When my son took his first plane ride at age four months, I was afraid he would cry (he didn’t) or have a blowout (he did). When he next flew at seven months, I was more concerned about him being a lap child, as we had a long day of flying ahead. Luckily, my husband went along that time, so we passed him back and forth. At age thirteen months, I was nervous that the entire time on the plane would be one hours-long wrestling match. After all, that’s what diaper changing and clothes-changing times have become.
I came as prepared as I could. I asked friends for advice; I did research. I had toys he knew and loved, toys he’d never seen before, his favorite books, lots of snacks, and my Baby Björn to strap him into if all else failed.
When I got to the airport to check in, the attendant suggested I keep his car seat with me in case there were empty seats. The first flight was the longest, so I leapt at the hope of being able to strap him in, although I had not purchased a seat for him. As it turned out, there were empty seats, but the airline announced that the flight was full before we got on, so I gate-checked the car seat. That meant I had to manage a car seat, stroller, and toddler when we changed planes. I wish I had not taken that advice.
The flight didn’t begin well. Right around take-off, my son was already squirmy. I’d meant to give him some time to walk around the airport, after sitting in the car two hours to get there, but had to wait too long to get breakfast for us. Gritting my teeth, I began strapping him into the Baby Björn, facing out, when I was told by the flight attendant that I wasn’t allowed to use it during take-off. He settled down a little once we started moving and began flirting with the grandmother sitting in the window seat. She smiled back and told us about her grandchildren.
I’m still not sure how we got through the four and a half hour flight. He only slept for the final half hour. We went through a seemingly endless rotation of toys, books, snacks, nursing, flirting with the grandmother. She proved to be invaluable - I think he sat on her lap for at least half an hour, all the while smiling, babbling, and pointing to things he saw from the window (I sat in window seats after that since he found them so interesting). There were some diversions that I hadn’t thought about being helpful: He was very interested in my ice water and the cup it came in. He was obsessed with screwing and unscrewing the cap to my water bottle. He helped me eat my bagel and cream cheese. We took a bathroom break. I sang him lots of songs. He played a lot with a small stuffed dog, just big enough to fit in his hand, putting it in and out of its doghouse. Of the new toys, he liked the Aquadoodle best - it has a pen that uses only water to make marks in blue and red on a fabric surface, making it ideal for travel.
In the end, I think being a lap child was better than having him strapped in. He could at least move around some - on long car rides he has tended to just cry or scream when he gets tired of being confined. Although the tight quarters of an airplane may make other travelers wince when they see a baby headed for their row, it is actually good for a social baby. One of the best distractions of all is definitely other people. As my husband put it - follow the grandmothers. As a mother traveling alone with her child, they are your best friends!
J LeBlanc is a former high school teacher who resides in Lebanon, N.H. She is currently taking a break from teaching to stay home with her 8-month-old son.
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