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Babies and children flying in first class seating can be a controversial topic. There are strong feelings on both sides of this argument, and many valid points to make. As long as airlines allow children in first class, it seems to me to be a moot point. I’m not really saying that when flying with babies you should or should not fly first class. In my (arguably expert) opinion, it is not a rookie move. Only you know your children and what they can handle.
First Class or Coach?
If your child has never flown, my recommendation is to play it safe. Travelers give dirty looks to parents flying with babies in all seating classes though, I can tell you that from experience. Bottom line: Children are people too, and they have to get from point A to point B just like everyone else. Babies cry. If you are flying and you don’t like to hear that, you need to make some arrangements in advance. These arrangements could be anything from earplugs all the way up to a private jet, depending upon your budget. I am all for having the option to pay a premium for a kid-free section on a plane (or an entire flight), by the way. Sometimes you just don’t want to deal with it. This is America, and many problems can and should easily be solved with more money. However, as long as kids and babies are allowed on first class flights, I don’t feel like debating the finer points of this matter. I really just want to explain to you how we became so good at flying with kids. (It really boils down to flying VERY frequently with them.)
So Why are We So Great at Flying with Kids?
Before we moved to Alaska, neither of us had flown more than a handful of times. Danny and I were from Arkansas, and most of the traveling we did was by car. After we became Alaskans, air travel just became a way of life. The state does not have a connected road system. Many communities are only accessible by boat or plane, including the capital city of Juneau. We lived in a Southeastern Alaskan island town called Ketchikan for two years, and we have been living in Sand Point on the Aleutian Island chain for almost five years now. Both communities are only accessible by boat or plane. As we’ve built our family, we’ve amassed quite a few miles, most of the time flying with children in tow. Our son is not yet three years of age, and he has flown on 40+ flights. Our daughter is not yet one year old, and she has flown more than I ever did before I moved to Alaska. As soon as they hear the engine roar and the plane starts moving, they pass out and sleep. Our son only wakes up for the snack cart, then he just goes back to sleep after his Famous Amos cookies. We are not just lucky, we’ve put in the man hours.
The Logistics of Living in Bush Alaska
To help you understand why we’ve flown so often, I need to explain the logistics of Bush Alaska. We live in the Aleutian Islands (westernmost tail of the state-jutting out towards Russia), on an island with a population of around 900 people. It’s a commercial fishing village with no hospital. No traffic lights, no movie theater, no hair salon, no dry cleaners, and no McDonald’s. The only way on or off the island is by boat or by plane. There is no bridge. When we first moved to Sand Point, we had no idea we’d ever be able to get pregnant. Moving to an island with no hospital was a little unnerving, but didn’t seem like too big of a deal. Other teachers did it all the time. Then we got pregnant with our son. (Read how we found out here) There is a small clinic on the island, but no ObGyn or even a family practitioner to speak of. Because of my age, body weight, and PCOS I was deemed a high-risk pregnancy. We had to fly out to Anchorage for every monthly prenatal visit. For the last month, we had to stay in the Anchorage area to be near the hospital.
Expense of Building a Family in Bush Alaska
Let me tell you, having a baby in Bush Alaska as a person from out-of-state is incredibly COSTLY. Do I get a medal for sticking around as a teacher through all of that expense-not once but twice? Did I mention both babies were born in peak Alaska tourist season when rates are at their highest? Shucks, we were so happy to have our babies that all of that financial adversity didn’t really matter to us that much. It was worth it and we’d do it all again-except I got my tubes removed. So it’s not likely. But yeah, we’ve racked up some serious airline miles.
Flying with Our Babies in Alaska
Our son’s first flight happened when he was two weeks old. This is typical for most babies from Alaska bush communities-the trip home from the hospital usually involves a flight out of Anchorage. He slept for that entire trip. We were on pins and needles worrying about how he would fly, but it went very smoothly. My theory is that he was used to all of those in utero flights (and expect a post about flying while pregnant SOON). Think about all that “new momma” germ anxiety while going through airports and planes. Then when you land everyone wants to touch the baby. It was really a big source of anxiety. While we were waiting for our baggage, I hid with the baby in the bathroom when we had our second child-I did not want anyone to touch her at all after the way her brother was accosted upon his homecoming.
After we got our babies home both times, we still had to fly back for well baby checkups. This resulted in even more flying with babies. Technically, those checkups could usually be handled by the village clinic, but again no medical doctors or pediatricians are regularly on staff. One might fly in a few times a year. So our son Halsie flew every few months for those checkups, and after we had Darby she started flying out with us for checkups as well.
Now, our extended family and friends are mostly in Arkansas. After we finally had our miracle baby, of course we had to take him home for a victory lap! Over Christmas break, we flew across the state of Alaska and then wayyyy South of Alaska (see what I did there?) to our hometown of Paragould, Arkansas. This involved four connecting flights on the way home and the way back. One leg of those flights was an 8-seater plane with no bathroom for changing. I have, in fact, undressed, changed, and redressed a spit-up covered infant on my lap in a tiny bucket seat on a puddle jumper flight from St. Louis to Jonesboro. I’ve also flown solo (and accompanied) with a special needs foster baby for medical travel. We also flew said foster baby with his two older siblings on a cross-country round trip. Y’all, I’m what they call “experienced at flying with infants, toddlers, and children”.
First Class with a BABY
Let’s go back to that flight to Arkansas. Now, the leg from Sand Point to Anchorage is on a small airline called PenAir. It’s a thirty seat or so plane, with no first or business class sections. It’s a pretty cramped and uncomfortable two and a half hour flight with two snack choices: cookies or pretzels. If you are hungrier than that you’d better pack some food. There is no first class or business class option. Next, we usually fly from Anchorage to Seattle. Depending upon the number of stops, this can be a pretty long flight. We are not small people, and flying with a baby is not the easiest task in the world. Halsie was a pretty good traveler, so we decided to fly first class on the way home like we did before we had him. Upon boarding the first class section with a baby, we were given the stink eye by quite a few people. However, about halfway through the flight people started to remark what a good baby our son was. When the flight was over, we had passengers and crew telling us they couldn’t believe how well our son flew. He even got some Alaska Airlines wings to pin on his diaper bag. The next leg of the trip was from Seattle to St. Louis, still not a very short flight. We flew first class once more, and again with the dirty looks. Then at the end, again with the compliments. Our son has flown first class on no less than eight flights, and every one was a success. Our daughter has not flown first class, because up until this point she’s never flown past Anchorage. I have a feeling she’d do just as well, as she’s been a great little traveler thus far.
A Few Pointers on Flying with Babies
We don’t have a lot of special secrets for flying with babies that no one else has tried. We just fly a lot, and our children are very used to it. Kids up here are accustomed to a lot of weird things such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and really cold weather. Can our babies fly all night and all day without melting down? No-every person has their limits and we work within those whenever possible. We know from experience to never do more than two legs of a trip in a day. Overnight stops are a must, or meltdowns will happen. Flying at nap time or bedtime is optimal, and certainly helps things to go more smoothly. If we can’t get a flight during regular nap time, we will skin the nap if it’s only off by an hour or two. When the babies can sleep for some or all of a flight, they have much less time to get fussy. We’ve learned what to pack for a carry-on and what to stow in checked bags. We’ve learned what strollers and carseats work best for us in the terminal. We’ve had a lot of trial and error with repeated experience. I will be posting SEVERAL detailed travel guides for my readers and their families, but I thought I would take the time to establish my authority on the subject of flying with babies, toddlers, and children.
We will be flying with babies to Arkansas for the first time later this month, and I will be reporting the full details on this blog. I can’t wait to see how it goes. I’m pretty tired just thinking about it-but so ready for our family to meet our daughter. I will also be posting some helpful guides for parents flying with babies and toddlers. I am even planning some more videos on the subject. Do you have a tried and true strategy for flying with babies, or are you getting ready to fly with yours for the first time? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
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