There was a time that I thought I was a pretty savvy traveler. I always had a game plan when I walked through the terminals to the airport. I owned the skycap lines. I also knew how to quickly get through security. You can usually spot the veterans out in the security lines. We already have our shoes and belts off ready to go into the bin well before we even get to the x-ray line. We know the rules of the carry-on items like the back of our hands. Then you can spot the novice flyers. They are the ones who usually hold up the lines by forgetting to take laptops out or have to make countless trips through the metal detector because of forgotten belts and loose change. We’ve all been there. You learn.
Suddenly, I found myself becoming the novice traveler once again. Recently, my husband and I flew to Denver with our 16-month-old son. This would mark our son’s first flight (and our first flight with a baby). We were the rookie parents. And our mistakes began weeks before we even left for the airport. Though we didn’t need to purchase a seat for our kid, we still needed to include him on our itinerary. And of-course, we forgot to check that box. Luckily, I realized our mistake a few days before our trip and after a few phone calls, our son had his own ticket.
Now flash forward to our departure date. We showed up early to the airport and it was a good thing that we did. The trip through security was rough. First, the security agents (TSA) took the stroller and then pushed me and my kid through a metal detector. Then, my hands had to be checked for residue. The stroller was flagged as suspicious for some odd reason. As a result, my husband had to be thoroughly checked (more like patted down). The items in both of our bags had to be checked one-by-one for anything that could apparently bring down a plane. Imagine this process while trying to hang on to a very mobile and very impatient toddler. Luckily we made our flight and I may have aged 2 years at this juncture.
Okay, so we got off to a rough start. But I wasn’t going to let this ruin our flight. I was a seasoned traveler after all and this seasoned traveler/rookie parent was armed with an iPad, treats, milk, and toys. The goal: try to keep the kid happy so he doesn’t ruin the flight for some 150 passengers onboard. And mission accomplished! No tears, just giggles and smiles. Had there been tears, I would have bought drinks for everyone onboard.
Now for our trip home. We used two different airlines for our trip: Delta and Southwest. Southwest would be our ride home. Getting through security at Denver International Airport was a piece of cake. Getting on the plane was a different story. We were issued what we thought were boarding passes at the ticketing counter. We were actually issued security passes and needed to check in with customer service in the terminal. Didn’t realize this until we tried to board the plane. Swing and a miss. Once that was resolved, we tried a second time to board the plane. We were not allowed to board because our stroller needed to be check-in through customer service and not at the gate. Strike two. So we went back to customer service, got a tag for the stroller and finally were allowed to board the plane. However, because we were now some of the last people onboard a full flight, my husband and I couldn’t sit next to each other. We would have to sit apart. Strike three.
Once again, my kid was a champ. 80-minutes and like 20 episodes of Bugs Bunny later, we were on the ground in Utah. We got our luggage, car seat, and infant pack and headed back to our house. The travel adventure was not over though. Our infant pack was damaged beyond repair during the flight. Because my husband and I both had carry-on bags, the pack would need to be checked with our luggage. From there, I am not sure what happened but our brand new pack was pretty banged up. We were told that we should have invested in a protective cover for the pack. Strike four.
Okay, so if this were a baseball game, I would be sitting the bench. Rookie mistakes. But you learn, right? Here are some of the lessons I learned as a rookie parent flying with a kid for the first time.
1) List your child as a passenger when you book your ticket. Even if you plan on having your child sit in your lap, you still need to include him or her on the itinerary.
2) If you aren’t purchasing a seat for your small child, be sure to bring his or her birth certificate with you. Some airlines require an age verification at check-in.
3) Strategize the diaper bag. Be sure to pack diapers, food, and toys. Lots of toys. Pack mostly toys or anything that will keep your kids entertained.
4) Arrive early. Just in case your stroller is deemed suspicious or something while in the security line.
5) Change diapers just before you board the plane.
6) Invest in covers or anything that can help protect car seats, hiking packs, or anything that will need to go under the plane.
The most important lesson I learned was patience. Patience is key. Flying with children is not easy. One thing we did before we left was solicit advice from other parents. Many of the tips I received from other parents are sprinkled in the lessons I listed above. The unexpected will happen. We traveled to Colorado to participate in the Bolder Boulder 10K. We’ve ran this race a few times in the past. But we did it as a young married couple, not as parents. The day before the race, we learned we were NOT allowed to bring my son’s running stroller out on the course (strike five). Though a setback, we just rolled with it (hence the brand new hiking pack that was later damaged on our trip home). This was our mantra for the whole trip: roll with it. You learn.
Thank you to guest travel writer Carla Pruitt. You can follow Carla on Twitter at @crobscarla