You know the look. The "please don't be on my flight" expression of utter disdain cast your way as you struggle through the airport with a car seat, carry-on, pack and play, and stroller. If you've ever flown with a babe in arms, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Given the tendency of young children to lose their sh*t on flights, not everyone is thrilled by the prospect of babies on planes. Fortunately, there are usually a few blessed souls who will step in to help. These are the people every mom hopes to have on an airplane when she's traveling.
My daughter is 20 months old, and she has flown to Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Washington, DC, Texas, and Washington State (three times). We fly a lot to see family. She used to be an absolute dream. I remember wondering what parents were complaining about. My 8 week old slept and breastfed the whole way to Gulf Shores. Then she became a toddler, and there is nothing like being constrained in an airplane to bring out the Dread Grumpus. The last time we flew, I even resorted to giving her Benadryl, but she still screamed so loud that other passengers were, I assume, attempting to push their headphones into their actual ear canals.
If it hadn't been for the kindness of strangers, I'd never be able to go anywhere. My advice is to avoid traveling with children between ages 1 and 2 (I just don't happen to take that advice). When I take baby girl to Europe this spring, here's the cast of characters I'll be looking for:
The Baby Whisperer
Babies cry on planes. We all know it's a thing. Often, crying is triggered by takeoff and landing because babies' small ear canals are more susceptible to the pressure. Sucking on something like a pacifier, bottle, or nipple, can often relieve the pain. Sometimes little ones are distressed by the strange environment, having their movement restricted, or the general chaos of boarding.
Whatever the reason, an onboard tantrum is a nightmare. My daughter shrieks, arches her back, and throws her head back. This is where you're going to want a baby whisperer. We've all read the viral stories of "guardian angels" who coax hysterical infants to sleep. If you're lucky, someone on the plane will have the necessary set of skills to calm your crying tot.
In lieu of soothing, distraction can be just as effective. The last time I flew alone with my toddler, she started freaking out and became absolutely inconsolable. The flight attendant even moved my seat partner. I started to tear up myself when another traveler came to sit next to me and asked, "Do you need help?" She proceeded to captivate my baby girl with dramatic readings, the napkin shredding game, and pictures of her dog on her phone. She kept it up for two hours and, for that, I am eternally grateful.
The Veteran Mom
As a new mom, it can be hard to know what you're going to need on a flight. You want to be prepared for every eventuality, but you also can't afford to overpack. Veteran traveling moms have it down to a science. Forgot your wipes? Out of goldfish crackers? Experienced mama will hook you up.
One time, my exhausted child was wailing, so the mom behind me passed up a board book. She was asleep by the second round of Where's Spot?
The Guy With The Candy
This dude. I love him. During one flight, I was pacing back and forth by the bathrooms trying to comfort my blubbering 1 year old. This middle-aged man makes his way to the back to hand me a pack of Life Savers. I wasn't sure a shot of sugar was what the doctor ordered, but I think the sucking helped, and it was a lovely gesture.
The Sympathetic Flight Attendant
Attentive flight attendants are worth their weight in gold. Some of them will take one look at your situation and ignore you, or give other passengers a knowing "I'm sorry" look. Overall, I've been pretty lucky. The flight crew has usually checked in on me, let me walk around, and given my kid extra snacks.
My daughter took a shine to one particularly sweet stewardess who grabbed her hand every time she walked by. She even held her during our layover.
On my most recent flight, we were fortunate to sit next to a woman with children about my age. She took one look at my little girl and told me she was dying to be a grandma. She held, snuggled, and entertained my daughter the entire flight. Baby girl put the charm on overdrive and gave kisses. By the end of the flight, I had her digits and we were calling her Grandma Nene.
Note: Experienced grandmas will also do the trick.
The Baby Flirt
In my experience, these people usually come in the guise of "grumpy old man." You sit down worrying that he's going to hate you and your kid, and the next thing you know he's sticking out his tongue to make her laugh. If you can't get him next to you, you want him in the seat behind because he'll make an excellent peekaboo partner.
Don't get me wrong. I can totally manage a toddler in an umbrella stroller, a diaper bag, a kitty backpack, and carry-on suitcase by myself. It's just a little precarious, especially if I try and throw a latte in the mix or open a fruit pouch for an irate child. It's such a relief when someone offers to help you manage all your stuff or heave your luggage into the overhead bin.
The Other Parents Of Young Children
These people are your first allies. You make knowing eye contact as you board. You commiserate during the flight. You let each other know where the car seats come out in baggage claim. I never would have been able to get to my car with all my luggage if another couple with a baby hadn't helped me.
I'm not going to lie, though. When you see another family, you will silently hope that their baby is worse than yours. It's not that you wish them ill, by any means, it's just nice to have unwanted attention drawn away from you.
In the moment when I was absolutely about to lose it, a total stranger approached me and said, "You're doing a great job. We've all been there." I'm sure she had no idea how much it meant to me. It's a small gesture, but when you're mid-flight and mid-tantrum, it can mean the whole world.