I certainly won’t forget my daughter’s first trip. Not because things went spectacularly wrong, either. Somehow, things went spectacularly right, so I hope I can reach some parents on the fence about giving it a try.
Let’s step aside for a second and recall those magical pre-parenthood trips. Maybe you packed the night before, or maybe you just stuffed the contents of your dryer into a carry-on and went straight to the airport. You probably arrived with enough time to clear security and maybe hit the lounge or at least grab a coffee on your leisurely stroll to the gate. You got on the plane, sat down, had that pre-boarding Glenlivet, fell asleep and woke up at your destination. If you clicked the link, you know where this is going – the scenario I just described is as gone as your PDB Glenlivet. I promise, however, that the fun is still out there.
Let’s get going!
The first time your baby ate solids, you didn’t throw a bone-in ribeye in front of her. You started small. Same here. That first time out is ideally a short flight – maybe an hour to ninety minutes in the air. No connection. To the extent that you can manage it, starting or ending the trip at a smaller, slower airport is quite helpful. I highly recommend airports, hotels and cities that you already know, to reduce the number of moving parts to this experience.
Make no mistake, your child is going to see, hear (and smell?) lots of new and exciting things. He’ll likely be very engaged and curious – this is a slow start under ideal circumstances. It is about managing the experience for you as parents and figuring out the routine that will work on longer trips.
For us, that first trip was a visit to Washington, DC, to see our friends. We flew out of Portland (PWM) and into Washington National (DCA), two very familiar airports for us, having lived in the latter city for the better part of a decade. We rented a car and stayed relatively close by, at the Willard InterContinental, which happened to be close to the people we came to see, relatively inexpensive for the weekend and home to Cafe Du Parc. For now, I’ll resist the urge to write about why solid hotel restaurants are critical for kid travel and which ones I recommend, but that will be the subject of a future post outside of this series.
One last point that I’ll make – I do recommend booking your infant a seat, for a few of reasons. I understand that it is attractive to essentially fly your child for free until they are two, but hear me out. The first is that children are safer in their own seat. Yes, air travel is very safe and the odds of something going wrong are low, but a lap infant is at a higher risk even during routine turbulence. The second is that of comfort – holding a child for any amount of time on the plane gets tiring. You will both be happier if you have your own place to sit and rest. The last is simply that there are 3 seats in a row of coach and the more of it you occupy, the more personal space you have available – if you are two parents and a child, that’s the whole row. If it is you and your child, that’s one stranger instead of two separating you from the aisle, as the airline is going to want to seat you by the window. In my opinion, purchasing my child a seat is well worth the cost and I encourage you to do it, but if the expense does not work, it doesn’t make you a bad parent to fly with a lap infant. In my unscientific opinion, the mere fact that you are getting back to traveling with your child is a wonderful thing, outweighing the seat-or-n0-seat dilemma.
By the way, this is a wonderful time to open your little one’s first frequent flyer account. We can’t be leaving miles on the table! If I have any additional encouragement for this first installment, I will say that things went well enough this first time out that we did it again and again – my daughter qualified as a US Airways Silver Preferred in her first year, logging 26,000 miles in the air.
In the event that I rambled, here are the distilled points –
- Take a short trip, two or three days max
- Choose a close, familiar destination, no more than ninety minutes by air
- Limit yourselves to a single non-stop flight
- Try to start or end the trip at a smaller, slower airport
- Buy your child a seat, if you can
- Open up that first frequent flyer account!
I will cover specific aircraft and seating tips in the next chapter. In the meantime, feel free to share your “first” stories, tips or anything else in the comments.