That fare was too good to pass up. Sure it wasn’t a red eye flight but at a 5:30 PM departure from the San Francisco Bay Area to the East Coast, the kids would still sleep the majority of the flight, right?
It wasn’t until all flights were booked that I realized a 5:30 PM departure meant we has to be at the airport at 3:30 PM. And that meant leaving the house at 2:30 PM. And that meant we’d be picking the kids up starting at 1:30 PM. Right in the middle of nap.
That was also before all hell broke loose at work causing me to work all hours of the day and night (not the norm for me), forcing me to come into the office on a day I planned to work from home, and turn my vacation into a work-cation!
After much negotiation from my husband, we had a plan. My husband would pack and load the car by himself, pick up the kids at noon after lunch, drive aimlessly (a.k.a drive nap) for 2 hours until he came to the city and picked me up on the way to the airport (assuming my meeting would actually end on time). Miraculously this actually all went according to plan. Kids got a decent nap, my meeting only ran 15 min late and we got to the airport no issues.
Security was a breeze and the kids thoroughly tired themselves out walking and running on the moving walkways by our gate. Usually my son loves running up and down the moving walkways but my daughter decided to join in on the action, but she walked in the opposite direction of the moving walkway (which caused some anxious moments for my husband).
Next we board and here we are, on our first daytime flight in almost a year, with a 14 month old lap child. One of the most difficult ages to fly with.
We knew all the tricks. Using all the new “toys” on the plane: the seat back pocket contents, the tray, the window shades, etc. Pulling out a brand new toy, new book, new food, etc. It was hard but that worked for 2 hours. The issue started around dinner time.
My husband and I were fairly hungry having missed lunch due to meetings and/or driving and entertaining our kids. And while I know you should always bring our own food on a plane, we didn’t have time to buy for ourselves. However, we fly United often and know the menu, so we assumed we would be fine. This was a flight during dinnertime right?
The service in this particular flight was far below the normally bad levels for US domestic airlines. United started the meal and drinks service very late and in their infinite wisdom decided to load a plane leaving at 5:30 pm with a very limited number of sandwiches for sale. Of course, as our luck would have it, all the sandwiches were exhausted by the time they reached us. Our standard kid friendly option, the fruit and cheese plate, was not even loaded on the plane.
Thankfully we had packed a lot of snacks for the kids so they were fairly satisfied. My husband and I were forced to settle on snack boxes for ourselves. The problem with snack boxes is that they have a bunch of small items which are not easy to eat when you have to deal with a squirming toddler.
By the time, we were half way through our snack boxes, my daughter started fussing and rubbing her eyes. As our luck would have it the seatbelt sign was turned on just as I wanted to get them to the bathroom to change them into their pjs. My daughter was now over tired and getting upset over everything. Finally, when the seatbelt sign was turned off, we squeezed into the bathroom to get them dressed. (Yes, me, my 14 month old, my 3 year old and my gigantic diaper bag fit in one airplane bathroom. Still not sure how I managed this. )
PJs are a cue to my kids that it’s bedtime, no matter where, car, plane or home. My son is used to it and snuggled in as best he could and asked for stories. My daughter had other ideas. She wanted her crib and was not happy it wasn’t available. She cried and cried. She did not want to be in arms, she did not want more food or a new toy; she wanted her lamie and darkness. A scarf over the head wasn’t good enough. She even tried to crawl under the seat in front of her in an attempt to find the darkness. Poor thing.
People tried to help and I understand that desire. But sometimes babies just need to cry themselves to sleep. It’s unfortunate but it happens. We realized quite quickly that in our attempts to appease her we were only getting quick wins followed by more screams.
What finally worked? My husband held her tight to his chest, so she couldn’t wiggle out, patting her and singing even through her crying, and ignoring the well intentioned mom behind us who kept trying to give us advice. In 5 minutes (but felt like 5 hours) the cries were whimpers, then long pauses, then silence. Of course this meant that my husband was pinned to his seat for a little over 2 hours holding our daughter but it was totally worth not having a crying baby.
In the end this didn’t even come close to our worst flight experience ever. (Think 6 hours of screaming next to a few vocal baby haters and a flight attendant who elbowed my son in the head after he finally fell asleep. I still have nightmares…) You have to keep things in perspective. Some times 5 minutes of an inconvenience for a few people around me will result in a better experience for everyone. And hey, I’ll likely never see these people again anyway, right…