So you know, I am not afraid of flying. Also, my daughter is, for her age, very well behaved on a plane. She does not scream, cry, throw fits, whine loudly, vomit, jump on her seat, insist on walking up and down the aisle, or kick the back of anyone else’s seat (you’re welcome, fellow travelers).
None of that is why traveling by plane with a three-year-old makes me brave.
What makes me brave is that I’m willing to do that despite the obstacles thrown in my way and attitude of utter and complete disgust Iris and I encounter at the airports. I’m looking at you, United Airlines.
In 1996, United Airlines retired its long-time slogan “Fly the Friendly Skies.” They had to. Because they do not have the technology to cross into the alternate universe where there actually are “friendly skies.”
My adventure began when Iris and I started our trip to go see her grandparents in St. Louis, Missouri. For the record, we live in Greensboro, North Carolina and driving to St. Louis isn’t an option because you drive for thirteen or fourteen hours across six states with a potty-training toddler.
Anyway, the two of us are sitting at the gate waiting to board with the dozen or so other passengers for the Greensboro-to-Chicago-O’Hare leg of our trip. Sitting in the seats across from us is a young couple that can only be described as hipster douchebags. You know the ones, they are wearing the latest in trend-wear, looking down on everyone and everything that they don’t deem cool, and using every single available piece of communications technology known to man…iPod, iPad, laptop, cell phone, and probably walkie-talkie. They are not, as far as I can tell, talking to each other. Unless they are doing so via text or email. Iris is climbing on and off the chair next to me. She then switches to running from my chair to the window and back. She is not screeching or being loud. She is asking my permission before she takes each run. She touches no one and interferes with no one’s stuff; otherwise I would not be letting her do it. I am letting her do it because I know if she burns off this excess energy now, she will not be trying to burn off this excess energy on the plane. This isn’t me not controlling my child, this is me planning ahead.
Then the young, female hipster says to the young, male hipster, while rolling her eyes, “God, they should just ban kids under the age of ten from getting on a plane.”
Seriously. She said it. And not quietly, either. She was looking right at me and I am unsure if she wanted me to hear her say it, or if she was just rude and stupid.
I wanted to say, “You do realize I am live-tweeting everything you do and say, you twat,” but I’m pretty sure she’d have been too dense to get the humor.
That was the best part of my trip.
Because then I had to actually get on the plane.
Now, I know the Greensboro to Chicago O’Hare flight is not the cushiest gig in the United Airlines repertoire. No one aspires to fly it. I am sure that the flight attendants probably draw straws and this is the punishment for the short straw. But the guy who greeted us as we got on the plane Did not. Want. To be there.
He was leaning against the cabinets in the tiny galley of the plane, looking at each passenger as they boarded with hooded eyes. I couldn’t decide if he was tired or really, really hung over. “Do you need a seatbelt extender?” he said, sounding bored and looking me up and down.
Excuse me? Did he just call me fat?
Now, I’ll be honest, I’m a big girl. I’m not delusional about it. I know I carry some extra poundage on my frame. But, I don’t think I’m an oh-God-look-at-that-I’m-not-sure-she’ll-be-able-to-fit-in-the-seat fat. I don’t think anything about the way I look warranted the pre-emptive strike. Wouldn’t it be more polite for him to wait for me to ask for one if I found I needed it? (For the record, he would have been waiting an awfully long time. I have my very own seatbelt extender that I take with me thankyouverymuch.)
I just said no thank you and he went back to staring, wearily at the boarding passengers.
So, feeling self-conscious, I made my way back to my seat with Iris, who was talking excitedly the entire way about looking out the window.
Cue the window blind being halfway pulled out of its groove and, therefore, stuck in the down position.
Cue the rolled eyes of several of the people who sat around us.
Yes, rolled eyes. Over a child talking. Not yelling or screaming or being obnoxious. A child talking in a normal, inside-level voice to her mother. Because an airplane should be a zone of complete silence (note tone of sarcasm here).
And I went to strap Iris in to her seat. I’m going to pause here and tell you about the the C.A.R.E.S. restraint system I have for Iris. Go on, click the link, I’ll wait. Seriously, go look.
Are you done?
So I use the C.A.R.E.S. restraint system so Iris has more than just a lap belt keeping her safe. And, who am I kidding, I use it to keep Iris a little more contained. The C.A.R.E.S. restraint system is FAA approved and every flight attendant on every flight I have been on since I got it has commented about how much they love it and wish more people would use one. Some of them have even helped me place it around the seat and under the tray table for the person behind Iris.
You read that, didn’t you? Under the tray table. As in it does NOT interfere with the tray table behind Iris. At all. The person sitting there is still able to use their tray table with no problems.
The guy sitting behind Iris on this flight? Refused to understand that.
Mr. Snot: (as I’m trying to put the restraint around the seat) You can’t do that!
Me: Oh, I’m sorry….it won’t interfere with your tray table at all. See, it goes under the tray tab….
Mr. Snot: (interrupting) I’m going to be using my tray table. I need my tray table.
Me: Yes. I was just saying that it won’t interfere with your tray table.
Mr. Snot: (getting louder) I need to use my tray table! You can’t use that on my tray table!
Me: If you’ll just let me show you…
Mr. Snot: No no no no no. You can’t. I need the tray table! (he presses the button to call the flight attendant, who appears, still looking hung over and now slightly irritated) She can’t use this. I need my tray table!
Me: It! Does not! Interfere! With! The tray table!
Deadbeat Flight Attendant: (sighing apathetically) Ma’am, do you really NEED to use that thing?
I wanted to say “Only if you want my daughter to fly safe on your airplane.” But, by this time, I was feeling like a morbidly obese nuisance and was so damn demoralized that I just shut up and put away the restraint system. I buckled Iris into the lap belt and prayed that it would be good enough to keep her both safe and contained. I also wished plagues of locusts on the man behind Iris and the flight attendant. I’d have settled for plagues of frogs.
I would be happier if that were the end of the story. But it’s not.
Because then there was the landing at O’Hare and the realization that I had to get myself and Iris from gate F14 in Terminal 2 to gate B22 in Terminal 1. A walk that turned out to be at least a mile long. I am not exaggerating. And my choice was to let Iris and her little three-year-old legs walk it all or carry her thirty-pound self, my purse, and pull my small carryon bag. She wouldn’t let me carry her, so walk it we did.
Is it United Airline’s fault that the gates were so far apart? Or that I was having to travel all that distance with Iris in tow? Nope. But it WAS their fault their employee, who was driving the motorized cart that takes people that need extra help from gate to gate not only refused to allow Iris and I to hitch a ride, but acted like I had just asked to stick my finger up his nose.
By the time I reached St. Louis, I was a sweaty, traumatized, angry mother with a tired, cranky, exhausted child.
And, this morning, I get to repeat the process. Backwards. (I want to say “And in heels” but I won’t because I would never, ever, ever, ever wear heels to an airport. But I digress.)
Oh…oh…and the best part? United Airline would not let me reserve seats in advance of check-in unless I paid a fee of $26 per seat, per flight. So, when I checked in yesterday (exactly 24 hours prior to flight time, which is as early as they let you check in), there were no seats available that were next to each other and Iris’s assigned seat is now 3A and mine is 9D. Which means, when I get on the flight from O’Hare back to Greensboro, I will have to beg someone to switch with me, or I will have to sit 6 rows away from my three-year-old daughter. Because that’s not a safety and liability issue at all.
Wish me luck on this trip. I’m going to need it. But, also, you should wish some luck to any ticketing agent, gate agent, flight attendant, motorized cart driver, or other employee of United Airlines that gets in my fucking way today. They’ll need it more.