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Travel is among the greatest passions shared between my husband and me, so we knew we’d want to introduce the experience to our twin babies early on.
But reality intervened — as it tends to do in parenthood — and it ended up taking us 15 months to summon the courage to gather the little ones for their first flight.
In the end, the trip was both chaotic (duh) and absolutely doable — especially with nuanced preparation — some of which I’d done, and some of which I’ll know for next time.
Here’s what I wish I knew ahead of time (that might help you too!):
Airport transportation is complex.
After learning it costs $30 a day to park at the terminal of Los Angeles International Airport, I found an off-site lot at half the fee instead.
It was a point of contention between my husband and me, because he was more inclined to spend extra money to keep things as simple as possible. And, it turned out that $15-a-day deal I picked didn’t even have an elevator, so we ended up walking perilously down a non-pedestrian ramp with stroller, luggage and two carseats.
The shuttle to the airport from there wasn’t a problem; we took the babies right on in their stroller. (On the way back, the shuttle annoyingly added about a half an hour to the end of our trip.)
The lesson learned here? My husband would say: “Simplifying is a worthy splurge.” In reality, I’m glad we saved the money; I just wish I’d done more fine-tuned research to find a closer and fully accessible lot. Even better, I wish I’d known how simple it is to strap car seats in without their bases — I’d have simply called an Uber!
You can never leave enough time.
Fortunately, this one was something we had adequately planned for, but I realized just how important it was once we started moving. When traveling with babies, it’s not about just leaving enough time to get through security and make it to the gate on time; it’s about leaving a sufficiently wide buffer so there’s also time to enjoy the experience as part of the adventure.
The stress of worrying about time can kill the joy before the trip even starts. Count backward from how much time you think you’ll need to complete each step (parking, check-in, security, food)… then add an hour.
You have to count the oxygen masks.
Our first flight with the babies was on Southwest Airlines, which has an unusual boarding system organized in groups: A, B, and C in order. I checked in early online, and was able to board in the first group, thus pretty much giving us our pick of seats. We chose a window and aisle, hoping that no one would sit between us — thinking I’d just slide over to the middle seat if someone joined our row.
We soon found out our plan was a no-go: Two lap children can’t fly in the same row if the seats are full, because then the row wouldn’t have an adequate number of oxygen masks for everyone. When a flight attendant alerted me to that fact as the plane began to fill up, it gave me a last-minute jolt of nerves that we’d have to be separated. Had I known, I would have selected two side-by-side aisles for my husband and me.
As luck would have it, our plane had two empty seats, and one of them ended up being in our row — I wonder why?! — so we were fine as originally seated. On the return flight, I researched in advance and learned the flight wasn’t full, or even close to it, so we selected the same arrangement except right behind the bulkhead, in the first row. It worked out perfectly with all that legroom and fewer neighbors to disturb!
BYO trash bag.
We were prepared with stockpiles of food and snacks and drinks for the babes, not just as bribes and distractions — although certainly that — but also as tools to help encourage the babies to swallow on takeoff and landing in case their ears bothered them. (Babies don’t know yet how to equalize like we do.)
But within minutes into the flight, the empty seat we were fortunate to have between us was filled with an insane pile of wrappers, crumbs, and other pre-packaged food detritus. Of course, the flight attendants dispatch to pick this stuff up eventually, but coming prepared with our own bag would have been both a courtesy to the flight crew (people you want as allies!) as well as a way to facilitate a feeling of organization amid what can be an otherwise chaotic experience.
You’re probably won't have time to care what other people think.
Speaking of neighbors, I assumed — as I think most parents flying with young children for the first time do — that nasty neighbors would be one of our biggest challenges. People around us rolling eyes, sighing loudly — or even worse, causing some kind of confrontation — could be mortifying, and ruin the whole experience.
It turned out, though, that I was much too consumed with my own children to even really notice if anyone around us behaved that way. I had my hands plenty full. I was as polite and accommodating as possible to flight crew and other fliers. But beyond that? I simply didn’t have the bandwidth to make other people’s intolerances my problem.