Ahhh… New York City, the city of dreams and home to kick-ass sitcoms like Sex and the City as well some of the most memorable moments in Hollywood history (I’m thinking Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks and the Empire State Building). Having been to New York before for a weekend at a time here and there, I thought it the perfect destination for my first trip with my 3 month old, and a great way for her to test her wings!
So, we got her a passport, roped in one of my best friends to join us and bought our tickets to NYC. Ironically, while I ended up bed ridden for half the trip thanks to a bug I picked up prior to take-off, Luna did great, proving herself a true traveler and ready to take on a world of discovery. Planning to test air travel with your week one? Here are a few pre-departure tips to help you plan your trip:
How to apply for an infant passport in Canada
If you’re thinking of traveling with your little one, it can’t hurt to get a passport early into the mission. After booking this trip, I started the application process with the Canadian authorities in Mississauga, one of two offices that can guarantee return in 10 days or less. In the past, infants used to be put on the parent’s passport, but now babies need a passport of their own. The first step in the process is to put together the necessary paperwork which includes; a completed application form available here, and a long version of your baby’s birth certificate. Also, you’ll need to ensure that your baby is registered with the province before applying. If you haven’t done so yet, consider applying for the Newborn Registration Service offered by the government allowing you to register your baby, acquire a birth certificate and a social insurance number and apply for child care benefits all in one go.
To accompany the necessary documents, you’ll also need two identical photos of your little one, signed and dated by the photographer or studio. Be aware – your baby has to be fully awake and looking at the camera, so if he/she is sleeping during the photo shoot, you’ll have to come back another time. After all was said and snapped, I showed up to the passport office around lunchtime (big mistake) and had to wait about 45 minutes or so before submitting the application, but that was the only snag in the process. I received Luna’s passport in less than 10 days without problems and we were ready for take-off!
Checking-in with Air Canada
Call me crazy, but after years of seeing families with young babies get special treatment on-board flights, I just assumed that the process of checking-in, getting through customs, and lining up for security would be expedited when traveling with an infant. Boy, was I wrong! The first wake up call was when we lined up for “check-in assistance” and baggage drop after realizing that my friend had to pay for baggage to NYC. We had arrived at the airport way ahead of time, leaving room for any hiccups that might arise with checking in the stroller (which was tagged and allowed to go as far as the boarding gate) or getting formula through customs into the States.
Now, I have to preface this by saying that I am always on time for my flight. Have I cut it close once or twice? Sure. Would I have been surprised if I’d missed my flight? No. Why? Because the airline suggests that you show up for your flight at certain times and if you choose to neglect that advice, you risk being late for your flight or missing it altogether. It’s as simple as that. Unless the airline decides to bring everyone forward whose flight is about to close, regardless of the fact that they showed up half an hour beforehand. Then you get to wait in line for an hour while the irresponsible get pushed to the front. With a baby. Seriously? Clearly no allowances for travel with infant. For the tardy yes. For the reproductive, no.
* tip for Air Canada staff (particularly the manager of the 20 something year old put in charge of keeping angry customers at bay): When people complain in line, don’t advise them to tweet suggestions or to post comments online and follow up by saying that the company “may” read them – that does not evoke confidence in your customer service. Also, you might want to tell people to fill in customs forms in line as to avoid them taking 10 minutes to do so at the check-in counter. Just a thought.
Following check-in, we made our way to customs, where we headed straight to the priority line. After asking an attendant if it was okay for us to be in line with the VIPs, we were directed into the other line alongside everyone else including an actress from one of the Alien movies whose name completely escapes me. After making some jokes about Luna being the Baby Bomber, we decided to divide and conquer; one holding our places in line while the other filled out the automated customs form and passport check. Upon filling out the forms for Luna and me, I was given a receipt with a big “X” through it – turns out Luna was not going to be waved through immigration. Instead, we were to be sent back to the priority lane, which wasn’t exactly a priority line, since it moved a bazillion times slower than the other.
Security at Pearson International vs. LaGuardia Airport
Exclusively breastfeeding? Here’s where you get the upper hand. Going through security with the bambino was relatively smooth sailing (my diaper bag entered the country completely undetected, liquids and powders included)… on the way into the States. The way back was, well, pretty funny actually. To make sure we had enough food for the little one, I packed one big bottle of formula, and a few others filled with pre-boiled water that I could shake on the go, using the exceptionally large package of formula I was bringing on-board in my carry-on.I have to say, it’s impressive that the authorities are willing to let you board the plane with all these liquids and powders that would be otherwise confiscated, but the process of getting it all checked out by the U.S authorities on our way back to Canada was something out of a movie.
The security officer was so adamant about making me feel like he was focused on our needs that he kept saying things (in a strong jersey accent) like “you work with me, I work with you. Secure the baby first m’am. I don’t care about those other folks in line. I’m worried about you. Take your time m’am. M’am, take the formula out m’am.” Now, if you say it once, it sounds caring – but when you repeat that line over and over while making calming gestures with your free hand, I start to feel like the guy in Anger Management who is repeatedly told by the officer on-board to calm down after asking a question without so much as raising his voice. Anyways, 20 minutes later, after the officer had swabbed the formula and the water, we were allowed to get dressed, re-pack everything and get on our way.
Taking off with baby on board
After we got ourselves checked in, we headed to our gate, stroller, hand luggage, Luna and all. Thinking ourselves to be faring very well up until this point, we got a coffee from Starbucks and waited to board. It was only after we boarded, had Luna fed and sleeping for take-off that we were advised we’d have to disembark the airplane due to mechanical issues that couldn’t be resolved. Crap! Thankfully I’d packed enough formula for the entire day – take note! After lining up for another flight, we were told that the issue had been resolved and we were to head back to the original gate. Seriously? Thankfully, Luna was sleeping like an angel, waking up only to eat and have a quick play before nodding back off.
One of the things most parents know about baby travel (but I’ll reiterate just in case) is the ear troubles that can cause pain for babies during take-off and landing. The best way to prevent discomfort is to try your best and get your baby to either sleep or eat during both stages of the flight. They can cry all they want in-between but if you can time feedings accordingly, do so. It will save you, and baby, a lot of stress during the flight.
Landing at LaGuardia Airport and transport to the hotel
The tickets we got with Air Canada had us flying into LaGuardia Airport. Thankfully this was the closest airport to downtown Manhattan and our final destination: The New Yorker Hotel! The cab ride from LaGuardia into Midtown was about 40 minutes or so and hovered around $45. Before leaving Canada, I’d researched a lot about car seats and knew that we had two options: bring the car seat base and check-in an extra piece of luggage or hold the baby on my lap, the more convenient option by far – but was it safe? After discussing with a few people who had been to the city, we decided that holding Luna would be the better of the two options, and that’s exactly what I did during both the cab ride there, and back to the airport. Thanks to relatively slow moving traffic and patient cab drivers, there was no problem, and even on the return journey when she was a bit of a grump, the cabby was great. Would I consider bringing a car seat next time? Perhaps for a longer stay, but New York is so accessible using public transit or walking from A to B that it really wasn’t worth it for a long weekend. Of course that’s a personal choice and I encourage every parent to do their own research before deciding what works for them.
All in all, getting to NYC from Toronto was a cake walk… or perhaps a cake flight? Regardless, this little victory encouraged my husband and I to plan a trip to Mexico in the very near future. Luna lasted the 1.5 hour flight to NYC, can we conquer 4.5 hours? Challenge accepted! In the meantime, now that you’re ready to fly, stay tuned for highlights of our trip to NYC and find some great tips on how to explore the big apple with a little bundle during the holiday season.