This post is long overdue, but I wanted to jot down my experience traveling alone internationally with Freddy because before I did it, it was a truly terrifying concept but I did it with flying colours and haven’t stopped bragging about it since.
As a SAHM, I have more time now than when I previously lived abroad to travel back to the States to see family, rather than asking everyone to come to me. That said, my husband can’t always come along because he has finite annual leave and a busy work life. So, I decided to bite the bullet and take Freddy by myself.
The first time we flew back to the States, we flew with United Airlines because, well, they had the cheapest tickets. It was an ok experience, which I wrote about here. This time, we flew with American Airlines because, well, they had the cheapest tickets. Also, we had to take a connecting flight and American connects via Charlotte, NC, which is closer to where we were going (Florida) and also a very easy airport to navigate because it’s less busy (protip!).
I was determined this time around to pack lighter. I wanted to get all of our things into one large suitcase, a backpack, and my purse. This actually wasn’t too difficult because we were going somewhere very warm which meant summer clothes and sandals, so no need to squeeze in sweaters (jumpers), boots, and winter coats. I still had to squeeze in canisters of formula and his bottle steriliser, but looking back I should have just purchased both in the States.
In my carryon I had baby food, changes of clothes, blankets, Freddy’s sleep-bag, toys, medicine, nappies, wipes, bottles with formula, changing mat, and a few things for myself. Before we went through security my husband was carrying a lot of it which made me nervous that I couldn’t manage it all myself. In the end it wasn’t too bad and I got through security very quickly, impressing everyone in the line (queue) with my one-handed-fold-the-buggy-while-holding-baby manoeuvre. A lot of people have told me that it’s better to take your baby in a baby-carrier and check the pram, but Freddy is just way too heavy now (and I have no core strength) so I prefer having the pram.
After security at Heathrow, I saw a sign for the ‘Family Lounge’ at Terminal 3, so decided to check it out because the terminal was hella busy. If you have babies or small kids – go there (protip!). Soft play, space to stretch out, nursing and changing rooms, snack machines, and other weary parents who won’t judge you for making a total mess trying to give your baby his lunch in the pram.
From there we went straight to the gate and boarded first – one of the few luxuries of flying with kids (only luxury?) Some parents have told me not to board first because then your kids are on the plane longer, ergo restless longer. But I’m finding that it’s getting really hard to get overhead space for bags since more people just bring carryon, and it also takes me a while to get ‘unpacked’ and situated for the flight, so boarding early makes sense for us.
Once on the plane, we had an entire row to ourselves! Four seats! This was the bit I was most stressed about – a full flight and Freddy, a large and wriggly 9 month old, on my lap for 8 hours with nowhere to stretch out. I learned that with American Airlines, unlike United, seating with babies is ‘first come first serve,’ so there was no way ahead of our trip that I could have secured either a bassinet seat (if Freddy still needed that) or one with more leg room to accommodate a baby or toddler. Other airlines afford you this option, so I will look into it next time.
The flight. Freddy was awake for five out of the eight hours. Not cranky or crying, just…really awake. I thought the noise of the airplane would knock him out for most of the flight. Unfortunately, for me, I had a very excited and active baby to entertain. Someone asked me what I did over those five hours. I honestly don’t remember. I think I just blocked it out. I know I took him to the bathroom a few times. Gross, I know. I also may have given him an excessive amount of snack food. He finally went down about three hours prior to landing and I was exhausted by that point.
Once in Charlotte, after passport control, we had to recheck our massive suitcase and go through security again. Since we were flying through Charlotte, the security line was manageable and although I was really tired at this point, schlepping a heavy baby and bags and such, I was offered a lot of help from strangers and TSA seemed to take some pity on me.
The layover was uneventful. Freddy woke up as soon as we passed through security and remained awake during our time in Charlotte. But, he was docile and sweet, which was a good thing because I was starting to feel shattered. We had a small plane to take us to Florida, and the very decent young man squeezed next to us helped me to manage Freddy a little – picking up toys and carrying my bags. This is the America that I love! Freddy was soon fast asleep after take-off.
Our flight back to London was much the same, except Freddy was awake the entire time to Charlotte but slept the entire way to London. American Airlines nearly gave me a heart-attack as I was checking our bags to London by telling me it was their policy that prams of a certain size ( ie, ours) can’t be taken to the gate, even though I had taken the same exact pram through ten days before. They ‘made an exception for me,’ after I asked how I was expected to manage over our two-hour layover with carryon bags and a baby!
So, here are my lessons learned if you are traveling solo (but also in general):
- Check with the airline before you purchase your ticket that they will reserve child/baby friendly seats for you, or a bassinet seat, ahead of your trip.
- Check with the airline to make sure your pram can be taken through to the gate and is not too heavy or large.
- If flying UK – US, I recommend taking a late afternoon flight and if US-UK, as late in the evening as possible. More sleep time for baby!
- Utilise the Family Lounge or Stay and Play areas at Heathrow.
- Snacks, lots of snacks.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
- Pack light and buy things at your destination if possible.