“Fly and Cry”–Fuck you, CNN…here’s some real insight into flying with a baby

After the Motherlode blog post where a dad describing his wife’s all natural pain-relief free birth implied that I was a pathetic wuss for demanding some drugs already, I clicked over to CNN where I (as a frequent flier with a baby) got told what an inconsiderate jerk I am in “Fly and Cry.”

Oh, CNN…what brilliant insights you offered me…

Tips for parents with babies

• If a baby reacts to the changing cabin pressure, give it something to suck on — a bottle or a pacifier, for example — when the plane is taking off or making its initial descent, Shu said.

Which is great if you can get your kid onto the nipple without having a flight attendant harass you for it, I suppose.  Elanor was NEVER one for taking a bottle when she didn’t want it, and she started rejecting the pacifier at 4 months.  FAIL.

• If you can afford it, always buy a seat for your infant, instead of holding the baby on your lap, Shu advised. It’s safer, and you’ll have more room to maneuver, she said.

Or just book the window and aisle, leaving an empty seat between you.  Nine times out of ten we got the middle seat to ourselves and a few of those times remembered the car seat so she could sleep.

On international flights book the bulkhead seats and request the bassinet.  That’s a free place for small/young/lighter (I think the limit is around 20lbs/9ish kgs) to sleep.  Again, this is only available on international flights.

If they like them, put them in the sling.  You’ll have to take them out of the sling while going through security (at least in the US) even if it has no metal parts, even if it is the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard.  This is also an advantage over the bassinet on international flights as you can use it in any seat (as opposed to the bassinet, which requires the bulkhead seating) and you don’t need to take the baby out during turbulence.

• Beware of trying to sedate a baby with over-the-counter children’s medications. “People will try things to make babies sleep, like Benadryl or decongestants to help with the ears. In general, those medicines aren’t recommended for kids under 2 years old,” Shu said.

Twenty-two.  Hour.  Flight.  Plus.  Layovers.—Fuck you.

More to the point…to quote my pediatrician; “Please.  I have two kids and always take Benadryl when we fly.”

One point of reference…Benadryl is dosed by weight when under 2–before you leave get a weigh-in if needed and confirm the correct dosage for weight (although the age dosage is also based on weight…if your kid is in a low or high percentile confirm the dose with your pedi).  Additionally do not expect miracles.  Some kids zonk out on Benadryl, but others (like Ella) will only sleep for an hour or two, so don’t place all your hopes on this.

• Be prepared. Bring everything you need to keep a baby content, including toys and changes of clothing, and be ready to rock your child or walk around the plane with them if they cry, Bartell said.

Yeah.  And don’t be shocked when people get irritated when you get up to pull down your carryon to get the toys or whatever down.

Walking?  In between the flight attendents going up and down for drinks, selling duty free crap, people going to the bathroom and the fasten seatbelt light dictating your ability to do it?  We were once on a flight from Philly to SF where we were grounded for 2 hours (with the seatbelt on) and then they just kept it on for all but 20 minutes of the 7ish hour flight.  There was NO walking on that flight and I was out of toys, snacks, and everything.  Forget the baby, I was ready to sob by the Midwest.

Change of clothing?  Let me tell you about the joys of trying to change a baby’s clothing in an airplane bathroom without a changing table.  The floor of an airplane bathroom is dirty enough that I wanted to change both our clothes again after doing it.

A further word-one change of clothing isn’t necessarily enough.  There was an issue that necessitated a diaper change one flight and then Elanor threw up on her, me, and the sleeve of our neighbor.  He got a seat change, Elanor ended up wrapped in a United blanket, and I sat with a wet smelly shirt.  Put in a shirt change (at least) for you.  I recommend two changes for baby and one for you (this doesn’t change when they’re a toddler, btw).

Toys are great until they throw them and your neighbors have to keep picking them up.  Bring them, but think about what will cause the least bruising when you do.  Things that will roll away are not advised.  We do a lot of touch and feel books and some of the manhattan toys plush creatures that have a lot of things to explore.  This is not, however, a necessity until they’re old enough to need distraction.

Beware of letting your kids play with toys on the tray in front of you, even if it gives them a solid surface.  The biggest direct confrontation I’ve had is when I did that and the woman in front of me let into me.  So I put up the tray and Elanor because sobbing, at which point she gave me a look and I gave her a bitchy “pick one…she cries or she bumps the tray…she’s 10 months old.”  Can’t say I was overly proud of that, or the exceptionally mature way I comforted Ella, saying JUST loud enough “I know honey, the bitchy mean lady doesn’t want you playing quietly…she wants you to scream and bother the rest of the plane.”  (For the record with distance, no it wasn’t the right perspective, but I never claimed to be mature all the time).

Further–BE PREPARED–give up the whole “no tv” bullshit.  For the love of God, have an Elmo or Wiggles or Ni Hao Kai-Lan dvd in your back pocket and your laptop.  Be ready for the idiot who will have an issue with hearing Elmo, and have a thick enough skin to know that THEY have a head big enough to wear headphones–your baby doesn’t.  Something I’ve also said in the heat of the moment (twenty two hour flight–I had no compassion for the new travelers who got on after I’d already been flying on the same damn plane for 14 hours and had two more airports to clear before I got home).

• Always make an effort to quiet a crying baby. “If other people see you trying, even if you’re not succeeding, they will feel at least you’re … doing your best to stop it. And they’ll have some sympathy for you,” Bartell said.

Except when you can’t.  If your baby is fighting a nap and usually cries themselves to sleep don’t change the routine and try to comfort them.  Been there, done that.  Fucking up the routine EVEN FURTHER doesn’t help.  If it’s naptime/bedtime and they need to cry to sleep just grit your teeth and bear it.

Here’s a truth for you-the zone where people can hear the baby crying is relatively small (unless you’ve got a real screamer who can project it to the back of the theater, so to speak).  I was always more bothered by her crying than others were.

While this may seem a little cold hearted, accept that you are accountable to your family and your child forever.  The others?  You’re sharing space with them for a fixed amount of time…and then you’ll never see them again.  The bottom line is that if you read ANY airline’s policies, there is NO PROMISE of a quiet hassle free flight.  You pay money to put your butt in a seat and for your luggage to (hopefully) end up in your destination city.  I can’t ask the guy/girl wearing too much scent to take a shower, the loud snorer to stop, or any other person I’d rather not be around to stop doing the thing annoying me.  But people think they can bully kids and parents because kids are smaller.

And for the record…even when you DO pay full fare for your child to have a seat, don’t expect people to think your child deserves any rights, even though they have a paid seat.  Even (or perhaps especially) in the “upper” classes, like business.  I speak from experience.

Tips for parents with older kids

• Keep children distracted by bringing along books and toys they have never seen before, Shu said, or have a small present that they can open every hour or two, depending on the length of the flight, so that the novelty will not wear off.

A present they can open every hour or two?  Twenty-two. Hour. Flight.  Plus.  Layovers.  Who is paying for/storing these “presents”?

With toddlers, see previous comments about toys.

• Gadgets, like portable DVD players or video iPods, can work wonders

With a toddler, only if you have a speaker device.  Kids under 6 generally can’t wear headphones, or at least I’ve never seen any marketed to/made to fit a kid smaller than 6.  If you know differently, PLEASE comment.  Of course the follow up would be teaching a kid to keep them in/on.

• Talk to older kids in advance about the behavior you expect from them on the plane, and agree on a reward or punishment that they may get later, depending on their behavior, Shu said.

Anyone willing to have that conversation with my 16 month old can contact me via comment.  If it works, I’ll erect you a high end condo complex in Singapore.

Sounds great if you have a 4-7+ old.

• If a child feels tempted to kick the seat in front of them, let them kick your carry-on bag instead, Shu said.

How long are these proverbial children’s legs?  Even at 6 or 8 I wouldn’t have reached a carry-on bag.  Further, if they’re kicking a carry-on, they can kick their own damn carry-on.  Why should I let them kick mine?

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As you may have noticed, they have advice that applies to kids of less than a year and kids of more than 4/5/6.  No advice for toddlers, which is one of the reasons I wrote this.

Furthermore, I really have to say that I resent the implication that taking kids on a flight is somehow wrong or selfish, which seems to the be the opinion of the majority of commentors whenever the subject comes up.  Or that people talk about flying with their children very apologetically.

Let’s get this straight.  Your children have the right to travel.  There are innumerable benefits to travel for children, regardless of age.  Barack Obama himself expressed it best when he said that the biggest benefit of travel (international specifically) is that you learn that people in other countries are PEOPLE.  Most small minded people I’ve met are people who are incapable of stepping outside their own perspective–not to say that NOT traveling automatically means you’ll be small-minded or that traveling means the inverse.  But if you travel and are open minded to the idea that people who do things differently from you may not actually be doing them wrong, you will have opened yourself to so many more possibilities.

Don’t assume that flying with your child will be horrible.  I have had flights where I’d rather throw myself out of the plane than take another minute of flying with her.  But I’ve also had plenty of flights where she slept or played quietly for 80+% of the flight and I was free to read a book or whatever.

You won’t know until you try…and if you’re someone who values travel, why turn off part of who you are because you spawned?  Yes, things change.  Yes, travel will be radically different with kids.  But you can still travel and still nurture that part of yourself while cultivating that same love in your child.

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In closing, CNN had some words for your fellow passengers

Tips for passengers

• If there is a baby screaming and the parents aren’t reacting, ask a flight attendant to say something to them, Bartell said. She advised against talking to the parents directly because they may be more likely to pay attention to a request from an airline employee.

How about putting on your headphones and enjoying the inflight entertainment?  As I said, sometimes if a baby is used to crying themselves to sleep, the parents HAVE to ignore it so the baby can get to sleep and everyone can relax.

What about when the parents aren’t reacting because they are gathering themselves?  Stupid as it might sound, I’m about a zillion times more stressed by my daughter’s crying than you are, and to keep from screaming at her, sometimes I need to take 5 minutes in my happy place before I can deal with her.

Let’s be real…by the time an attendant gets to you, whatever you were going to bitch about will have likely paused.

Be sympathetic to the notion that the seatbelt light might be on and they can’t get up and walk (see other comments about that).

And don’t forget–ABC–All Babies Cry

• If a child behind you is kicking your seat, ignore it for the first time or two because it may just stop, Shu advised. If it continues, do speak to the parents, Bartell advised, saying in a nonhostile way, “You probably don’t realize it, but your child is kicking my seat. Would you mind asking them to stop?”

I kind of agree, but have found that when it’s happened to me that the parents are far more likely to be assholes about it.  Give the kid a look of death…they know what they’re doing if their legs are long enough to kick your seat.

For what it’s worth, this is an incredibly trite and tired stereotype to trot out.  I’ve sat behind maybe 15 kids in all my flying and 2 kicked my seat.  One’s parent shut him or her down immediately and the other I death stared (and had the mom lecture me about giving her kid a dirty look).

• Glaring at the parents of a loud or unruly child may not always work. “Sometimes the parent is so thick-skinned and they don’t care, so it isn’t helpful,” Bartell said.

Or it will make them cry, too.  More often than not, contrary to the heavy handed doomsayers who wrote the article, the parents are doing the best they can…kindness goes a lot farther than a dirty look.  I had a fellow passenger make funny faces as my sobbing overtired kid and it shocked her and delighted her so much she stopped crying.  Sometimes a different adult smiling at them or telling them hello is distracting enough.  But really, the last thing I need is a critic when I’m trying to fix the solution…and it’s more likely to turn me into a defensive asshole.

• Give parents the benefit of the doubt. Shu, who flew with her son many times when he was an infant, recalled getting dirty looks from other passengers when she would board a plane. “When the kid never made a peep during the whole flight, they were very relieved,” she said. “It might not be as bad as you’re expecting it to be.”

Can’t tell you the number of passengers who stop on the way off the plane (we’re usually among the last people off no matter how far forward we are–gathering up all the stupid crap and putting in back into bags, making sure everyone’s got their coat, etc) who have stopped and said “What a good baby!  I never heard a peep,” as if it were somehow MY doing.  The truth is that Ella has good flights and bad flights and there really isn’t much that I or Ravi do differently on any given flight.  It’s just one of those things.

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Here’s the bottom line.  When you leave your sound-proofed bubble and enter the world, you have to deal with THE WORLD.  Being thinner, or less smelly, or taller, or more allergic does not entitle you to banish those who do not have those assets from the world.

If that doesn’t make you act with kindness, then think about it this way….that screaming toddler you’re treating like shit?  May be the director of your nursing home someday.  Would you prefer he/she grows up with kindness in their everyday dealings with the world or to be convinced from a young age that most people are assholes?  They can become cynical later–that’s what high school and college are for, developmentally speaking, anyways.

And, CNN???  Let’s try to avoid such cliched and lazy journalism in the future, m’kay?

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3 Responses to “Fly and Cry”–Fuck you, CNN…here’s some real insight into flying with a baby

  1. Saffy says:

    LMFAO 😉

    We had a story here this week about a politican overheard bitching about a noisy toddler. It made him look like an ass – but certainly stirred up both camps.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/waikato-times/news/national-news/3457144/MP-complains-about-noisy-toddler

    Thanks for the great tips.

  2. Rachel M says:

    Great article. On a flight with C. last year she kicked the guys seat in front of her and I got up to walk her around and saw him reading Glenn Beck’s book. Um is that okay to let her keep kicking? 🙂

  3. Taking a Chance on Baby says:

    Rachel–I’d probably actively ENCOURAGE the child to kick that seat and try to restrain myself from joining in 🙂

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