At 10 months old, we have now flown with Mason 3 times and each time was a drastically different experience.
The 1st time, we flew with Mason was at Christmas when he was 5 months old. We were more than ready. And with what felt like a thousand bags we somehow made it to the airport on time. I tried the whole nursing during take off and landing but it was rather stressful, and there really wasn't much room for nursing the way we were used to. My husband tried so hard to hold up a nursing cover so that I didn't expose myself to anyone on the plane but that all went out the window when Mason starting fussing and wouldn't latch.
It is so true that he felt my stress, it was one of those situations where I had prepared in every way and was doing everything I could to ensure he didn't lose it. But just as babies do, he had a complete meltdown and walking up and down the plane we went until he calmed down. I gave people the nod and quick "I'm sorry" but in the end we got lucky...he only cried for a few minutes...I realize now that things could have been WAY worse.
The 2nd time, Mason was 7 months old, and our first flight was cancelled so our only option was a later flight during at 7pm - which coincidentally was Mason's bedtime. I nursed him on the plane during takeoff and then he fell right asleep - it was amazing. He slept on my chest for the entire flight and my and I husband thought we had finally figured this whole flying with babies thing out...
Until flight #3 (just this past weekend) at almost 10 months old, when we booked both the to and from flights at bedtime to try to recreate the magic of the last flight...but 3 months had passed and Mason was now a wild, alert, hungry, and harder to put to bed little boy who no longer nursed before bed. He fought falling asleep the ENTIRE flight.
We were those parents who flew with a baby at 8 o'clock at night and people were looking at us like we were crazy. We passed him back and forth, read books, watched shows on the iPad, each activity only held his attention for about 5 minutes then he would completely lose all control. He was cranky and exhausted and nothing would sooth him. He was used to his big crib with plenty of room to roll around and pass out - cooped up on a plane in my arms was torture for him. By the end of the flight, he passed out (as we were landing of course) and my husband and I walked off the plane drained and exhausted.
Will we fly again with Mason instead of driving 14 hours in the car? Absolutely - but I will always be a little terrified. I will continue to pack less and less with each trip, as I have learned that all he really needs is just us. I'm just hoping any meltdowns we have are quick and he calms down easily. As a person who was once not a parent, I understand how incredibly annoying and awful a crying baby on a plane can be.
A few things I learned...
- The planning up until the actual flight was crucial. We shipped diapers, wipes, bibs, blankets, an infant tub, bouncer, and rock n play to our destination when he was 5 months old then just diapers and wipes the next 2 times. Anything he might need to feel at home and continue to sleep through the night - we shipped if we could or arranged for it to be at our destination. This allowed us to carry less baggage at the airport and free up hands and arms to take care of baby.
- Check as many bags as you can. Again, free hands = happy baby. It is worth every penny.
- Use the stroller with car seat attached all the way up to the gate - it makes everything soooo much easier for getting around. We used an Ergobaby carrier to get on and off the plane which was hit or miss with Mason. But the stroller felt like an adventure for him and kept him calm as we were walking though the airport and it was awesome to have somewhere to put him during long wait times at the gate or security.
- Use a diaper bag that clips to the stroller bars (we have this one) - this way you free up more space underneath the stroller for purses and carry-on bags.
- Organize your diaper bag and familiarize all parties with its contents. You will need to grab food, pacifiers, toys, etc. quickly when a meltdown occurs, fumbling will only add to the problem.
- Split up when you can with your partner (if applicable). One of us parked the car, one of us changed Mason's diaper in the restroom, one of us picked up the rental car. By splitting up the other one could watch Mason and/or the bags making the other person's job that much easier. On the 3rd flight we even split up where we were sitting and passed Mason off at the first sign of fussiness - this way he would easily get distracted by the newness of each person and calm down.
- Choose the flight times that are best for your baby - factor in any growth or changes that may occur between booking and taking the flight.
- Try to relax and stay calm...99% off the people we ran into were very understanding of our situation and waited for us in security lines, smiled at us when he cried, and played peekaboo with him through the seats to calm him down. The babies really do feel our stress, try to keep yourself calm and know that like everything, each meltdown will pass.
We walked away from this last experience with no idea how we would ever get on the plane with him again - but we will, for his Birthday in July and we will try different flight times, different seats, different toys, anything...