Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Screaming Baby in Seat 28C!

Several hours into a transatlantic flight, after the blaring of the intercom has quieted and the dinner service has been distributed and collected, I wiggle for what seems like ages to find the perfect position in which the airplane armrest doesn’t jab my ribs as I lay over towards the window and try to sleep. Just as I begin to dose off to the roaring of the airplane engine and the snoring of the hefty passenger beside me, a shrill baby’s cry wakes me from my quasi-sleep. I look around for the culprit and spot an infant and mother, travelling alone, a few seats behind me. The mother looks tired and almost complacent as her baby screams with angst. I wonder to myself, ‘why is this woman not doing more to shut this kid up!'

Fast forward a couple of years and I am now that very woman. This posting is in honour of one of the happiest days of my life, the birth of my son, a year ago on April 14th. This posting is dedicated my darling son whom I love traveling with and to all of the brave men and women who travel solo with a child…courageous souls!

Baby and I are on our way to meet my husband who has spent the last week in New York City on a business trip. My luggage is packed to the brim with diapers, bottles, clothes, blankets, a portable crib, toys, toiletries, and everything else the baby could ever possibly need on our three day get-away to the east coast. I hoist the massive bag onto the scale at the airline check-in counter and it is fifty-six pounds, which exceeds the fifty pound limit. I look worried as the ticket agent instructs that I’ll need to remove six pounds and put it with my carry-on luggage, already heavy with my own clothes and shoes. Just then, my usually sweet baby begins to cry with such agitation that the area surrounding us quiets because it is impossible to talk over the screaming child. The ticketing agent slaps a claim tag to my bag and hurls it onto the belt. She hands me my ticket with haste and ushers my son and I away without another word of the extra six pounds. The minute Baby and I walk away from the counter he stops crying, looks at me, and begins giggling. The innocent six month old infant couldn’t have known what was going on but by coincidence his display saved us from paying the stiff surcharge on extra luggage. We were quite a team- like a Bonny and Clyde of the sky, getting away with not paying for our six extra pounds of luggage. We’re such rogues!

Onto security we go, Quinny stroller and carry-on luggage in hand. I remove my shoes, my jacket, and put my over-stuffed bag onto the x-ray machine belt. I wheel the modern, somewhat abstruse looking stroller up to the metal detector and am instructed to put it through the x-ray machine. I have my six month old baby in my arms who is wiggling and squirming to be put down. I am getting dirty looks from business travellers who wish to hurry through the process they are forced to comply with so often. I’m getting some looks of sympathy from families travelling with children and looks of amusement from others. I’m even getting cranky and impatient looks from old people who think I’m taking to long. I fiddle with the stroller for a few minutes and even though I know how to take the wheels off so that it will fit through the x-ray machine, the baby in my arms and the pressure of the people behind me prompts me to take the easy way out. ‘I’m sorry I have no idea how to get the wheels off to make it fit through the machine’, I say. The weathered, old TSA officer manning the metal detector takes pity on me and she lets me through to manually scan the stroller. I figure this travelling with a baby thing isn’t so bad. Now, if only one person holds open a door for me or gives up their seat- I’ll know all those people who complain about the trials of travelling with children are just quacks!

We make it to our gate and I take advantage of pre-boarding with a small child. I used to look at those people with such contempt and now I feel like a V.I.P. We find our seat and I settle in for the four hour flight to New York City. Both seats next to me are occupied, one by an old, grandmotherly looking woman and the other by a young man dressed in black listening to an iPod blaring death rock. I look around for a possible seat change and realize all the seats are full. I resolve to stay and not make a scene. I am sitting in the aisle seat which I thought would be better in case I had to pace with a crying baby or make multiple trips to the lavatory for diaper changes. However, Sir, next to me, must have been chugging his coffee all morning because I’ve never seen anyone have to pee so often. Every time Baby falls asleep he needs us to get up so he can go to the bathroom. I offer him the aisle but he won’t come out from his earphones to hear me. Finally his bladder calms and Baby falls asleep only to be awoken again by his manic twitching. I look at him with agitation and look again for a possible seat change candidate. Just then, Baby cocks his head back and begins to projectile vomit on me. The young man beside me looks at me with disgust and the old woman beside him gazes at me with compassion and understanding as she hands me tissues to clean myself up. I go to the lavatory covered in a mess; I lock the door and wish I can stay in there for the duration of the flight. I manage to change the baby into new clothes and clean myself off to an acceptable level.

I make my way back to my seat and the fidgety, freakish man has relocated…thank the Lord. I look at my watch and find the strength to make the last hour of the flight without going mad. Baby is tired, and no longer entertained with my repertoire of games and toys. He begins crying and continues to cry despite my pacing, bouncing, cooing, tickling, and nursing. A man a few rows back accusingly asks me if he’s ok. Another couple of people give me annoyed looks. Other passengers, mostly women (mothers or grandmothers most likely), play peek-a-boo with the now sedate child, which takes his attention off of his discomfort and the flight. This is when I realize a very important fact; there are two kinds of people out there- the ones who make travelling with a child easier and those who make it harder. It was my decision to have a child and my decision to travel alone with him but have a little compassion and don’t bully me because he is fussy. Travelling is hard on anyone, especially a little guy with the attention span of an ant. He does not have colic, his ears are fine, he’s not hungry…he is simply a baby on a plane. I understand he is annoying you and I’m sorry. If he had a mute button I would use it- trust me!

We arrive at Newark airport and rendezvous with Daddy, who we are very glad to see. I recount the experience to my darling husband who laughs with a certain degree of pride and pity. He thanks me for everything I went through so that we could all have a fun weekend get-away in New York City. I smile and say, ‘you’re welcome but on the way back he’s yours!’

Things I learned from my solo flight with Baby:
1) Bring a change of clothes for your baby but ALSO for yourself.
2) Don’t expect people will go out of their way to help you. Some will, some won’t. People without kids just don’t get it.
3) There is a security line for families. Try that lane and you’ll get fewer dirty looks.
4) Be prepared! Have food, milk, NEW toys, and activity ideas on hand.
5) Bring a travel pack of Clorox wipes to disinfect the tray table and armrests. People may look at you like you’re crazy but at least your kid won’t get Swine Flu.
6) Only bring one or two jars of baby food in your carry on luggage. The TSA officers sometimes require you to open them and try them. Once opened they only last a few hours without refrigeration.
7) Gate check your stroller- even though it’s a bit of a hassle getting tags for it at the gate, it’s worth its weight in gold when you don’t have to haul your baby all over the terminal.
8) Pretend to not speak English when barraged with questions on why your child is screaming.
9) Book an aisle seat! On a four hour flight, eight trips to the lavatory (5 minutes or so each) for diaper changes, clean-ups, etc. can shave off 40 minutes of sitting in your seat racking your brain on how to entertain your child.
10) Try not to travel around naptime or bedtime…if you do, you’re just playing with fire!

What have we learned? See that mom struggling by herself with a screaming child on an airplane from which she can’t escape? Throw her a bone and show her some compassion. Play a game of peek-a-boo, give the mom some encouraging words, and offer to help in any way. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll make your flight go faster and make you feel fulfilled that you helped this poor schmuck out. Until you travel with a child just assume that your trans-world journeys are easy. If you are a parent and haven’t travelled with your kid out of sheer fear, coax those anxieties and travel anyway. Travel anywhere at any age is a precious experience for both parent and child. Just do it and looking back, you’ll be happy you did.


  1. I laughted with tears reading this. The whole story was completely hilarious and in (too) many ways it reminded me of my trip to Romania with my then 18 month old baby. Your tips are spectacular, with one personal preference- I still like to board when they call last call for boarding- the less time in the plane with the toddler, the better. That aside, this is all very timely as we are planning to embark on a plan to Mexico with a now 21 month old baby next week!

  2. Thanks for sharing this blog with other Stapleton moms. My husband and I are flying to DC with our (will be) 15 mo old son in June.
    I'm just starting to do research on other people's experiences so that I can be prepared (whatever that means with a toddler).

    I'm just hoping that he is walking by that time so that during our layover we can check out the airport.

    I'm actually torn about boarding early or trying to be the last on the plane. I'm worried that the longer time on the plane would make him more fussy.

    What types of activity ideas have worked the best for you? I've heard about an activity center that fits over the tray.

  3. LOVE this! We flew 15 times in our son's first 1.5 years of life, so we've gone through the drill. These are the things I learned: no matter how many times you fly, you will still be sweaty by the time you actually take off. =)

    Some of our saviors have been puppets. We always bring a backpack of toys (new and revisited ones). Puppet shows are a huge time waster. And the compassionate people in front of, behind and next to you may join in.

    All routine goes out the window. Snacks, meals and more snacks are always readily available. We try to fly outside of a mealtime (because that's just a hassle), but snacks are a must. We also bring an extra sippie of milk in case of delays.

    We're planning a trip to Ireland and I fear how that will go. So, your post was very timely and awesome!


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  5. We are going home over Christmas. Flying from Perth WA to Krakow PL - 3 days on a plain, 3 take off's and hopefully 3 landings:)and that is all with our little girl who will be 1 by than (we actually flying on her birthday:))
    I can't wait as I haven't seen my family for over 2 years and can't wait for them to meet my daughter for the first time but ...I worry that the whole “plane experience” will make my trip miserable:( That's why I have already started preparing myself to this big trip by doing research. But the advice from a mum like you - who has travelled so widely is just..... priceless. Thanks Beth.... and I can't wait for more “bloging” on the subject!!!