As far as places to embark on Baby's First Air Travel go, Dane County Regional Airport is a pretty sound choice, especially at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night. My biggest fear was that my nine-month-old son would start screaming in the airport; my second biggest fear was that my son would start screaming and some of my former Epic colleagues would be around to hear it. With only one other flight besides ours departing that evening, I didn't have much to worry about in the mostly-unoccupied airport, but my heart was definitely beating faster as we made our way to the gate and onboard.
I'd read that sucking on a bottle can help a baby deal with the sensation of changing air pressure, just as chewing gum can do for adults, so I had a two-ounce bottle prepared ahead of time and stashed in the seat pocket in front of me, along with an assortment of toys of the "provide a distraction, but don't make the person sitting next to us want to throw us out the emergency exit mid-flight" variety. The window shade turned out to be a pretty exciting toy while we were waiting at the gate, and so did the safety information card, which we read in English, French, and Spanish, like an airline-oriented Baby Einstein book. As the plane started taxiing, I put the nipple on the bottle, arranged the baby in my arms in a way I thought would maximize bottle-feeding ease while minimizing his ease of flinging toys at other passengers, and steeled myself for the crying to start.
The engines turned on, the plane started gain speed and then lift off. I looked down at my son... who was fast asleep.
I held the bottle in one hand, just in case, for the duration of the very short flight from Madison to Chicago, but he didn't wake up until the seat belt light went off at O'Hare. And even then, he woke up cheerfully from his 45-minute nap, looking around and babbling to other passengers. That was painless, I thought to myself. My son and I were air travel pros. We would get on our connecting flight in ninety minutes and wing our way effortlessly to Detroit.
I was right, thankfully, about the fact that we would get on our connecting flight on time, but not much else. The takeoff from Chicago was scheduled just far enough past normal baby bedtime hours to make my son a little grouchy by the time we were boarding, and he fussed in my lap while we sat on the runway. This time we didn't have a window seat, either, which meant no window shade to play with; instead, he chewed on my phone (and, I found out when we landed in Detroit, kicked the thigh of the unfortunate man seated next to us for the first half of the flight).
The baby also thoughtfully reminded me of my air travel hubris by spitting up a hearty half-ounce or so of his pre-flight dinnertime bottle directly onto my shirt just before takeoff. (Many thanks to the extremely cute little boy seated across the way who solemnly offered the baby one of the airplane’s barf bags immediately afterward.)
I decided that a baby who was already spitting up was not one who needed another two ounces of takeoff soother-bottle, so instead, the plane was treated to a few minutes of his muffled sobs into my shoulder as the plane lifted off. Thankfully he fell asleep shortly after we reached altitude... only to be jostled awake by the lights coming on as the flight attendants announced that the beverage cart would be making its way through the cabin soon.
The baby fell back asleep about halfway into the flight and made it the rest of the way to Detroit. Sure, no one was cooing over the cute, well-behaved little guy as we straggled out into Detroit Metro as they had at O'Hare, but I didn’t see any death scowls angled our way, either.
What did I learn from my first foray into air travel with an infant? Well, I don't know if the takeoff-bottle trick works, but that's still in my back pocket for next time. I do know that I'd rather fly out of someplace small like Dane County than make the stroller-pushing trek from gate to gate at O’Hare. And it's worth it to book a window seat not just for the additional arm support, but also for the amusement afforded by the window shade. Oh, and one more lesson -- I may want to consider being willing to shell out a little extra to get a direct flight to our destination the next time our travels require us to take to the skies.