I started working at my current company, an airline, in March of this year. My husband and I took our infant daughter on her first flight in May, and I decided to do my first flight alone with M last weekend. It was… okay.
To be fair, I might have felt differently about the trip if we had gotten off to a better start. The drive to the airport, which should have taken about 45 minutes, took closer to 2.5 hours. (I later learned a family of ducks crossed the 8-lane interstate, and cars actually stopped to let them cross!) Thankfully, I could easily change our flight and did so. We caught an 8pm flight traveling from ORD to MSP (Chicago O’Hare to Minneapolis-St. Paul).
Once we got to the parking lot, I pulled everything out of my car: one car seat in a backpack-style carrier, one backpack/diaper bag slung across the front, a suitcase, a cooler of baby food/snacks, a stroller, and a baby. It was more stuff than I had realized I was bringing, but I used every single thing I brought with me on the trip, so… worth it. We managed to make our way over to the shuttle stop of the parking lot, where we waited and waited and waited. About half an hour in (when M had moved past fidgety to “need to be picked up immediately”), a couple walked by and told us that the shuttles weren’t running; we had to walk between a half mile and a mile with all that stuff to get to the pick-up point! A posted sign said trains weren’t leaving the main station and would be replaced by buses, but there was NO SIGN about buses not running. It was frustrating. Fortunately, partway to the shuttle stop, another family helped me with the suitcase so I could use both hands to push the stroller. (Shout out to Amelia’s grandparents if you’re reading this!)
By this time, M would normally have been getting ready for bed. She was excited to be in public, seeing interesting people, but her patience level was also waning. Flying with her at 12 months was a lot of fun – she was interested in everything and waved to everyone! Traveling with her at 14 months was still fun but considerably more difficult – she wanted to show off her new skills and spend down time walking, grabbing and flinging things, etc. I don’t think she was disruptive as we had some snacks before the flight and walked around, but it required constant vigilance. Some parents say flying at bedtime is great because kids sleep during the flight. I have found that since M basically never sleeps in public if there are interesting things to see, no matter how tired she is, traveling at bedtime is a really, really poor choice! Oops!
We got ticketed as non-revenue passengers (free flights! yay!) without trouble, even though the flight had been fully booked. I have heard from co-workers that some portion of people invariably miss their flights, even when (as when I traveled) there are no weather or mechanical delays of inbound aircraft. It blows my mind that someone wouldn’t show up for a flight. (Comparatively, my husband laughs and says his family is personally responsible for about half the empty seats on any given day, haha.)
At seat assignment, the gate agent said something apologetic about a middle seat, and I said I didn’t mind at all, that I was just glad to be on the flight. I was only half-listening, honestly. The baby was just starting to wiggle again, and I wanted to head off any tantrums. Turns out, she wasn’t saying I had a middle seat; she was apologizing that the middle seat next to my aisle seat wasn’t empty so we could spread out! I wished I could return to the gate to thank her for her thoughtfulness, but of course I couldn’t.
On board, M took the earliest opportunity – while I was stowing her diaper bag and cooler below the seat in front of us – to start flinging the in-flight magazine, safety card, and air sickness bag from the seatback pocket. I caught them mid-fling, but UGH, I was starting to panic and re-think my plan to fly solo with a baby. I was grateful for the woman seated next to me. She had kids (not with her) and did some sweet things to distract M during the flight, including playing peek-a-boo and tickling her. If someone had asked me before I had kids if I would be okay with a complete stranger touching my baby, I would have looked horrified. As a mom with a wiggly baby who was done with the flight before we ever took off, I was thrilled. Someone told me after the flight that M had been “such an angel, she did so well.” Thank you to that woman. I know the challenges were magnified in my head because she took the time to comment, but the stress was real.
While the flight itself was a little stressful, I would actually have been willing to repeat that experience. The part I was not willing to repeat was the walk from the bus terminal back to my car, carrying everything by myself. Especially after we found an airplane toy during our trip that I wanted to add to my luggage.
So I booked a rental car for the return.
No regrets! Not even when the 6-hour trip turned into a 12-hour trip (at least 30 minutes of which included much-deserved ice cream)! We could go at our own pace, and when the baby cried, I had lots of space to handle it appropriately. I also learned TSA at MSP had a 2.5 hour delay the morning I would have flown back. I wasn’t sad to skip that line!
Overall, we had an amazing weekend. It was awesome to see my family – the trip was to visit my sister, and my parents drove in – and the flight wasn’t bad. I love this quote from another flying mama, Mommy Points:
Next time, though, I think I’m going to have someone drop me off at the airport if I’m flying solo!