Lessons Learned From Our Baby’s First Long-Haul Flight

It’s every flyer’s dreaded sight: that parade of babies through the priority boarding queue, threatening to crush any dream of peaceful sleep during the flight. I confess, I used to cringe whenever I would see a family with a baby settling within a 10-row radius from my seat.

Now, I find myself on the other side, the bringer of the ominous boarding infant. I braced myself long and hard, and obsessed with every detail to prepare ourselves for Tobias’ first long-haul flight. I even dressed him up in an adorable tiger onesie, to make it at least a bit impossible to stay angry even if he makes a scene.

What I did look forward to was skipping all the long queues, flashing Tobias as if he was some VIP ID dangling on my neck. Dedicated family check-in counter, family security bag check, family boarding — all were gloriously fast. We were also delightfully surprised when the officer at the bag check informed us that we could bring as much water onboard as our hearts desired, as we had a baby with us. So that brings us to Lesson #1: Bring bigger water bottles next time. 

Everything seemed to be smooth sailing — that is, until we boarded. My husband and I were stoked to be in our pre-booked roomy bassinet seats, a new parent experience to be unlocked. Lo and behold, when we got to our seats, we found that we were assigned to the row behind the bassinet seats. Someone obviously made a mistake, and I went and found a flight attendant to inform them. She took our tickets to check and came back a few minutes later. The good news? We were right, we should be in the bassinet seats we paid for. The bad news: They’ve double-booked our seats, and the people who wanted extra legroom were already occupying them. I froze. I took a deep breath and calmly asked that we be assigned to any other bassinet row.

Of course not. I totally lost my cool. I did not bury myself planning our trip for months, only to be blindsided by a double-booking. I think I was near tears when I whined that we were already stressed enough, bracing ourselves for the unpredictable 8-hour flight, with our infant flying for the first time.

Thankfully, after a game of musical chairs, the crew came up with a remedy, and we were able to get a whole row for ourselves (I should also note that Air Canada refunded what we paid for our preferred seats, and gave us a 10% discount for our next booking). It worked out quite well, as Tobias had more space to play. I made another mental note for Lesson #2: When booking bassinet seats, always double-check the assigned seats for any flight/plane changes and confirm with the counter upon check-in. Always. 

Lesson #3: Bring a nursing pillow — it’s a lifesaver. Without a bassinet, it would have been impossible to find a comfortable position to keep Tobias asleep, but he slept surprisingly well as he slept on the nursing pillow on my lap. It also helped him to stay secure in the middle seat while he lounged, as we had no child seat with us. It was a last-minute decision to bring it along, but I was so happy that we did.

Lesson #4: Don’t forget the snacks. Not all flights will have the snacks that you would prefer for your infant. Tobias didn’t really take to a pacifier, so I was a bit worried about how he would deal with the air pressure popping his ears as our plane would ascend and descend. I actually didn’t need to worry. He was happily chewing on small pieces of bread we brought along, even if my own ears were popping like crazy. Breastfeeding during the descent could also help, if possible.

Eight hours later, we finally landed in Toronto. We survived! I didn’t sleep a wink the whole overnight flight, however, as I was afraid Tobias might fall off my lap if I dozed off. My brain was fried, and I was functioning only a little better than a zombie would. Mental note for Lesson #5: Try to sleep before the flight, or if possible, assign sleep and on-duty shifts with your partner. Your body would be happier for it.

Due to the loss of sleep and fatigue, my throat hurt like hell and I lost my voice for the first few days of our vacation. That certainly didn’t help when I wanted to catch up with my sisters and friends that I haven’t seen for the longest time. Running on only 10% of energy, I was however capable of imprinting all these lessons into my brain for next time, especially the most important lesson of all:

No matter how much effort you put into them, plans will likely fail. And that’s okay. 

We forgot to bring a lot of things — Tobias’ favorite toy, for instance. That’s okay, as long as you never forget your talent of IMPROVISATION. A lot of factors will threaten to disrupt your well-laid plans, but as long as you can take a deep breath, (okay, maybe yell a bit if that helps), and then recover and devise a solution, you’ll be back on track in no time. Onto the all-important task of actually enjoying and creating long-lasting memories about your first long vacation with your little one.

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Guess who likes traveling now?

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