10/16/2012 07:47 EDT | Updated 12/16/2012 05:12 EST

Flying With a Baby: A First-Time Survival Guide


The space is claustrophobic. And then there's the screaming -- a seemingly unstoppable sound so shrill it pierces your eardrums -- which is followed by the raw panic of knowing you can't escape.

For the next several hours, you're stuck in an oversized tin can travelling thousands of feet above ground with no reprieve from the tiny, red-faced infant seated just a few rows over. Add to that the annoyance of pointy elbows jabbing your sides and funny smells permeating the stagnant air and what is meant to be a relaxing get-away certainly isn't starting out that way. Yes, due to the injustice of the random seating selection, you've become the victim of someone else's family vacation.

Most frequent travellers have been there -- simultaneously cursing at and empathizing with frazzled caretakers doing everything in their power to hush their inconsolable bundle of joy. But, whether you're a family complete with kids or simply an innocent passenger caught in the line of baby-shrieking fire, you can enjoy a (somewhat) pleasant flight.

Recently, my partner and I feared becoming "that family" on a trip from Toronto to Glasgow, Scotland. Our particular infant, born three-and-a-half months ago, has a killer set of pipes on him. I am certain that up against him most anthem rockers would scurry away like scared little country mice.

But his talent for headache-inducing screams is not unique. Most babies come into this world equipped with a healthy set of siren calls capable of making even the most mundane problems, from a wet diaper to a disdain for afternoon naps, say, sound like world-ending catastrophes. With this in mind, does this make people who fly with young babies bad global citizens? Or worse, horrible parents?

No, but an infant's first flight is certainly a scary rite of passage for any globe-trotting family. Leading up to our departure, I spent many sleepless nights fretting over the upcoming trip, wondering how my partner and I as newbie parents would handle a full-blown, mid-air meltdown.

Of course, we didn't get so lucky as to dodge this particular bullet. Shortly after takeoff, our son switched into panic mode and began screaming his tiny head off. It certainly gave an entirely new spin on flying the red-eye, that's for sure.

Thankfully he offered up plenty of smiles and giggles before takeoff and his ability to charm those around us inspired offers from several people to hold or walk up and down the aisles with him. Eventually, he drifted off into a peaceful sleep. We survived the worst of it and with these helpful tips you can, too.

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Flying with a Baby

1. Request a bassinet. Most airlines provide them if pre-arranged. This will give your arms a break and your child a chance to stretch out and rest. Ask for a bulkhead seat as it offers more legroom.

2. Pack a soother if your baby uses one and extra milk if you're not nursing. The sucking motion helps equalize a baby's ears during takeoff and landing.

3. Attempt to maintain your child's routine. For long journeys, consider booking an overnight flight. This will provide a better opportunity for sleep on the way.

4. Expect the unexpected. From delays to diaper mishaps, stock up on a healthy supply of diapers, wipes, burp cloths and an extra outfit or two in case of leaks.

5. Invest in a portable change table. This allows you to change your little one just about anywhere in a pinch. Use it also to cover airline and restaurant change tables for a barrier against unwanted germs and to help keep baby's bottom warm.

6. It's a smart idea to bring earplugs for yourself and a kind gesture to offer spare sets to your in-flight neighbours. Acknowledging the inconvenience of possible disturbances will win you more forgiveness from fellow passengers.

Christina Diaz and Michael Rubinstein, a couple traveling from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., earlier this year with their twin boys, then 14 weeks, went a step further by offering baggies filled with an apology note and candy, complete with the offer of earplugs available upon request.

7. And lastly, the single most important piece of advice I can offer is this: Keep calm, carry on and remember to laugh.

At one point, after trying and failing at every baby-calming trick in the book, I burst out laughing and, because laughter is contagious, so did my partner and a few others around us. While my own mom died in 1997, she always that insisted laughter is the best medicine and she was right. Peppered throughout our more than six-hour adventure to Glasgow, we found ourselves laughing a lot.

On the way home, the flight moved slowly upwind. After seven-and-a-half hours, we were finally home. This time, our wee guy barely cried at all. Instead, like a seasoned traveler, he spent most of the flight laughing, smiling, eating and sleeping.

That said, he did have astonishingly large diaper explosion midair. All I can say is thank goodness we packed all those extra wipes, burp cloths and back-up onesies.