A tac­ti­cal ap­proach to fly­ing with ba­bies and tod­dlers.

Stay­ing level in the sky calls for plan­ning — plenty of it

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY DE­BRA BRUNO travel@wash­post.com

Fly­ing with ba­bies and small chil­dren is an ac­tiv­ity most of us wouldn’t wish on our worst en­e­mies. Yet some­times, it has to be done — es­pe­cially if you con­sider the al­ter­na­tives — the car ride from hell? A slow boat to China? Horse and buggy? One dad ad­mit­ted that on one plane trip, he let his kids drop items on the floor and then kick him in the head when he went to re­trieve them. They got a big chuckle out of it, and they were too lit­tle to do much harm. He thinks, any­way.

Tap­ping into the wis­dom of ex­pat par­ents, who al­most al­ways have loved ones sit­u­ated on other con­ti­nents and can’t al­ways con­vince those dear folks to pop over to Nairobi, Tokyo, or Helsinki, we of­fer tips for get­ting through even the most dif­fi­cult flight. One Amer­i­can mom liv­ing in Bei­jing says she thinks of her jour­neys “in stages — like a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion.” Here, then, is a bat­tle plan.

Stag­ing the at­tack

Use a pack­ing check­list: One new toy or book for ev­ery hour; an empty baby bot­tle for wa­ter; a change of clothes; plas­tic zip­per bags; baby wipes; ex­tra jack­ets and blan­kets; head­phones; iPad; cups with lids; clothes­pins to fash­ion a tent over a baby’s bassinet; snacks; paci­fiers; Dra­mamine for kids who suf­fer from mo­tion sick­ness. Don’t load up on too many diapers, be­cause you can buy them at your des­ti­na­tion. A di­a­per bag doesn’t count as a carry-on, so pack it with a few diapers and fill the rest with other stuff.

Dress smart. For in­fants, go for the one­sie with mag­nets or a zip­per in­stead of but­tons. Moms, if you’re nurs­ing, wear a top that pro­vides easy ac­cess, plus a change, and pants with lots of pock­ets. Think lay­ers for ev­ery­one.

Or­der a spe­cial meal — vege­tar­ian, kosher, halal — what­ever is avail­able. Those meals are usu­ally brought first, which means kids get fed first.

No­tify the air­line that you are trav­el­ing with a child un­der the age of 2. Re­serve a bassinet for the baby, plus bulk­head seat­ing for your­self.

At check-in, ask for a win­dow seat with the bassinet, which pro­vides pri­vacy for breast-feed­ing.

If you’re leav­ing the United States and will be in a car at the other end, find out what the car-seat reg­u­la­tions are. If you do bring your car seat, get a car­rier bag, which you can pad with ex­tra blan­kets and diapers. Put sturdy name tags on ev­ery­thing. If you’re plan­ning to bring a breast pump, check whether the elec­tric cur­rent is dif­fer­ent at your des­ti­na­tion. A con­verter will not nec­es­sar­ily solve the prob­lem — and can be painful, one new mother re­ports.

Look for spe­cial lanes at se­cu­rity. Some air­ports al­low par­ents with chil­dren younger than 2 or 3 to use a dif­fer­ent lane. If there is no fam­ily-spe­cific line, don’t feel guilty about tak­ing the process slowly and de­lib­er­ately.

Front line: In­fants

Take ad­van­tage of the gate check for your car seat or stroller, so you will have them with you up un­til the minute you board.

Board early. Get set­tled so you don’t find your­self hunt­ing for a paci­fier while a child is wail­ing and board­ing pas­sen­gers are look­ing your way with dread. It also gives you the chance, as one ex­pat par­ent does, to hand around lit­tle gifts — snacks, hand lo­tion, pens — to the nearby trav­el­ers, with a note ask­ing in ad­vance for for­give­ness.

Nurse or bot­tle-feed or of­fer a paci­fier on take­off and land­ing to pro­tect small ears from pres­sure changes. But be care­ful not to start feed­ing too early or the baby will be fin­ished be­fore the flight takes off.

Make friends with flight at­ten­dants, and if you are trav­el­ing alone with a lit­tle one, make sure they know you are solo. It wouldn’t hurt to tell your neigh­bors also, al­though that can some­times mean you’ll get lots of un­so­licited ad­vice. But that neigh­bor could come in handy when you need to use the re­stroom.

Sing songs, make funny noises, stand, walk or put sticky notes on your face if the baby cries. Em­bar­rass­ment has no place here.

For more dis­trac­tion, hang out in the gal­ley and check out all those cool knobs and buck­les or get your empty wa­ter bot­tle filled. (This is where your good­will with flight at­ten­dants comes in handy.)

In­fants as young as 18 months can be dis­tracted by an iPad or a chil­dren’s movie. Aban­don your reser­va­tions about screen time. Yes, the Amer­i­can Academy of Pe­di­atrics rec­om­mends no screen time at all be­fore 18 months; so let the academy han­dle a cranky tod­dler. Ig­nore time zones. Let a sleep­ing baby sleep. Wash your hands as much as pos­si­ble. Air­ports and planes are crawl­ing with germs.

Front line: Preschool­ers

Ask them to drink wa­ter or suck a lol­lipop on take­off and land­ing. Re­mem­ber the one-per-hour rule for toys and snacks. Good toys in­clude crayons and pa­per, stick­ers, crafts, small tubs of Play-Doh, a toy phone, fin­ger pup­pets and books. Bad toys in­clude any­thing that rolls when dropped on the floor.

Em­brace the junky snacks — this is the time to loosen your healthy food rules. Let’s face it: You want to get through the flight, not win Par­ent of the Year awards. Just as you aban­doned your screen time rules above, if that trans­lates to a gummy worm stuck to the teeth for a few hours, it’s worth it.

For sib­ling is­sues, de­velop a re­ward sys­tem. When my chil­dren were lit­tle, they got a star for ev­ery 15 min­utes free of squab­bles on long car rides. When they ac­cu­mu­lated eight stars, they got a treat. It was magic.

On iPads, down­load movies, TV shows and games. Even scrolling through fam­ily pho­tos has some en­ter­tain­ment value. And an iPad with a good cover makes a handy backup for writ­ing or eat­ing when you can’t use the tray.

Guid­ing tac­tics

Don’t stress about cry­ing or dis­rup­tion. You’ll never see th­ese peo­ple again and the ones who judge have not been in your shoes. Your child has as much right to be on the flight as any­one.

Go ahead and have one glass of wine or beer to­ward the be­gin­ning of the flight. It will re­lax you. Hav­ing more than one, though, and you may find your­self doz­ing while the lit­tle one plays Pat the Bunny with the hairdo of the lady in 17C.

Pay it for­ward. The next time you see a par­ent trav­el­ing with chil­dren on a long flight, of­fer to help, maybe by hold­ing a baby while the par­ent goes to the bath­room, dis­tract­ing an in­fant or just giv­ing them a smile and a sense that you know what they’re go­ing through.

One fi­nal note: No one, on any con­ti­nent or trav­el­ing in any di­rec­tion, of­fered any ad­vice on con­quer­ing a lit­tle one’s jet lag. Sorry. You’re on your own. Bruno is a writer based in the District. Find her on Twit­ter: @brun­odeb­bie

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