Yes, it can be done! Back in June I traveled alone with my 4-month old son from Madrid to Boston on a direct flight. Since he was so little, he slept for most of the trip, but I said that in the future I would only travel when there were direct flights. However…due to a family emergency this all changed. I was dreading the 15 hour total trip alone with my 10-month old son, with a layover in NYC (JFK airport), but it turned out to be better than I was expecting. Probably the worst part was sitting there staring at the clock countdown with the little image of the plane on the screen in front of me during the 7 hour 25 minute flight from Madrid to New York.
Here are my travel tips for surviving the trip from my experience traveling with Delta/KLM from (1) Madrid-(2) New York JFK-(3)Boston:
1. Try to avoid making the trip until your baby can sit up on his own. There were many times during the trip when I had to put the little guy on the floor. The first time was going through security in Madrid Barajas. The security personnel are not allowed to hold your baby nor can they help you fold up your stroller (especially when it’s a complicated UppaBaby like mine). It’s impossible to fold that up while you have a 10-month old in your arms, so I put him in a little playpen that they had set up at the security area and let him play for a minute while I got our bags, stroller, his food, etc. through security. Right before getting on the plane once again you have to fold up the stroller so you can leave it at the door. And once again the little guy was put on the floor for a minute. And going to the bathroom is another challenge. When he was 4 months old I could put him in the Baby Bjorn backpack, but at 10 months and 25 lbs sitting up is the only way to go.
2. Get to the airport early and ask everything 3 times. We departed from Terminal 1 in Madrid (not the huge international Terminal 4 with a satellite terminal and underground shuttle train), so this made the transit time a little easier. In any case, I would recommend getting there between 2 1/2-3 hours before your flight. Since I had bought the ticket last minute I had to pay for the infant ticket at the airport counter (not at the check-in desk like I was told on the phone). There wasn’t any line, but this whole process of the woman processing the infant ticket and getting it printed took almost a half hour. When I purchased the ticket over the phone (calling the toll-free US number while in Madrid) I specifically requested a baby bassinet for the flight and was guaranteed this without any problem. I also specifically asked if I would have to go through security again in New York as security is a real pain in general with a baby and also to know whether I could buy water for the trip. I was guaranteed again that I would not have to go through security and that I would arrive at gate B30 and depart from gate B32. I would only have to pick up my bags and go through customs (no big deal). Don’t believe anything you’re guaranteed with the trip and the flight. If it doesn’t go according to what you were told protest. Why do I say this? Keep reading. When I got on the plane, I found that I was in a window seat with a person right next to me, and no baby bassinet in front of me… the baby bassinet space seemed to be in the same row, but a few seats over. I happily realized this as the pilot was announcing that it was a full flight while people were boarding. After asking the flight attendant about this and saying that I had been guaranteed a seat with the baby bassinet I was told that she was sorry, but that it was a full flight and there was nothing that could be done. She even asked me if I wanted to reschedule to a later flight as I had my 10 month old sitting in my arms. To this I replied that I was going home for a family emergency and never would have bought the ticket if I were not going to have a baby bassinet. Ten hours with a 10 month old in your arms in a little window seat was not going to happen…Fortunately a young girl who was traveling with her younger brother and sister switched seats with me so I was able to have the baby bassinet. And I definitely used it a few times!
When I landed in JFK I went through customs and followed signs to connecting flights, only to find that I was being redirected to go through security with all new passengers again. Even after asking both over the phone with Delta and at the check-in counter at Madrid and being guaranteed that I would not have to go through security again, as it turns out I did. At this point there was really nothing I could do about it and nothing that protesting could help, but I was at least not made to throw out 3 bottles of water and a hot thermos that I had purchased as I said that I had specifically bought this to make baby formula. Thank goodness for little things.
3. Take your time through security and let people help you. Going through security is usually where I get the most nervous as you have people rushing you and a million things that have to be taken off, taken out, then put back in and put back on. And add a little baby, a stroller, and baby food to it and you might as well add a partridge in a pear tree… my advice is to take your time. Most security areas have separate lines for people with babies, wheelchairs, etc. They won’t rush you, but you’ll still have to take off all belts, take out any liquids, etc. The most important thing is to take your time and make sure you keep an eye on all of your belongings (and your baby). Your little one will have to take off his coat too if he’s wearing a jacket. And if you’re traveling with cans of baby food and/or formula, you may have to have them tested in special machines. It doesn’t hurt, but it does add quite a bit of extra time to the whole trip process. I had several people offer to help me to hold my son while going through security and on the plane. The only time I actually took someone up on this offer was at the second security checkpoint in JFK when I had to fold up the stroller to go through security and really didn’t have anywhere to put my baby, and right before getting on the second plane to my final destination when I had to fold up the stroller again. I let two people hold him for about 20 seconds, and it definitely helped.
4. Prepare any food that’s possible for you and your baby ahead of time. As for you, don’t expect to be able to eat the meal they serve you on the flight…bring along a few sandwiches and snacks for when the little one decides to take a nap. As for the little one, bring single meal servings (fruit/veggie and meat jars) so that you don’t have to worry about preparing anything and put pre-measured formula in the plastic dispensers. Whenever you get a chance during the long flight fill up a thermos with boiling hot water that you can later mix whenever you need with cold or room-temperature water that you buy in the airport before the flight. Trust me; this is definitely helpful when all of a sudden your baby decides he/she is starving!
5. Take the little one out to play before the first flight and during the layover. I brought along a small roll-up towel that I put on the floor so my baby could play a bit before the first long flight and during our 2 hour layover. Once you’re on the plane he can’t move around much, so it’s best to let him get out as much energy playing as possible beforehand.
6. There’s no easy way around jetlag, but trying to get food on a normal schedule asap helps. When traveling from Europe to the US expect to get up pretty early the first few nights and/or week until your baby gets used to the schedule. I remember the first night hearing my little one ready to play at 2am (8am his normal time). The only thing you can really do is play a little, but keep the lights off and the room dark. They should fall back to sleep a few times, so you can not really get up until close to their normal wake-up time. During the day, if they’re tired, let them sleep. However, when you notice that the late afternoon nap is turning into a nighttime sleep mode you’ll have to wake them up to avoid them sleeping 10 hours straight and waking up at 2 or 3am.