Recently, my 7 month old and I embarked on our first-ever mommy and baby commercial flight. That's right - I flew solo. We had already been on several successful trips with little one (sans commercial flying/security), so I took a deep breath, hoped for the best and decided to buy a ticket and fly with a lap child. To prepare, I read up on what the airlines required, Googled "flying with a baby" and figured this would be a challenge but, obviously, people do it all the time.
After a lot of agonizing, planning and debating, I did the following: I booked us on Southwest for the 2 free checked bags, careful to select flights with good schedules. I packed one big suitcase filled with (too) many things for the both of us and checked that along with baby's car seat. My carry-on was a big diaper bag and the actual baby, who I strolled around in his travel stroller before gate checking said stroller. I debated using our BOB, or placing him in his car seat attached to a stroller and gate checking all of that, but finally landed on using our Maclaren travel stroller since it's lightweight, easy to fold and, let's face it, if anything happened to it I'd be upset, but not "how DARE you!" upset.
On the day we left we got to the airport extra early and checked in with no problems. We even got his baby boarding pass without having to show his birth certificate (which was good, since I couldn't find it the night before and came armed with his shots record instead after 3 long hours of trying to think where a sleep-deprived crazy new mother would have thought to put such a document).
Everything went well, but not everything went as expected. So for those who have yet to fly commercially with a child, the following counts as my "unexpected" list of occurrences. May it be helpful to you in the future when you too fly solo:
1. Everyone was super nice. Seriously. Everyone from the TSA people to the passengers were super nice and helpful. The thing is, almost everyone has children, somewhere, who they've traveled with, sometime. As such, everyone seemed to see me and know "that woman needs us to be nice and helpful." And they were right. Belief in humanity restored.
2. Your baby will spend time unattended. Yes, that's right. It's not bad parenting, it's the rules. I was trying to load everything onto the security scanner with one hand, but that was not working. So I turned to the TSA monitor and asked her to hold my adorable 7 month old for a quick second while I loaded the stroller onto the conveyor belt. The woman practically leaped backwards and said "We canNOT touch your child." So I put baby on the floor, loaded everything up, retrieved him from whence he rolled, and walked through the body scanner.
3. Unstrap for take-off. I brought my Ergo baby carrier to carry baby around after I gate-checked my stroller, and so that he could sleep in it on the plane (he LOVES sleeping in the Ergo). No can do. Several blogs I had read even said to skip the stroller and ONLY use a carrier. (An idea; can be a little exhausting.) The flight attendants were on me immediately to take the straps off for take-off and landing. I seriously have no idea why, since if we crashed it's not like I'd be likely to think "thank goodness my child wasn't strapped to me" but those are the rules all the same.
4. You are always stronger than you thought possible. A long time ago I attended Arnold Schwarzenegger's inauguration as Governor of California. I remember him trying to tie in his former Mr. Universe glory by saying "just like weight lifting, you are always stronger than you thought possible" and then saying something about lifting up "Cal-ee-forn-ia" to new heights. Well, I, like the former governor, discovered that despite lifting nothing other than an infant and a fork these last 7 months was able to wear a sleeping child, drag an enormous suitcase, and push a tiny stroller laden with a large diaper bag with a precariously placed car seat quite a distance to meet my husband in a waiting car. And if I can do it, trust me - you can do it too.