Flying With a Baby: Not Hell, But Not Far From It

by Jared Bilski October 28, 2016

mother holding her baby in airplane

I have a dirty, sweaty, cranky, sleep-deprived baby tethered to me via the wonders of the Ergobaby 360, a $150 baby carrier that transforms ordinary human parents into kangaroos and gives customers full use of their arms. I’m using my free limbs to lug an overstuffed diaper bag and lead a frantic Boston Terrier, Judith, through the San Diego airport.

“Please just hold on until we make it outside,” I beg Judith as we rush toward the outdoor exit. She doesn’t, of course. Judith squats down in the middle of a high-traffic area and makes a mini yellow lake of highly concentrated urine. It was the perfect ending to the most imperfect cross-country flight.

How did I end up here? Answer: I got too cocky.

After nine months of raising our daughter Emma in the safe, controlled environment of her Pennsylvania home, my wife and I decided it was high time our mini-human went west to spend some time with her California family. And to make things more interesting, we opted to take the dog, too.

Before our trip, we read up on the best practices – make sure your baby has something to suck on (bottle, breast, the finger of the stranger to your left, ANYTHING!) during the takeoff to minimize ear pain – and pitfalls of flying with a baby. Plus, we booked the flight during Emma's normal bedtime to increase the chances she slept.

We waited until the absolute last minute to board, an unintentionally cruel move. Our row mate, a middle-aged man, was spread out across all three seats when he saw us and registered the awful truth: He was sharing a row with the obnoxious couple who had the gall to fly with their baby and their Boston. I would've offered the guy a few of my dog's human Xanax, or at least sprung for a drink, if he didn't pass out the minute my brood settled in to our seats.

The flight couldn’t have been better – to start. Emma sucked down her bottle during takeoff and didn't show any discomfort. By the time the captain told us it was safe to turn on our electronic devices, our little traveler was out cold. I was so exhilarated I ordered two bottles of wine and fired up a movie.

"Don't you think you're getting ahead of yourself?" my wife asked.

I was.

About an hour in, our dog experienced some serious gas – serious enough to wake our sleeping friend and get him to look toward the source of the stench. The dog was safely tucked away in a travel bag under my seat so all this man saw was me, my wife, and our sleeping angel. Not only were we obnoxious row mates, now we were smelly ones, too. That was just about the time Emma woke from her slumber, furious to find herself in the tight quarters of an American Airlines Economy Class seat.

For four-and-a-half hours, my wife and I took turns walking Emma along the balance beam that passed for the main aisle, trying – often unsuccessfully – to soothe her crying fits. During my plane-walking, total strangers smiled reassuringly at me, struck up friendly conversations, and went to great lengths to make Emma smile.

That's what I feared most: how passengers would react if Emma turned into the stereotypical screaming baby on the airplane. People can really surprise you. Most are good and kind and don't want to see you struggle.

But not everybody.

In the midst of one of Emma’s crying fits, an older lady asked, "Can’t you get your baby to stop crying?"

"Look, I don't want to be here either, but we don't have a sitter, and I couldn't miss my step-brother's funeral, could I, lady?" Okay, I didn't actually say that, but I did think of it – and I include it in the version of this story I tell my friends.

While my wife was taking a shift, I listened to a Tim Ferriss podcast about Seneca, a Roman Stoic philosopher and well-documented “gentle lover,” that seemed so fitting given my situation. See, our buddy Seneca was a huge proponent of embracing worst-case scenarios – from abject poverty to being trapped with your own screaming infant on a cross-country flight. Chances are, you’ll no longer fear those things after living through them.

Say what you want about Seneca’s lovemaking, but the dude was right on the money about fear. Eventually our nightmare flight ended and while I’ll probably never look forward to flying with a baby, it’s no longer a crippling fear, either. And that’s a good thing. Now I have more time to “embrace” the myriad other worst-case parenting scenarios that lie ahead.

Jared Bilski


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