Kids in the Capital City

Kids in the Capital City: Why I'll never fly with a toddler again

Kids in the Capital City: Why I'll never fly with a toddler again

George Bush Intercontinental Terminal IAH
It's going to be a while before my kid sees the inside of an airport again. Photo courtesy of Houston Airport System

Growing up, we traveled a lot. My mother's job at American Airlines meant that we got to fly for free. And my father, a consultant, spent his weeks going from coast to coast, racking up frequent flyer miles and hotel rewards.

We went everywhere — Australia, Europe, Hawaii. I saw more of the world before I turned 15 than I have since. It was great. And I’m sorry to say that my family won’t enjoy the same fate.

This holiday season, we checked off a major family milestone — our first holiday travel with a toddler in tow. And it was a doozy.

First, we planned (well, I planned). I booked a night flight with the hopes that flying during bedtime would lull my son to sleep. I crowdsourced fellow moms for their recommendations on making the flight easier. I bought coloring books, downloaded television shows, made special sensory toys. I brought Motrin and more snacks than I thought imaginable. We packed our whole lives: Pack 'n Play, car seat, even a fancy travel stroller in a pathetic attempt contain him. It was an embarrassing amount of stuff. 

I tried to anticipate, and yet, that four-and-a-half-hour flight to Seattle was quite possibly the worst experience of my life.

We walked the aisles endlessly. We watched eight minutes of all 27 kids films available on the in-flight entertainment. We bounced him, we rocked him, we rubbed his back. There were tears. There was throat punching (by him). Sleep wasn’t on the menu, but thankfully in-flight alcohol was (for us).

We arrived, relieved it was over and ignoring the fact that we would be doing it all again in just a manner of days. My son adjusted to the time change and the family shuffle well, and as we prepared to leave a week later, we sighed and thought, "Surely, it can’t be as bad the second time."

I think you know what’s next.

Knowing we had another night flight ahead of us, we let the kid run rampant in the airport, armed with snacks and his favorite snuggle buddy. We completed early boarding and sat there apprehensively, eyes darting for the defeated glance of the poor passenger destined to share our row. A sweet college student, she obligingly agreed to take the window seat so that we could have aisle access (and so she could enjoy her travel in relative peace).

You know where this is going.

If he was a nightmare on the first round, this was a full-on possession. He ran the aisles with the fervor of Forrest Gump, saying a tiny “hi” to every passenger he could. Cute the first time. Less cute the 47th time. He thrashed in my lap. He cried. I cried. He cried. I cried. The flight attendant, ever the selfless steward (thanks again, Scot) alternated between taking my child’s hand up and down the aisles and smuggling us tiny bottles of vodka as we sat bleary-eyed and delirious over the fact that every other baby on the plane slept soundly.

As if that were the end of it. You may recall that the night after Christmas was fraught with thunderstorms. After a nearly five-hour flight and an hour of circling, we were unable to land in Austin. Which is how I ended up in tears at 2 am in the closed airport of the fine city of Midland, with a delirious toddler and no food or water. I don’t recommend it.

We could get to Austin, but that involved a bus (located three hours away) and would take upwards of five hours for the trip. We had already sacrificed our dignity, but we weren’t ready to sacrifice the sanity of our fellow passengers any more than we already had.

Long story not-so-short, we made it home. And once there, we made a vow that if air travel is involved, the kid stays home. Sorry, buddy. One day you’ll see the world. But for now, we’ll stick to a 100-mile radius.