The Unfriendly Skies

by Ginger on July 12, 2011

in Mom Thoughts, Oh Baby!

In retrospect, spilling most of my 44 oz. Diet Coke in my lap on the way to the airport wasn’t really a good omen.

Soaking wet, sticky, and nervous: three things I didn’t want to be as I headed into my 3 hour flight, without N.C., with Jackson. And yet, that’s exactly how my trip started.

It went downhill from there.

We got through the ticket counter where they checked the copy of Jackson’s birth certificate (I’ve never had Southwest NOT check, btw) and got our luggage loaded up. We headed to security, and I thought, “Score! No one’s in line!” I was able to take my time getting everything on the conveyor, getting J out of the stroller, getting the stroller folded up, walking J through, going through myself. And then, J darted into the little side area where they hold you for random searches. Shit. Well, no matter, since the next words I heard were, “It’s ok ma’am, you’ve been chosen for a search anyway! He just knew where to go first!”

Of course, alone, with a stroller and a kid and a bag and our shoes and we have to go to the area OVER THERE, the guy says, “oh, here, let me help you.” And then proceeds to grab my shoes.

And nothing else.

No time to undo the stroller and get Jackson situated, so I try to corral him while putting our bag back together, while getting my stuff searched. Turns out they only wanted to look at my shoes, and after two quick sprints to catch Jackson before he 1)opened the emergency door and 2) crawled under the scanning table, we’re done and I’m trying desperately to get him re-situated. Luckily, though, this whole endeavor only took about 10 minutes. We had gotten there with plenty of time to spare, so I thought, “Well, we still have time to grab some snacks and maybe a special toy for the plane, go to the bathroom, and that should put us right at boarding time.”


Walking up to our gate, I see the first of many discouraging numbers posted. Where the boarding time should have read 10:25, it now read 11:00. Hmmm. Ok, fine. Off to the bathroom first, that’ll kill some time. Then to the shop to pick up a water bottle, some snacks, and a toy. Now to the snack stand for, yup, a snack. Look for a seat, near some kids, hopefully? As we sit down, I notice the numbers have changed. 11:15. It’s probably…10:00, at the latest. Great. Eat our snack, have some water. Watch some youtube videos (this one, on repeat, please momma). The numbers change again. 11:30. Then 11:45. Then 12:00. Time to bitch to Twitter.

The worst part is, there’s no where to let Jackson run. This part of this terminal of this airport is a big, crammed circle. I remember being stuck here as a kid on layovers on the way to my dad’s or back to my mom’s, and while there are better amenities now (read: any), it’s still tiny and without any kind of room. Particularly when 6 flights are delayed and so passengers upon passengers are stacking up in the limited spaces to sit, stand, breathe. I could have left–gone back through security and found someplace in another part of the terminal for J to stretch his legs, but my fear of getting hit, again, with the security stuff meant I was running scared. Finally, about 25 minutes before we ultimately boarded the plane I found a mom of a little girl who was willing to watch my stuff so I could at least let J walk and hold my hand through the crowds. I let him walk and even run a little, but it wasn’t enough to counteract the 3.5 hours he had been stuck sitting in either a carseat or a stroller. We boarded the plane with a SIGNIFICANT check mark against me.

On the plane, things got worse. I spent 5 minutes or so getting settled in a seat, in a row with a mom and kid (score!) with a flight attendant watching me struggle the whole time. When I was finally settled, he says” Ma’am, you can’t sit here. We can’t have two lap children in the same row. You’ll have to move.” Ok, thanks for letting me know 5 effing minutes ago dude. I gather all my crap, and my kid and move to the back of the plane, trying to keep J calm.

Take off goes OK by plying the kid with food the entire time. Chewy food and drinks to try and help with the air pressure change, which either worked like a charm or my kid just doesn’t acknowledge physical discomfort. Of course, he did manage to poop about 30 seconds after we took off. So that was fun. That was the end of the easy part though. From there, everything, EVERYTHING was a struggle. Jackson wanted to get down, I wouldn’t let him. He wanted to climb, I couldn’t let him. He wanted to walk, I wouldn’t let him. Finally, the fasten seat belt sign goes off and I’m able to get up and change his diaper. Of course, this being my day, I stand in line at the bathroom in the back for about 5 minutes before I get BERATED by the same jerk flight attendant for being at that bathroom.

“Ma’am, are you going to change his diaper? You can’t do that back here, you have to go the front. And you can’t hover up there, so stay back a few rows. And ma’am ask that flight attendant up there for a trash bag. Don’t you dare throw that diaper in the trash in the bathroom, do you hear? You CANNOT throw that diaper in the trash in the bathroom. You have to go up there, you can’t be back here. I mean it, too, about asking for that trash bag.” Well, you’re missing the derisive shithead tone, but I guess you’ll get the gist.

And of course, I got ALL the way to the front of the plane and was told I couldn’t wait there, and that I needed to go back to my seat and wait. I literally looked at my seat, looked back at the flight attendant, and blinked at her. Luckily, the person occupying the bathroom chose that moment to come out, because I’m not sure what I would have done next. Especially given the fact that as soon as I got into the bathroom, I burst into tears.

I stood in that bathroom, and tried to change my kid’s diaper on that itty bitty teeny changing table, and cried the ugliest cry I’ve had in a long time. And this was all of 30 minutes or so into my almost 3 hour flight. I cried from frustration and exhaustion and because I knew, oh I KNEW, this wasn’t the end of my rough flight.

Sure enough, the next 2.5 hours was filled with my kid being THAT kid. He kicked the seat in front of us so much I’m pretty sure the girl sitting there hurt her neck from whipping around and giving me a death stare so often. He bit me. He kicked my seat mates. He flung himself in the aisle and threw a tantrum. He never slept. He barely watched any of the videos I had for him. He ate, some, which was my only respite. At one point, after he had bitten me, and I had yelled “OW! NO BITING!”, the row beside me laughed, and laughed and laughed at me until they were crying because it was so funny how bad of a mother I was. (And yes, I heard them say this and many others. They were not discreet). They must have laughed at me for a good 20 minutes, while I’m trying desperately not to cry AND trying to corral my kid.

The saving grace of my flight, the ONLY redeeming thing, were the two lovely women who sat next to me. They were teachers, and angels, who told me over and over that I was doing great, that traveling with a kid his age (by myself no less) is hard, that he’s doing fine and being a kid. They let Jackson sit on their lap, and look out their window, and played games with him. And they were the only people on that plane that didn’t make me feel like a shitty mom.

At this point, 5 days removed from the situation, I can ALMOST see the absolute ridiculousness of the situation. I can see how a series of circumstances culminated in a ROUGH time. I can see how, if you remove the tone of voice (which I kinda can’t, but anyway), the flight attendant was doing his job. I can see how I’m not a bad mom, and I can see a myriad of ways it could have been worse. I can see that people misjudge Jackson’s age (due to his size) and so expect more from him. I can see how a lot of what he did was just toddler behavior. I can see that some people are just assholes.

But that day? I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to NOT remember how absolutely horrible I felt–for my fellow passengers, for Jackson, and for me.

Cloud July 12, 2011 at 9:19 pm

Oh, ouch. I’m sorry it was such a rough flight and that people were such jerks. I think the flight attendant set the tone that sort of gave people permission to be jerks, with his “don’t you dare change his diaper here” routine.

Was this on Southwest? Whichever airline it was on, you should write them a letter. Or send them a link to this blog post. That flight attendant needs some better customer service training. Because, poopy kid or no, you were still his CUSTOMER.

Ginger July 13, 2011 at 10:26 pm

I’m so not normally a “complain about my service” kinda girl, but I really do think I will say something about that flight attendant. He really needs some better tone of voice at BARE minimum.

[another] Ginger July 12, 2011 at 9:47 pm

I am so sorry. I’ve been there and it totally sucks. People are so insensitive and I’m sorry you felt judged – that is the worst. How quickly they forget what it’s like to have little ones.

I’ve had one bad flight w/ one of mine, and I will carry that moment with me forever, especially when I see a mom (alone) board the plane with a child.

Ginger July 13, 2011 at 10:28 pm

You know, I think part of the problem was I was prepared to be JUDGED. Oh, I was steeling myself for that. I just didn’t think anyone would be outright nasty to me. You know, I thought more people would cut me a break (which happened on my return trip, so I wasn’t totally crazy), instead of what they did. I just had no mental reserves for that, you know?

And yeah, I will never, ever, EVER look at a parent alone on a plane w/ a kid the same way.

Cloud July 12, 2011 at 9:53 pm

Oh, and I hope the people in the row behind you end up with triplets who have more energy than the Energizer bunny. And enough self-awareness to look back on their behavior now and feel a bit foolish. Bad mother? Really? For having a normal toddler? Seems their own mother some how failed to instill some empathy in them…..

(For the record, I was a frequent business travel pre-kids, and I said then what I say now: I don’t mind the kids being kids. I mind the grown ups acting like kids.)

Ginger July 13, 2011 at 10:29 pm

I hope Karma comes back and bites those people so hard their head never stops spinning. Because they were downright cruel–not just judgmental, CRUEL. I mean, I get that people are jerks, but jeez.

Megan July 12, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Ginger, I want to do three things: I want to give you a big hug and buy you a drink (which I can in a little over a week!) I want to HIT IN THE FACE the people who were laughing at you and daring to judge what kind of mother you are, and, of course, the flight attendant. And I want to give a little shout out to the nice ladies next to you.

I am so sorry you had such a rough flight, and I’m sure Jackson did the best he could do considering everything he went through. Tone or no tone, that flight attendant didn’t need to talk to you like you were a child.

I’m glad you made it there and back safely. I hope the trip was at least somewhat enjoyable. How was the flight back?

Ginger July 13, 2011 at 10:32 pm

Thanks Megan. I kept wondering if I was just overreacting because *I* was tired, but it’s honestly kind of nice to know that everyone else thinks it’s just as horrible. And thank GOD for the women next to me. I might have just given up without them.

On the flight back, it was a totally different story. J was exhausted from a full day of play, so he was content (85% of the time) to sit in my lap and watch Yo Gabba Gabba, eat snacks, play patty cake, etc. He even slept the last hour! Total trooper on the way back!

Perpetual Breadcrumbs July 13, 2011 at 5:32 am

What Megan said, pretty much. 🙂

You were a trooper, and the fact that you didn’t flip your shit, or yell, or give up, means that you are pretty much Mom Awesome. Seriously, don’t underestimate the strength it takes just not to lose it. Anything above that is a bonus.

And is it just me, or does the attendant sound like a sadist?

OurLittleAshley July 13, 2011 at 5:37 am

It’s true – there was a lady on one of our flights who SCREAMED at her husband.

That’s awkward.

Kids are tough, yo!

Ginger July 13, 2011 at 10:34 pm

I yelled exactly ONCE–when Jackson bit me. But that was more about it hurting like crazy than anything else. I verged more on tears and giving up, but I kind of just went–well, we’re stuck here, there’s no choice but to get through it now.

OurLittleAshley July 13, 2011 at 5:36 am

OH. I am so sorry it didn’t go well (understatement.) I am terrified of flying with Gabe…alone or with Mike. Being trapped in a small space for hours on end….*shudder*. As the ladies on The View said, ‘NO one brings their child on the plane hoping that they make the flight miserable for others.’

Except it’s Really HARD because most people don’t get that. There is a little old lady at church who clucks her tongue and turns around when a BABY cries. A baby. Like, didn’t you ever have kids, lady? They CRY.

It really makes me wonder how the HELL my parents flew us to THAILAND when they had 5 kids aged 1, 3, 7, 11, and 12. 40 hours of flying and layovers. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?

Ginger July 13, 2011 at 10:36 pm

Thailand? ARe you kidding me??? I mean, with the 11 & 12 year olds, and maybe the 7 year olds, I can kinda, sorta, maybe figure out how you do that. But 1 & 3 in there? OMG.

I will say this. We flew w/J when he was younger (pre-walking) and it was a completely different scenario. He still didn’t love being confined, but it wasn’t the nightmare of containment that toddler J was. Although, yeah, you still get the judgey folk.

jonniker July 13, 2011 at 5:38 am

I read this with my MOUTH HANGING OPEN. OK, this is so not your fault, I mean obviously. What the hell, with the judgy people? I am FLOORED that they would judge ANY kid on an AIRPLANE, much less a small one.

I am actually full of fruitless rage right now, just thinking about it. What the HELL, Ginger? What the HELL? You did great. You did what you could do. These situations are SO HARD with littles, and it’s hard on THEM and for me to say that is meaningful, because I am kind of a behavior stickler, but come on. A delayed flight? A crowded plane? COME ON.

Ginger July 13, 2011 at 10:39 pm

I know this may sound weird, but your rage actually makes me feel better. I wasn’t sure if I was overreacting, or just feeling sorry for myself, or should just suck it up, but if you (and everyone else) is reacting so strongly, then clearly it really WAS as shitty as I thought. And those people really were absolute assholes. And I didn’t just break down in an airplane bathroom because I’m crap at this mom gig. (The things we berate ourselves with, you know?).

Cherie Beyond July 13, 2011 at 7:24 am

Oh, man. Everyone says they have been there, but really, I have been THERE. With the out of control kid and the awful neighbors (there was one 20-something who FLINCHED away and sighed snottily every time my daughter looked her direction) and, most horribly, that shame spiral that just keeps feeding into your misery, which feeds into the toddler hysteria, which feeds into your misery. Oh god. I’m having flashbacks.

Planes have been the scene of some of my worst parenting moments, including one so awful that I cannot even think about it without tears of shame. But it’s okay. We all pull through. And it’s over.

Breathe deeply. You made it.

Ginger July 13, 2011 at 10:40 pm

Which is why I’m never flying again. Ok, at least not until J is older. Because DAMN.

clara July 13, 2011 at 7:29 am

My god. That is truly all the worst things that everyone imagines (except puking…there was no puking! right?) when thinking about flying w/a kid. I’m so sorry. Reading about those nasty nasty laughing folks makes me just want to haul off and punch my computer except …

It sounds like you handled yourself really well.

Glad you’re back!

Ginger July 13, 2011 at 10:41 pm

No, no puking. Thank GAWD for small favors, right? (actually, that’s a pretty freaking big favor, I know. I can’t even imagine the mental breakdown I would have had if we had added vomit).

Sheila July 13, 2011 at 7:45 am

Oh, I feel for you. I haven’t flown alone with my son yet, but I flew with my three younger siblings once. Both parents were along and it was STILL rough. (Later, after having one more, they did it without my help … not sure how they managed! Ages were seven down to newborn.) The worst part was when the three-year-old desperately needed to go potty before the fasten seatbelt sign went off. We called the stewardess over and said, “What do we do?” She answered, “Legally, I can’t tell you to just dash for the bathroom.” Then she winked and walked away! Can’t all flight attendants be like that? Because yours sucked.

Flying with a baby is always a tossup. This time, it sounds like it wasn’t at all about Jackson being “bad” or you not handling it right, but about issues the *airline* (and the airport) had. I hate how people expect babies to behave well in adult places, but then make no accommodations for them. Like when my baby was sleeping on my chest on his first and only trip, and the loudspeaker kept coming on! Seriously … they want babies to sleep on the plane, and then they constantly wake them up. And then the mean people go and complain. What jerks.

Hope the return flight is easier.

Ginger July 13, 2011 at 10:44 pm

I cannot imagine trying to do this with more than one kid. I just…it gives me nightmares to think about!

Luckily, the return trip was much much better. We still had a tantrum or two, but Jackson sat in my lap most of the time, I was surrounded by understanding folks, had good flight attendants, and best of all? He slept for part of the flight!

KT July 13, 2011 at 8:52 am

Oh boy that sounds like a terrible experience, but you did the best that you could. Hopefully the next flight will go better!

Ginger July 13, 2011 at 10:45 pm

The flight home wasn’t too bad. But I’m kinda gun shy about flying anywhere for a good long while now…

Nilsa @ SoMi Speaks July 13, 2011 at 11:11 am

I cringed for you as I read about your challenging flight. I think, as parents, we oftentimes need to let go of expectations for perfection and sometimes that boils down to changing our own expectations. However, when it comes to airplanes and tightly packed people and wanting to respect others, it’s really hard not to bottle everything up and take things so very personally. My heart breaks for you … and it serves as a reminder to come up with some good one-liners to shut up the assholes who berate and laugh at single parents trying to make do.

Ginger July 13, 2011 at 10:47 pm

I said to another commenter, I think I was prepared for the judgment…I’ve seen that before, and I had kind of steeled myself for it. I just wasn’t really prepared for the cruelty. I mean look, I can understand the chick in front of me shooting daggers my way–getting your seat kicked SUCKS. But the out and out cruelty of laughing at me, berating me? I just wasn’t prepared for that.

Lizgizzy July 13, 2011 at 11:17 pm

Hey finally getting back to you from SITS- thanks for dropping by.
Way to go keeping it together during such a difficult day. I love traveling with my son, but as we get closer to boarding I start to feel the anxiety ratcheting up. I so don’t want to have That Kid or be That Parent. I know the day was tough but the story was well told.

René July 14, 2011 at 8:50 am

This is my first post here, but damn. I hope that flight attendant gets called on the carpet.

You and your little boy were doing the best you could, unlike the majority of adults on that flight.

Kate July 14, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Oh-my… this post really hit home. We have traveled three times with Beckett and the last one when she was 22 months old literally left us shell-shocked. It was the plane ride from hell, the toddler from hell and the passengers were miserable bears. The only redeeming grace was the flight attendent who gave Jacob a cup of water after he emerged from the airplane restroom with a sweaty, panting Beckett that he had wrestled for 50 minutes straight during a never ending temper tantrum. She smiled and said “we’ve all been there – you’re doing the best you can”. I wanted to hug her. But, “this too shall pass”. I’m sorry that the trip was bad from start to finish and that you and Jackson were dragged through the mud. Shame on the passengers who laughed, piss on the flight attendent who should be slapped and damn the airport for not having a place for children to run and wiggle and get ready for plane rides. Hugs to you!

Tara July 17, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Oh, you poor thing. I know this is beyond mean, but I hope karma kicks those people in the row behind you in the arse at some future moment, because that’s just wrong, to mock a poor mother who is *trying* to keep it together in a stressful situation….

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