This is my final week of paternity leave, so when my wife asked some time back if there was anything I wanted to do at the end, I was very clear: take our son on a flight. Somewhere cool. I can’t stand being cooped up indoors with this Texas heat.
This was our first trip with a child. Alex was nine weeks old at the time, and we were both a little stressed out about it. But how badly could things go?
Very. Very. Badly.
The flight was actually the best part of the trip. Alex enjoyed being on the airplane and smiled more than I’d ever seen him do before. He was fascinated with the air vents, and the flight attendants were very impressed. Most of the time he just slept. This was a two-and-a-half hour trip to San Diego where his uncle Mark lives, and his aunt Katherine flew down from Santa Clara to see him, too.
We booked the trip in first class on purpose to make sure we had enough space to comfortably hold him as a lap infant. The cost was about the same as booking three seats in Alaska’s premium economy. As it turned out, however, both flights were about half full. We probably could have booked coach with a $99 companion fare and been upgraded for free. Lesson learned.
But aside from the extra $500 spent on airfare — which is totally on me — there were many other lessons that new parents might enjoy hearing about.
Don’t stress out about getting to the airport early.
If you have TSA PreCheck (and you should) and are an experienced traveler, then there really isn’t much need to get to the airport earlier than normal. Yes, even with all that extra luggage.
I parked in one of the new garages in Austin’s airport about as far away from the elevator as possible. Stupid me. We decided to lug his car seat with us in the summer heat. We had four bags to check and three personal items. This, from a couple of people who used to fly two weeks at a time with nothing more than a standard carry-on.
Even though we live on the far side of town, we still made it from our home and through security in 58 minutes. There was plenty of time to get a snack and change his diaper.
Do try to cut back on luggage.
We are both MVP Gold members flying in first class. That comes with a hefty luggage allowance, and Alaska will also check car seats and strollers for free. But it’s an awful lot of effort to carry it with just two sets of hands. It may have been better had I just dropped Megan off at the curb, but she still wouldn’t be able to wheel it in while tending to his stroller.
The worst part was that our car seat was not put on the plane for the trip back. We arrived at the airport with no way to get our son home. Alaska Airlines was prepared and recovered admirably, with a $100 gift certificate and a free car seat to use until ours was returned. (The freebie will be donated to the local diaper bank.)
Next time, I will likely add a car seat to our car rental. I wanted to avoid Uber and Lyft, since car seats might not be available, and when you have a screaming baby you really want to have your own transportation ready ASAP. So we needed a car seat. I think, however, the daily rental fee is better than trying to bring our own.
Pick your hotel wisely.
I’m going to have a doozy of a trip report coming up when I review the Hotel Del Coronado. But the issues that I found most distressing at this so-called resort weren’t really a problem for Alex. Instead, his problem was that it was so busy that we simply couldn’t take him anywhere. Even a cocktail at a bar with a view of the beach was almost impossible.
A smaller boutique hotel or a spread out resort like Vacation Village might have been better. “Family friendly” doesn’t necessarily mean a location is great for every family.
Plan on one activity a day.
We succeeded on this item, keeping our event planning to a minimum. Alex still isn’t able to self-soothe very well, and crowds or loud music disturb him greatly. Day 1 was a walk around Coronado. Day 2 was a nap at the beach. Day 3 was a trip to SeaWorld.
In hindsight, each of these events could have been tweaked to be a little better. SeaWorld has the music turned up far too much, making it difficult to keep him calm. And his swim diapers, as we learned, are more likely to overflow from the inside than protect him from water on the outside. Still, I would say that we had the right amount of activity for each day.
Someone told me that parents spend more time talking about poop than anything else. Alex is on the edge of outgrowing his #2 diapers, and so blowouts are becoming more common than we’d like. Unfortunately he was always ready to go right when the plane was about to take off or land. We had a spare diaper handy — literally in my hand — in case of leakage.
We learned only after boarding the plane that the only changing table our on Boeing 737 was in the far back of the aircraft. We had partly booked in first class so we would be closer to the lavatory. Oh well.
Finally, think about the airports you’ll be using. Austin wasn’t a great choice, but we didn’t have much choice. I say “not great” because there’s only one nursing station and the live bands exacerbate the anxiety issue Alex has in busy environments. But on the whole it was about what I expected.
San Diego, on the other hand, was a problem and one that I should have anticipated as someone who’s visited many times before.
The car rental facility is not near the terminal, which means a shuttle, which means more hassle with a baby and luggage. There is no gas near the airport, so I paid $9.99 a gallon to have Hertz refuel for us in our rush to get there. And we were flying on Alaska Airlines, which has an unfortunate position of being in an old building that is technically part of the otherwise beautiful Terminal 2.
We walked from one end, where the shuttle dropped us off, to the other. Found a working elevator. Checked in, and then walked all they way back to the far end where our flight departed.
Overall I’d still take a trip with Alex again. I like to say I make all the mistakes in life, but it’s important to make those mistakes once and learn from them. We probably won’t fly again anyway until November when he’s a little more accustomed to the world around him and we’re more likely to stay with family or at a more typical (read: calm) hotel.
Things I might change include:
Using Hertz’s valet service to return us to the terminal for $30 or booking with another company like Silvercar that includes a similar service for free. The car rental was the biggest hassle of our trip, and a big expense when the hotel charges an additional fee for parking.
Renting a car seat, or taking ours with us on the stroller and figuring out how to secure it in the car without the base. I was worried about the quality I might get. But even the freebie from Alaska Airlines, while basic, had much the same features as our own.
Buying diapers and other supplies at our destination. Why carry large, bulky items that cost less than 50 cents each? There’s no reason to endure that pain. I remind myself that on past trips I would cut down on luggage by purchasing new clothes at my destination.
Booking coach and hoping for an upgrade. Alex likes to be held most of the time anyway. I would still plan on buying first class or international business class for anything over 3-4 hours. That’s what miles are for.
Choosing our destinations very carefully. I liked San Diego, and it was the best choice to see these family members. However, I don’t want to fly there again with an infant who can’t walk. Terminals with good airside and landside connections as well as good public transit or nearby car rental facilities would be on the top of my list.