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Transportation: Flying With a Baby Isn’t Always Smooth Ride

As we set off on any family journey, my husband would typically ask three questions: “Do we have the tickets?” “Do we have the money?” “Do we have ‘Bunny’ (our eldest’s name for his blanket)?” “Fine - let’s go.” According to him, those three ingredients were the only things needed for any successful holiday.

Unfortunately, when air travel and small babies were involved, the necessary accompaniments were not that simple. I’ve often felt more like Nanuck of the North on a far-flung expedition than a simple airplane passenger. Baby carriers, bottles and feeding utensils, diaper bags, playthings, whole changes of clothes for me and baby, it’s all necessary. Let’s face it. When you’re trapped thirty thousand feet up, you can’t make a quick run to the store for Wet Wipes.

Now that my kids are older, I leave it up to them to pack what they will need for a flight. But when they were little, my airline cope kit used to include food and drink (especially for take-offs and landings), wet washcloths, ziplock bags for dirty diapers or wet clothes, a flashlight (so that the kid is not constantly hopping up to turn the overhead light on and off during movie time), toys, cassette players (the airline headphones are sometimes too big for little ears), art materials, cups and bowls with tops, small pillows, extra cloth diapers to use as napkins or towels, books about planes and flying, and a Swiss army knife (with scissors and the indispensable corkscrew).

You may not need all of this on every flight. Lucky for you, if you don’t. But there are a few essentials that are vital when flying the skies with little passengers. Probably the most important thing to have on board is something to relieve ear pressure - especially during take-off and landing. For a baby, the pain caused by changes in pressure can be severe. I was reminded of this two weeks ago, when, during the descent to Montego Bay, dozens of babies suddenly set up a painful chorus. Even for adults, pressure on the ear can rupture an ear drum; pilots who have ear infections have been known to book off flights.

Breastfeeding moms can relieve infants’ ears by scheduling feedings for take-off or landing. But note: have a supplementary bottle or pacifier handy. The descent could take longer than planned, or you may be asked to wake a baby for take-off only to sit on the runway for an hour. For toddlers, bags of Cheerios or raisins are great; sucking on ice chips, a hard candy stick, or a straw can help. One knowledgeable flight attendant once showed our children how to hold their noses and gently blow out their cheeks like hamsters. Another trick is to hold two paper cups with paper towels soaked with warm water, and hold over the ears.

By law, infants must sit on an adult knee during take-off and landing (almost impossible if you are pregnant and your lap has disappeared). The infant will be more if he or she sits facing the parent. After two years of age, the child may sit belted into a seat. But that doesn’t mean assured safety. A small child can “submarine” under a lap belt with a sudden stop of the aircraft. Also, the forward movement of an infant against the seat buckle could cause internal injury. It helps to pack a pillow behind toddlers so that they are held snugly against the belt.

You may want to bring your own car seat. Infants under two can still sit for free on a parent’s lap, but the Federal Aviation Administration is under mounting pressure to make safety seats mandatory. (A study from Harvard’s Medical School found that infants were six times more likely to die in plane accidents than belted adults.) Most airlines will allow certain safety-seats for infants on board although usually only accompanied by a ticket. Check with the airline to see if your seat is on their approved list; if not, you may want to rent one and buy an extra ticket.

Where to sit on a plane is a moot point. Some parents prefer the bulkhead seats which give extra floor space for playing, changing diapers, or even. These are also the only seats where “Skycots” (small beds for babies up to 35 pounds) can be attached. There are only so many Skycots to go around, however -reserve one when booking.

Bulkhead seats, however, can be a mixed blessing. Cabin baggage may have to be stored in the overhead bins where it’s less accessible. The armrests can’t be raised for impromptu naps, and the movie flickering overhead could prevent sleep or proper viewing. Some ticket agents suggest seats over the wing. Turbulence is minimized, and the window overlooking the wing provides interesting scenery.

Nevertheless, despite the kind of planning that usually accompanies a theatrical performance, almost anything that can happen will. Your toddler mistakenly gets caviar canapés from Business Class instead of the chicken fingers you ordered, the skycot requested months ago suddenly disappears with an aircraft change, turbulence keeps a toddler on your lap for an entire flight without a washroom visit, or an infant uses up his entire two-week wardrobe during a two-hour flight. I know. In over 40 flights with my kids, I’ve lived through this and more. It’s these kinds of incidents that make you (and neighbouring passengers) cheer when those airplane wheels touch down on the tarmac. It’s only then that the holiday can truly begin.





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