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Fly By Night

It's no surprise that birthrates in the United States dropped dramatically after the Wright Brothers' famous flight in 1903*. After all, is there a more effective form of birth control than the knowledge that sex might lead to pregnancy and pregnancy will lead to a child and sooner or later you will wind up on a plane with said child and he will scream for the entire trip and then everyone in the world will hate you? (Oh man, just typing that sentence made me want to join an abstinence league.)

And yet, that's what we did two weeks ago -- threw kid on one of them flying contraptions and shuffled off to Washington D.C. We purchased a ticket for The Squirrelly, though this was not strictly necessary (you're allowed to hold children under the age of 2 on your laps while in flight). I was against spending the extra money, but my wife was at one of her parenting support groups a while ago -- you know, those groups where, near as I can tell, they sit around a campfire and swap blood-curdling stories about terrible things that can happen to your child? And, anyway, when The Queen mentioned that we were travelling to DC, another mother assured her that any babies not shackled to a car seat when a plane hits turbulence will perforce fly out of their mother's arms and smash through the nearest window and be sucked into a turbine. So rather than become a party to hypothetical aeronautic infanticide, we sprang for the extra seat.

The Squirrelly was exceptionally well-behaved for most of the flight, wherein "exceptionally well-behaved" is defined as "dead asleep" (probably because we took a redeye to maximize the chance that he'd slumber through the whole ordeal). He went out like the proverbial light the second the plane left the ground. Alas, such was not the case prior to take off: when we got stuck on the tarmac for half an hour he got increasingly bored, restless, and shrill. By the time we started taxiing down the runway the people around us looked like they were in the midst of a plane crash, gripping their seat arms with white-knuckled terror, their faces frozen into grimaces of horror as our child continued to increase in volume and eventually forewent inhaling entirely in favor one continuous, unbroken keen. Fortunately their psychological defense mechanisms must have kicked in immediately afterwards, because, by the end of the trip, everyone had apparently suppressed the traumatic memories of our child's pre-flight freakout and they were all commending us for having such a charming critter.

We had also taken someone's advice and ordered vegetarian meals for the flight, despite the fact that we are carnivores to the core. We can't remember who told us to do this (although we are trying, because we want to punch them), but someone said that requesting the veggie option ensures you get a healthy, homemade meal instead of the standard airline fare. That turned out to be technically true, but the "healthy, homemade meal" turned out to be the culinary equivalent of a birthday party where no one shows up. I'll probably get sued by Northwest Airlines for revealing their top-secret vegetarian meal recipe, but this is what we received:


1/3 cup cucumber, chopped
1/3 cup onion, chopped
1/2 pita bread


Place first two ingredients in latter ingredient. Garnish with a packet of mayonnaise, four baby carrots, tiny tub of warm water. Serves 1/7th of a person.

We only got two meals, which didn't seem quite fair. So we took it up with the stewardess, explaining that, although The Squirrelly is an infant, we did pay for a third ticket and he should therefore receive a meal as well. We kind of had to go back and forth with the stewardess for a bit before she ceded the point and reluctantly agreed to breastfeed him.

All and all things went pretty well. And the we learned a Very Important Lesson about air travel with infants: if the baby ain't screamin', don't mess with it. You should resolutely ignore thoughts like "I bet I could make him a little bit happier if I stuck a pacifier in his cryhole," because a kid on a plane is like a brushfire, your attempts to sooth him are like either water or kerosene, and you won't know which until it's too late. In this respect babies are like dogs: it's best to let sleeping ones lie. (Curiously, this completely contradicts the Very Important Lesson we learned during out last vacation, that babies are not like dogs: you apparently can't just leave them at home for a weekend with a big bowl of water and a chew toy.)

* 100% made up fact.

Posted on August 17, 2004 to The Squirrelly


Can't you, like, check them the same way you do your pets? If my dog is safe under there, why not a baby. It's not like they need to see the in-flight movie or anything.

Posted by: Duane on August 17, 2004 5:26 PM

Here's why you get a vegetarian meal: because they pay the same amount per chair.
Would you rather eat 90 cents worth of meat? Or veggies?
This normally works.
Alas, I had the same exact meal on my NW flight for the 4th last month.
Here it is.
It was so atrocious I actually took a picture of it. The people sitting next to me felt so sorry for me they actually offered me a piece of their ham sandwich served on a dinner roll.

Posted by: dayment on August 17, 2004 6:22 PM

A friend talked me into ordering a kosher meal for the misinformed reason that "It will be made fresh for you!" Yeah, just like a Big Mac.

Saddest meal I ever had. Unidentifiable too, except for the limp pickle.

Posted by: Jena on August 17, 2004 7:53 PM

Amen to the Let Sleeping Babies Lie rule. We just flew back from Japan with our 5-month old, She slept to such an extent that we began thinking, if we don't wake her up, she'll be up all night!

You know what, take that chance. (FWIW, she was up all night, but then so was I, so it didn't matter.)

What creeped me out, though, was the number of people--passengers and crew alike--who said we were crazy for not drugging her or liquoring her up. Everbody's doin' it, right???

Posted by: greg from daddytypes on August 17, 2004 8:49 PM

"Alas, I had the same exact meal on my NW flight for the 4th last month.
Here it is."

Is the 38D your seat number or the flight attendants bra size?

Posted by: Jasper on August 17, 2004 9:21 PM

I used to order the vegetarian meals because I'm, well, vegetarian. And even I would have warned you away from that. Most airlines do this for the vegetarian/vegan/kosher/hindi/diabetic all-in-one meal: rice *and* cous cous, plus black beans mixed with some kind of vegetables I can't identify, with some tomato sauce mixed in. There's nothing fresh or remotely appetizing about it. I just buy a pizza at the airport, usually.

By the way, one of my friends who's a mother suggests feeding the kid during takeoff, because the constant swallowing minimizes the pressure change in their little ears.

Posted by: Larisa on August 17, 2004 10:30 PM

Duane, I had the _exact_ same thought on a recent flight when someone's precious angel (sitting right in front of me) was screaming in much the same way as The Squirrelly did as we sat about waiting for our turn to take off. A bit of sedative, in the cargo bin, and everyone's a much happier traveller.

Posted by: Marie on August 18, 2004 12:08 AM

The "feed baby during take-off" (and landing btw) was also recommended to us before our trans-Atlantic flight this summer. Worked wonderfully, except ours is such a heavy drinker, he finished his bottle before we even reached 10,000 feet. He was fine for the rest of the flight though.

Posted by: Marcel on August 18, 2004 12:40 AM

You're either incredibly brave or hopelessly naive. Any child under 5 on a flight needs a fifth of bourbon and a blankie.

...actually that works pretty well for me too, stewardess breastfeeding notwithstanding.

Posted by: Daejin on August 18, 2004 5:37 AM

yes, taking children on flights is horrifying. my wife flew with our twins and no other adult assistance (read: doubleteamed), and i still don't know how she did it. i couldn't even have planned the thing without a sedative.

lots of people swear by giving your children Benadryl for such ordeals, but we never tried it.

when Christine flew with the twins she had to buy an extra seat (b/c she only had one lap). but when we flew together, we always just kept the kids on our laps without buying them a seat (b/c we're poor and cheap). this worked everytime with no adverse affects, except the time i was supposed to be seated next to two ginormous women, travelling together. the domino effect of their spilling over seats left no room for the infant travelling with me, not to mention me. i had the flight attendant reseat us.

Posted by: Sean on August 18, 2004 6:22 AM

Cryhole! That's a classic!

Posted by: Ginevra on August 18, 2004 9:30 AM

I think it's nice that they give vegetarians a cup of water instead of the standard meat-drink that comes with everyone else's meal. Mmmmmm... just thinking about it is giving me a hankerin' for some veal juice.

Posted by: DugSteen on August 18, 2004 9:31 AM

Well the last time I flew, (that would be on Delta), I've found they have a great new plan: You can buy your meal. So now, you can pay cash money, (which would be better spent on alcohol), to get some crappy food!

Um, thanks, but no thanks, un-huh

Posted by: Windopaene on August 18, 2004 9:54 AM

Flying with infants, what a nightmare! A couple of years ago I flew alone with mine on a cross-country flight. It wasn't until she had a diaper explosion (try changing one of those during take-off) that I realized that I had forgotten a change of clothes (you better believe I never did that again, but hey at least I remembered diapers). So on top of her screaming for 7 hours, I got to be the White Trash Mother of the Year with a half-naked baby, prompting many concerned co-passengers to politely suggest that I dress my poor, chilled baby. For the record - the plane was a sauna. Never had I been so happy to see SeaTac Airport.

Posted by: Roxy on August 18, 2004 10:17 AM

Jasper - actually, it's mine.

And I also forgot to mention - lately when Sean and I travel together, we pack bread and cheeses and fruit. The only problem is you can only bring a plastic fork, so pre-slice everything.

A homemade sandwich and brie and grapes is ten times better than what they serve you, and we pack it in a paper bag and throw it all away. It's *so* worth it.

Posted by: Anonymous on August 18, 2004 10:20 AM

Excuse my ignorance... but isn't mayonnaise made with the very non-vegetarian eggs?

Posted by: Darren on August 18, 2004 11:04 AM

I used to love that meal--I'd lick the damned marinade off the plastic tray even--but when I flew home from Seattle recently my friend packed me a lunch. I felt a bit like one of those kids in high school who still carries a lunch box, but then again I was one of those kids. Anyhoo, having fresh pineapple and a yummy sandwich on wholegrain bread sure made the other passengers jealous.

Posted by: ranger on August 18, 2004 11:51 AM

Lufthansa's vegetarian meals are quite nice, and come in different options. Other airlines, you can pretty much fugeddaboudit.

And here's what you have to look forward to: I am now the mother of a 6-year-old vegetarian. Try shoving some of that mystery-beans-in-tomato-sauce down a 6-year-old's cryhole on a transcontinental flight.

We've joined the "Fly Jet Blue, bring your own damn food" crowd.

Posted by: Carny Asada on August 18, 2004 12:17 PM

People have a sliding definition of what it means to be a vegetarian. Some are only anti-beef. Others can't dig on cow, swine, or chicken (but do the seafood thing.) Others will avoid all animal products (excretions, extracts, hair, fur, and skin included.)

In short, vegetarians are weird.

Posted by: BillB on August 18, 2004 12:51 PM

My friends and I brought a bag of McDonalds food with me on a flight recently and you should have seen the nasty looks we got from the other passengers!

Posted by: Duane on August 18, 2004 5:56 PM

Too bad you didn't know about the 3rd meal option before hand, you could have given the kid the veggies and .... oh right, the wife.


Posted by: Anonymous on August 18, 2004 9:20 PM

Oh yeah. I had the genetically mutated apple and the 3 day old plain bagel veggie meal. So I had to become a carnivore again.

Now we get to pay $8 for the horrid food (on Delta at least) if we don't have time to pick something slighly less horrid up in the airport.

My young 'un is now the veteran of two plane flights and an international flight--with more to come in the near future. I can't remember what happened but I'm pretty sure she slept most of the time. To the person above I say:
Don't waste your bourbon on the baby! The sleeping pill and a fifth of vodka are for the parents. I recommend ambien but sominex works in a pinch (again, for you, not the baby).

I'm glad you and the Queen survived but booooyyyy did you make ME feel guilty for being too cheap to buy my baby a ticket. Amazing, someone I can't outworry...

Posted by: Miel on August 18, 2004 9:23 PM

Glad to hear your trip went well; few things terrified me more than the idea of my 11 month old son crying the entire time flying from Eugene to Bismarck through Denver (no direct flights, obviously).

Luckily he did very well, save for the last leg where, during takeoff, he was screaming unhappily until I figured out to JUST GIVE HIM A BOTTLE even though it wasn't time for one according to my arbitrary schedule. A milk bottle followed with an apple juice chaser quieted his cryhole for the rest of the trip, so it sounds like the swallowing during takeoff idea is a good one. Moral: have lots of apple juice on hand.

People actually commented to me how well behaved he was on the first leg. I was partially annoyed when some woman added, 'and it was sooo nice to see you with him, taking care of him.' Because I look like the quintessential 6 foot6 man-idiot who can't care for his son, I guess.

Posted by: hockeypuck on August 19, 2004 12:03 PM

Why don't parents of screaming infants bring cheap earplugs to hand out to folks on the plane? I always bring a pair just for this sort of crisis (other people's screaming infants). Cheaper than bourbon, easier, too, 'cuz most parents object to me offering their offspring bourbon.

Posted by: jp on August 23, 2004 4:47 AM


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Posted by: justaguest on August 23, 2004 10:40 AM

My mother regularly juiced my brother and I up on our annual flights to Greece and Cyprus. And we've suffered no ill...umm...what was I saying?

Posted by: Lost Poke on August 24, 2004 7:50 AM

I used to always order the Hindu meal when I flew Untied regularly. It was always some fairly decent falafel, couscous and vegetables, and a nice big chunk of halvah. My theory was always that they got so few requests for the Hindu meal that they actually spent more than 90 cents on it -- heck, it was at least a buck's worth of halvah alone. Much better than the vegetarian meals, which were exactly as depressing and calorie-free as you described Delta's being.

Posted by: casey on August 25, 2004 5:36 PM

Second the recommendation for the Hindu meal - the last time we flew American that's what we ordered, and it was so good we were pestering the stewardess to see if she had anything else.

Re: vegetarians and eggs - the usual, accepted, majority definition of "vegetarian" is "no dead critters", so cow = no, pigs = no, birds = no, fish = no, dairy = yes, eggs = yes. Some people also cut out the eggs or the dairy, in which case they're part of a vegetarian subset. If you go without the dairy AND eggs AND donate the leather jacket to Goodwill, then you're a vegan.

Posted by: Stella on August 26, 2004 3:27 PM