In a game of “which would you rather,” I would choose giving birth over flying cross-country with a toddler. And yet, we have another West Coast/East Coast round-trip planned in a couple of weeks for cousin Ava’s bat mitzvah and the first night of Passover. Save me.
Charlotte has already flown over half a dozen times, back and forth from Seattle to New York and a couple of times to California in her 18 months on earth. Half of the time my husband has flown with us. An equal number of flights I have braved air travel in solo parentis. Hats off to single parents everywhere. Flying alone with my toddler is pretty close to what I imagine hell might be like, if Jews believed in hell.
I’ve gotten pretty lucky, all things considered. Our most harrowing journey was our flight back to Seattle after being stuck an extra four days in New York after Super Storm Sandy. Our flight was delayed multiple times and I was eventually rebooked on a flight 10 hours later. That meant Charlotte and I spent 10 hours at the Delta Sky Lounge (so worth the $50 day rate). Thank goodness we had our own row on the plane, even if it was the last row by the bathroom, because by the time we boarded Charlotte had a fever and spent our five and a half hour flight alternating between crying and barfing.
Aside from that, our flights have been relatively fine. The worst part is always the stress and anxiety I feel before each flight, which grows exponentially as Charlotte’s patience for sitting in my lap is shorter and shorter. It was so much easier flying when she was a baby and I could just swaddle her up for the entire flight. These days, I pack lots of snacks, stickers, books, and toys. I don’t even bother bringing a magazine for me to not read anymore. We recently broke down and got an iPad so I can amuse her with Elmo videos and kiddie games. She’s generally content, as long as we switch activities every 90 to 120 seconds. I can usually get her to nap for a while, though she inevitably ends up with her little feet on the person next to us and my arm falls dead asleep. I can quell any crying or major fussiness by nursing under a shawl until I feel like my nipples will fall off.
I really do appreciate that airlines let children under 2 fly for free. Once we have to pay for a Charlotte’s ticket we will be flying half of the time. Some airports have a special security line for families, which is incredibly helpful. And it’s really nice that some airlines still give pre-boarding privileges to people traveling with kids. I love being able to gate-check my stroller. That being said, even with all of these “perks”, flying with a toddler is a living nightmare. Airplane dirty diapers, Charlotte climbing all over the me and the armrests, banging the tray table and repeatedly kicking the seat in front lead to a lot of apologetic smiles from mommy.
Most people at the airport gaze at you with a look of pity and fear, hoping desperately that you and your bundle of joy will NOT be on their Sunday night red-eye flight. In December, I left my little girl home with her dad, Bubbie and Zayde, so I could go to a wedding in Toronto for a long weekend. I was delighted to have a five hour flight to myself to watch movies, read, and have a glass of warm white wine while staring out the window. In fact, if I had been seated next to a child, I probably would have asked the flight attendant to change my seat. Is that terrible?
Flying is unpleasant for everyone, what with all the baggage charges and ridiculously overpriced not very good food options. Delays, cancellations, and the annoying rush hour line-up for takeoff at JFK is enough to make a grown adult have a temper tantrum. I wish airlines would designate kid friendly flights and just sit all the people with children in a closed off soundproof section.
Another nice thing about traveling with an adorable 1-and-a-half-year-old is that you actually get to see TSA agents smile. And the happiness of grandparents meeting you at baggage claim almost makes up for the fact that you haven’t peed since you left your house in the morning. So until we figure out a way to beam ourselves from one place to another, I’ll continue to fly the child unfriendly skies and pray for a miraculous first class bump.