I survived flying with a baby all by myself! While it's all fresh in my mind, here are my tips/recommendations based on our experience.
*An early start helped acclimate to the time change.
It wasn't intentional, but I wish I could claim that I were smart enough to incorporate such planning. I had a 7 AM departure, which meant I needed to leave the house by 4 AM for the 38 minute drive to the airport, 15-20 minutes getting from the long term car park to the terminal, and at least 30 minutes to go through security while building in some 'oh shit!' time, which now could actually include real shit. I woke Jate up at 3:30, which is 6:30 on the east coast, pretty close to her usual wake time. With an early start to her day, she easily went to sleep at 8:30 EST and slept through until 6:30 east coast time. It could not have been a more seamless transition... for her anyway. I'm still struggling with a bit of jet lag.
*Pack the car the night before
This is a very obvious and general packing tip for anyone who is travelling, but as someone who used to finish (or sometime start) packing right before leaving for the airport, I have to say it's a real time and sanity saver.
*Know the airline's policy for carry-on items
I looked up on Uni.ted Airlines webpage and learned that a breast pump and diaper bag are not counted as either your carry-on or your personal item. I had made arrangements to borrow a breast pump from one of Myrtle's friends, but I was considering bringing mine just so I could have some room for a few more items. However, it does translate to having more shit to carry. Instead I found a larger sized purse in the back of my closet.
Going through security is always a pain in the ass. Everyone is impatient and there are never enough plastic bins. I wore slip-on shoes and did not carry any liquids. (I had Husband buy me shampoo, conditioner etc... which I will just leave at my parent's house, but in the future I may continue this practice. Seriously, where in the world will I be travelling that I can't find a Walgreens?). I did notify the agent that I had breast milk, but it did not get checked. I had to separate the infant seat and collapse the pram and I had to carry her through the scanner. An older woman offered to hold her as I took apart the travel system and finished loading my bins.
*Random strangers were more helpful than airport staff
With the exception of a flight attendant who offer to hold her while I gathered her stroller after the flight (a moot point as I had her in the Baby Bj.orn), no one on the airport ground or flight staff offered to help. Fellow passengers were much more willing to offer assistance.
*Practice pushing the pram with one hand
I tucked the diaper bag in the storage under the stroller, carried my large purse on one side and pulled a standard size carry-on bag with my other hand. It was very awkward and I felt very uncoordinated. After making it through security, I stopped for some breakfast and then decided to change her before boarding the plane. Pushing the pram seemed very easy...OH FUCK! I left my carry-on bag at security! Fuck! fuck! fuck! I quickly ran back, expecting that my bag would have been confiscated and presented to the bomb sniffing dogs. I realised that I didn't even have a tag with my name or details on it. Oh, I am so fucked... Nope. the bag was just sitting right where I left it. I just had to tell an agent that I left my bag and he let me take it. I'm sure seeing a frantic woman with a baby convinced him that I was just an absent minded mother and not a terrorist.
*Know the airline's boarding priority
I must not have been paying attention, as I hadn't noticed that many airlines stopped the practice of allowing families and those travelling with small children to board first. Apparently, Uni.ted was one of the first to drop this practice, and I don't know if they started do this at the same time, but they do offer 'Premier Access' services, where for $39 you can get in a faster queue at security and board earlier. I object to this practice on so many levels, but Husband paid for me to have this service, so that I could be sure to have space in the over head bins near my seat. Pre-baby Jane wouldn't care. I'd put my Tetris skills to work and re-pack the bins to maximise the space. I'd climb over seats if I saw some space in a bin a few rows back. Things you can't do while baby wearing and needing someone else to help with your bags. It was worth the extra expense. I was sure to get an early spot in the queue as I was passed by many passengers while collapsing the pram and infant seat.
*Appeal to your seat mates
The nurse who facilitates our New Parents Group mentioned that she would offer ear plugs to her fellow passengers when she was travelling with her babies and children. She found that if anything, it helped break the ice and most people appreciated that she acknowledged 'yeah, you're the unlucky one who got stuck next to a baby...' Ear plugs seemed obsolete as everyone would be wearing head phones to listen to the in-flight entertainment. I thought about buying a round of drinks when the beverage cart came around, but it was a 7 AM flight. So, I picked up a few $5 Star.bucks gift cards. I was very fortunate that I was surrounded by female passengers, a mother and adult daughter as well as two sisters who each have two children. I think they would have been patient and understanding and willing to help anyway, but they really appreciated the gesture.
*Prepare for take-off
A few years ago, I read a very funny editorial in Time magazine advocating for a 'baby and children' section of an airplane. He observed what seemed to be irony that tray tables must be fasten, laptops must be secured, but your infant can be loosely placed on your lap. One of my swim teammates is a flight attendant and she explained that infant lap belts are no longer used as they can cause severe injuries in the event of a sudden stop. She also informed me that Baby Bj.orn carriers are not allowed, but cloth wraps and carriers are permitted. I didn't want to bring the Baby K'tan wrap only to use it for take-off (plus she's still not very fond of it) but I brought the sash that goes with the Baby K'tan and with the help of my seatmate, I tied her to my torso. She started to fuss just as the plane was starting to taxi, so I nursed her until she dozed off. She did cry at all during the ascent nor the landing.
*Let me Entertain you
Jate slept for a good two and a half hour nap, but once she woke and fed, she was awake and alert. I nursed her and at that point I really didn't give a shit who saw my boobs, although I did cover with her blanket. I brought a brand new toy, hoping that the novelty would hold her attention for a little while longer.
*Beware of the blow-out
I have no helpful tips or whimsical insight. If this happens to you; you have my sympathies as it really sucks.
*Don't forget to hydrate
I should have picked up a large bottle of water at the airport. I didn't get anything from the drink cart, as I feared spilling it on her. When I took her to get changed, I asked the flight attendant for some water and chugged it down as quick as I could. The fact that I didn't need to pee once during the 5 hour flight indicates how dry I was. I hit the vending machines on the way out and slurpped down two Vitamin waters. While she was in her infant seat, I fed Jate with the bottle of expressed milk as we drove home, which made for a nice ride with a quiet, happy baby.