For many parents, the most terrifying part of traveling with a child is the flight. From meltdowns to blowouts, the thought of making 150 strangers (neatly packed like sardines into a 12″ wide tube) endure your child at his least pleasant is Xanax-worthy. With nowhere to retreat but a hybrid outhouse/middle school locker, the multi-hour commitment you make on the jetway will likely become fodder for war stories and therapy for years to come.
The good news? (Yes, there’s good news.) It need not be a bad experience. In fact, our first flight with Simon was virtually tear-free (for both him and us), largely thanks to the great advice we received from friends and internet chat room lunatics. Sure, Katie never even got close to cracking open her library book, and I was held captive by a warm lump of drool zzz’ing on my lap–but it wasn’t a bad way to end Christmas Day. Below are a few tips for takeoff:
- It all starts with timing. Selecting a non-stop flight that coincides with a feeding and nap is ideal. We slightly altered Simon’s feeding schedule so he would be getting hungry around our scheduled departure time, and we were fortunate there were no delays. If you’re going to nurse, have an extra sweatshirt or small blanket for your sweet babe to rest on (those airplane seat arms aren’t the softest). This is also a great nursing cover (for which there always seem to be “get one free” coupons floating about the interwebs). If you’re going to bottle feed (which Katie did for this first flight), investing in a preemie-flow nipple might be worth it. We used this one from Dr. Brown’s. In our case, it tripled Simon’s standard feeding time, and ensured equalized ears by making him really work for his meal. By the time he finished, we were well above 20,000 feet, and changing air pressure was no longer a factor.
- Do not begin feeding until you are in the air. It is ascent–not takeoff–that is the bane of ear drums (specifically Eustachian tubes, for my fellow dorks). To ensure your child is getting the maximum time to clear his ears, don’t give him the bottle until he needs it. It is also a good idea to make sure your flight actually takes off and doesn’t sit on the runway for 30 minutes while engineers fix the cockpit mood lighting.
- Keep track of when you equalize your ears so you can tell when your child might be experiencing pain. As you can see from this table, just under half of the change in pressure comes in the first 10,000 feet. By 20,000 feet, you’ve experienced over 75% of the pressure change.
Deep breaths, and good luck!