Travelling Hell and the Kindness of Strangers
Flying with baby isn’t what it used to be, says a New York Times story. Pity the poor Lin family with their 18-month-old twins. The children aren’t allowed to stretch in the aisle. A flight attendant couldn’t even spare a cup of milk when the family ran out.
Airlines have cut costs dramatically and so it’s not just that harried attendants are uncooperative, but that they literally don’t have the extra milk. The little they have goes to full-fare paying customers in the better seats.
Anyone who has flown recently with children knows the stories. Because we live overseas, our trips are often across the Atlantic and so particularly long and painful. There are the baggage inspectors who chat up each other instead of unfolding a stroller. (I know it’s not their job, but it’s callous to watch a mom struggle on her own). The flight attendant who wouldn’t help me find a seat by my toddler after the booking agent failed to do so, as well as the desk crew. And then there’s the flight attendant who refused to warm up a bowl of vegetable mash. She told me the airline provided a meal. My daughter was one.
Yet for all of these encounters with rude flight staff, I have many more examples of airline employees and other passengers going out of their way to make travelling with a young child so much easier.
The Delta pilot who carried my bag to my seat, so that I could carry my daughter. On a Lufthansa flight, an attendant insisted on taking my daughter on rounds, even though at two my daughter clearly wasn’t helping. Then there was the Southwest Airlines desk attendant who quietly mentioned the one extra seat on the flight and suggested I put my child (who hadn’t paid) in it.
More often though, it’s fellow passengers who have helped out the most. On one transatlantic flight, a middle-aged couple took turns walking my daughter up and down the aisles. At one point, they took her to their seats and played with her while I napped. They had a grown daughter, they said, but no grandkids. They missed the days when their daughter was young. I required no explanation whatsoever. My only regret was that I failed to get their names and address to send a note. If you’re reading this, kind couple who looked after my kid, “Thank you!”
Another long-haul trip last summer was supposed to stop in Atlanta first. With winds big enough to upend a plane, we were rerouted to Birmingham where the winds were pretty much the same. Three attempts to land failed as the captain pulled up the plane in the final seconds. We were jerked all over the place and I have no doubt everyone aboard that plane was praying. Everyone except my daughter. She was too busy throwing up.
I saw the look on her face seconds before it happened. I had time to grab an air sickness bag. The problem: there wasn’t one. Apparently cost cuts on passenger amenities spare nothing. There wasn’t a single bag in our row. My daughter vomited everywhere, on herself, her chair, the floor, my handbag.
I remained calm enough and started to clean up the mess. But it was the guy next to me who deserves a merit badge for life for good citizenship in the air. He rallied our fellow passengers to send over their air sickness bags. Fortunately the airline had stocked some. Then he got me towels, despite my protests that he remain seated as the plane was still badly shaking. He helped clean up the mess. And most important, he kept me calm and even made me laugh.
All I remember is that he was a building developer from South Florida who in the economic downturn had gone back to building engineering work. I think his name was Steve. Thank you Steve, if that is your name, and thanks also to the Delta pilot (yes, the same pilot who carried my bag), for getting us all on the ground alive.
Image by Aonghus Flynn
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