My Favorite Things: Traveling with Babies
That said, I do think there are a few tips and tricks I can share that we've gathered over the past year that have helped make the process go smoothly.
1. Ask for extra seats at the gate counter. This is probably the best tip I can give you. I thought about saving it for last, but if you only read one thing on this list, I'd hope it was this, so here you go. Number 1. Those gate agents at the counter, right before you board the plane, have a LOT of power. They don't want you to think they do, but they do. I always, always, always talk to them. Every time I fly. I tell them I'm flying with a baby, that I'd like to bring my carseat if possible, and are there any extra seats. They have the power to move people around. If there's an empty seat on that plane, make sure it's next to you! Even when Tagg got bigger and we didn't want to take his carseat on the plane, necessarily, it was still nice to have the extra seats for him to plane in. More seats mean more room to sprawl with all of the tons of stuff you've surely brought with you on this flight.
2. If you're traveling with another adult, book your seats with a space between. This is an attempt to get an extra seat on your own. Chances are, no one else booking a flight is going to want to pick a single seat in the middle of a row. It's going to be the very last seat booked on that flight, and maybe you'll get lucky and it won't get booked at all. If it does, and you think you've ended up with a stranger between you, tap into the aforementioned power of the gate agents. They can help you sort it out. It's always worth a try though.
3. Take advantage of early boarding. And grab a handful of blankets as you walk in. They always run out of blankets, so don't wait till you're seated. I always use the blankets to cover the floor around us or create some sort of tent around my baby if I have him sleeping on said empty seat next to me.
4. Make friends with the flight attendants. Especially if you're flying alone. I've been saved by the help of some flight attendants. Usually (usually) they want to help.
3. Pack a mini bag for loading and unloading. I don't know what it is, but I could have a bag of anything and Tagg would unload it over and over again, just as fast as I could reload it. It doesn't matter what bag it is or what's in it, he just loves unloading. I'd recommend filling it with things that don't roll so that you can easily keep track of them as they fall on the floor or your neighbor's lap.
4. New Tricks. When a baby starts being distract-able is a wonderful thing. Use that to your advantage. Pack new snacks, new toys, new books. Even as young as probably 8 months I could distract my baby with new "tricks." He'd even forget about them 15 minutes later, meaning I could reuse some. Wonderful. This one is easily adaptable for kids as they grow to be any age.
5. Nurse during takeoff and landing. It's so tempting to sit down on the plane and start nursing right away. You've been on the plane for a while already, because you took advantage of that pre-boarding. Your baby gets restless but you don't want to use up your tricks this early in the flight, so you nurse. I get it. But don't do it! My husband is always having to remind me to wait, wait, wait. Postpone as long as possible. Wait until the plane is moving so that you can keep your baby's attention for the entire takeoff. Sucking will help the pressure in your baby's head when the plane ascends and descends.
7. Get creative. Don't under estimate the power of things right there on the plane with you. I've spend countless flight flipping and re-flipping through the pages of Sky Magazine with Tagg. My husband often will take Tagg on a "field trip" to the bathroom where they'll unroll the toilet paper, pull out all of the tissues, and who knows what else. (Maybe save that one for the end of the flight so not too many patrons are inconvenienced by the lack of tissue in the bathroom...).
These are some tricks that have worked for us over the past year or so. I hope you find some of them helpful for you and your baby. Let me know if you find others that work for you as well!