Monday, August 12, 2013

Unsolicited Advice: Lessons Learned During BG's Third Flight

Yeah, I think I want to go run around that field.
I think I'd like to go run around on that field...
In March of this year we went back to Arizona (his first trip there, which you may remember, was over Christmas; his first vacation overall was to the Dominican Republican and was the worst). From the picture to the right you can see that we did indeed make it to Arizona and enjoyed a Cubs' spring-training game one nice afternoon in Mesa. But unfortunately we had a bit of travel drama during our flights there and back that I'll cover today so that hopefully someone out there can learn from our mistakes.

At the time of this vacation, Baba G was 14 months old and was now using a convertible car seat instead of a baby car seat. Meaning that this was our first time bringing a convertible car seat onto a plane.

As we had for both of our other trips, we bought BG his own seat because there's just so way we'd be able to keep him under control otherwise. He has always been, and I think he will forever be, one busy little dude.

But before we needed to worry about getting him into his seat on the plane, we had to worry about NOT MISSING our flight in the first place. We drove to the airport and arrived with not much time to spare. When we got to the parking structure closest to O'Hare, it was full. Talk about panic setting in!

He LOVED all the stones!
Morning yard walk with Grandpa
Then my husband drove around again and went up to the structure one more time. We saw some security guards and they took pity upon us (totally because of BG, I'm positive) and let us go in because there were, in fact, still a few open spots. This is but one perk of traveling with a baby or toddler. You can leverage them in situations like this.

It thankfully didn't take us too long to park. But then my husband couldn't get the car seat out of the car. Because he had NEVER taken it out of the car before — he'd only put it in. Once. Like I said, at that point it was fairly new. Which leads us to...

LESSON #1: Practice taking a convertible car seat in and out of the car at least a few times before you go to the airport.

Baba G's baby car seat had doubled as an overall carrier that we were always taking in and out of the house, attaching to the his stroller, etc. Whereas the convertible car seat was a whole new animal. It was much bigger and bulkier, and it always just stayed in the car. So we spent a very tense 10-15 minutes in the parking structure while my husband tried everything — finally needing to consult the manual (which we were really lucky he thought to bring along) — to get the car seat out.

Next came the problem of attaching the car seat to the new travel cart we'd bought for the occasion. You may remember that one of the huge FAILS of our first vacation with BG was that we'd bought this "Traveling Toddler" device that was supposed to easily and securely strap a car seat onto your wheeled luggage. Except that when the time came for us to leave we realized that strap only worked with full-size car seats, not baby car seats.

So now that we had a full-size car seat, why didn't we use the Traveling Toddler? I actually wanted to try, but my husband didn't feel like fooling with it. He wanted to use a straightforward cart, so he bought this one from Britax:

This contraption is $80, believe it or not. But it works with most LATCH-system car seats and folds down so that you can put it in a plane's overhead compartment. Our car seat is not a Britax, by the way, and worked just fine with this cart (um, eventually. Read on...).

Now, most people buy this sort of cart so that they can actually lug their kid (in their car seat) around the airport on it. We didn't do that because my husband couldn't connect the car seat onto the cart at first. It was total mayhem that morning, I tell you. The car seat kept tipping off of the cart and we were really struggling to haul everything over to the check-in area from the parking ramp. So my husband decided to tote BG around in our Catbird Baby Pikkolo carrier.

Once we were in the airport and a little calmer, my husband figured out how to simply click the car seat onto the cart. I promise you it IS easy to do, but you do need to read the instructions first. Ahem.

LESSON #2: Don't try to figure out any of your travel gear for the first time on the day of your trip. Especially if it's an early-morning trip and you're rushed and have a toddler with you and are going to be stressed out anyway. And bring manuals for everything you haven't used before.

Even after we got the cart working properly, we decided to keep BG in the carrier because we were bringing so much carry-on luggage that it worked better to load things this-a-way:

BG is like, "What the heck is going on?"
Action shot! (And remember I'm also lugging two wheelies, a backpack and duffel bag.)

Yes, we are ridiculous.

So we finally get on the plane. We paid extra to be allowed to board a bit earlier on Southwest, and it was worth it because we were already so high-strung at that point.

This was going to be my husband's first time attempting to load the bigger car seat onto a plane seat. Obviously this one ISN'T something you can practice beforehand. But it did end up working OK. (I'd still advise reading the manual thoroughly, though, just in case.)

The drama that went down on that flight was that Baba G was really cranky and wouldn't sleep at all (we'd woken him up about 3 hours early that morning and had hoped he'd sleep on the plane).

Instead he finally conked out on the short shuttle ride to the rental-car station. Classic:

Hertz so good.

One thing we forgot to do on both the flights there and back was take this bar thing off of the bottom of the car seat (by BG's feet):

Not so comfy looking.

This bar CAN be removed, but we just forgot to do it before the seat was already in place. Taking it off would have allowed the person in front of BG to recline more. Thankfully the row in front of us was full of extremely tolerant people who were not fazed by BG's less-than-ideal behavior.

What I'm referring to is on the flight back, which was already past BG's bedtime, he basically cried the whole way home. I had offered everyone around us earplugs, but no one seemed as bothered as Dustin and I were, to be honest!

We learned a major lesson that night:

LESSON #3: If you know your kid is tired and is cranky BECAUSE he's tired, just let him cry it out hardcore because it'll take like 5 minutes and then he'll fall fast asleep. DO NOT do what we did, which is attempt to console or distract him for a full three hours first, leading to constant wailing and the increasing grumpiness of everyone involved.

So the picture above (and below) is of BG falling asleep AFTER WE LANDED back in Chicago. Yep. As soon as we stopped trying to keep him quiet for everyone else's sake, he had one screaming fit for about 5 minutes and then just gave up and fell asleep. It would've been better if we'd just let that happen at the beginning of the flight.

Parents just don't understand.

We're gearing up for a trip to England and Scotland next month, so I'm sure there will be another round of travel advice coming after we return. This time we'll get to deal with the joys of jet lag, too — hooray!