Transatlantic Baby Part 1

We decided 2.5 months old was an appropriate age to start Cillian’s love of traveling and made the journey to Ireland. He comes from a long lineage of travellers which means any child of ours has little to no choice when it comes to exploring the world, at least for their foreseeable future.

I love to experience new cultures, hidden gems and the landscapes of a new city/province/country, but I hate flying. The first time I was on a plane was at 5 weeks old so you would think that it would be part of my DNA by now, I also travel frequently for work but the whole process of getting on a plane stresses me out and once I am on the plane my irrational fear of flying kicks in. Before I was pregnant this was solved with prescription drugs and an airplane grade glass of wine, but unfortunately this is no longer the case.

We knew we couldn’t fly direct from our home city to Dublin but which option was the path of least resistance? With our talent of trying to control every possible outcome we of course did our research on flying with a wee baby. Our sources included family, friends and google.

My mother flew with me in the era of legroom, flight attendant babysitters and children being allowed into the cockpit – so there wasn’t that much useful insight she was able to provide, beyond reminding me that I handled flying as an infant a lot better than I do now as an adult.

Our friends had what I can only describe as a nightmare time traveling, this included missed flights, holdups in customs, running out of diapers and a lost car seat.

Google allowed us to research baby friendly airlines, baby friendly airports and mathematically formulated a plan for how much time we would need for a layover – as we are both math geniuses it meant we were completely wrong with our guesstimate.

Once we booked our tickets I called each airline three times (yay I am that person) to try to get the best possible seats – bulkhead seating, insider tips on traveling with an infant and what we could or could not bring. We packed enough baby emergency stuff in our carry-ons that we could have been stranded on Greenland for a month and still had enough supplies.

Here are the key experiences and a few tips I can share for anyone who wants to take on the adventure of traveling with an infant:

  1. Packing your carry-on – we overpacked. Be realistic, you do not need three changes of clothing for your baby and two each for the parents in case your child turns into the exorcist mid-flight and throws up pea soup. You do need diapers but you do not need 30. Get a carry-on that rolls. One of you will be managing the baby while the other one will be managing the carry-on and both of you just entered the connecting flight marathon.
  2. Luggage – We were flying internationally so we each were allowed one piece of checked luggage for free. What we didn’t know was how much if at all it would cost for Cillian’s equipment. We had the base of the car seat, as well as a travel bassinet we would need to check. They were both free, the travel bassinet was his luggage and the attachment was part of necessary equipment. I am not sure what the case is if you are traveling domestic, so call first. When checking your baby’s luggage ask if it can go into the oversize baggage, we were told in Ireland that they handle these items with more care.
  3. Baby equipment – As mentioned above, we had to check his car seat attachment. We were told not to worry about packing it in a bag because they will put it in a plastic bag when you get to the counter. Here is the glitch with that, if the plastic bag comes loose and falls off, your attachment is lost. The guy at the WestJet counter who had more patience at 5am for two desperate and confused new parents than I do in the best circumstances, went above and beyond when it came to securing the plastic bag and explaining the process, but why take the risk. On the way home we put the attachment in a duffle bag that could be zipped shut. The buggy/stroller is dropped off at the door of the plane and will reappear ideally at the door when you land. Not all airports seem to understand this and we were told the wrong information on the way back on where we could expect our buggy/stroller. Listen to your instincts and what you were told when boarding, because had we listened to the airport personnel we would still be waiting on our buggy/stroller. The buggy/stroller and car seat are considered two separate pieces which means your baby does not get a carry-on, the car seat is considered the carry-on.
  4. Feeding your baby – If you choose to bring pumped milk or formula keep it in bottles under the 120ml rule. We were told that you can dispute this and fill the bottles as much as you want but why add the extra stress of having to argue that your baby’s food is not a threat to national security. I filled up five bottles up to 120ml and put them in freezer bags made for bottles (these are allowed but will go through special screening). We also bought distilled water bottles once through security and packed formula in travel size pouches. Make sure you have a bottle ready to go when you board the plane since most likely this is the time your baby decides they need to eat.
  5. Security – Congratulations you are finally a VIP and no longer need to wait in the forever security line-up, you get to go in that special line you always glare at. Make sure you have everything out of the storage of your buggy/stroller and overall the process is painless. Unless you are like us and the security scanning machine breaks as you get up to it. Also back to why overpacking is not a wonderful idea.
  6. Seating – This is one of the more important parts of flying. Some airplanes have this thing called bulkhead seating. It is the new parent version of getting a cab, in a snowstorm, after last call. When booking your flight call right away to see if the airline you are flying with has one of these magical rows. Essentially what it is, is a) way more legroom for you the parent, which for someone who was blessed with the height of a supermodel (not much else of a supermodel) it was great to finally fly without getting a leg cramp, and b) it has a bassinet for your baby. Don’t worry it is a cardboard bassinet lined with airplane pillows, so while not very environmentally friendly it is hygienic. Now if your baby is like ours they might not want to sleep the whole time but what we found was that it also works great as a playpen and a storage unit. If you are flying on an airline that does not have bulkhead seating like we did from our home to Toronto, or you are too late and all the bulkhead seating is booked, I would recommend a nifty contraption in the form of a blowup travel pillow. A friend of ours gave us theirs and Cillian was quite happy to sleep on it. If there is no bulkhead seating but there is the option of a row of only two seats, book it. That way you can move around as much as you need to without feeling you are disturbing someone. Normally these rows are only on larger international flights. If you are stuck in the window and middle seat (most airlines when they see you are flying with an infant will automatically book you a window seat and your partner the middle seat for more privacy) you might feel awkward always asking the aisle seat to get up if you need to change your baby, or just to walk around. Don’t feel bad. On the first stretch of our travels we had a lady that clearly was not impressed she was sitting beside a young family and made it clearly known she was annoyed when we asked her to get up – which was only three times. A friendly reminder to the aisle seaters, which pre-baby was my seat of choice, if you choose to sit there or were too late to pre-pick your seat, it can be annoying if you are trying to sleep and someone keeps on asking you to get up. May I recommend next time picking a window seat and/or realizing that you are flying and unfortunately in the modern age flying is not made to be comfortable. Lastly I was very blessed that on all my flights if I did have someone sitting in front of me they were aware there as a wee baby behind them and chose not to recline their seat.
  7. Flying 
    • We had Cillian in a carrier when we boarded and disembarked the airplane. It made it easier to get up and down the aisle and have my hands free to carry my bag and knowing he was securely attached to me.
    • I got over my fear of breastfeeding in public really fast on an airplane. You have no choice but to tackle that fear when you are 35,000 feet in the air and your baby needs a comfort feed. Probably not the welcoming committee people were expecting on their flight.
    • Before we had Cillian we bought this nifty travel change table. It folds up really small and you can put your diapers, wipes and creams in it. We have always found it really helpful and even more so on a plane when changing a baby in a confined space. We also discovered in Ireland diaper bags, think a doggy poo bag but you put your used diaper in it. Have those with you so you don’t make everyone on the airplane endure the smell of your baby’s bodily functions (some airlines will offer you a bag).
    • My bladder is the size of a walnut and while I did have my partner there, there was a time when he was not available to hold Cillian while I had to pee.  This might sound disturbing to some, I put him in a carrier while he was sleeping and went to the washroom while wearing him.
    • My partner has a real issue with the air pressure and his ears on takeoff and landings where it doesn’t really bother me. We are lucky that Cillian seems to take after me in this aspect and had no issues. We did have an arsenal of options should it have, a bottle, a boob, a soother and toys as a distraction. He needed none of them.
    • Each airline will have a different way of holding your baby for takeoffs and landings, some might even have a seatbelt for them. I found the positions can be a bit awkward so it was easiest to get Cillian to sleep first – which once the engines started was pretty quickly, and then move him into the proper hold.
    • If you do not have bulkhead seating eating can be a bit of a challenge when flying. If you are fortunate to be flying with your partner, I would recommend you ask the flight attendants to bring you your food at separate times so one of you can eat while the other holds the baby. If you are flying solo ask one of the 10 grandmas that have fawned over your baby the whole flight hold them – kidding, maybe eat a big meal beforehand.
    • We were lucky that Cillian only had one minor meltdown while boarding the plane and overall he didn’t cry. If you do have a crying baby which there was one on one of our flights, don’t stress out about it. They are upset, soothe them as you normally would and don’t think twice about it. Some adults are extremely obnoxious and loud on flights and what is their excuse.
    • At the end of the flight we were thanked by the people around us for what a well behaved baby we have, because at 2.5 months it is clearly nurture not nature… Take the compliment and let your ego have this one, soon enough you will get some kind of bodily fluid all over you and this will make it a bit better.
  8. Airlines – It really paid off that we did research on baby friendly airlines. WestJet was extremely helpful when we first checked in at the counter as mentioned above and the flight attendants even offered to help carry some of our stuff as we made our way down the aisle. Aer Lingus flight attendants were not only extremely friendly and funny – always good when stuck together for 7 hours, but went out of their way to accommodate us in any way necessary – no I am not getting a free trip for mentioning them here, I don’t have enough followers to demand that sort of respect.

Remember deodorant, you love your partner and do affirmations that this chaotic mess will be worth it once you make it to your destination.

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