First off, let’s start with Ellison looking like an absolute doll in her umbrella stroller in the airport. Girl doesn’t take a bad picture. Of course, every parent says that.
The undeniable truth about flying with an infant is this: airports hate you. They hate you with fervor and with unrivaled passion. From the moment you hop the curb into the terminal, it has become your enemy. Once able to bounce through every part of the process with relative ease and coolness, now just finding your damned drivers license is enough to make you crawl into the fetal position, suck your thumb and whimper yourself to sleep in the family bathroom (which I discovered, on this trip, is pretty freaking cool…being able to have the whole family go to the bathroom at the same time in a public setting…pretty hood).
We flew to the northwest…Spokane to be exact. We flew to Vegas and then got punched in the groin with a five-hour layover. Try keeping a nine-month old entertained in Vegas. I got in trouble because I thought that she’d like to look at the slot machines. Then some old lady in a semi-official airport slot machine monitor uniform telling me, “Sir, you can’t have the baby near the slot machines.”
I replied, “We’re not playing, we’re just looking.”
“She can’t be over here, sir.”
“Where can we be so that we can look at slot machines?” It’s a freaking nine-month old baby, you moron. It’s not like I’m gonna dump her on a stool with a cup of quarters so she can entertain herself for an hour. And, seriously, since when has Vegas been the moral standard and rule-writer on how to raise your kids?
We outlasted the layover by hopping on the moving walkways and wandering aimlessly throughout the terminal and even letting her crawl around on the football fields of carpet. Yes, germ city. I was willing to risk the germs to let her get some nice crawl practice and wear herself out. It’s a risk/reward calculation that, when you have five hours to kill, has a pretty simple output. We checked out the advertisements and dreamt of shooting automatic weapons.
How you get through such a layover is really up to you. I can’t advise one way or another, but I can offer these tips for dealing with airports.
- Use the family bathroom: It’s not everyday you get to enjoy the conveniences of the family bathroom. Just the ability to change a diaper without the armies of gawking onlookers makes this visit worthwhile. Not all airports have them, but if you see one, use it.
- Don’t sweat the boarding passes: Check with the airline, but most airlines let families board ahead of most passengers. In the case of Southwest, you’re between the “A” and “B” groups which means you’re approximately the 61st person to board. If you have a boarding pass for the “B” or “C” group, you basically get to hop in the HOV lane and go much earlier. I say don’t even sweat with printing them out early. Just take your chances on the grace of the airlines. You got bigger things to worry about the day before traveling with an infant for the first time.
- Pack light, dress light: All about execution here. It’s easy to say it, but harder to do it. You’re gonna want to take every freaking toy in the arsenal and dress her/him up like it’s portrait day, but your ability to follow through on this one is key to lessening your traveling headaches. Here’s what I would advise on toys: take only new toys. Take toys your baby hasn’t seen yet. It’ll be like Christmas morning as you pull them from your backpack. But only bring a few items. And watch your rattles, squeaks or battery-operated annoyances. In close proximity with nowhere to run, you’ll get tired of them really quickly. Also, no shoes on the baby because, yes, just like adults, you’ll have to take them off at the security line as well. It’s stupid, but not as stupid as putting shoes on an infant who can’t walk yet. Socks only on the flying infant.
- Seating arrangement is everything: Here’s what I would advise when you’re picking out your seat: parent with the baby goes in the window seat, companion or spouse goes in the middle seat. The middle seat acts as the buffer between you and the short-straw passenger that has to sit next to you. By being in the window seat, you guarantee that, one, you get the best view of the earth and might be an ample source of entertainment for your infant on take off and landing and, two, you don’t have to worry about someone needing to get by you to take a leak when you finally got your baby to fall asleep. But be prepared to be down for the entire flight if you’re in the window seat.
- Warn your neighbor: Under-promise, over-deliver. When you see that lone passenger walking toward that empty seat on your row with their shoulders slumped and the face of a person who just watched a dog get hit on a busy highway, let them know that it could be a bumpy ride. Say something like, “Man, you must like sound of gunfire and cats fighting,” or “The rules state that if she has a crappy diaper, that seat is our changing table.” Your ability to jumpoff with a icebreaker and pull this person into your family for a hour or two will take that discomfort away when your baby starts raising holy hell like you’re performing an exorcism. In most cases, this person has no other option and that’s why they’re sitting next to you, but remember what it was like to be that person as a solo passenger. Acknowledge their discomfort and reluctance, make a friend of your family. It’ll make you feel better about the situation when Ellison spits up half her bottle and gets a few droplets on your buddy’s business slacks. If the flight goes without incident, then you’re a master of sarcasm. It’s a win-win. Don’t act like they don’t exist until you’re apologizing to them because of the deafening roars of anguish, the errant slap to the face or the vomit that jumps two seats into their lap.
- Be ready to entertain for the entire duration: You’re hoping for sleep, but be prepared to pull out all the stops to keep your baby entertained. I think I mastered a Sammy Davis impersonation on the second flight from Vegas to Spokane that I didn’t even know existed. Ellison spent two hours flailing from one lap to another to another to another to another, flirting with passengers three rows away, practicing her shadowboxing, climbing up and down daddy like a jungle gym, playing paddy cake, smacking daddy in the face, clawing mommy’s nose (drawing blood). Busy girl. The first flight she slept an hour and a half of the two hours. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.
- Sprite or water are your only approved refreshments: Everything else stains and drinking in such close proximity to a tasmanian infant will likely lead to spilt drink. Whatever you do, no coffee or hot drinks.
- Bottle or binky during ascension and landing: Because babies don’t have the ability to pop their own ears like adults do by yawning or swallowing, you have to give them the ability to pop their ears by administering a bottle during takeoff and landing or give them a pacifier to suck on. That pressure on a baby’s head is exponentially painful compared to an adult so your job as you reach cruising altitude is to ensure that there is no discomfort. Here’s my advise, though regarding the bottle. Switch to a slow nipple. It’ll take more effort and time to finish that bottle and get you to a higher altitude. You don’t want the baby finishing the bottle before you even lift off. Also, don’t start giving her the bottle until you hear the words over the cabin speakers: “Cleared for departure.” You don’t know how long that taxi will take. The taxi across the tarmac in Vegas took nearly ten minutes. Don’t be premature with the bottle. Wait till right before you take off. Those three words will be your queue.
And, just a note, I changed a diaper in an empty row on the way in from Denver to Amarillo and it was the gnarliest diaper I’ve ever seen from Ellison. Prime-time performance. That thing stunk up the entire cabin. I’m afraid to fart on a flight out of embarrassment, but those rules change when you gotta dirty diaper. You gotta change that thing. Don’t let your baby ride it out unless there’s fifteen minutes left in the flight. The smell that I unleashed on that cabin was so rancid, I heard a guy ten rows up dry heave. It was terrible. It sounded like she graduated from “baby poo” to “grandpa poo.” It’s like she ate a steak dinner the night before. Ah, the glories (horrors) of flying with an infant.
Stay loose, though. That’s the best advise I can give you. It’s when you tighten up and begin to fuss little forgivables that you lose control of the situation. Remember that you’re likely never to see these people again in your entire life and they’re likely to completely forget you after they leave the airport and arrive at their destination. Be a fearless parent. Look like you know what you’re doing. It’s amazing what you can accomplish just by acting like a fearless parent even though you might be racked with trepidation from head to toe.