Charlotte got her first taste of the flying-for-free-magee lifestyle a few weekends ago when we went to Birmingham, Alabama for my birthday. I would have preferred an international location per my yearly birthday travel traditions but since my dad and brothers had not met the baby we decided to make the trip there. Should you be traveling with a six week old in the near future I have some advice for you – Don’t Do It!
Don’t even think about it.
Ok, you are going to ignore me, and you are going to travel anyway. I know. You are probably smarter than me and wouldn’t dream of attempting to fly stand-by. However, I am a flight attendant and this is a “perk” of my job, so stubborn me wanted to attempt the trip without buying confirmed plane tickets. Wisely, my friend Jessica suggested we bring our stroller even though my mom had one in Birmingham. The stroller is only a pain in the ass when it comes to going through security. In fact, you just have to get over yourself and know that now you are THOSE people going through security. You know the ones holding up the line with tons of bags. The ones who cannot get through the line fast enough, to the frustration of those behind them. Chad and I use to breeze past those people. Literally I would cut in line ahead of them (bad habit from my job, I know). I cannot have imagined doing it without Chad because it takes more hands than I own to pull off this feat. Not having traveled with an infant before I also realized that I had no clue where the elevators were located, which are key for getting you to the lower levels with a stroller. TSA was surprisingly helpful, and we were able to make it to the gate with time to spare.
Boarding the plane presented a new set of challenges. Charlotte had slept through most of the activity, and it was my plan to feed her on the plane so her ears would pop. Chad and I weren’t sitting together of course so we had to ask people to switch, which was a hassle, because we were last on the plane. Not only that, but the seats we switched to were at the front of the plane so we had to put all our bags in the bin above us, which, of course, was full. I put Charlotte down in the seat to help Chad, and she started to fuss. The guy behind us says, “oh great, we haven’t even taken off yet and that baby is crying.”
Let me tell you, when you fly with a baby some people act like assholes, making you feel uncomfortable about your baby fussing. Another thing I had to get over. Oh sure, I was that person at one time, rolling my eyes and sighing loudly and making it a point to plug head phones in my ears. Karma has come back around because now I am that undesirable person with the crying baby. The person that everyone cringes at when they see you heading down the aisle. Well get over yourself, no one wants to sit next to you either.
Our trip to Birmingham was wonderful because we had so many hands to help hold and entertain Charlotte. No wonder people live close to their families after they have kids. My mom even babysat while Chad and I could go out for a nice dinner for my birthday. You take for granted having an uninterrupted dinner out – a dinner where one of you doesn’t have to shove food in their mouth as fast as they can so she can calm the crying baby. We went to have beers at Avondale Brewery and then to the Veranda on the Highlands. I will say we ended up talking about Charlotte the majority of the time we were away from her…
Flying home from Birmingham was a whole different ball game. We couldn’t get on the flight out Sunday so my mom picked us back up and took us home. Normally this wouldn’t be a huge cause for concern but when you pack everything up to head to the airport and go through security with a baby, only to have to leave again, well, that’s tough. Since we had not planned on staying an extra day I didn’t have extra outfits for Charlotte. Make sure when traveling with a baby you not only pack plenty of diapers, wipes and clothing for the baby but for all the shirts they will ruin of yours as well.
After having an extra night in Birmingham we were ready to fly home the next day. I loved seeing my family for the extra time but our cat was locked in the house, and someone was watching our dog so it was time to go. We said our goodbyes and went for round two at the airport only to watch another direct flight take off without us. Flying stand-by is bad enough, add a baby in to the mix, and it’s extra stress. I looked up flights and saw we could hop on Southwest and so we went to the gate and got our boarding passes for the 5pm flight. What we didn’t realize was that this flight had a stop over in New Orleans. From Birmingham to New Orleans the flight was wide open but once we landed in New Orleans the flight attendant made an announcement, “Magee party of two please bring your stuff to the front!”
Surely the gate agent in Birmingham wouldn’t have cleared us for the initial flight had she known we would be stuck in New Orleans. She saw we had a baby, right? Right?!
The flight from New Orleans to Denver was oversold, and now, here we were dumped in another city and stranded for the night. I lost it when the gate agent told me they may not be able to bring my stroller up. I was bawling so hard. I couldn’t contain myself from the stress of traveling with a baby, and the feeling that we were never going to make it home. Needless to say, someone fetched my stroller. We had to get a hotel room for the night in New Orleans and buy plane tickets home because it was the only way we were going to get anywhere. Fortunately my best friend (and doula) Casey lives in New Orleans so the extra day was not a total loss.
Chad bought us tickets on Air Tran, and we thought we were home. What we didn’t count on was a ground delay in New Orleans. When we landed in Atlanta we had to sprint from the D to C concourse in hopes that our plane was still there. You haven’t lived until you have sprinted through the airport with a baby strapped to your chest, following your husband who is carrying your luggage in both hands. Had I been alone I wouldn’t have even bothered because I couldn’t have made it. This is why it pays to be in shape after you have a baby. Hauling at top speed through the airport is easier if you’re in shape.
Arriving at the gate in Atlanta they told us that the flight was closed, and they had given our seats away because we were not there. I think my look must have been one of utter defeat because the gate agent told the other guy working the flight to pull the volunteers off the plane for us. Here is where it paid to have a baby with us because I firmly believe they would not have put us on the flight without a baby. I must say Charlotte was wonderful up until this point. She traveled better than we did, all things considered. After an hour flight and an hour delay and sprinting from gate to gate however, she desperately needed a diaper change. A diaper change that I couldn’t accomplish because once we were in the air they promptly parked the drinks cart by our row and moved slow as molasses serving drinks. Let me tell you, everything is ten times more annoying when you have a baby. When they start crying, and you know what they need, you want to give it to them instantly -especially when you are in a pressurized tube full of onlookers.
I have come to realize after our adventure that it was usually women who were the most helpful and looked at Charlotte (and us) with the most thoughtfulness. It was the men who were always first to make rude comments like, “Oh GREAT another baby” or roll their eyes at me when Charlotte would cry while I was waiting for the restroom. Men out there – get over yourselves. You were once a baby and I’m sure your mom had to leave the house with you from time to time so quit with the rude comments and looks when you see a woman with a crying baby. 99% of the time she’s doing the best she can.
Here was my biggest lesson from traveling with an infant – that children will do what they want and their parents are just trying to do the best they can. If you think a baby is crying loudly, believe me, to those parents she is crying ten times louder. Traveling with children is a means to an end, and something not many of us choose to do if we can help it. However, there will come a day when you need to leave on vacation or to visit family or friends, and these little extensions of you must come with. If you are a person who does not like small children around you then consider driving your own car or chartering your own mode of transportation.
I will say that these past two weekends of birthday celebrations, the greatest gifts have been being around friends and family. And just having someone else hold Charlotte! I cherish my time with her but it is nice to see others hold and interact with her. I want her to be comfortable with others and outgoing and well adjusted, and the time starts now.
My next trip around the sun I have another traveling companion with me, and I couldn’t be more excited for all our adventures together. While traveling with a child has its moments of frustration, I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world nor have I ever found a better seat mate…
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About the Author: Natalie Magee writes a regular column for Happiness Series about what motherhood and beyond - from prenatal to postpartum. Her intention with her column, "Baby & Beyond - What No One Else Will Tell You" is to give practical advice and tips to the busy mom and mom-to-be. She also shares her experiences good, bad and ugly as a woman, wife, mom, flight attendant and fitness instructor. Natalie is also a regular fitness contributor on Happiness Series. She will continue to create great, effective workouts for anyone - including the busy moms out there - who wants to get fit and stay in shape.