I used to love flying. I considered it one of the highlights of going on vacation, a time to relax and look forward to whatever fun activities we had planned as we hurtled through the sky. My husband and I traveled a lot, and before we had kids, we dreamed of bringing them with us on plane trips. Those families with the shrieking children? That wouldn’t be us. We’d be prepared for our flights, and we’d train our children to enjoy them as much as we did.
Yes, you want to punch pre-kid me. I want to punch pre-kid me, too, or at least shoot her a knowing smirk. Now, of course, we’re more road-trip people. Because, as it turns out, flying by yourself is nothing like flying with your kids.
If you are still living with the delusion that you can endure a plane ride with small children without disembarking near tears, let me cruelly and methodically disabuse you of that notion. Here are six things that I took for granted about flying solo.
1. Being Able to Shrug Off Flight Delays
When I traveled without kids, a flight delay was an annoying turn of events but not the end of the world. I simply snuggled deeper into my seat and returned to my magazine piece on the latest adorable Jennifer Lawrence gaffe. Now when we’re faced with a flight delay, my reaction isn’t one of annoyance—my blood actually runs cold. What do you mean it’s going to be another hour before we can actually board the aircraft? The iPad is already at 68 percent battery and we’re not even on the plane yet! It’s clearly time to abort. Pack it up, kids. Disney World will still be there when you’re old enough to bring your own children, and hopefully you’ll make it farther than we did because your flight departed on time.
2. Being Anonymous
Gone are the days when I could saunter onto a plane, plop down in my seat, nod at the person sitting next to me, and not speak to anyone but the flight attendant for the next few hours. Traveling with kids is like traveling with tiny, infamous celebrities. Everyone notices you. There are people who will openly stare at you, some with recognition or sympathy. Others will glare at you like you’ve got Hitler himself strapped to your chest. You are instantly labeled the family with small children. How dare you.
3. Napping During the Flight
It used to be that when the pilot announced we’d reached cruising altitude and encouraged us to “Sit back and enjoy the flight,” that’s exactly what I’d do. I’d just close my eyes and take a nap. Glorious. Now when the pilot says, “Sit back and enjoy the flight,” that’s my cue to get to work. It means that all the novelties of being on a plane have worn off, and the children are waiting expectantly to be entertained…for hours. The horror! The horror!
4. Using the Bathroom in Peace
Nothing makes me want to jump out of the nearest emergency exit like having to use the airplane lavatory with my kid. I’m not sure what’s worse: the claustrophobic square footage or the fact that it’s packed with the germs of every single person on the flight. I absolutely hate squeezing into the bathroom with a small, squirmy person who won’t stop touching every available surface—and who innocently presses the flush button while I’m still peeing, causing us both to almost get sucked into the plane’s waste tank. It’s enough to make me call Club Med and ask how much it’d cost to come set up a cabana and some piña coladas in my backyard.
5. Enjoying Snack Service
Snack service on the plane used to be a nonevent. I’d get my food, I’d get my beverage, and I’d proceed to consume them. With children next to me, however, I break out in a sweat when I see the cart bumping down the aisle. My kids receive their snacks…but bizarrely, only 20 percent of the snack ends up in their mouths, while the other 80 percent quickly and mercilessly morphs into crumbs on their clothes and seats. And the drinks? Forget it. It’s not a question of whether something will be spilled, it’s a question of when. And on whom. In fact, sometimes I want the drink to be spilled on me, so that at least it’s not on the unsuspecting stranger sitting on the other side of my child.
6. Landing Without Incident
It never fails. As soon as the pilot announces that we’re beginning our descent and need to stay in our seats, that’s when my kid will ask to go to the potty. Once, our flight attendant absolutely refused to let us get up, and I was forced to open up a barf bag and hold it under my daughter while she squatted unsteadily in her seat (damn you, turbulence!) and peed into it. So yes, we landed safely that day. But did we land without incident? Far from it.
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