As soon as I found out I was having a child, I started looking forward to taking him on his first flight. Jack was born in mid-September and we thought his first flight would be to Toronto for Christmas so he could spend the holidays with his relatives (my wife’s Canadian). But our pediatrician recommended he not fly during flu season so we scratched that idea and did a couple of road trips instead. First, we hit Palm Springs and then San Diego, and we figured we’d wait until the spring to fly with Jack.
We decided the big day would be May 9. Natalie’s mom was in town and flying home that day so it worked out perfectly: we could escort her home and she could help us out with Jack on the plane. We’ve never traveled with a baby so we had no experience. My first mistake was not buying Jack a seat of his own but I thought I would take advantage of kids under two flying for free as a lap child and hope the plane wasn’t full.
While at a conference in New York City a couple weeks prior, my friend Scott Mayerowitz warned me to call the airline and let them know I would be flying with a baby (lap child, specifically) since they still need to issue a ticket and possibly charge you for any international taxes. I called as soon as I got back to my room and sure enough, he was right. I was put on hold for at least 10 minutes while the agent added Jack to the reservation but they didn’t charge me any taxes.
As I almost always do when I’m traveling on an important trip, I called back a week prior to the trip just to make sure everything was all set. The agent assured me it was so I hung up feeling confident.
When we arrived to LAX on the day of our flight, everything went smoothly as we checked in at the counter with our oversized suitcases (traveling with a baby is definitely a lifestyle change!). Everything seemed fine as the agent took all of our passports and then handed them back to us with our boarding passes. We cruised through security and instead of going to the Admirals Club lounge, we decided to show my mother-in-law how beautiful the new Tom Bradley International Terminal is. Here’s the commercial I made for LAX with my insider tips.
It took a lot longer than we expected since she stopped in the Duty Free store (we realized after standing in line for 10 minutes that there wasn’t enough time for them to deliver her purchase to the gate before departure so we had to just leave without it.) I looked at the time and hurried to the gate as the stress started to kick in; I remembered American often boards their planes earlier than they announce. I wanted to be the first person on board so I could put our carry-on directly above us since we reserved the first row of coach (the bulkhead) so we would have extra space. But since the bulkhead seats give you no floor storage, it was important to get on first to get our bags in the bins above us.
Just as they opened the jetway door to board, I heard my name being paged, which I thought was weird since I also made sure I was off the upgrade list (I have elite status on American so I get free upgrades if there’s space but of course, I didn’t want to be upgraded on this flight.). The agent asked if I was traveling with a newborn and I said, ‘Yes.’ She said that Jack didn’t have a ticket and I asked her what she was talking about. I told her that we had checked in downstairs and presented her with all of our boarding passes. But she said that Jack wasn’t in the system and she didn’t know if there was going to be enough time to issue one since they were already boarding. Apparently, they had tried paging earlier, both in the gate area and in the lounge.
My head was about to explode as I had everything perfectly planned out and I double-checked everything. The original plan had been for my mother-in-law and I to board first to put our bags up and then Natalie and Jack would get on last so Jack didn’t have to just sit on the plane getting antsy for 25 minutes (I learned this tip from Samantha Brown).
The agent said we couldn’t board until this was sorted out and walked away from the desk so she could start boarding the passengers. I was shocked, pissed, and mortified. After all, I wanted this to be a great experience for Jack’s first flight and Natalie hadn’t been back to her home in almost a year and was super excited. She used to go at least once a month. On top of that, my mother-in-law thought I was a travel expert but just like baseball players, you’re only as good as your last at bat.
Luckily, there was another agent there and he was a lot nicer and took control (possibly because I didn’t freak out, wasn’t a jerk and have elite status on American). I then quickly changed the game plan and told Natalie and her mom to get on the plane with the bags since they had started boarding and I would bring Jack on once everything was worked out.
Fortunately, the agent handed me Jack’s ticket after a few minutes of typing and we were good to go. I boarded with Group 4 but I still had to put my bag up and gate check Jack’s stroller. Another agent (a supervisor) was behind me and she commented on how cute Jack was and I asked if it was possible for her to carry my bag to my seat as I folded the stroller to gate check with one hand and carried Jack with the other. She kindly obliged and it made a huge difference. I will now always ask any single parent travelers if they need help carrying their bags on the plane as I realize how challenging it can be to juggle your luggage and a baby.
BTW: We have the best baby stroller/car seat for travel. It’s called the Doona and the stroller converts into a car seat with one click. It’s amazing. Here’s my full review.
There were only three flight attendants on the A319 but they were really nice, especially after I gave them all free GoGo WiFi passes and told them that it was Jack’s first flight. Unfortunately, we sat on the plane at the gate for 50 minutes waiting for the control tower to allow our plane to push back because there was too much traffic in the alley. How pathetic is that? It threw off our game plan as Jack was going to nurse on takeoff so his ears didn’t pop but he was getting hungry and restless so Natalie had no choice to feed him while we idled.
He then fell asleep and the flight attendant who had two kids told us not to wake him (I asked her for advice) and we just prayed his ears didn’t bother him. They didn’t, thank God.
When Jack woke up over the state of Colorado he had a meltdown like he’s never had before. It was really nerve-racking and the seatbelt sign was on so I couldn’t bounce him in the aisle to comfort him. We tried everything but nothing worked but once we passed Colorado, he settled down. The seatbelt sign finally went off for the first time over the state of Nebraska so we went to the bathroom and changed his diaper. Surprisingly, it was the quickest diaper change we’ve had in over a month. Usually, he rolls around like an out of control steam roller but I guess he knew how nasty the airplane lavatory was so he just laid there so we could get in and out as quickly as possible.
Towards the end of the flight, the flight attendants surprised Jack with a flight journal, which was signed by the pilots and had all kinds of info about our flight. It was really cool.
When we landed at YYZ, an agent came onboard and informed us that because the escalator was being repaired and they don’t have stairs, everyone would need to take the lone elevator, which holds only seven people. If we didn’t have to wait on the jetway for the car seat/stroller to come out, we wouldn’t have had to wait in a long line but that wasn’t the case.
While waiting, a passenger walked by and said Jack was the greatest baby of all time. We thought he was being sarcastic because of his meltdown but I guess since the engines were so loud he couldn’t hear him—only the passengers in the two rows around us could.
The line for immigration was crazy and we didn’t know which one to go in since we normally use NEXUS but Jack hasn’t been approved yet so we couldn’t go through it. I have an American passport and Natalie has a Canadian but the agent told us to go in the Canadian queue. It was a long maze but it moved quickly (15 minutes). Everyone had to go to a kiosk first and scan their passports before going to one of the agents. Not too bad at all.
But I’m still pissed at American Airlines because they really don’t have their act together and I don’t know how they could’ve messed this up. If I wasn’t an Executive Platinum member, I don’t know if the agent would have taken the time to fix Jack’s ticket. On top of that, I called American again when we landed to make sure his ticket out of Canada wasn’t going to have the same problem and the agent said it looks like you didn’t pay the Canadian departure tax so she put me on hold for 10 minutes or so and came back and said it would cost $16.46. That’s fine but what I don’t understand is why that wasn’t taken care of the two times I called. Yes, they were one-way tickets but I had each of the previous agents check on both of them and they both said he’s good to go. Then when I received the confirmation email for the taxes, it had Jack’s name had been changed to John. I called back and had to wait another 10-15 minutes while the agent fixed it. Let’s see if we have problems when we leave this week.
The moral of this long story is to triple-check all of your tickets and buy a seat for your baby since it’s not only safer but it will decrease your stress levels.