Part I: Flying to Calgary
Last month John, James, and I prepared to embark upon our first big vacation as a family of three. Our destination: Banff National Park in Canada. So not only would this be our first time flying with a baby, it also would be our first international trip with said wee one. I would have been more nervous at the prospect were it not for the fact that I am a planner. So, with John’s help, I began preparing several months ahead of time. We applied for James’s passport in March, and after booking our flights online around that same time I called the airline to make sure we were set to go with having James as a lap infant for the trip. Check and check.
We also planned our baggage very carefully. Upon advice from friends and family who have flown with small children, we decided we wanted to take our own car seat instead of relying upon a possibly yucky car rental one. I bought a car seat cover with backpack straps. John volunteered to be the one to sport the backpack, but he didn’t promise not to accidentally take someone out with it as we moved through the airport.
We also would take our Pack-n-Play, a diaper bag, and our Chicco lightweight umbrella stroller for James. Despite having more baggage items due to the baby, we ended up packing more lightly than ever before for a vacation. We fit clothes and toiletries for all three of us into one large rolling suitcase (although we would have to do laundry at least once during the trip). I could not help but comment about how I used to completely fill the same suitcase plus a carry-on with just my clothes, shoes, and toiletries. My, how times had changed.
James is typically an easygoing baby as long as he a) doesn’t get hungry and b) gets sleep. So our plan for the travel day was to a) keep him regularly fed and b) pray he would take a nap on the plane. As soon as we cleared security and made our way to the gate, James had his breakfast. We were off to a good start.
Once on board, James quickly began assessing his new surroundings. We were glad to see him smiling cutely at the people sitting behind us. If he could get the grandparent-types on his side early, we thought we might be able to avoid mean stares later on should James not take to flying.
Soon it was time to buckle up for take-off. James thought the seat belt buckle was the coolest thing ever. (On the return flight, he would figure out how to unbuckle it himself.)
He did great sitting in my lap or standing between my knees during the flight. He loved the barf bag and safety brochure in the seat pocket. We also had bought some new touch-and-feel board books (a current favorite activity of his) to bring out one by one as needed in the air.
An hour into the flight I nursed him, and he fell asleep for a good 45 minutes. Now we were on a roll!
Before long, it was time for lunch and then time to land. The end was in sight!
James did incredibly well on the flight to Calgary, which lasted about 3.5 hours from DFW. I’m not sure if it was the planning, the rocket ship polo and pilot socks we’d dressed him in for the flight, or sheer dumb luck, but the travel day went so smoothly. At the Calgary airport, he was calm and curious in his stroller while we fumbled our way through customs and getting the rental car. Then he fell asleep for the entire drive from the airport to our first destination: Canmore, Alberta. Whew!
It had been a long day (even with things going well), but that evening we were all smiles. We were thrilled to be in the mountains with a week-long vacation stretched out before us!
Part 2: The Return Flight
We left Lake Louise a little after 9 AM on the day of our return home. We had a 2-hour drive ahead of us back to the Calgary airport, but with our flight not leaving until 2:30 PM, we felt great about the extra time we were leaving ourselves. Oh, if only that ended up being the case.
We did make it to Calgary in about two hours, but as we approached the airport we needed to a) let me nurse James (remember how he doesn’t like being hungry?) and b) find a gas station in order to fill up the tank before returning the rental car. We thought we could do both of those things at once. We also thought it wouldn’t be a problem finding a gas station as we approached the airport. Surely there would be one or two visible from the highway, right?
Oh, if only. Our GPS hadn’t worked the entire trip, and neither of us own smart phones, so when we didn’t just see a gas station outside the airport, we drove around in search of one. Soon we came across a Tim Horton’s restaurant. John went inside to use their wi-fi with his iPad while I fed a by-now very hangry baby James. James, by the way, was atypically fussy to begin with on this day. I started to get very, very worried.
John located a gas station nearby, but when we got there it was all-diesel except for one pump, and you had to be a member in order to activate the pump. What?! So then we had to drive away from the airport to get to the next closest station. By now it was after 12:00. We still had plenty of time, though, right?
We finally got gas and went back to the airport, turned in the rental car, and walked into the terminal. It was now about 12:40, and I let out a big sigh of relief as we went up to the ticket counter to check in. As it turned out, we would be there for the next hour.
Apparently James didn’t have a ticket, and while this would normally not be an issue for a lap infant, it is an issue when you are trying to clear customs to re-enter the US. We would have to pay customs taxes for him, which amounted to around $16. Not a big deal – I took out my wallet. I was slightly annoyed, as I had called the airline way back in the spring in order to take care of such issues. But no matter. We would just pay the fee and continue on.
Oh, if only. There’s apparently a glitch in the American Airlines software program that often doesn’t allow the agents to ticket infants at the ticket counter. So the agents called the central American Airlines number. And they were put on hold. (I would have laughed at that had it not been a stressful situation). Then they talked for a bit and I thought we were making progress…only to see them be put back on hold. This went on for an hour. Literally. I am proud of myself for not losing my cool or mistreating the ticket agents who were trying to handle the situation as best they could, but I was frustrated. We still needed to clear security and US customs as well as buy some food for ourselves, feed and change James, and hopefully give him some time to crawl and play before boarding the plane.
Finally, finally we got our tickets and boarding passes and were on our way to security. I was frazzled, so I nearly left James’s food (which had been pulled for a special screening) behind at security. I would have, too, if it wasn’t for the security agent who came after us as we were walking away. Bless you, security lady.
By the time we cleared customs, we had just enough time to grab some food to take on the plane before our flight was called. Even after getting our seats on the plane, we were still reeling from the events of the previous three hours.
James, however, was ready to play. He had been strapped in to either his car seat or his stroller for almost the entire day up to that point. He wasn’t going to be content with sitting sweetly in my lap this time.
He spent the first hour of the flight alternately reaching for anything and everything he could and trying to make friends with every single person sitting behind us. At one point he was using the water bottle in his hand to raise and lower the divider screen between us and first class over and over again. While I purposefully kept my eyes averted from all nearby passengers, James would stand up in our laps, turn around, and smile gleefully at everyone on the plane. Sometimes he put his hands up behind his head just to amp up the cuteness factor.
Then he fell asleep, and all was calm. He napped for over an hour, thank goodness.
I finally was able to relax a bit myself, and before long we were on the ground at DFW. It being DFW meant, of course, that we taxied for 10 minutes to the gate. That was the only time in two days of flying and a week of travel that James came close to all out losing it. Luckily his smiles from earlier in the flight had earned him some fans, and we avoided dirty looks once again. Several women even came up to me in the airport bathroom after we all deplaned to tell me what a good baby I have. I smiled and thanked them, but inside I disagreed. James isn’t a good baby; he truly is the best baby. He was a joy to go on vacation with, and even though we were more stressed at times traveling with a baby, we also had bigger smiles and laughs throughout the week because of him.