So, I’ve finally returned from a 10-day whirlwind tour of the East Coast, where I’ve ping ponged my way from Northern New York to North Carolina to Washington, D.C., to Jersey and back with a six-week-old. Traveling with infants… definitely not for the impatient or disorganized (of which I am both).
Out of the four different legs of the trip, I was most worried about the flight to North Carolina. I was stressing that baby would totally be that kind of baby that airline passengers don’t feel bad about hating. Think a hot, sweaty, totally over-booked plane meets wailing, screaming, and other forms of inconsolable crying.
But if the truth be told, it wasn’t so bad; the five hour drive from Fayette-nam (Fayetteville, N.C., home to Fort Bragg, for those of you non-military wives reading this) with just baby and me was much, much worse. All things considered, baby’s first flight was fantastic.
Of course a few things helped.
Number one: my mom. Yup, she went with me as my sherpa. She schlepped pretty much everything besides the baby–my carry-on (a.k.a. diaper bag), her purse, cooler pack full of breast milk, dirty diapers, stroller base, etc. I so needed her extra set of hands.
It would seem like with two of us, we’d have everything under control. But all it took was the top to snap off of one of my mini canisters of breast milk and it felt like the wheels were starting to fall off. Of course, then I was reminded of my utter incompetence when I saw a girl probably 10 years younger than I, toting her infant son onto the same flight with what seemed like half the amount of stuff and no mom.
But I digress… my number two savior was the Charlotte USO.
Now, for the non-military readers out there, the USO (United Service Organizations) is a group whose mission is “to provide morale, welfare, and recreation-type services to uniformed military personnel.” That encompasses a lot of things, but one of the cooler things they do for military–and that includes active duty military, national guard, reserves, retired military people, and military families–is operate a number of airport lounges, where people can hang out and rest up before their flights or during a layover.
And there happened to be one in Charlotte, where my mom, baby, and I had a three-plus hour layover.
This was my first time using a USO lounge. In fact, my mom and I had first headed to the US Airways club lounge, armed with her American Express platinum card and a hope that they had reciprocity with card members. (They don’t.) Rejected and wondering where we were going to find a suitable place to hang out (I was probably going to need to nurse given how fast baby sucked down a bottle of pumped milk on the first flight), I suggested we try out the USO.
It took us awhile to find it, but once we did, it was so worth it. The people
were so friendly, warm, and welcoming; they showed us every corner of the place from the video message center to the DVD viewing room to the kitchen area (complete with bottled drinks, fresh hot dogs, and other snacks) to the nursery (equipped with gliders, a pack ‘n’ play, and a bunch of toys and books for kids) to the bathrooms with the infant changing station. Our host even thought to tell me that I just needed to let her know if I needed diapers, wipes, or formula. (How awesome is that?)
It was so nice to be able to use the USO to regroup. I was even able to nurse comfortably (I’m still not totally down with whipping out the boob anywhere, anytime) while my mom put her feet up in an overstuffed leather recliner while watching the news and reading the paper.
Now, I realize that a lot of people reading this probably don’t have access to great services like the USO, so here are a few lessons learned:
- Book a hotel. If you have a very early morning flight, seriously consider getting a room at the airport hotel for the night before. It probably is worth the money because you won’t have to get up so darn early, so your kid is likely to be less cranky, and you won’t have any last minute snafus like a late start, a pit stop for gas, heavy traffic, or flat tire.
- Good things come in small packages. If you are bringing expressed milk on the plane, consider using smaller quantity canisters. If your bottles are under three ounces, you’ve got a green light to go. If they are bigger, it’s still no big deal–the TSA people will ask you to open the bottles so they can wave this paper strip thing over it and conduct a vapor test–but it will cost you more time getting through security.
- Bag it. Bring a plastic garbage bag with you. When traveling with itty bitty babies, you will likely have them in their car seat with the clip-in base. (I have the Baby Trend Snap and Go, but there are other brands out there.) This stroller system makes it so easy to get to your gate, particularly if you’ve got luck like mine and you have to change terminals during your layover. But you’ll have to check it at the gate. I put the whole car seat part of the system in a plastic bag before giving it to the runway dude who threw it into the belly of the plan. It may sound strange, but think about how dirty it’s got to be–from the workers’ gloves, to the carts on which the baggage is transported, to the under carriage of the plane. Ewww. Plastic will protect the seat fabric.
- Double bag it. I went for the bag-within-a-bag as my carry-on and I think it worked out really well. A friend had given me this great oversized, water repellent bag as a baby gift, so I packed that thing full of all my baby and travel essentials. And the bigger the better. I was able to fit my diaper bag, the cooler pack, my giant wallet, and a few other miscellaneous items in the thing and it was easy and compact to carry. Here’s a pic:
So, thanks to smart packing, planning, and a personal pack mule, baby’s first flight was pretty painless. However, although I’ve lived to tell about it, I’ll say that I wouldn’t exactly say that I’m ready to be a frequent flier family. In fact, I’m trying not to think about the trip to Hawaii that we’ve got planned with baby. (How long is the flight, again?)