Smart column: Everyone survives toddler’s first plane ride


Lily Jennings flying for the first time

Lily slurps on a cup of milk during her first plane ride — a four-hour adventure to visit her Nana and Papa in Colorado. (SUBMITTED)


A few years back, my parents gave up the congestion and commercialism of Northern Virginia for a home with a view in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

I try to get out to see them every year, but with the new baby, my pioneering spirit has been lacking.

But I had a hankering for their delectable cooking and gorgeous scenery and mom had been hinting that she wanted to see Lily walking and that she had the most delicious ice-cream cake recipe that Lily just had to try.

A visit with Nana and Papa would be a lot of fun.

Plus, Brad and I had travel points to burn and we figured we should take advantage of Lily being able to fly for free. We decided that we could survive four hours of baby fidgeting and booked a couple of seats to Denver.

As departure day neared, both Brad and I became a little anxious.

Lily had just started walking and was much less agreeable to sitting for extended periods of time. Not only that, but she was much more willing to protest sitting for extended periods of time through various means including screaming, back arching, leg thrashing and, on especially dire occasions, biting.

We asked our pediatrician and friends about tips for flying with a toddler. I scoured the Internet for advice from seasoned travelers.

Everyone said the same thing: Take off and landing can be tricky because kids’ ears hurt, so make sure to have a drink for them to sip and a variety of snacks. Our pediatrician suggested giving Lily a dose of Tylenol before takeoff and landing to help stave off pain.

We were to dress Lily in comfortable clothes and have her wear layers lest it get too hot or cold.

During the flight we were supposed to entertain Lily with books and toys (preferably a new book or toy to pique her interest) bribe her with tasty treats and then hopefully lull her into a deep sleep.

And because all parents seemed to understand the futility of an incident-free flight with a toddler — everyone said something along the lines of “don’t worry too much about the other passengers, they’ll survive and so will you.”

“There’s nothing on their ticket that says the flight is gonna be library quiet,” our friend Dan wrote in an email.

Luckily, on our flight to Denver we had some training wheels that came in the form of Bev, a nurse from Spring Grove who was on her way to visit her daughters and 9-month-old granddaughter.

While plenty of other passengers took one look at Lily and her harried-looking parents and kept on walking, Bev stopped at our row and told us she was baby friendly. She took the window seat and spent the next four hours with a strange baby grabbing her sweater, attempting to rip up her magazine and crawling on her lap to look out the window.

She offered Lily crackers, sang her songs and helped me retrieve anything Lily threw on the floor.

And along with Brad and me, she shook her head with a smile as Lily finally fell asleep right as we landed.

While the flight was nowhere near seamless, we gave ourselves a “C” for Lily’s first plane ride.

In retrospect, in comparison to the return flight, we were definitely “A+” flyers. Lily had a great time with Nana and Papa — dancing, playing, going on walks and slurping up ice-cream cake.

The days zipped by and before we knew it, it was time to go back to the airport.

I sensed early on that this flight would be more of a challenge — Lily, who never got into a good sleeping routine at Nana and Papa’s, was overtired and a bit punchy.

I boarded ahead of Brad, sat by the window, and hoped that child-wary passengers would avoid our row.

But despite the fact that there was tons of childfree seating, a serious-looking middle-aged man sat down in the aisle seat. Brad looked both confused and worried as he settled into the middle seat.

The announcement that the flight wasn’t full left me pining for one of those coveted rows with an empty middle seat. Perfect for a squirmy toddler.

Lily spent the first few minutes looking out the window, happily chattering at the ground crew.

Then she got the zoomies — a word I learned during puppy kindergarten when your dog gets over stimulated and won’t listen to commands or do anything but run amok before collapsing into a lumpy sleep.

Because we were on a plane, there could be no running amok. So if you can picture such a thing as sitting amok that is what Lily did for the next hour and a half.
She kicked, screamed, flailed, cried, bounced, giggled, sobbed and jabbered. No book, snack, drink or toy could hold her attention for more than two minutes.

I’m now convinced that hell for new parents would be being shoved into the window seat on a nonstop flight to eternity surrounded by unsympathetic passengers as an inconsolable, apoplectic toddler pitches an endless fit.

Because that’s what it felt like when Lily’s zoomies crescendoed into a 20-minute screaming session. Trapped and crying, I attempted to sooth my exhausted daughter while chanting over and over again “Please help this baby go to sleep. Please help this baby go to sleep.”

Someone up there at 40,000 feet heard my prayers because soon after Lily succumbed to the mystical powers of milk and “Old McDonald” and fell asleep for the duration of the flight.

To his credit, our seatmate did not offer one disapproving word or glare. As it turned out, all those pioneering parents who bravely boarded planes with toddlers before us were right. He survived. And so did we.

Susan Jennings is mom to Lily, 1; Snacks the dog; and Bart, Peanut Butter and Delaney the cats; and wife to Brad the human.

You may also like...

1 Response

  1. Cari Little says:


Leave a Reply