1. We arrived at the airport WAY too early. We arrived two hours in advance and it only took 30 minutes to check in & go through security. This is a tough issue because you don’t want to show up too late and rush around, but on the other hand, your baby/kids may get bored waiting. I still say the earlier, the better, even if you do have to wait around, but bring things to do for the baby/kiddos.
2. Some employees took the time to look at my son’s birth certificate, and some never asked.
3. This one is the biggest of all… Southwest, and maybe all airlines now, NO LONGER allow pre-boarding of children under four. They now have what is called “Family Boarding.” Family Boarding basically means that if your party has a child under four years you can board between groups A & B. (Southwest has A, B, & C groups) The only individuals who DO get to pre-board are those holding a blue boarding pass for approved medical conditions. People I witnessed with these “medical conditions” included a lady in a walking foot cast and a pregnant woman (she looked about 6-7 months pregnant). Needless to say, I was NOT happy learning this, especially since I was toting around a very squirmy 8 month-old, a stroller, blanket, purse and a VERY FULL diaper bag. It wouldn’t have been much of an issue in carrying it all if I could possibly pre-board and take my time, but when you are in line with “groups A & B,” you have to rush to get your stroller quickly folded at the door of the plane to avoid disruption of the line. Not easy. If my brother weren’t traveling with me I couldn’t have done it without annoying several others in line.
4. Not one person mentioned having a “stroller tag.” I was about to “Family Board” when the employee asked me, “Do you have your stroller tag?” “What?” I asked. She then said I needed to go to the counter and get one. I rushed to the counter and he very quickly got me one, but by this time group B was already boarding, which meant that by the time I got on the plane there were not two seats together for my brother and I. When I asked the Flight Attendant to help me find two seats together she basically told me I was SOL. Uh, what if I was with my husband and needed him to help with the baby? I was so annoyed, but just politely found a center seat (because you know people always leave that center seat for you) between two men, who, thank goodness, had children of their own and were very sweet to me. My brother sat in a center seat two rows back. I also learned that you need a stroller tag for every flight, even after changing planes. Oh, and on the rest of my flights to and back, there were employees asking me if I needed a stroller tag WAY before boarding. Of course! =)
5. I had no idea my baby would be so good! He seriously was SO good, which, at that point, I truly needed! He sat so still in my lap and when it was obvious he was ready for a nap, I simply put his head on my shoulder, rocked back and forth and he was out cold. He was awesome on the change of planes later that day and on the way back home. I was sooo thankful for this because my overall worst fear was that he would scream the entire way and not sleep.
6. Some planes, even on Southwest, DO have changing tables in the front lavatory.This was nice when I was stuck between the two men, but if you’re lucky enough to get an empty seat beside you, you can lay down a blanket or changing pad and change the diaper there. I did this on our two flights back and it was nice not having to lug everything up front.
After I figured all of this out, I pretty much had the system mastered. We would fold up the stroller and carry it as we were in line, to avoid holding up the line when we got to the door. Also, by having the stroller tag taken care of beforehand, we were able to “family board” at the right time, thus making it much easier to find two seats together.
The most important thing I learned was that it CAN be done. It actually went much smoother than I expected and the bumps I hit didn’t even involve my baby, but the airline rules and staff. If I would give any advice, I would say don’t be scared and don’t let your fears hold you back from having a great, family experience. I WILL say that it would be difficult to do it alone, mostly because of the sheer logistics of carrying everything on top of carrying the baby. I was so glad I did it and I would LOVE to hear your travel experiences with children! Good luck!
Amy Bellgardt is a wife, mom, lifestyle & travel blogger, foodie, social media strategist, nerd, coffee drinker and founder of Mom Spark. Amy also manages Mom Spark Media, a social media marketing agency.