The way it started, it could have been my worst trip ever with a kid. I was headed on my first business trip since having my second baby, and she was flying with me to spend some time with her grandparents. After trying to check in at a kiosk with my credit card and confirmation number and getting several errors of “no reservation found,” it became clear that I did not actually have a ticket. Whoops.
There I was with my luggage, car seat, and 12-month-old daughter Rina in a stroller, simultaneously standing in line while on my cell phone talking to my work travel agency. After 45 minutes they were able to rebook me for a flight… three hours later.
Three unexpected hours in an airport is not for fun anyone, but for a 1-year-old who wants to move around and can’t sit and read a magazine, it is much more difficult. I did laps around the airport and was pleasantly surprised to find a Children’s Museum, which was a play area with airplanes to climb in. Rina was thrilled to crawl around and “fly” a plane. There was also a brand new Mother’s Room for nursing or pumping. I really have to give credit to O’Hare for these amenities, which helped make the time until our flight as pleasant as it could be.
But as much as time in an airport with a baby isn’t easy, the actual airplane is worse. It’s a closed space without much room to move. Pressure changes often cause crying. On previous trips when my oldest was a baby, other travelers would glare at me as I tried to do whatever I could to quiet the baby down. Unless I could get my baby to fall asleep, I spent most of my time stressed and constantly saying I’m sorry to my seat-mates. My expectations for this flight weren’t high.
Because I had gotten a ticket so last minute, I had the joy of having a middle seat. I held Rina on my lap and she tried to escape my grasp. She was particularly intrigued with the tray table and with trying to climb over the seat in front of me. An older woman who didn’t speak much English sat down next to me in the window seat and I worried she wouldn’t be happy with Rina’s rambunctious behavior, but she smiled at Rina, and Rina smiled right back. On my other side sat another older woman. I apologized as Rina kicked her as she nursed, but she told me not to worry about it and tickled the bottom of her feet.
We were served drinks and the flight attendant gave me an entire can because there was a better chance the baby wouldn’t spill it everywhere. Rina began to stick her fingers in the can and the woman by the window gently pulled her hand away. “No hurt,” she told me and smiled again. Later, the woman on the aisle offered to hold Rina so I could organize my things. She sang to her and told me that she loved babies. Rina fell asleep right before we landed and I couldn’t believe my luck: I had gotten through the whole flight with a happy baby and even happier seat-mates.
On my return trip I was once again dragging my bags, stroller, and car seat when a woman and a teenage girl asked if they could help. “We can watch her while you check in and help you with your bags,” they offered. So I let them make googly eyes at Rina as I checked in and let them carry my bags to where I needed to drop them off. I am used to people in airports being rushed and self-focused (myself included) so I was really taken aback by this small act of kindness. It didn’t take much effort on their part to help my check-in process go smoothly.
My good fortune continued with this flight. The plane had only two seats in each row and my seat-mate was the mother of two teenage boys. She brushed off the Cheerios that landed on her seat, let Rina pull on her hair, and entertained her with a game from our empty drink cups. She had a book with her that I’m sure she wanted to read, but with her help I once again kept Rina happy and smiling for the whole flight. Despite how this whole trip kicked off, I would say it was actually my best trip ever with a kid.
I’ve read stories of parents giving candy and earplugs to their airplane neighbors, apologizing in advance for the noise. I understand the inclination; it’s hard not to say sorry all the time when you know your baby is interfering with what very little personal space and quiet someone has on a plane. While there are some places that kids shouldn’t be brought, an airplane isn’t one of them, and we need to stop apologizing for babies simply being babies.
I wish that more people would be like my fellow travelers on this trip and offer to help instead of scowling. These wonderful women made me realize that flying with a baby doesn’t have to be a harrowing experience. With some support those littlest travelers can help bring all of us some joy.