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A Parent's Perspective: Air Travel

When did it happen? You used to travel with nothing but a backpack and Kerouac's "On the Road". Now it's a diaper bag, three teddy bears and a copy of Investor's Weekly. You board a plane and instead of avoiding the woman with the screaming kid, you're the one that everyone's avoiding. The Savvy Traveler's Marjorie Sun knows the feeling well.

A Parent's Perspective: Air Travel
by Marjorie Sun

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I used to fly on business a lot and, when a baby wailed near me, I would silently groan. It's a common sentiment, as I found out recently talking with business travelers at the San Francisco airport. New York businessman Dassos Phelakos:

Phelakos: "One time I was traveling on biz class, and there were about three or four babies in the same biz class who were practically crying all night. And obviously, while I sympathize with the parents, at the same time when you pay a high price for biz class, at the end of the day, you want your comfort. I couldn't relax, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't read."

Mark Tuminello, also from New York, describes another kind of torture that I've been subjected to on planes: unruly three or four year-olds.

Tuminello: "They'll be kicking the back of your seat all the way or, you know, taking the tray up and down 50 times. They can be pretty rough. There I would get annoyed because the parent doesn't stop the child from disturbing someone else."

Mark says crying babies don't bother him as much. He feels sorry for the parents. Still, when he hears a crying baby coming on board he feels just like I did, a certain dread rise up inside.

Tuminello: "I pray they go way past me to the back of the plane or they sit somewhere in the forward cabin. Like today, I'm tired. I want to get on the plane and sleep and having a crying baby sitting behind you, you know, it's agony."

But now, I'm a parent. Now I'm one of those people these businessmen fear will sit next to them. My daughter's almost in kindergarten. But I still remember when she was a baby, walking through business class and seeing the trepidation wash across the faces of the guys with ties. But as a parent, I see things differently now. For one thing, I'm sympathetic when I see parents struggling with all this gear: bottle bags, diaper bag, stroller, car seat... To get all this on board quickly, parents need a helpful flight attendant. But that can be as rare as a tasty airline meal. At least that was Kathy Moore's experience recently.

A few months ago, when she was traveling with her husband and ten-month old son, Petey, the airline agents never made that familiar announcement, 'Families with young children may pre-board now'. When Kathy and her family got on the plane, they had problems buckling Petey's car seat.

Moore: "And then the stewardess comes up and says, 'You are the only reason we're not taking off'. And then she said, 'I think you should just hold him, it's the safest thing anyway' and telling me to buckle my seat belt and put him on the outside of it. I'm thinking, this can't possibly be the safest way. He had his own seat. I paid a lot of money so I could bring his car seat and he could have his seat."

Despite the surly stewardess, Kathy and her husband finally got the car set buckled in. The plane took off on time. Then another thing happened that I totally relate to as a mother. After take off, Petey began to cry. Kathy was worried about her baby, but also about annoying other passengers.

Moore: "In a restaurant, you can escape. A plane, where are you going to go? We were shoving Cheerios down his throat. We were like, 'Take your bottle, suck your thumb, just do anything so you stop crying.'"

I remember feeling this mild panic and self-consciousness. What Kathy doesn't know is that the problems just change as kids get older. With my daughter, who's almost five, crying isn't the problem as much as combating crankiness and restlessness. I pack loads of toys and projects, I play with her and read books to her. By the end of a long flight, she's usually happy. I'm exhausted. But a friend of mine discovered a new solution.

She and her husband flew cross country a few months ago with their two-year old son. He cried inconsolably for an hour in her arms even though he didn't seem sick. A man got up and said gently, 'May I pray with you?' Fifteen minutes later, Danny stopped crying.

So, next time you sit near a frazzled parent with a crying kid, try to be sympathetic. On second thought, given what it's like to fly these days: cattle car conditions, bad food, lousy service, late flights... isn't that enough to make us all want to cry?

From San Francisco, I'm Marjorie Sun for The Savvy Traveler.


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