Let’s get this out of the way first: there is no way not to panic about flying on a plane with a baby for the first time, unless you are a Buddhist monk or so filthy rich that you have eight nannies tending to her tiny highness while you sit in first class and get bombed on morning bourbons. I spent the weeks before my five flights with Lucy (FIVE) in an increasing state of sheer terror.
I knew, logically, that everything would be fine. The worst that could happen was she’d annoy passengers by bleating like a tyrannical, satanic goat for three straight hours, and then I’d never see those people again. Telling myself that offered little comfort; logic was eclipsed by emotionally-provoked certainty that nothing would ever be okay again ever.
But of course, everything was totally fine. Here are my tips:
1. Don’t spend a lot of money on new toys. Do download a bunch of videos.
Every advice post I read before I left said to buy Lu a bunch of new toys for the plane, which would magically entertain her for dozens of in-flight hours. I would estimate that each new toy I bought entertained her for an extra 14 seconds. Skip the expense and save your money for gallons of life-sustaining airport coffee.
More helpful than new toys: we maxed out the memory on an old iPad with free Baby Einstein videos downloaded from YouTube. Be sure to give the double stink eye to anyone who gives you a disapproving glance because you’re letting a tiny angel wither into zombie dust due to five hours of screen time. Screen time saves lives (yours).
2. Once you are seated on the plane, make sure that all of your personal (for you) items are readily accessible. Your baby may pass out at any time, and once she does, you will not be able to move.
I brought two books with me on this trip, which was unbelievably ambitious. When a 20 pound chicken nugget is sleeping on your lap, do not attempt to move your arms for a page turn! Think of yourself as a T-rex: you have two disproportionate hand-claws you can sort of use to poke or drop things, and that’s it.
A better bet: download a bunch of music or podcasts to your phone and have headphones out and ready.
3. Bring extra clothes. For both of you.
Since you asked, I will divulge to you that Lucy has had some issues in the past with constipation. At one point, we tried everything to help her: water, prune juice, special formula, massage, and so on. As it turns out, the secret to getting her to empty her bowels with the force of a royal army is: put her on a plane.
The least awful way to change a baby in a teeny tiny airplane bathroom is by sitting down on the toilet (lid on) and changing them on your lap. However, I would not recommend this during jolting turbulence (that was fun) or when your baby has shit herself up to her ears (even more fun). Use the changing table. Also, bring a change of clothes for both of you to the bathroom, just to be on the safe side. I had to carry my mostly nude baby down the entire length of the plane and dress her in dirty pajamas at my seat.
4. The best airplane game is “contract an exotic disease game”.
When all else failed, Lucy’s number one favorite method of in-flight entertainment was pulling all of the ancient safety manuals, barf bags, and Sky Magazines out of the seat pouch in front of her and alternately throwing them on the floor or licking them. I tried SO HARD not to let her put all of these disgusting things in her mouth, until I gave up and let her put all of these disgusting things in her mouth. What is wrong with babies?
5. If you’re alone, ask the stewardesses for help.
You will need someone to hold the baby while you fold up the stroller at gate check or pee for the 40th time (see above gallon of airport coffee). I found the stewardesses to be mostly willing to hold a cute baby while mom frantically does a thing and tries not to lose her shit. No need to be more of a hero than you already are; take advantage of all available uniformed strangers.
I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that it’s going to be great, but it’s definitely way less bad than you think it will be. The worrying is the worst part.
And who knows, maybe you gave birth to one of those unicorns that just sleeps the entire flight. If so, please let me know when your baby is available to give my baby lessons.