change that baby!
  6. When you land and the captain turns off the seatbelt sign, unbuckle the baby ASAP. Plan on being the very last person off the airplane, because remember that trip up the aisle with the huge carseat, hitting innocent bystanders in the shoulder? You can avoid that. Check under the seats for escaped toys, and put baby back in the carrier at the very last second.

The most important thing to remember is just to stay calm. You can always ask the flight attendants for help, they’re more than willing when they see you have a baby and a bunch of stuff. It’s not a huge deal to fly with a baby, you just have to plan a little bit more and possibly relax your cleanliness and diet standards in the interest of keeping your sanity.

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How to Hit A Bunny in an Airplane and Survive

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I learned to drive in Wyoming. This means that a road is only considered impassible when you can’t make out where the road ends and the grass begins, or the snow is physically higher than your car. This also means that you perfect the art of hitting large animals in your car without flipping over or swerving off the road. As it turns out, these skills transfer nicely to flying.

It was my very first solo cross country. I was a pregnant student pilot, and I was nervous about my landing since I wasn’t used to flying without an extra 170 pounds of flight instructor as I came into Chino Airport. Turns out I didn’t have to worry about my landing, it was takeoff I should have been thinking about.

I landed a little flat, taxied back to the runway, and called up tower for my clearance, making sure to mention I was “N9897F, Student Pilot”. I taxied out to the runway, took a deep breath, applied full power, and got the plane to within 5 knots of takeoff speed… and saw a bunny run right in front of me.

Time slowed down.

Little Man did a backflip in my belly and started hiccuping.

In that split second, I decided, based on my speed and how close I was to takeoff, that it would be better to just hit the rabbit straight on than try to veer, which would have flipped the plane. I hit it, and the bump was enough to force my plane to take off, a leetle bit too slow. I pushed the nose over, and used my soft field takeoff skills to get to a safe speed.

I called tower. “Chino tower, 9897F, student pilot. Can you take a peek and see if all my wheels are still attached?”

“97F, looks like it. Everything okay?”

I gave him the abbreviated version, and asked, “What do I do?”

“Well… are you flying?” (duhhhh) “Just keep going, I guess. Doesn’t make a difference if you land here or there. We’ll look for the bunny, but if we don’t find a body don’t bother filing a report.”

Turns out the bunny was never found. There was a little bit of fur stuck to my nosegear, but otherwise, not a trace of Little Bunny Foo-Foo.

So, remember- whether you’re in a car or a plane, don’t swerve when a small critter runs out in front of you. It’s safer for you to just run it over.