Here’s a fun variation on air travel: you arrive at the airport with your toddler, struggle through security and manage to get everyone onto the plane in one piece, only to have the stewardess suggest that you drug your child with Baby Benadryl. When you refuse, she throws you off the plane. Or how about this: your kids, aged two and four, are acting up on the plane – fighting over the window shade, knocking over cups – so you start smacking them. Then you get drunk. When the plane lands, you are arrested and your kids are put in protective custody.
Both of these scenarios played out in the friendly skies in the past few weeks. While it is easy to have sympathy for the Baby Benadryl mother and harder to have sympathy for the drunk one, taken together the two stories provide a good snapshot of the experience of traveling with small children. In summary: everyone is annoyed, tensions run high, and sometimes you just want to get hammered.
Air travel has become so impossible that when kids get thrown into the mix, it leaves parents trying to deal with a situation that is unrealistic and hopeless (i.e. getting a toddler who has skipped his nap because he needed to be at the airport two hours before his flight to sit quietly for the duration of the trip). And then people yell at you, blaming parents – usually mothers – for mishandling a situation that is unmanageable. While the solution isn’t to get drunk and beat your kids, there have been plenty of times I’ve been on a plane with my one-and-a-half year old son Milo when I would have given anything for a couple of swigs of whiskey, or when I had to restrain myself from screaming “I WANT TO GET OFF THE PLANE TOO, BUT DO YOU SEE ME BASHING MY HEAD AGAINST THE WINDOW AND YELLING ‘OFF OFF OFF?’ WELL, DO YOU?”
It’s almost as though the airline industry is working to make traveling with children as difficult as possible. I have traveled with my son almost every month since his birth, and each trip holds some new nadir of absurdity. When Milo was four months old, he wore shoes for the first time. They weren’t really even shoes, they were Robeez, which I’d put on his feet to prevent him from ripping his socks off and shoving them into his mouth. When we got to security I was informed that I needed to remove the shoes and put them through the x-ray machine. It was as if the people at security were conspiring to make it as unlikely as possible that the baby might sleep through the trip (which surely was in the best interest of not only me but everyone else in the entire airport) by not only requiring that I take apart the stroller and remove my own shoes while balancing a baby on my hip and simultaneously displaying my boarding pass and driver’s license, but also asking that I take shoes off of someone who wasn’t even able to walk yet.
When my son was six months old, I discovered that I was required to present all baby food for inspection. There was invariably one that always got lost somewhere at the bottom of the diaper bag, which means anyone traveling with an infant is guaranteed to have to go through extra-special-double-secret security (or whatever they call it when you have to get re-screened with a screaming baby).
“We’re just checking to make sure you’re not over the limit,” the security officer said when I asked exactly what they were looking for with regards to the baby food.
“What’s the limit?” I asked.
“Just a reasonable amount,” explained the security officer.
Which is what? Enough to feed a baby but not enough to make an exploding applesauce bomb?
As if that’s not bad enough, the type of baby food you bring on board is also subject to inspection. I was once in line in front of a woman who had a jar of Gerber’s Peach Cobbler confiscated because the security officer said it was a dessert, not baby food. I couldn’t help but wonder if I had stumbled upon the only adult in the world who kept a pantry stocked full of Gerber’s desserts just for himself, for when he wanted something a little sweet. Or for bomb making. One or the other.
Life with children is, of course, more complicated than life without, and therefore flying withA woman had a jar of Gerber’s Peach Cobbler confiscated because the security officer said it was a dessert, not baby food.children is doubly complicated, and doubly stressful. But instead of turning around and telling mothers to drug their children/stop hitting them, what if the TSA offered some solutions? There has been some discussion in the media about creating a children’s section on planes, so that parents can beat their children and their children can beat each other without disturbing other passengers, but this ignores the root of the problem, which is not what happens on the plane but what happens before it. If you and your one-year-old have already been subjected to the advanced anal probe screening thanks to a stray bottle of milk that got lost in the bottom of your suitcase, chances are that neither one of you is going to have much patience left by the time you get on the plane.
So why not allow people with children to get pre-screened a few days in advance of their trip? I would totally take Milo somewhere and have him x-rayed if it would allow me to bypass airport screening a few days later. A new program called Clear does something like this, allowing pre-approved passengers to bypass regular security lines by presenting their fingerprints and irises for scanning. Once screened, passengers still need to pass through metal detectors and send their luggage through x-ray machines, although ostensibly the line is shorter. The program is only in eight airports around the country, and it costs $99.95 a year to join. Still, if it means shaving off half an hour of pre-flight standing-around-with-squirmy-children time, I imagine a lot of parents would be first in line to sign up.
Simplifying the guidelines for what one can bring on the plane would also help immensely – even better would be if the TSA put together a pamphlet on traveling with children that addressed issues like whether frozen breast milk is a liquid or a solid, whether Gerber’s Fruit Medley is a legal baby food or an illegal dessert, and what to expect in terms of shoe removal policy.
The TSA website does provide some basic guidelines for traveling with small children, such Women traveling alone with young children must fall into some kind of Highly Unlikely To Blow Up The Plane category. as “Do not pass your child to our Security Officer to hold” and “Our security officers will not test or taste formula, breast milk or juice.” However, the site repeats the vague rule that baby food and assorted drinkable liquids are acceptable in a “reasonable” amount, and does not in any way acknowledge that the screening process can be random and wildly variable from screener to screener, meaning that one screener might wave you and your value size tub of Triple Paste through, while another confiscates a single container of YoBaby.
Consistency would help calm everyone’s nerves and allow them to be more prepared for the security checkpoints, but so would common sense. For example, the TSA could stop pulling over women traveling alone with young children, who must fall into some kind of Highly Unlikely To Blow Up The Plane category, for those randomized screenings that happen just as you’re about to finally step foot onto the jet way.
And just maybe, if parents and their small children are allowed to glide through security a bit quicker, no one will suggest that you take out the Baby Benadryl. You won’t want to kill your kids before the plane even takes off. I won’t go so far as to suggest that there might be a day when traveling with small children is enjoyable, unless your idea of fun is reading the emergency landing instructions pamphlet twenty-seven times in a row to a toddler who thinks it’s a comic book, but maybe at least there would be fewer arrests.