We recently took a trip to Washington, D.C, and Germany with our daughter, Alessandra. We have traveled with her since she was an infant, but now that she is fourteen months she is entering the toddler stage and has been walking for the past three months, it can be more challenging to take long flights with her. I was secretly dreading the long flights on our trip. A few days prior to the trip, I finally told my husband and he said he was also kind of dreading it. It made me feel better to know that we both felt the same way.
(Alessandra’s first flight at about four months – trip to Las Vegas, it was a quick flight)
When Alessandra was about five months, we took our first overseas trip with her. We flew to Germany and the flight involved one connection. I was also worried before that flight, but we had bulk head seats with a bassinet (hung from airplane partition) for her and luckily she slept for most of the flight. There were two other parents sitting close to us on the flight to Germany. The couple sitting right next to us also had bulk head seats and a bassinet for their baby. Their baby was about ten months old and was constantly sitting up or standing in the bassinet and fussy during the flight, except for the few hours he slept. I felt for that couple. You could see they were constantly trying to calm their son. The other couple was in the aisle across from us and their daughter was a toddler. They did not have a seat for their daughter she was traveling on their laps (children under two years of age are allowed to travel on their parents’ lap). She constantly wanted to walk around the plane. This is completely normal, she’s a toddler and they love to walk and explore. She eventually fell asleep across her parents’ lap. Those parents looked exhausted. Before our recent trip to Germany, I was envisioning us fussing over Alessandra to keep her calm or walking up and down the aisles with her constantly.
(Alessandra’s first overseas trip to Germany, at about five months of age)
(Playing in the bassinet, on United flight, to Germany)
(She slept for about six hours, the majority of the flight)
Then, just a few days before our flight, I decided to change my mindset. I decided I wanted to enjoy our trip and this included the flights. There was no sense worrying about the flight, it was what it was. It would be a long flight and we would handle it the best we could when we were at that point. I also decided to look forward to things I would enjoy during the flight. Even though Alessandra is still little, she is a toddler and I hold her less now than I did when she was an infant. I am no longer breastfeeding, so those moments of cuddling with her in my arms for long periods of time multiple times each day are also gone. She no longer drinks a baby bottle, we weaned her off of it as soon as she turned one year old. She now drinks from sippy cups. She has a sippy cup of milk in the morning and one in the evening, and drinks water throughout the day. Even though I sit or lay next to her every time she is laying on her Boppy pillow drinking her milk, she no longer needs me to hold her in my arms. She hasn’t needed me to hold the bottle or a sippy cup up for her in several months. I still hold her often and hug her, and drench her with kisses, but it is less time now than it was before. So, since she was traveling on our laps for this flight, I decided I would appreciate the time to hold our baby in my arms. Nowadays, as I prepare her meals, Alessandra will be playing with her toys in the television room just a few steps away. I can see her and supervise her, but I am no longer carrying her in the baby carrier attached to me. She isn’t a clingy or fussy baby. She is quite independent. Wherever we go, she will easily start playing with other children or run to explore the playground.
Another thing I did to feel more at ease with the flight was be prepared with items Alessandra may need and to keep her entertained. I packed a small bag of her favorite toys. I used a clear gallon sized Ziploc bag and only allowed myself to pack what fit in the bag. I packed snacks (and later some fresh food) and her favorite sippy cup. I downloaded a few of her favorite Barney episodes and another new cartoon i(n case variety would keep her entertained) on the iPad mini. We weren’t going to bring the portable DVD player (with her favorite DVDs) we have used on road trips, but decided to bring it just in case. This was a good decision since we ended up using the DVD on the flight back so she could watch a Baby Einstein video. I also packed the diaper bag with extra items, such as a sweater, back-up outfit, pajama, blanket, and a small book. I keep a few small toys and a teether in her diaper bag at all times (helpful when we go to restaurants or any outing). Being prepared always gives me peace of mind.
On the flight to DC, I held Alessandra on my lap for most of the flight. Jim held her for a while as well. She took a nap for about one hour only. Luckily, sitting next to me was a young man, college aged, and he was friendly towards Alessandra. I thanked him. She was well-behaved and over-all quite patient during the flight. We played with her toys, fed her, read to her and she watched a Barney episode on the iPad mini. We stayed a few days in DC visiting Jim’s family. At this point, I was no longer worried about the long flight (seven and a half hours) to Germany (from DC).
(On our way to D.C., we let her walk to stretch out at the airport during our layover, Jim gave her a ride on the cart)
One the flight to Germany we sat in the middle of the plane, where there are four seats. Jim always prefers the aisle, so I take the middle seat, which I don’t mind. The man sitting next to us was French and when I saw him take his seat, I told him we had a toddler and I hoped he was ok with it. He smiled and said yes. We knew the flight wasn’t fully booked (we checked the seat app beforehand) and were hoping the seat next to me would be unoccupied. Luckily, when they made the announcement that the plane door was being closed, the seat next to me was empty!! Amazing! What luck! I asked the French man if he wouldn’t mind if I moved over a seat so Alessandra would sit between Jim and me and he said it was fine. She had her own seat! This made the flight much easier for us. I fed her and then, we played with her toys, went to the bathroom for a diaper change, and she watched the beginning of an episode of Barney, then she fell asleep for a few hours. We had prepared her seat with a blanket under her and placed the small carry-on bag in front of her seat (by the feet), to create a small sleeping area for her where she could stretch out. After she fell asleep, we laid her down, adjusted her seat belt, took of her shoes, and covered her with a blanket. This plane had individual screens on each seat back, so Jim and I were each able to enjoy watching a few movies (we each had our i-Pad mini as well). When she woke, we held her and she ate, we played with her, took her for a short walk in the aisles, and before we knew it, it was time to sit her on my lap for landing.
(Sleeping during recent flight to Germany)
It was a long flight and yes, we were all tired when we landed in Germany, but overall it was a good flight (and we are always tired when we land in Germany after a long flight, even before we had a baby). Alessandra was not fussy and she did not have one single break-down or throw a tantrum. She has never had a break-down or thrown a tantrum, so I don’t know why I was even worried about that! Did we get lucky that she had her own seat? Of course! Would the flight have been different had she been sitting on our laps for the seven hours? Perhaps. The lesson I learned is that I can’t change things by worrying about them. Something I already know, but need to remind myself sometimes. Instead, I found something to look forward to during the long flight and I was prepared with things to entertain Alessandra. I looked forward to spending time as a family, to holding Alessandra, having her sit on my lap and hugging her, playing with her, and building memories as a family.
(On return flight from Germany last week, arriving in San Francisco for our layover)
So, next time you are dreading something, perhaps try to look for something positive in the experience and focus on that, instead of the worrying about the negative aspects.
Have you had good or bad experiences traveling with a toddler or baby?
(At six months, checking in at Frankfurt Airport for return flight from Germany)
(Being greeted by Lufthansa flight attendant and receiving a toy plane, on return flight from Germany)
(The bassinet on the Lufthansa flight was nicer than the one on the United flight & included a fitted sheet)
(The bassinet hung right in front of our seats)
(She slept for part of the flight)
(Ready to board the next flight after our layover – one our way home)
(Luckily, we were upgraded for part of the return flight, after the layover)
(At nine months, landing in San Francisco to celebrate New Year’s Eve, she had her own seat for that flight)
(At twelve months, taking off for a cross-country trip to Florida, fortunately we were upgraded, so we were more comfortable)