Once you have a child, air travel changes. That blissful half hour in the departure lounge with a glass of wine and a cheese platter becomes a thing of the past; in its place are last-minute diaper changes and panicked snack-supply runs.
That first flight with your kid is daunting, but as with most things related to the magical unicorn of parenting, you will get through it. The same basic principle applies for whether you're flying with kids or flying solo: Be organized. Give yourself enough time to get to your flight, try to get into a vacation-y mind-set and heed the following seven commandments.
① Choose your flight wisely.
If you're blessed with a baby who sleeps well and regularly, time the bulk of the flight around nap time. As a general rule, the earlier you fly, the less likely there will be delays.
② Pack light; pack smart.
Take all the distractions and supplies you need, not all the distractions and supplies you have. Your kit should include: things your kid loves (pacifiers, a teddy, a special toy), diaper-changing supplies, a smartphone/tablet and baby headphones (I love JLab's JBuddies).
③ Take the right snacks, food and drinks.
Call the airline to request a kids' meal; while you might get lucky, whatever meal the plane gives you should be regarded as a mere backup for the snacks you've already packed. Flying is not the time to experiment with new tastes or flavors; rather, stick to simple sandwiches, dried fruit and other no-mess snacks. Leave bananas and other smelly squishables at home, and check the TSA website for rules about water and breast milk/formula.
We've all heard the horror stories about medicines like Benadryl and Dramamine doing the opposite of what they're supposed to do—as in, keeping kids up on a 12-hour flight. We've also heard enough about other people imposing their opinions on medicating children on flights. Ultimately, it's a decision that's up to each parent—and pediatrician.
⑤ Know if you need to buy another seat.
Here's a piece of good news: If your baby is under two, he or she can travel as a "lap infant," meaning you don't have to buy a separate ticketed seat on the plane. If you're traveling internationally, call the airline and book a bassinet; each carrier has a different policy. However, according to the FAA, the safest place for your infant is in an approved child safety restraint system (CRS) or device installed in a separate seat. To use one of these, you will, in fact, need to buy your child a ticket, and some airlines have different opinions as to what is allowed on an aircraft. As with anything, know your rights.
⑥ Be Prepared.
Delays happen, so do missed connections. Be prepared for anything with a portable pop-up crib, like this one by Kilofly ($37), which turns into a sleeping spot if you have to make an unplanned stop, and collapses into practically nothing.
⑦ Know that there is an end.
This part is important: Even if your kid cries nonstop and everyone on the plane hates you, it's OK. You will get to your destination and—even if it doesn't always feel like it—you will manage to have a good time.
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