Thursday, January 24, 2008

Flying with our baby

In November and December of last year, Mrs. Lemming and I did a lot of flying with LLLL. All up, we had 4 domestic USA flights, two domestic Australian flights, 2 trans-pacific flights and one trans-Tasman flight. Aircraft were 737, dash-8, and 747; flying times ranged from 45 minutes to 13 hours. The carriers were Southwest, QANTAS, and Alaska.

Overall, it was a lot less stressful than we expected it to be. LLLL cried a bit due to tiredness on some of the longer flights, but slept OK on most of them. When she was awake, she generally tried her hardest to make friends with the entire aircraft.

On the first Australian flight and the first trans-pacific flight, LLLL had a seatbelt coupler, that basically tied her to Mrs. Lemming’s seatbelt. Evidently these are illegal in the USA, and they were not available. We bought a aircraft-compatible car seat from a US internet site and had it shipped to friends in LA, so we used that for domestic USA flights.

We bought LLLL a seat for all of the flights. This was affordable mainly because Mrs. Lemming did the trans-Pacific on frequent fliers, and child seats were discounted on QANTAS and one of the two Southwest flights. Additionally, the weak US dollar made the domestic flights seem less expensive than they really were.

Mrs. Lemming and LLLL between Los Angeles and Phoenix
We generally gave ourselves an extra hour at all airports for check-in, so that we could get all of our junk through security and feed the baby before flying. In addition, LLLL usually got a breastfeed on takeoff for ear equalization purposes. No puritanical Americans gave Mrs. Lemming a hard time for this, so I didn’t have to dislocate anyone’s jaw.

We had sterilized (boiled) water in the baby bottle for making formula, if needed. The liquid ban meant that we had to dump this at 2 of the 4 US airports. Evidently, made-up formula is fine, but powder plus water isn’t. Many of the airlines offered to refrigerate our bottles if needed once we were on the plane, but we didn’t want to sit around waiting to board with made-up, room temperature formula for an hour or two, so we either did without or used plane water for formula.

Flying Sydney to LA, we used the 747’s bulkhead bassinet, which was OK when LLLL was asleep. Once awake, she didn’t like hanging out there much.

LLLL asleep in the bulkhead bassinet, over the central Pacific
The car seat took a bit of practice to install and uninstall the first few times, but once I got the hang of it the time and hassle was minor. We installed it rear facing in the US, but turned it around to front facing halfway across the pacific.

Both of the American carriers were helpful and supportive about car seat use. QANTAS, however, was difficult. Halfway across the Pacific, in the middle of the night, when most of the plane was asleep, the crew chief woke me to read me the riot act, her finger jabbing at the relevant paragraphs in her 2-inch-thick rule book. Evidently car seats were discouraged, and rear facing ones especially so. So the lovely hostess made me wake the baby up and turn the seat to forward facing. She then woke up the lady in the seat in front of the baby, just to make sure that her seat would fully recline without hitting the car seat, as that would violate the rules.

The Auckland to Melbourne leg was cool about it, but on the domestic Melbourne to Canberra flight they gave us shit about it not carrying an Australian government agency safety stamp. The seat was FAA approved, but we were no longer in FAA jurisdiction. They decided to grudgingly let it slide providing that we installed it front facing, which we did.

The LAX->PHX Southwest 737-300 did not have change tables in the lavatories, but every other plane and most of the airports had acceptable facilities. Flying to Phoenix, we just changed her on my seat.

We started out with an entire carry-on suitcase of extra outfits and rags for LLLL, as she like to chunder a lot. Fortunately, she was a lot less vomitous than we feared, so we checked the backup suitcase for most of the domestic US flights. We checked the stroller at check-in half the time, and at the gate for the longer flights. This was OK for everything but the LA-Auckland flight, where they unloaded at Auckland instead of sending it on to Melbourne (same plane, just refueled and reshuffled). I was not allowed to leave the car seat on the plane- we switched seats anyway.
LLLL and me surrounded by our stuff
QANTAS wasn’t able to figure out that we were supposed to be traveling together, since Mrs. Lemming was frequent flying and LLLL and I were not. Also we had to change seats on the first Alaska Air flight, as car seats are not allowed in the row before or after an exit row. In all cases, they eventually managed to get us seated together.

LLLL was mostly smiley and gurgley towards other passengers. None of them complained to us, and many flirted back. A pack of middle aged Chinese ladies on a package tour from Auckland to Melbourne took friendliness a little too far- one of them taking LLLL out of Mrs. Lemming’s arms for a photo shoot before she could object or react. LLLL was at the developmental stage where she could sit up, but not crawl. I reckon this is an ideal age for baby traveling. She was just starting solids at the time, so she mostly ate organic jarred food- lack of preparation facilities and rules against transporting fresh produce pretty much ruled everything else out.

Any questions?

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