Friday, August 5, 2011

Flying on an Airpline by Yourself with 21 month old Boy

Warning--this is a long post, but an experience I want to document in our "journal".  When Luke was 11 months old, we took a wonderful vacation to Seattle, Washington as a family.   Drew and I were really nervous about how it would go--how would Luke be on the airplane, how would he be not having his normal naps, how would he like eating out at restaurants every day?    Much to our surprise, Luke was the perfect traveler.  And actually, we really shouldn't have been surprised, because he always has been a great traveler on our car road trips.   But, you hear so much about how difficult it is with children on airplanes, that we were definitely anxious about that.

During the last week in July, Drew had a work conference scheduled in Portland, OR.  So, rather than taking care of Luke by myself here, Drew suggested I spend some time with my family in Oklahoma.  He and I both thought it would be best (and safest) to fly there instead of spending 7+ hours driving there by myself with Luke. I have to admit when I saw the 2 hour and 15 minute flight time versus the 7+ hour drive time, it was definitely more appealing.  Plus, Luke travels free on flights until he is two.  So, it was set, I would fly to Tulsa and spend the week there with Luke while Drew was in Portland.   Piece of cake!

I had no idea what I was in for.  Again, I am blogging about this because I want to remember this the next time I decide flying with a young toddler by myself is a good idea.  Traveling by yourself with an energetic toddler boy is not easy, to say the least.  Our flight was scheduled to depart for our connection in Dallas (where we had to change planes) at 4:15pm.  So, we arrived to the airport by 3:30pm.  Unfortunately, though, there was over an hour delay for this flight.  So, I entertained Luke while we also tried to grab a quick bite to eat so that he would not be hungry on the plane.  His normal dinner time is around 5:30 or so.   Somehow, this time went by pretty quickly, and as we were eating I looked up to notice they were already getting on the plane.  So, we didn't get to go in our normal Southwest boarding order (we were originally near the end of group A), and I now had a bag of food along with my large diaper bag, camera bag and stroller (with Luke in it) to get onto the plane.  We finally made it onto the plane and got situated in our window seat at the back of the plane (with Luke seated on my lap), and the largest passenger boarding the plane decided to sit next to us (and partially on us).  He was a very nice guy, but I just wasn't expecting him to choose to sit in a seat next to one with two passengers on one side.   Luke didn't understand what was going on.   I then began entertaining Luke.  It is not easy to keep an energetic little 21 month old still in your lap for long periods of time.  I pulled out every trick in the book for this flight.  Worried about how his ears might be affected, I even pulled out his pacifier (which he only gets during nap times now).  Luke was fine until we got above the clouds, and I explained to him how we were so high up above the clouds.  He then said to me, "All done!" repeatedly.  Unfortunately, we had about 40 minutes left in this flight.  He got extremely scared to be that far up into the sky and really didn't understand what was going on.  Then, the nice man beside me pulled up a fun kids game game on his IPad that entertained Luke for quite a while.  AND THEN....we began our descent to Dallas.  We had about 15-20 more minutes left in the flight until we landed and Luke began screaming hysterically at the top of his lungs (believe me, this is very loud). Then, he also began kicking and jumping onto the floor and onto the man beside me.   I have never seen Luke act like this in his entire life.   It was like he was in terrible pain and I had no idea how to fix it.  I hate being out of control like this.  I tried EVERYTHING to calm him down.  He already had his pacifier in, so I tried to give him some water.  He threw that so I pulled out a squeezable fruit treat that he normally loves--he squeezed that all over us both.  I spoke very calmly to him...I explained what was happening....I sang songs to him....nothing worked.  I asked the guy next to me (who had told me earlier he had three kids) if he had suggestions.  But, he just looked at me with a fake smile that attempted to cover his upset face and shook his head, "no."  I was so embarrassed, felt so badly for the other passengers, and felt like a terrible mother for not being able to calm Luke down.   I tried ABSOLUTELY everything.  I obviously couldn't get out of my seat and walk around with him since we were descending.  Then, 15 minutes later, we landed and Luke instantly stopped screaming and acting in that way.  Poor little guy--it had to be his ears that hurt so extremely badly due to the air pressure during the descent, which was also very scary for him.  He is still so young that he can't communicate well enough to explain what is hurting him or what he is scared about.  His normal reaction is to cry loudly.  As we began deplaning, I felt like I needed to stand up and give a big apology speech to the entire plane.   I apologized to everyone near me.  Then, when it was our turn to exit the plane, we quietly exited the plane as quickly as we could.

Luke and I went straight to the restroom.  There was a line there and several of the women asked if he was the one on the plane screaming.   I felt my face get warm, turning bright red and just replied, "Yes, it was him--I tried everything to calm him down and felt completely out of control of the situation."  One nice lady just sympathized with me and with Luke, saying, "Poor little guy, he probably had water on his ears or something and was in a lot of pain.  It probably really scared him."  Then several other women relayed similar stories with their children.  It made me feel so much better.  But, I heard a couple of women in the back of the line making remarks about how painful the ride was (I'm guessing they don't have children).

When we exited the restroom Drew called me and I just broke down crying.  It was probably a combination of being pregnant and having an extreme amount of stress.  But, I asked for lots of prayers for the next flight from Dallas to Tulsa, hoping for a peaceful flight and that Luke's ears would not bother him.   I also prayed a lot during our layover time in Dallas (our flight was delayed another hour).  This next flight went so much better.  I think Luke was worn out from running around the airport, from crying and screaming for 15 minutes on the previous flight and because it was getting close to his bedtime.   He kept his pacifier in during the descent, I sang to him in a soft voice, and the pressure didn't seem to bother him at all.  It was 8:45pm when we arrived to my parents' house.  Considering we left our house to go to the airport around 3pm, this ended up being a five hour and 45 minute trip with a lot of stress.  Thinking back, maybe driving would have been easier.  But when you are a female traveling alone with a small child, you also have to think about what is safest. It was definitely a great learning and growing experience for me though.  I was able to remain calm during a very stressful situation and had some personal growth by being forced into a situation that seemed completely out of my control for what seemed like hours.

We had a wonderful time with my family while we were there and Luke did a great job on the flight back home.  I will be posting some pics of our trip there in Tulsa in another post.  But, I really feel my experience traveling along by plane with a toddler was such a great learning opportunity for me that I feel like I could write a "helpful hints" when traveling by plane with a toddler article.  I wanted to at least document it here before I forgot, so I can refer back to this next time I try to do this!

For anyone who is on a flight with a child who is crying loudly, please be understanding.  It is very likely that the parent or parents are trying everything in their power to calm their child down.  And, the poor little child is not likely simply misbehaving, but may just be in severe pain and not understand what is going on.  Believe me, no one wants to be in that type of situation.  I know how it made me feel so much better when those moms in the bathroom relayed their similar situations, empathized me and really encouraged me.

Happy to finally be at our destination, here is Luke, and his cousin, Traber, sitting in Grandpa's lap watching "choo-choos" on the laptop.

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