To all the parents who are brave enough to travel by air with small children, I salute you.
It’s been more than a month since we took a family summer vacation back to Washington, D.C., our first such trip with two little ones.
It’s about an eight-hour journey door-to-door, from Sacramento to Arlington, Va.
Sacramento to Chicago’s O’Hare, Chicago to Dulles.
All crammed into a stuffy flying cylinder zooming eastward at 37,000 feet.
Luckily, grandpa and grandma’s house in Arlington is a great place to stay and they made us feel at home. Plus, we had a fine time seeing the sights of D.C. and Baltimore.
But it’s the plane ride that sticks with me, begging the question: Why is flying so unpleasant? Maybe it’s the idea of being trapped in a sardine can, elbow-to-elbow with strangers. Maybe I’ve gotten a little fatter in recent years, but I swear the seats are smaller and closer together than they used to be.
We set out from Sacramento with a battle plan, trying to anticipate any kind of kid meltdown. Pacifiers? Check. Diapers? Check. Cereal bars? Check. DVD player? Check. Flask of whiskey for daddy? Dang, we forgot that.
My wife is a great traveler. She started out our first leg in Sacramento by apologizing in advance to an older woman sitting near us for any screaming or flying pacifiers yet to come. The woman nodded with a smile, adding that she remembers the days of raising small kids.
Little C., who is not even 2, did a fair amount of fussing as we winged over Utah, and we had our work cut out for us to keep her occupied with books and snacks. Six-year-old A. was fine, spending much of the time looking out the window and watching SpongeBob on DVD.
On the Chicago to Dulles leg, C. was getting a little weary somewhere over West Virginia. But a little game of peek-a-boo got her laughing with delight. Shreiking with laughter, actually. That was when a guy leaned over to my wife and asked if there was any way we could keep C. quiet.
We didn’t really respond. But what would he prefer? The bone-chilling screeches of a tired baby? Mister, that’s much worse than a laughing toddler.
On the trip back, things went much smoother.
During the leg from O’Hare to Sacramento, we were sitting in the back of the plane in the screaming child section, which was fine by me. As a parent, you don’t feel so bad when your baby is crying if you’re already surrounded by other wailing children. At one point, four kids were howling. It was actually quite pleasant to have company in the misery.
I’ve made a promise to myself. When I’m an old guy and traveling without kids, I’ll always be sympathetic to young parents on planes with little kids.
Like the woman who smiled in acknowledgment of my wife’s pre-flight apology, I’ll take it all in stride. And just turn up my iPod to tune out the noise.