Flying internationally with a 5-month old baby
Living abroad means that expat babies are no strangers to international travel. All of our friends have taken their wee ones back to their home countries at early ages. Our little girl was 4 months old for her first international road trip and she had her first transatlantic flight at 5 months. That also means, she had to wait 5 months to meet most of her relatives - including my dad and sister. There are pros and cons to everything about expat life.
Our journey consisted of a bus to the train station, an hour train ride to the airport, a 10 hour direct flight from Zurich to Chicago (yay Swiss airlines!) and finally a two hour drive to Milwaukee - with two large suitcases, two carry-on bags, one car seat (in bright orange travel bag), one new purple travel stroller and one baby.
Having booked our flight early enough in advance, we were able to get the extra leg room seats, where a baby bassinet can be attached to the wall. We had the middle seats though, so some poor fellow was stuck next to us the entire time. I had read that you should nurse Baby during take-off and as luck would have it, that prompted a massive poop explosion...before we had even reached cruising altitude. She continued nursing as I could see the poo leaking out of her diaper and staining her clothes...and we were stuck in our seats. As soon as the seatbelt light turned off, we ran to the lavatory and attempted to change her poopy diaper and clothes in the most cramped space ever. Tip: one parent stands outside in the aisle and hands in all the necessary items. We then had to have a bag of poopy clothes with us for the next 14 hours. Gross.
Luckily the remainder of the flight was poop-free and we didn't even need the two other changes of clothing I had packed. The problem with flying with babies is you have to be prepared for every possible scenario, which meant our carry-on bag was packed with multiple clothing changes (for me and Baby), about 15 diapers, 10 bibs, 10 burp cloths and tons of toys. Ten hours is a long time to entertain a baby in such a small space - especially since she's not much of a napper (but she does sleep through the night!) and I'm trying to keep her away from screens. We brought the baby carrier and spent a lot of time walking up and down the aisles for her to smile and wave at all the other passengers. There were three other small babies on the flight (which was only half full), so the crowd was pretty receptive. We never had any screaming melt-downs and she went to bed (in her bassinet) at her normal bed time. However, I never managed to watch a single movie. We did make sure to enjoy the complimentary mini-bottles of wine though.
The hardest part was upon arrival. Our plane landed and then spent an hour on the tarmac waiting for a gate. Of course Baby woke up as soon as we landed and then stayed awake throughout customs, baggage claim and picking up the rental car. By the time we began the two hour drive to Grandma's house, it was 1am in our original time zone and over 16 hours since we had left our house. Baby was pretty annoyed with traveling by that point and the bright sunlight/loud noises weren't making sleep easy. Thus, the drive required one emergency parking lot nursing session to quell the cries. In total, from the time we left our house that morning in Switzerland to when we arrived at my Mom's house in Wisconsin, we had racked up approximately 19 hours of bus-train-plane-car travel.
My biggest fear for this adventure was not the actual flight, but rather adjusting to a 7-hour time zone difference with a baby (particularly since she only naps a total of 1.5 hours during the day), but it only took about three days. And during those first few nights she only woke up once (3am the first night, 4am the second and 5am the third). A week later and she's back to sleeping through the nights (and hardly sleeping during the day). It's definitely been easier since the weather has been sunny and warm, so we can spend a lot of time in natural daylight. I've also made sure to stick to her normal eating and sleeping schedule.
Now we've got a few more weeks to enjoy the Wisconsin summer (it's hot!) until our return flight - with a 6-month old!