Learning to Fly (or BABES ON A PLANE AAARRRGGH!)

Some time before your fledglings actually leave the nest, you’re probably going to have to get on a Big Iron Bird.

If you’re in the loop about the whole Babies on Planes propaganda, you’ll know that it’s quite trendy now to crib about infants crying or generally ‘being children’ on planes. (Keep in mind that some recent trends include Electronic Dance Music, pyjamas as day wear and adopting cats, so it’s a mixed bag, you know?)

From the moment a baby is born, parents learn the true meaning of the word Unpredictability. One moment Life is propelling lemons at you from a tennis-ball machine, the next moment, a fat little human has turned over for the first time and is grinning toothlessly and just when your heart is about to explode, so does her rear end and where are the diapers and now she’s decided not to nap and you’re going to miss your deadline and…

Take that, add ‘HOURS on a PLANE’. (And airport, luggage, airport cooties, child-hating passengers, child-loving-wanna-put-their-grimy-fingers-on-baby’s-face-passengers, security checks, immigration queues, toilet-roulette…)

Of course, the best way to travel with a baby is not to.

The second best is Business Class.

Assuming Brangelina have gotten what they needed from this piece, here’s a little something I’ve learned from 12 years, three children and traveling coach.

Don’t wear a Superman T-shirt. It’s tempting fate. On our first flight from Goa with (then) 4 month old Baby A, she screamed from take-off to landing. The lovely crew (Jet Airways*) went from super supportive to really, just plain scared. At the luggage carousel, people smiled, patted us on the shoulder, offered words of comfort and at least one couple decided they were not going to have kids.

Baby A meanwhile, had recovered with full amnesia, cooing and burbling at traumatized hostesses, as we admitted to ourselves that we’d traveled with no prep, like a couple of newbies. We considered just driving to places until she was 30. But then we came up with a sort of Unpredictability Kit.

Yes, that’s an oxymoron. But you can start with the foolproof Travel With Baby lists on sites like BabyCenter. These work: new toys, snack bags, infant paracetamol, pre-measured formula in bottles, wipes, changes of clothes for baby and you, ‘home-smelling’ baby blanket…

This list is pretty exhaustive with tried and tested tips, http://www.today.com/id/33079922/ns/today-parenting_and_family/t/screams-plane-how-quell-tantrums/ and it also references Dr Harvey Karp, author of the ‘Happiest Baby’ books. I agree with everything (especially the SmartPhone entertainment apps, they absolutely work!) except the Benadryl.

Try booking less crowded flights, score a seat next to an empty seat and never get stuck in the middle aisle, ever! Some recommend feeding and burping baby an hour before boarding, some only once you’re on the plane so they’re happy to settle down. (A fine balance; if they’re too frantic they may take extra time to calm down from the hunger-rage.)

There are also those parents who pre-apologise and hand out sweeties and ear-plugs. I’m not a fan of encouraging people to enunciate their dislike for kids but if you want to put that in your Unpredictability Kit, go for it.

But, parents do some stuff wrong. Have you ever watched a frantic naani shake a crying baby as if it’s the opposite of a rattle and movement will silence it, or a mum trying to out-shout the baby, chanting ‘woe woe woe’? Lady. Stop it. And don’t say ‘woe’! Also if you’ve ever been privy to the squeezy toy frantically being pressed over screaming infant’s face, congratulations on not being in jail for aggravated assault.

(See grumpy childists? Us parents KNOW it’s annoying. And it’s OUR problem, so imagine how we feel.)

The thing is, all this behaviour comes from a parent-on-a-plane’s greatest enemy. PANIC! Your fight-or-flight instinct predates air travel so don’t leap up with your mewling spawn and beg the hostess to pace the aisles while you’re still taking off. You’re going to freak everyone out, especially yourself and that poor little thing who is in a panic because air travel is NOT NATURAL.

Here’s some stuff to remember. Unless your kids are kicking the front seat or being screechy for no reason, ignore every disapproving ‘Tsk’ from JohnnyNoKids over there. Most airlines are very empathetic with parents of small kids and most crew find some adult passengers much more demanding and annoying than babies. So as long as you’re not being a big baby yourself, the airline is on your side.

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After you’ve done the food, diaper, clothes bunched up, mosquito bite, ambient temperature comfort check, if baby is still crying, hold her baby gently, close and hum quietly so there’s a gentle vibration. This will calm you down. Give it a few minutes. If traveling with another person, take turns to try and settle baby down. If you all pounce on her, it will just raise the stress levels.

Make sure you’re hydrated and not too tired. You need to focus 100% on the little ‘un and try and pre-empt severe crying jags by nipping them in the bud. If it helps, time the actual crying. You’ll find what seems like centuries has actually been a few minutes. And baby will stop crying eventually and settle down and play and maybe even s l e e p.

There’s no magic formula but with a lot of prep, a little luck and constant attention, you will have more good flights than bad. The more often you fly, the better you and your kid get at it. And remember, even if your baby is miserable for the entire flight, you will land eventually. And at least you won’t be wearing a Superman T-shirt.

*(Turkish Air, Swiss Air, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Indigo and the erstwhile KingFisher also deserve special mention for being fabulous with children.)

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About genesiaalves

40, married, mum of 3. Writer, biter.
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