“My nuts are getting a little sun!” announces my daughter, loud enough for everyone in the cramped cabin of the DC-10 to hear. We were on a flight to Florida to visit my sister, and my daughter wanted to show me how she had carefully placed her peanuts on the windowsill next to her, not wanting to eat Delta’s generous offering in one fell swoop.
Hence the nuts-in-the-sun declaration.
As pleasurable experiences go, flying with young kids ranks right up there with a colonoscopy. It all starts with the preparation, which begins weeks before the actual flight. It’s like planning for an expedition to Mt. Everest, really. You have to make sure you have everything you need to handle any possible situation, just so you can avoid potential disaster at 30,000 feet.
First you have to pick out and pack the kids’ clothes—a difficult task, which, thank goodness, my wife takes on. I’m in charge of the Toy Selection Process, which, although infinitely more interesting, can be just as tricky. You have to make sure you select toys that are a) lightweight, b) relatively quiet, and c) will be able to keep the kids’ attention for the duration of the flight. For my daughter, who prefers stuffed animals, this is pretty easy. My son, on the other hand, likes to play with small trucks and trains and Matchbox cars, which can create quite a ruckus when smashed together (which they most certainly will be) and which will almost certainly end up on the floor of the plane, where, due to the spacious seating, are virtually impossible to pick up again until the flight is over.
Our one must-have travel item is the portable DVD player. My kids, who immediately become zombies when confronted by glowing rectangles of any kind, will stay completely motionless and quiet as long as they’re watching a movie. It’s a little scary actually. Sometimes we have to take their pulse just to make sure they’re still breathing.
On this particular flight, we also had to bring along a stroller and a car seat, which only enhanced the misery of the experience.
Getting all this gear, plus our carry-on bags and our kids, through the airport is an adventure in itself. And being the closest thing resembling a man in our family, it’s usually up to me to do most of the heavy lifting. At one point, while rushing to make our connection, I was carrying a backpack, my daughter’s carry-on suitcase, the ridiculously oversized car seat, and my daughter herself, who was riding on my shoulders because she was too tired to pull her suitcase.
I felt like a pack animal or, more appropriately, a Sherpa.
Going through security with kids is where the real fun begins. Suddenly you feel like the guy who snuck 20-plus items into the 8-items-and-under aisle, while a line of annoyed people impatiently wait for you to check out. It took about 16 of those big plastic bins to cart all of our stuff through the scanner. Then, after we finally made it through, we had to wait for them to check my son’s sippy cup for explosive liquids. Little did they know the potentially explosive device was my son.
Once you get to the gate, you start to sense the hatred radiating at you from all directions. Although they appear to have oh-your-kids-are-so-cute smiles on their faces, what the other passengers are really thinking is, How dare you bring children onto an airplane! The nerve! Your snot-nosed brats better not disturb me whilst I read Sky Mall magazine.
As you board the plane, the glares become even more menacing as you try to make your way to the back of the plane down that 6-inch wide aisle, your carry-on bags and the car seat coming precariously close to the heads of the oh-so-privileged in First Class. Those jerks.
On the flight down, my kids were uncharacteristically well-behaved. On the way back, however, we ran into the perfect storm. Our flight was delayed and we found ourselves up in the air right smack in the middle of dinner time with two hungry, tired kids. My daughter, unbeknownst to me, scarfed down our only form of sustenance: a container of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers.
Then the DVD player battery ran out, and for the last hour or so, it was everything I could do to keep my napless, ravenous son under control. During the remainder of the flight, he let out a few shockingly loud yelps, as he is wont to do, and he was relentless in kicking the seat in front of him. But other than that, I somehow managed to keep him from eating his tray table until we landed.
I think that’s worth some bonus frequent flyer miles in itself, don’t you?