NAV­I­GA­TOR

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - El­liott is a con­sumer ad­vo­cate, jour­nal­ist and co-founder of the ad­vo­cacy group Trav­el­ers United. Email him at chris@el­liott.org. CHRISTO­PHER EL­LIOTT

Learn­ing to smooth the bumps of fly­ing with young children.

If you think fly­ing with a baby is easy, maybe you didn’t hear about Krupa Pa­tel Bala, who re­cently trav­eled from Syd­ney to San Fran­cisco on United Air­lines with her hus­band and 8-month-old son.

Shortly af­ter their baby be­gan cry­ing, a crew mem­ber con­fronted the fam­ily, seated in busi­ness class, and told them that his be­hav­ior was “ab­so­lutely un­ac­cept­able.” The at­ten­dant claimed that ba­bies weren’t al­lowed to cry for more than five min­utes on United flights, Bala says.

“Par­ents of new­borns have it hard enough al­ready trav­el­ing with a baby,” said Bala, who works for Face­book. “We cer­tainly don’t need crew man­agers pil­ing on when we are do­ing our best to en­sure we’re con­tain­ing our children and their cries.”

Bala used the on­board In­ter­net to post her ex­pe­ri­ence to Face­book. By the time her fam­ily landed in San Fran­cisco, United was ready with an apol­ogy and a full re­fund. But they also un­der­scored the un­pleas­ant fact that no mat­ter how you look at it, air travel with young kids is a chal­lenge for ev­ery­one — in­clud­ing par­ents, other pas­sen­gers and crew mem­bers.

If there were a year for fly­ing with in­fants, this prob­a­bly wouldn’t be it. With sev­eral high­pro­file in­ci­dents such as Bala’s, and the con­tin­ued ab­sence of a reg­u­la­tion that would al­low par­ents to sit next to their kids with­out pay­ing ex­tra, these are chal­leng­ing times for ba­bies on board. (In case you missed it, the Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment has yet to is­sue a rule, as re­quired by Congress, to en­sure that a fam­ily that pur­chases tick­ets for a flight is seated to­gether dur­ing that flight.)

Most of this year’s in­ci­dents started to gain no­to­ri­ety when pho­tos or videos were posted on­line, then spread to main­stream me­dia out­lets. For ex­am­ple, you prob­a­bly heard about the child who used a train­ing toi­let on a plane. Or the woman who was booted from a flight for re­fus­ing to sit next to a cry­ing baby and then threat­en­ing to have a flight at­ten­dant fired.

So what do par­ents need to know about fly­ing with ba­bies? First, buy an ex­tra seat. You’ll need the ex­tra space, and bring­ing the car seat on board will also make the trip safer for your off­spring, ex­perts say. “Typ­i­cally a child is more com­fort­able in their own seat in­stead of be­ing con­stantly read­justed in a par­ent’s lap,” says Ashanti Woods, an at­tend­ing pe­di­a­tri­cian at Mercy Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Bal­ti­more.

Alexan­dra Fung, a mother of three and CEO of the par­ent­ing ad­vice web­site Up­par­ent.com, has a rou­tine for ev­ery flight. Be­fore board­ing, she makes sure that her baby has a clean di­a­per and com­fort­able clothes that are easy to change, and is look­ing for­ward to the next meal. “Nurse or bot­tle feed dur­ing take­off, as the swal­low­ing mo­tion will help with any discomfort from the pres­sure change, and a com­fort­able and well-fed baby might just spend the next cou­ple of hours sleep­ing,” she ad­vises.

When it comes to deal­ing with an­noyed pas­sen­gers, there are at least two schools of thought. Some of the ex­perts say you should dress your baby in cute clothes to en­dear them to other pas­sen­gers and hand out earplugs and treats with an “I’m sorry about my baby” note at­tached. Oth­ers sub­scribe to the “deal with it” phi­los­o­phy: Just apol­o­gize if your baby cries too much and move on.

“Here’s a tip for those who are trav­el­ing next to some­one with a baby, es­pe­cially next to a solo trav­eler,” says Tr­ish McDer­mott, a co-founder of BabyQuip, a baby gear rental ser­vice. “Ask how you can help. Sim­ply of­fer­ing to hold a baby for five min­utes so mom or dad can take a re­stroom break, or reach­ing over to pick up a fallen item that a par­ent can’t reach, can be a gamechanger on a long flight. Some­times it takes a vil­lage to get a fam­ily with young children through a flight.”

Crew mem­bers have mixed feel­ings about ba­bies on board. They want to wel­come all pas­sen­gers and make them as com­fort­able as pos­si­ble. And pri­vately, they of­ten tell me young children aren’t their big­gest prob­lem; it’s their adult travel com­pan­ions, es­pe­cially new par­ents who tend to make a lot of mis­takes. The er­rors in­clude be­ing ridicu­lously un­pre­pared, act­ing as if any ad­vice they re­ceive is “baby­hat­ing” or “mom-sham­ing” — and not know­ing what to do with di­a­pers.

“Most nar­row-body air­plane lava­to­ries are in the gal­ley where food and bev­er­ages are served,” ex­plains Su­san Fog­well, a flight at­ten­dant from Devon, Pa. “For san­i­tary pur­poses, the lava­tory door should not re­main open when a di­a­per is changed. Some peo­ple think it’s a two-per­son op­er­a­tion to change a di­a­per and will leave the lava­tory door open while the other per­son — the helper — is stand­ing at the en­trance to the lava­tory.”

Fog­well and other air­line em­ploy­ees say they pack one must-have item in their carry-on bags: seal­able plas­tic bags. She sug­gests that par­ents trav­el­ing with in­fants do the same. When they’re done with a di­a­per change, Fog­well says, they can seal the di­a­per in a plas­tic bag and dis­pose of it quickly.

Most air­lines post a sim­ple guide on their web­sites that covers seats, strollers and car­ryon al­lowances for fam­i­lies. You wouldn’t know how to han­dle di­a­per changes un­less you asked. Even then, you might not get a con­sis­tent an­swer.

That’s be­cause when it comes to fly­ing with ba­bies, it’s not clear what the rules are — or whether there are any. “En­force­ment of them varies widely not only from air­line to air­line, but from staff mem­ber to staff mem­ber,” says Mar­i­anne Perez de Fran­sius, co-founder of Bébé Voy­age, an on­line com­mu­nity for par­ents of young children. That might at least par­tially ex­plain some of the recent con­flicts be­tween par­ents and crew mem­bers. No one knows what’s ac­cept­able, not even the em­ploy­ees.

Bot­tom line: If you’re plan­ning to fly some­where with your baby, or are seated next to one, be pre­pared for any­thing.

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