Whatever happened to “Announcing pre-boarding for those traveling with small children?” Those words echo in my own childhood memories, from summer trips to Grandma’s farm. Somehow, they seem to have slipped out of the airlines’ current lexicon. Instead, super-elite passengers boarded first, then moderately elite, followed by secret-decoder-ring elite. Roll-on suitcases, not diaper bags, demanded the priority they’d paid for in blood, sweat, and credit card miles. We spread our elbows around the baby’s head as we boarded the plane to be sure no laptop bags swung toward her little noggin.
Travelling with a newborn? We were warned. “That’s so hard.” “Oh dear.” “Yikes.”
Baby Dee needed to see her California-based Grandma, and with a conference trip scheduled for Dad, it made sense to take the whole family from the increasingly chilly Midwest for a five-day trip to the sunny orange groves of southern California.
We consulted web boards with advice on travelling with baby; packed extra anti-biotic wipes to scrub down the armrests, and prepared for the worst. Our expectations couldn’t have been lower.
But baby flew like a pro. On the flight out, she ate a bit while ascending and slept through a smooth landing. She adjusted to a dry desert climate and tolerated long trips in the mess of LA traffic. Although the airlines don’t seem to be handing out wings to child travelers these days (I’m sure they’d sell us a set for ten bucks), the baby certainly deserved a pair.
Packing with baby, however, was a different story. Gone seem to be the days when my wife and I could make a week-long trip with a few meticulously packed carry-ons. Instead, we were loaded up with bags that had to be checked, filled with cloth diapers, plastic covers, bottles and nursing pumps. We struggled out of airport parking lots and onto shuttle busses, through rental car lots and up and down flights of stairs.
Forgetting even the smallest baby item prompted wild searches in unfamiliar towns for such things as safety pins and diaper-locking systems. We ended up driving into the mountains of Ojai, CA, in search of a hippy eco-diaper seller who could provide us with a $2 plastic device forgotten in the chaos of pre-trip planning.
Some fellow travelers were kind and generous – the passenger next to us who volunteered to move to an aisle seat to give the baby more space on the return flight, for example, and the shuttle bus drivers who pitched in to help us load our bags onto their busses. Some fellow travelers, however, were less than kind. Two Phish-concert followers on the return flight sprawled their germy selves across the aisle and coughed and sneezed without covering. Groups of foreign tourists declined to part to allow a stroller through.
Travelling with a baby? Yep, you’re in for a trip!
Geoffrey Rapp is the father of baby girl “Dee” Rapp, born August 23, 2009. He is a professor at the University of Toledo College of Law. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, The Hartford Courant, and on cnn.com. Contact him at c/o firstname.lastname@example.org