Flying the (Not) Family-Friendly Skies

Of all the ways your life changes when you have kids none is more drastic than the way you travel.  Gone are the days of a small carry-on with a book, an ipod and some trashy magazines.  Suddenly your carry on is like Mary Poppins carpet bag – full of snacks (both salty and sweet), stickers, markers, DVD players, DVDs, coloring books, activity books and depending on the age of your kids, diapers, change of clothes, wipes, ear drops, maybe some pajamas and even a change of clothes for yourself (yes I learned the hard way that mishaps on the plane tend to land in my lap, or down the front of my shirt).    Early on when my twin daughters were just babies we were like a small army going off to war as we marched down the jetway.  Two strollers that we could fold in 5 second flat, two car seats unlatched and ready to load, and an industrial sized diaper bag that just barely fit in the overhead.

Luckily for me my daughters are long past the nightmare travel age.  They wheel on their own small carry-on bags filled with but a few key possessions – a DS, an ipod, a treasured toy and a book.  But, I remember well those days when every passenger on the plane eyed us with dread as we boarded and made our way down the aisle.  You could see them secretly praying, please don’t sit near me, please, please.

We had one flight where another baby screamed the entire time while our daughters miraculously slept, yet when we disembarked a passenger came up to us as we struggled to get the girls into their car seat strollers without waking them and she sneered at us saying, “thanks for the worst flight of my life.”  I didn’t correct her and tell her that it was another baby crying the whole time, not ours.  What was the point?  It’s hard enough to travel with your kids, I didn’t need to rat out another parent who obviously had a terrible flight herself.

I always think about those early years flying with my daughters when I see a family piling onto the plane with their gear and child in tow.  This past Christmas we flew home the day after the underwear bomber tried to blow up a plane in Detroit.  We were flying home from a small airport in Mexico, which even under the best circumstances is a model of inefficiency.  Boarding the plane took over an hour because they decided to recheck every single carry-on bag by hand and then pat down every passenger.  But the kicker for the families with young kids was when the pilot ordered that everything now had to be put away – all books, all electronics, all blankets, for the entire last hour of the flight.  To a parent of a young child an hour is equal to five childless hours.  The happy little toddler in front of us who was spaced out watching Little Einsteins for most of the flight, a blanket wrapped warmly around her, turned into a raving lunatic when the mom was forced to turn off the DVD player.  Children all over the plane began to wail and fuss as their preferred mode of entertainment was turned off, or blankets and pillows were removed from their sleeping bodies.  I couldn’t help but think that the terrorists had won in some small way when an entire plane is subjected to the raving unhappiness of preschoolers and toddlers and the poor parents are pushed to the brink of insanity trying to calm and subdue the inconsolable.

There was never anything easy about traveling with children but every time the airports and airlines put in yet another layer of inconvenience it makes family travel exponentially more difficult.  No liquids?  We adjusted and suck it up at the airport when we now have to pay three times more for water or juice than if we had been able to bring that juice box from home.  Take off your shoes at security?  We remember to wear socks.  But now they charge for checked bags, a necessity for parents of young kids.  So tag that on to your travel costs.  Incredibly full flights – well you better get that “lap” infant a seat because you will never just luck out and get an empty one next to you.   And my new favorite is not letting parents book seats ahead of time on the plane unless they want to pay for it.   I love when an airline computer puts a child in a middle seat between two strangers.  Of course nothing gets people swapping seats faster than the chance to move away from your sticky fingered, diaper clad, ear clogged kid.

If nothing else it would be nice if airlines had a family line at security the same way the used to let families with young children board first (another thing that seems to have disappeared).  The easier to fly airlines and airports can make it for families with young children the easier it will be on all the passengers.  Why they don’t get this I don’t understand.  Until then, all those childless people out there should find an ounce of sympathy and be happy it’s not them with dried spit up down the front of their shirt for the duration of the flight.  And if that fails they sell some very nice noise canceling headphones right in the airport.

One reply on “Flying the (Not) Family-Friendly Skies”

  1. I hear you! I’m a mom of twins 18 months old and a 3 1/2 year old so travel has become our personal hell. Sometimes I actually think I have drifted into purgatory when I walk through the doors of an airport with my brood. My husband and I came close to divorce on our flight from England to Boston last summer with the three kids in tow. Stupidly, we did not get seats for the twins and thus had to manage with them in our laps and our then 3 year old in a seat beside us. Needless to say, we tried drinking lots of wine which helped in the short term but about 5 hours into the flight we were passing the two babies back and forth across the aisle (we could not get seats all on the same side due to safety regs and the number of oxygen masks available) while our 3 year old whined incessantly. We survived the trip, just barely. And I can’t tell you how furious I am at the dagger looks and quiet disapproval of the rest of the passengers when we get on a plane. Get a life! We’re doing our very best.

    So, you give me hope when you talk about travel getting much better as the twins get older. (Twins are just another dimension of torture in the world of parenting).

    By the way, I really do love my children!

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