I felt a lot of empathy last week when I read about the father and son ordered off an Alaska Airlines plane in Seattle because the son, a tantruming 3-year-old, wouldn't put on his seat belt.
It might be because our baby has totally been "that baby" on a plane.
When I was on maternity leave, we had a blissful honeymoon flying period that included several perfect trips. Then, when he was 6 months old, we flew to Juneau. As soon as we hit our cruising altitude, little sweet pea went yowling jungle cat.
It could have been his ears. Or maybe he was just tired. He did not want to look at a book. He did not want sweet potatoes. Every howl seemed to amplify to 10 times louder than the one before it. I tried nursing. He arched his back and rolled away. I'm pretty sure I flashed a fisherman across the aisle at that point. (Dude, I doubt you're reading this, but if you are: sorry) Baby would not be consoled.
Finally, he wore himself out and fell asleep. Lucky for us, the passengers nearby were mostly parents and grandparents. They gave us knowing looks. They'd been there. Bless them.
After I read the story about the father and son, I called the airline looking for more detail and got spokeswoman Marianne Lindsey. A family -- mother, father, grandmother and two children -- were on a night flight bound for Miami on May 16, she said.
They were accidentally seated in an exit row, where children are not supposed to sit, so they had to be re-seated once they were onboard, she said. The mother, grandmother and one of the children were seated in first class. The father and the 3-year-old were seated in coach. About then, things went south.
"The 3-year-old started becoming vocal," Lindsey said.
And he wouldn't buckle his seat belt. He kept sliding down the seat so the belt was wrapped around his neck, she said. Flight attendants and other passengers tried to calm him. They even offered him cookies.
"It got to the point where it was pretty obvious that the child wasn't going to cooperate," she said.
So the airline asked the family to get off the flight.
Imagine it: there, under that little airplane seat light, surrounded by flight attendants, unable to control your child. I'd had a taste of in-flight meltdown on the way to Juneau. The 3-year-old's story was the exact stuff of my nightmares.
There was a time when I wouldn't have been as charitable about kids freaking out at 30,000 feet. As a childless adult, I had an attitude, sitting there with my InTouch Weekly and my Bloody Mary mix, getting that put-upon look when someone with children edged into a row nearby. I had no idea how bad it is for parents. This phase of my life is payback time.
Know this: No matter how tortured you are by someone else's children on a plane, their parents are more tortured. (Unless they are really bad parents, which is another issue.) You can be irritated but it's kind of a waste.
After Juneau, I nearly needed a Valium as we boarded a flight to Newark last month to visit my son's great-grandmother. Twelve hours of airline travel with a crawling 9-month-old lay ahead. On top of that, the morning of our departure, baby woke up with a fever.
But we got onboard and he conked out. He woke up somewhere over the Midwest and we took turns walking the aisle with him in a baby carrier. I exchanged meaningful looks with the other parents. I saw small acts of desperation everywhere. DVD players cranked up. Skittles on offer. A 2-year-old zoned out on an iPad.
I also saw carefree passengers relaxing with their tiny bottles of wine and Kindles. That kind of in-flight leisure is alien now. Even without a meltdown, flying with children is like walking through a Walmart on Black Friday with a coked-up chimpanzee strapped to your chest, trying to keep it from touching things or people. For hours.
Baby made it to Newark like a champ. The fever, unfortunately, turned out to be roseola, a childhood illness that causes a crazy rash. But he was better for the return flight. That was a night flight. He slept from Newark to Seattle. Seattle to Anchorage he was awake, drowsy in his little pajamas, when we got on board. The lady ahead of us gave a dramatic sigh when she saw us.
"Oh, great!" she said to her husband. "Did you see the BABY? How unlucky are we?"
I'd just returned from changing (read: wrestling) my wiggling son in the sweaty closet of pee smell and pathogens that is the airliner restroom. I almost went Naomi Campbell on the baby-hater but my son's other mother talked me down.
Later, when he was sleeping peacefully, as he did the whole flight, I exacted my revenge quietly, over Facebook.
"To the lady making the anti-baby comments in the row ahead: I heard you," I posted. "I hope you get roseola."
Planning and toys can help make for a smooth trip
Tips for flying with children, from Alaska Airlines:
• Don't fly on the red-eye. Some parents think a child will sleep but it's also overstimulating and they can get overtired. Instead, travel during times of the day when children are at their best.
• Practice buckling up in a seat without a car seat before the flight.
• Give younger children a chance to exercise, play and enjoy their freedom prior to boarding the flight.
• Talk to your child in advance about the rules of traveling and your expectations that they must stay seated and with their seat belt buckled.
• Come armed with a "bag of tricks" -- small snacks, books and toys to keep a child occupied. Wrap a few small toys (the unwrapping keeps them occupied). Save the best toy or treat for takeoff and landing and give it to them once they are showing how they can be buckled in and quiet.
• Keep a child or infant awake during takeoff. That helps head off any pressure buildup in their ears. It would be best to have the child drinking from a bottle or using a pacifier.
• If a child does become inconsolable during flight, pass off the child for a moment (if the Fasten Seat Belt sign is off). A tense parent feeds that tension back to the child. Hand the child over to the other parent, a traveling companion, a helpful seatmate or the like.