It’s been a few years now, but regardless, if you say “Newark” to me it will bring on a near panic attack as I recall my horrendous flight from Newark back to Denver with my three-month-old son. A four-hour flight is never ideal even under the best circumstances, but when you factor in an infant, the prospect of traveling cross-country takes on even more nightmarish proportions. Please consider the following tips for handling a screaming baby on a long flight, and maybe you won’t suffer flashbacks from post-flight trauma when you hear a certain city’s name, as I do.
Baby’s Comfort Comes First
Part of my problem on the Newark to Denver Hell Journey 2012, as I now refer to it, was that I was trying to stuff my son into adorable coordinated outfits, including matching shoes and hats, during an unprecedented heat wave in the middle of July. My mother kept trying to tell me that tiny fuzzy socks and 105-degree heat with 100% humidity didn’t mix, but I was bound and determined to make him look irresistibly adorable for the entirety of the visit back East. The end result was a red-faced me hauling an equally crimson screaming infant down the airplane aisle wearing nothing but a diaper mere seconds before takeoff, since we nearly missed our flight in my struggle to get him dressed again. You see, when taking Lil’ Beans to the restroom for a pre-flight diaper change, he decided it would be a good time to start wailing at the top of his lungs when I tried to put his tiny little outfit back on. The wailing, I’m afraid, did not cease until at least two hours into the flight and I am still having flashbacks. Do yourselves a favor and take the advice I didn’t- dress baby simply and not too warmly when traveling, and bring layering items such as blankets on board if you’re worried about her being too cold for the duration of the flight.
Change the Diaper Pre-and-Post Flight
Ever tried to change a diaper at 30,000 feet in a teeny tiny airplane bathroom on a changing table the size of a standard cutting board? I have, and trust me, folks- it’s not fun. Of course it’s not always preventable but a quick diaper change right before the flight as well as right after should keep baby comfortable enough to curtail the wailing in-flight.
Choose Flight Time Wisely
Many new parents are tempted to choose a “red eye” flight in hopes that their little traveler will sleep for the duration of the trip, but what ends up happening is that baby’s whole sleep schedule will get disrupted for the rest of the night. Good luck getting a baby off a plane, through baggage claim, into a taxi and to the hotel without him waking up! Your best bet is to try to schedule the flight around a typical nap time for your little one. Even if it doesn’t work out and he ends up missing his nap, at least you can look forward to a relatively normal night of sleep that evening. An added bonus is that most parents of small children tend to choose late morning/early afternoon flights, so at least your baby won’t be the only one screaming on the plane. Strength in numbers!
It Takes a Village
While not always possible, it always helps to travel in packs, with family members who can assist you with the baby on a long flight. Your partner, parents, and siblings can be invaluable when you are traveling with your little one, as they can take turns rocking, feeding, jiggling, bouncing and appeasing him. Babies get bored on flights just like we all do, but they can’t exactly open up InStyle magazine and turn on their iPod playlist when they are getting antsy. Changes of scenery and different faces before them can prevent them from getting too stir-crazy, AND afford you the opportunity to take a bathroom break or (gasp!) nap for a few minutes.
Spring for the Extra Seat
When I first found out that children under 2 fly free, I was beside myself with joy. After all, we had so many relatives to visit with our new baby, and we could hardly afford our own airfare, let alone the price of a third seat. I’m going to tell you right now, though- the catch is that the under-2 child must travel IN YOUR LAP for the duration of the flight. If you think $350 is too much to pay for a roundtrip ticket so your baby can have her own seat, you’ve obviously never flown with a baby. The seat will open up the possibility of you getting to take the baby’s car seat on board with you, which means baby will have a safe, comfortable place to be contained, and will maybe even sleep! I learned this lesson so well that by the next time we flew, when Lil’ Beans was 7 months old, he had his own seat, in which he proceeded to sleep in his car seat for nearly the entire three-and-a-half hour journey home from Tampa. If that’s not money well spent, I don’t know what is! (Note: some airlines offer special “infant airfare” rates for much cheaper than a standard ticket, which can help with the cost. Also, it isn’t a sure thing, but sometimes if a flight isn’t full, they will go ahead and let you bring the car seat on and give baby a seat of his own, gratis. It’s amazing what you can get if you ask nicely!)
The Pacifier Is Your Friend
Much like adults, babies’ ears get stopped up when they are at high altitudes. Unlike adults, however, babies don’t know how to yawn in order to get their ears to “pop,” and they certainly can’t chew gum to help. As a result, their pressurized ears cause them to scream and cry during takeoff and landing. Sucking on a pacifier can prevent the ears from getting stopped up in the first place. If your baby doesn’t like pacifiers, sucking on a bottle can provide the same relief. Bonus- your baby might get nice and drowsy with her binky in place and the nice constant hum of the engines and (fingers crossed!) sleep for a good part of the flight.
Haters Gonna Hate
When all else fails, it’s time to prepare yourself for the possibility that your baby is going to be the Screaming Kid on the Plane. There’s always one, after all- at one point or another it’s going to be your baby making the terrible noise. Get ready for the old stink-eye from at least a couple of your fellow passengers who have either never had kids of their own or whose kids are so old now that they’ve forgotten what it’s like to have to take a baby on a plane. The good news is that, for every person dealing with the noise by grumbling under their breath, there are probably ten more passengers who are sympathetic to your plight. And the best news of all is that you’ll never see any of these people again once your plane lands (except maybe at baggage claim) so there’s no need to be embarrassed.