Monday, February 3, 2014

Flying with a Toddler: Our Story

I've flown quite a bit by myself, both for business and to attend writing conferences.

But nothing prepared me for flying with my hubby and 4 kiddos like we did a few weeks ago.

I was a nervous WRECK.

My kids had never flown before, save my oldest, but that was when she was a super tiny baby.

In particular, I was worried about sweet Annabelle. She is SO sweet and good much of the time... but she also has a lot of developmental delays and sensory issues. She can be fine with something one minute, and totally NOT so fine the next. Picture screaming and throwing herself on the ground and flailing uncontrollably. Typical toddler fit--maybe--but since she is mostly non-verbal, it's very hard to pacify or calm her. (and food doesn'' work... since she is mostly gtube fed.)

That is what I feared. A total Annabelle meltdown on the little confined plane. I had prepared for it, but was also bound and determined NOT to let it happen.

What I was not prepared for, however, was rudeness on the part of the airline staff.

Let me step back and say. WE ALL HAVE BAD DAYS. Every single one of us. And I am totally aware that when working in a service industry when you are surrounded by people of various moods and demeanors all day, it can make one very frustrated and cranky. I rarely post "bad reviews" of service because I get that we all have bad days. In fact, I try my darndest to be the one who smiles or tells a little joke to make their day better.

Granted, I have my bad days too, but that wasn't one of them. I was nervous and anxious and worried... but I was also super excited about our trip. It was a good day.

However---that particular day---pretty much every single person I came into contact with from a not-to-be-mentioned airline was having a horrible, no-good, very bad day.

It began with checking in baggage. Due my frazzled brain, we accidentally went in the "exit" line as we approached the counter instead of the entrance. There was no one else in line. The lady at the front of the line flagged me down and made me aware of our blunder, but since we had a bajillion bags and kids, and there was no line, she was kind and let us through instead of making us go all the way back around. I was more than a little thankful.

Oh, but the people checking in the baggage... who proceeded to talk about their personal lives to each other while barely paying us any mind, did however manage look at me in disdain and say, "Oh, yeah, you all are the ones who came came in the exit."

Thanks for pointing out my stupidity. Duly noted. I smiled and didn't say anything.

Then I mentioned that we had Annabelle's O2 concentrator, and that we would only use it on board just in case.

Counter Lady-with a huff: "Ma'am, it doesn't work that way. You either use it or you don't."

Mommy--trying not to get angry: "Well, we have a letter stating otherwise from our doctor."

Lady - frowning: "Let me see it."

Mommy handed it over, Lady skimmed it, handed it back, and said, "That's fine. Get a preboard slip once you get to the gate."

Win one for Mommy.

Bags checked, we moved onto security.

TSA agents, by the way, get a lot of bad rap. I just want to say, the ones at the Nashville airport on this day were very kind. Annabelle was SCREAMING her fool head off the WHOLE entire time. All the security stuff scared her. Mommy was getting anxious. We had meds that had to be hand "okayed" and I forgot to mention the jars and cups of formula we had in our bags. I feared a strip search was coming, but the lady just smiled and said, "That's okay, I'll just check them." She did, gave them back, and we took our red-faced terrorized child (and the other 3 confused/excited/annoyed ones) and moved on.

I could have hugged that nice TSA agent, though!

Next, we got to the gate.

I went to the agent at the desk, not 100% sure what the process was, but ready to figure it out. "I think we need to get a pre-board slip or something?"

The smile-less agent glanced at my crew. "That's only for people disabled." And looked back to her computer screen, effectively dismissing us.

I explain that we have an oxygen concentrator and a child with some crazy sensory issues, and wordlessly, she hands me the blue packet and looks back to her monitor.

Wow.

So anyway, fast forward to boarding time. We hand our preboard ticket over, are told to check in with the stewardess since we have the O2 concentrator. We pick out our seats, and the stewardess and steward were toward the back of the plane, chatting. Weren't they supposed to like, help the preboard people or something? But whatever. I walked back there to explain, the lady glanced at me and said, "Just put it under the seat by the window. And don't sit in an exit row." Then turned back to her personal conversation with the steward.

I don't know about you. But if you had a child on the plane that might need oxygen during the flight, wouldn't you want to like, know about it a little or something? I dunno.

Anyway, I walked back and we settled down and were good.

Take-off went great. Annabelle sat between Scott and I and did marvelous.

But once we were up in the air, she started to get antsy and I feared cranky-Annabelle (it was nap time...) would arrive again at any moment. The plane was full, and oh, I did not relish the thought of the looks from passengers should she let loose.

So I took out the big guns.

Her kiddy laptop. She LOVES that thing. Yes, it makes noises, but it isn't horribly loud and is MUCH MUCH better than a screaming uncontrollable Annabelle. Sure enough, the second she saw it, she calmed down and began happily playing.

Until a stewardess walked by and asked if we had headphones.

I was confused and said no.

She then asked if we would like her to bring us some.

I was still confused, thinking for a moment that she was trying to be nice to offer us some, and said no. Annabelle is THREE... wearing headphones is not really something she does well, and plus, the laptop is a toddlers toy. It doesn't even have a headphone jack. While I'd love to have a fancy Ipad for her to play on with headphones and gadgets... yeah. Not in our budget.

Her response? "Well, either use it with headphones or put it away, because it might bother other passengers."

I began to explain about Annabelle's sensory issues and she cut me off by saying, "Ma'am, just put it away." And walked on.

So, I was already irritated. Now I'm REALLY irritated. But I felt like they need to understand why. I continue to let her play with it until the next stewardess comes along, thinking she looks a little kinder and maybe she will at least understand a bit.

She was taking drink orders, so after I give her my order, I said, "Oh, and Ma'am---?"

But she didn't hear me, or so I assume, and started to walk on.

So, I put my hand out and LITERALLY barely touched her coat-clad arm. I did not grab. I did not hit. I did not even tap really.

She jerked back as if I'd just punched her, looked at her arm, then looked at me with the most ugliest, dirtiest look I've ever seen. It was like a scene out of a movie, and I was expecting an undercover air marshal to come arrest me at any moment.

I apologized... although thinking back, I really don't think it was worth an apology. Anyway, I apologized and explained that the other stewardess asked us to put away Annabelle's laptop. But I wanted to make they aware that she has some sensory and developmental issues that make us NEED to have a distraction for her.

Her reply?

"Ma'am, you are not the only passenger on the plane. There are others who would like to sleep and they can't while hearing that noise."

Um, it's 11am. Passengers are sleeping???

Why don't you give THEM the headphones.

Oh, and a few rows back, there was two gentleman having a nice, rather loud, conversation that I could hear word-for-word as well. Maybe they need headphones for their mouths? *ahem*

I didn't say that. I wanted to though.

By this time, I'll be honest. I wasn't my normal kind self. I was upset and irritated for being treated like a jerk, when I was doing was trying my BEST not to let my child scream... which would have been 100 times worse than the little laptop.

I can handle her screaming. I do everyday. Believe me, it was those very same passengers I was trying to help!

I explained, a little blubbery because I was still frustrated and confused, about Annabelle's issues and how her screaming would be much worse.

Her response?

"Just let her color or something. Surely you brought something else."

Well, yes, we did. And I fully planned to bring those things out. But this was a 2 hour flight. My goal was to stage it into 4-5 sections of things.

And any momma knows, coloring is great. but you also run the risk of a.) the tray being purple/pink/green/blue when she was done (I'm sure the airline would have LOVED that) and b.) those markers/crayons being tossed to various corners of the airplane and someone not loving a pink crayon slapping them in the face.

Coloring was going to be my LAST resort.

With one more command to put the offensive child's laptop away, she moved on.

This momma was at the end of her rope. I took the laptop away, put it under the seat in front of me, and cried.

And Annabelle cried and whined and for the next 10 minutes, kept trying to get out of her seat to get her laptop.

Which made me cry more.

I don't cry, y'all. Not in public anyway. I was really at the end of my nerves.

Thankfully, God intervened. Shortly later, Annabelle snuggled up to me and fell asleep for the REST OF THE FLIGHT.

That is a miracle, can I just tell you?

The point of this long, rambling story is this.

1.) We all have bad days. Let's try not to take it out on others.

2.) I know kids can be annoying. But us Mommas, we really do NOT want our kids to scream and annoy you. I promise. We're trying our best. Please have compassion.

3.) The next time you fly and you see a mom struggling with her unruly kid... do me a favor. Smile. She needs to see that smile and feel a little love right then.

4.) If you work in a service industry such as an airline... please remember that not all of us are deserving of your frowns.

My sweet baby girl had been through more pain and hurt in her short life than most of those people on that plane combined. We were flying to her PATIENT OF THE YEAR ceremony to HONOR her and her story. That she be treated with such utter disregard and basically be told that everyone else on the plane was more important than her is just unacceptable.


I just--- I'm disappointed, honestly.

I won't name the airline... partially because I'll be writing them a letter, noting our experience, and also because our trip home was MUCH better, filled with people who actually cared a little bit.

Discussion: Any flying horror stories? What do you think? If you were flying and a toddler on board was using a toy that made a noise, would you have been upset? Be honest...

(and just as a side note... I totally understand and agree that a quiet toy would have been best. Normally that is what I would have gone for first. Hind sight, I would have brought more of them. But in this case... I didn't. And on board, thousands of feet in the air, there wasn't a thing I could do to change that.)

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think I would have felt exactly like you did. And I completely agree that the stewardesses were rude. As you said, people's voices were as distracting as her toy. And they don't ask people to refrain from talking. Children don't bother me. I love kids and I try to be as tolerant as I can of them whenever I am around them. In all honesty, I do get annoyed at kids having fits, but I certainly don't give the parents dirty looks, or say rude things to them. They are having a hard enough time as it is. I think the best thing is to just say a prayer for them. And if you are close enough to interact, and if it seems appropriate, do what you can to distract the child. Sometimes a stranger can achieve that when the parent can't. I admire you for even attempting this trip. And please don't let the rudeness of a few people get you down. You are doing a great job as a mom and you don't need anyone making you think otherwise.

--Linda, Wichita, KS

Kristi said...

My daughter is autistic and has sensory issues. I was flying with her once when she was two. I let her have her favorite Elmo guitar. The lady behind me angrily asked me to put that thing away. I turned around and told her I would be happy to, but if I did my daughter would pitch a fit. Then I asked her if she preferred to hear the guitar (which was really not that loud! People talking was louder than this toy!) or a screaming child. She just gave me a dirty look and resumed her reading. I grinned and let my daughter keep her guitar.

Karen Schravemade said...

Oh my goodness!! I cannot believe the way you were treated!! Totally unacceptable. Glad you're writing them a letter! Reading this story, I almost wished Annabelle HAD thrown the mother of all tantrums just so those air hostesses would've realised how wrong they were! Would've served them right to have to listen to her scream for two hours. Grrr... makes me so mad. :/ Sorry you had to go through this! My husband has a rule, doesn't matter if a toddler has screamed bloody murder for an entire flight, he will always make a point of saying to the mum, "good on you, you're doing a great job!" Because he knows what it's like, bless him! Travelling with kids is hard work.

Krista Phillips said...

Thanks you guys! Traveling with kids is NOT for the faint of heart.

Yet... today Annabelle is in the hospital getting a blood transfusion. Yup, brings into perspective things a little bit...

Oh, and her fav laptop has been played with a LOT during this hospital stay:-)