The hubby and I definitely have a travel bug and have traveled extensively. I am always browsing the internet to look for deals to wherever and prior to having a baby, I would often book trips spontaneously, sometimes without even getting Perry's approval ("oh hi hunny, how was your day? Guess what? I booked us a trip to Miami to see Paul McCartney"). I have not been so inclined to be spontaneous like this with a baby but, earlier this year, when I received an email notifying me of a $65 return flight (all in) to Los Angeles from Vancouver, I could not pass this up! We want our offspring to be worldly and well traveled and this would be a good start! We also have a long journey to Europe booked for the end of this month and I thought this would make great practice! The $65 deal was actually a mistake fare that was luckily honored by the airline (Delta partnered withWestJet), even though I am pretty sure they do not make money on this as the base fare was $0 and the taxes and airport fees were $65. Thanks Delta and WestJet! We got my mom and sister on board (literally and figuratively) and then all we had to do was wait for April, pack and hop on a plane! Oh, if only it was so simple with a baby!
I sought the advice from various moms that had flown with a baby and also browsed various mommy groups on social media for tips on how to have a successful flight and I felt pretty prepared and relaxed about the idea. I had read and reviewed the airline's policies and guidelines on traveling with an infant and I had made a "to-do" and "to-pack" list months before and added to it as I remembered things I would need. I had set aside Lennon's clothes suitable for the warm California weather months in advance and did the same with Perry's and I's closer to our departure date. The packing was a lot easier than expected. If anything, the thing I was most worried about was the plane ride and making sure I had everything necessary for every possible situation. It helped to remind myself that Lennon can easily be calmed by nursing him but I still packed a whole lot of extras, just in case: extra clothes in case of a poop explosion, a couple of blankets in case he was cold, rattles, books and other toys, Baby Banz noise cancellation headphones, the Ergobaby carrier, soothers and so on. The days of carrying on a book, an iPod and some snacks were seemingly over!
Everything was packed the night before our flight except for the toiletries we needed to use in the morning. Just before Lennon's bedtime, we were changing the sheet on his crib while he played on our bed (about two feet from the crib) with some toys...I think you can see where this is going...He did a double roll and unfortunately rolled off the bed. This was his first big "bonk" and we of course felt terrible and like the worst parents in the world. A little nursing went a long way and he was calmed down in no time. We weren't too concerned as he had calmed down and didn't have any serious symptoms but I felt nervous about flying and to a different country, just in case there was anything serious that we didn't notice. So the next morning, our doctor had an available appointment and we luckily had time to visit as our flight wasn't until 4pm. Prior to the doctor's appointment, we decided to head to the laundromat to wash the cloth diapers so that they wouldn't sit in the diaper pail for another 5 days. We then saw the doctor, who wasn't concerned at all and confirmed that Lennon was fine (and reassured us that we weren't terrible parents). My sister was on an outbound flight the next day but we had to go pick my mom up in Richmond (about 20 minutes away). We made a stop to Whole Foods to pick up some non-toxic baby sunscreen and to London Drugs to pick up a lens cap for my camera (seriously, Canon needs to start having strings attached to their lens caps), and THEN once we picked my mom up, we stopped to exchange some money in order to avoid the terrible rates and fees that are usually associated with currency exchanges at airports. We had done well up til this point but on the short drive to the airport, Lennon started to get fussy and things started to get a bit hectic!
We were hoping to have three hours at the airport but only had about 2.5. Perry dropped us off along the curb of US departures with all our baggage...and boy did we have a lot of baggage! He then went to park the car and met us at the check in counter. We had a LOT of stuff: car seat, stroller, breast pump, diaper bag, play pen (for Lennon to sleep in as our hotel didn't have a crib), a carry on backpack for Perry, 2 suitcases to check in...all for a 5 night journey! We were going to leave the car seat in Vancouver and rent one from the car rental company in LA as we were aware that with WestJet, we could check in two baby items at no cost and we already had a stroller and playpen. After enquiring with the extremely helpful Greg at the Westjet self check in kiosks , he assured us that there wouldn't be a charge as we were bringing the stroller to the gate with us and therefore it is considered a "gate check", which I guess is different than checking it in at check-in! We were then helped by Gavin who weighed our suitcases and checked to make sure we had the right amount of baggage but then he brought to our attention that Perry, being a British citizen, requires an electronic visa waiver for the states but his had expired and he needed to apply for a new one! This added about 15 minutes to our check in process but it had to be done. Finally, the check in was complete and we were very pleased with our first experience with WestJet! Now we had to pass through security and board the plane, right? I wish!
Vancouver International Airport is a very nice looking and clean airport. It has been voted one of the top airports in the world on multiple occasions but the one thing I do not like about it is the number of steps involved when flying to the U S of A. You can't simply drop your luggage off when you check in, you need to take the luggage to a drop off area which is down the hall from the check in counter. You then need to go through the security checkpoint. Lennon was starting to get fussy again at this point and I was getting a bit stressed because of the time and because there seemed to be a long line for the security clearance. One of the security officers noticed that he was getting fussy and luckily allowed us to enter the priority line. This helped a great deal, but what didn't help is that both Perry AND Lennon had been selected randomly for in depth screening. This doesn't usually take a lot of extra time but this added step did add to the already lengthy process of reaching our gate! I had to sit down for a moment as I felt I was going to have a panic attack and poor Lennon could sense that this was a stressful situation so I whipped out the food source and nursed him before continuing to yet another step...
When traveling to the United States via YVR, you clear customs in Vancouver, not your final destination. This is great because when you arrive at your destination in the states, you only need to pick up your baggage (if you have anything checked in) and be on your way. However, it is a step that can easily make things stressful, especially when traveling with young ones and just want to get to your gate (or head to the nearest lounge to chug a glass of wine). Luckily it went quicker than it used to as they now have automated machines to speed up the process (an aside: I used to work at the airport) but it just adds to the already lengthy process when flying to the United States from YVR.
So we had to check in, then take our luggage to the drop off area, then clear security, then clear customs. The one regret I have is that we didn't have Lennon in the carrier. I had the carrier with me but I assumed that Lennon would need to be seen for both the security and customs clearances so we just had him out and took turns holding him. I then saw some other parents carrying their babies and not needing to take them out. I now know for next time that we can carry him (although different airports may have different rules). This will makes things so much easier and also allow him to have a nap (as his afternoon nap was skipped due to the check in process).
We FINALLY got to our gate and our fellow passengers were already being checked in. I needed to settle down so we hurried over to a nearby wine bar and downed a glass of wine (I just couldn't wait until the beverage service on board). Oh yeah and we also changed Lennon's diaper. It was advised by many parents to change the diaper before boarding the plane (especially if a short flight) as the change tables in the airplane bathrooms are tiny (you can imagine how tiny when thinking of how small airplane bathrooms are) and flight attendants do not allow you to change a diaper on the seats or floor due to hygiene reasons.
I have already written so much about baby's first flight...and I haven't even gotten to the part where we were on the plane! This says a lot! We finally got to the gate...the last party to arrive - oops! But this meant less time spent on the plane! We got into our seats and I attempted to nurse Lennon during the take off which was recommended by most if not all moms I spoke to as it helps with the change in cabin pressure. I succeeded somewhat but he was just too curious, excited and distracted by this new environment to want to nurse. He just wanted to keep peeking out to look around and be social with the other passengers (as you can see in the photos below).
Luckily his ears weren't affected by the change in air pressure and this could have been due to the Baby Banz headphones we packed. On our return flight, we didn't have the headphones on him after take off but nearing the end of the flight, he made a few cries while sleeping in my arms and when I noticed my ears pop, I realized we were beginning to descend and that the cabin pressure was changing so we popped the headphones on and he didn't get upset again after that. Who knows if it's the headphones or not that helped but they do look darn adorable - if you can get them and keep them on your little ones that is!
He eventually had a nap in the carrier and the rest of the time was spent having cuddles with yiayia (who was a huge help) and playing peekaboo with other passengers.
Luckily it was only a 3 hour flight and it went quickly. All in all, we had a great experience with his first flight but the flight was the relaxing part..it would have been even more relaxing if we could have skipped all the steps at the airport! Now we know for next time to allow lots of extra time (as we did for the return flight which went very smoothly) and to not do any running around beforehand (like exchanging money, shopping, packing etc). Those would be my two big tips....and another two big tips: babywearing makes things much easier...and so does bringing a grandma, auntie or other relative or friend along if it is feasible. You can never have too many hands!
We are hoping for a smooth journey to Europe but Lennon will probably be crawling by then...and the flight is more than 3 times longer than the one to LA so it might be a whole new ball game....and Yiayia won't be there to help us this time! We can do it, right?! Wish us luck and do comment below if you have anymore tips for flying with a baby!
Here is a gallery of some more photos from Lennon's first flight (and some from the second too). You can click on the photos for a description. I took a lot of photos, but what can I say? This was a total Proud Mommy Moment (and I'm a total momarazzi anyways)!