Apparently Travel With Kids Gets Worse Before It Gets Better (Trip Report)

Words cannot explain how much I was dreading this trip. I’ve had trouble with my son on airplanes before, but with him approaching 3 years old and my youngest one just about one and a half, I knew it would be time for double trouble. On the way out, I was pleasantly surprised, but the return? That wasn’t fun.

We bought our tickets for $594.70 each right after Labor Day. That sounds expensive, but considering fares were in the $750 range before, I was downright thrilled. We picked the non-stop going out but took a connection on the return because the times were better. As usual, there was a schedule change and American canceled the non-stop heading east that day. That sucked, so, at the suggestion of the agency support agent, we just shifted the entire trip one day earlier. Problem solved.

I checked in the night before only to find that you apparently still can’t prepay for bags on American. That’s ridiculous.

LAX Terminal 4 Madness

We left home a couple hours before departure and parked the car. I used QuikPark as usual but prices have doubled. Good revenue management for the holiday season I suppose. We took the shuttle over and the airport roadways were jammed. Just a bit over an hour before departure, we found the kiosks for bag checking and they were mobbed. There were no lines so people were just scattered around waiting for a machine to open. We finally made it up front and the kiosk was painfully slow. I didn’t want any stupid offers. I just wanted to pay for bags. Once finally checked in, it reprinted our boarding passes for no good reason. What a mess.

Security was surprisingly delightful. The best part about holiday travel is that you have a lot of infrequent travelers who do not have Pre Check. The other lines were crazy, but Pre Check had two people in it. Sweet. We were through quickly. At the rotunda toward the end, American had a big Christmas tree with a model train circling a ledge on ceiling. That may sound nice but it, combined with cramped quarters and upbeat holiday music, sort of added madness to the already frenetic travel season.

American Holiday Train

Our airplane was running about 20 minutes late from SFO (which counts as on time as far as that airport is concerned). But with a mass of children and 10 lap infants, there was zero chance we’d leave on time. Even with the gate agents madly forcing people to gate check bags in advance, it was no use. We were going to be late.


December 22, 2014
American 1314 Lv Los Angeles 1125a Arr Indianapolis 625p
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 47B, Runway 25R, Depart 22m Late
Indianapolis (IND): Gate B9, Runway 5L, Arrive 18m Late
N939AN, Boeing 737-823, Silver Eagle colors, ~99% Full (+ 10 lap kids)
Seat 25B, Coach
Flight Time 3h37m

There was no sky interior on this 737 but it did at least have the new drop down screens over the seats instead of the bulky ones in the aisles. My son was in a good mood, singing jingle bells as we boarded. And once we were airborne, he even fell asleep. My daughter fidgeted a bit but then did the same. Surprisingly, the 50 other kids on the flight mostly seemed well-behaved.

My son didn’t sleep long and when he woke up, he had to go to the bathroom. I took him back to the lav and he freaked out. I guess it just felt small to him, but he refused to do anything in there. In fact, he clung to me like his life depended on it. Hmm. Good thing he’s still in diapers, but that won’t last much longer. We’re going to need to tackle this fear (or only take really short flights).

We went back to the seat and his attention quickly turned to the overhead screen which had Planes: Fire and Rescue on. He was excited by this but he got bored quickly and then said, “Dad, can you turn this off?” I told him that we couldn’t change it, and he just looked at me, puzzled. Finally he gave up and pulled out the iPad. That didn’t last long either, and eventually he decided to decorate the airplane with stickers. (These were easily removed, fortunately.)

Sticker Time

The flight attendants came through often and were very nice. The seatbelt sign was on over the Rockies but it wasn’t bumpy, and we had plenty of time with the sign off so the kids could burn some energy.

About 45 minutes out, my son was getting restless. The sun was down, and he wanted out. I bribed him with M&Ms, and that coaxed him back into his seat. We came down through the clouds with just a few bumps and were finally on the ground. The experience in Indianapolis couldn’t have been more different than LAX. The big terminal with high ceilings didn’t feel crowded at all. And the soft, jazzy Christmas music was a much more calming influence.

Down at baggage claim, however, it was quite the scene. Thanks to the aggressive gate-checking, there were a TON of bags coming down the belt. It took a long time before they got all the bags out and naturally ours were some of the last ones off.

After nearly a week of fun and various illnesses, I was ready to be home. But I wasn’t ready for the trip required to actually get there.

Things started fine. We arrived an hour before departure, checked our bags (with those slow kiosks again), and had no line at security. Once on the other side, I snapped this great shot of my kids plane-watching. I love this photo.

Plane Watching Indianapolis

At the gate, it was crowded but boarding was orderly. Unfortunately, I was having trouble folding the stroller and it eventually gave way, smashing my fingers. One index finger swelled up immediately while the other was pinched and bleeding a fair amount. What a great way to start the flight.


December 28, 2014
American 376 Lv Indianapolis 1125a Arr Dallas/Ft Worth 1255p
Indianapolis (IND): Gate B9, Runway 5L, Depart 2m Early
Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW): Gate D34, Runway 35C, Arrive 18m Late
N456AA, Douglas DC-9-82, Silver Eagle colors, ~99% Full
Seat 23B, Coach
Flight Time 2h27m

It was a gray day in Indy but it wasn’t long before our silver-bellied MD-80 pushed through the low overcast into several more layers of clouds for what the captain said would be a 2 hour and 5 minute flight to Dallas. We basically rode the backside of a front all the way down to Dallas, as you can see via this Flightaware screenshot.

American 376 IND DFW 28DEC via FlightAware

The flight was mostly smooth during cruise but we sat in the clouds so there wasn’t much to see. The flight attendants came through with drinks (I introduced my son to ginger ale) and it didn’t take long before my son was getting fidgety. This didn’t bode well for the rest of the day.

The flight seemed to take forever and that’s because it did. I’m not sure why, but our announced flight time ended up being more than 20 minutes shorter than reality. I’m guessing the hefty headwinds were wildly underestimated. According to Flightaware, our groundspeed topped out at a puny 338 knots. The captain came on and said it would be bumpy so he got the cabin prepared for arrival before we started to descend. Once we finally started descending, my son fell asleep (as is so often the case).

It wasn’t horribly bumpy, but it got challenging when right above a layer of clouds he pulled the spoilers out and we sank through them quickly. At this point, my son woke up and started screaming. His ears clearly hurt and he wouldn’t do anything to try to help himself (suck his thumb, drink something, etc). To make matters worse, he pooped and needed to be changed (he doesn’t like to wait). Not happening. He just screamed pretty much the rest of the way down, at least 20 minutes straight.

After landing we taxied for 15 minutes all around the airport at a slow speed. After all that, the ground crew wasn’t there, but a couple minutes later, we had finally made it. Fortunately, our connecting gate was right next door.

This was my first time in Terminal D in Dallas and it’s really nice. The only problem is that my wife said there was no changing table in the restroom near our gate. (Sorry to those of you around gate D33 who had to stare at my son’s bare butt.)

DFW Terminal D

We were a little late boarding because they had trouble cleaning the airplane, and boarding itself wasn’t fun. We were in group 2 but all these jerks in group 3 were standing around blocking the entrance to the boarding lane. You couldn’t tell whether they were in line or not.

I asked the people in front and they said they weren’t in our group, but they didn’t bother moving either. So I took my stroller, carry on bags, and car seat and pushed by them, curtly excusing myself. In the jet bridge, I paused to fold the stroller (without further injury, though one finger was throbbing) and set it aside when the group 3 jerks pushed by us, angrily (and insincerely) saying “excuse me,” as if we had done something wrong.


December 28, 2014
American 2449 Lv Dallas/Ft Worth 2p Arr Los Angeles 320p
Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW): Gate D33, Runway 36R, Depart 16m Late
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 42B, Runway 25L, Arrive 23m Late
N688AA, Boeing 757-223, Silver Eagle colors, ~99% Full
Seat 30B, Coach
Flight Time 2h59m

On the airplane, I was balancing the car seat, a carry-on, and my laptop. My son was being loud and my daughter was screaming. I could just feel the looks from people hoping we weren’t in their row. We were “those people.”

Finally at our seats, we recomposed ourselves and settled in, utterly exhausted. My exhaustion was so bad, I completely forgot to strap my son in. (He actually reminded me on our takeoff roll at which point I hastily buckled him.) Once in the air, my son calmed down and watched the iPad but my daughter kept fussing with my wife behind us. I figured I might get a little break, so I pulled out my phone to flip on wifi, but doh! This was one of the 757s without it.

I shouldn’t be mad since it wouldn’t have gotten much use. My son was tired, but he wouldn’t sleep. Nothing could hold his attention either. He alternated between happiness and screaming, but he kept peppering me with questions over and over and he’d get frustrated when my answers were the same. I bribed him with a cookie but that didn’t last long. What’s worse? Even though the captain said it would be a smooth ride once at altitude, he didn’t turn the seatbelt sign off. I take that back. He turned it off for a couple minutes but then we had a small jolt and he put it back on for the duration of the smooth flight. But they might as well have painted this on the overhead:

Broken Seatbelt Sign

I tried to keep my son seated, but there was no way. He just kept trying to kick the back of the seat in front of me. Every time I stopped him, he’d pout and inevitably start fussing. I finally just let him take his seatbelt off and he climbed over the seat behind us to hang out with his sister. Then she wanted to come over to me, so kids were flying around. We basically were doing anything we could to keep them quiet and not bother the other passengers.

In the end, I think we succeeded in keeping disruption to others at a minimum, but it was entirely at our own expense (as it should be). When we landed, I wanted nothing more than to get off that airplane and grab a scotch. But of course, we had to wait for traffic to clear in the alleyway. Then we had to be towed into our gate. Then it took a whopping 28 minutes from parking until the first bag even came off the belt. (Everyone on that flight would have been compensated were this Alaska Airlines.)

With bags in hand, I was done. We found our car and drove home, hoping that next time it would be easier. Mark your calendars for July, our next planned family trip.

Get Posts via Email When They Go Live or in a Weekly Digest

Leave a Reply

88 Comments on "Apparently Travel With Kids Gets Worse Before It Gets Better (Trip Report)"

avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
zponline
Guest

People in Group 3 are the WORST!!!

dc.contarino
Member

Thanks for reminding me not to have kids. :-)

Jared Hanner
Member

Cranky, I isually park at quikpark as well but I prebook through cheapairportparking.org. It’s a cool site and has lots of options do you can compare pricing at various locations. CHEAPISM is a code that will save $5 too :)

Sue Donym
Guest

The nerve of those Group 3 people! How dare they expect to the board the plane when you still had to fold the stroller! They should have all waited, and delayed the boarding process, while you blocked the jetway and folded the stroller up. Then you could have stood in the middle of the jetway, had a good stretch, and, when you were finally ready, allowed the boarding process to continue.

Or, you know, you could have moved off to the side with your stroller.

James Burke
Guest

I guess since I don’t have kids I don’t notice change tables, but I am rather shocked that there wasn’t one at your washroom at DFW. I would have figured a hub airport with all these connections there would be more of that kind of infrastructure…
Bearing in mind how the return went, do you think you were better off with the stop? Is there enough room in an airport bathroom to change a diaper?

Ben in DC
Guest

You’d be surprised how many places don’t have them. Quite often, I find it’s the mens bathrooms that haven’t been updated with changing tables, while the womens has been. It’s annoying, since obviously my wife and I try to share parenting duties, especially out of the house

Olamide
Guest

Cranky I am both surprised that you still travel with your kids and impressed with your patients. My history of the past flying experience is not large but the treatment of families with small kids has seemed to get worse. Maybe if you know some people at the airlines you could bring him to the airport and let home get more comfortable on the airplane. Good luck and happy new year.

Kevin
Guest

Agree – Those Group 3 people should be relegated to Group 9 from now on! :-)

David SF eastbay
Member

Enjoy these times traveling with the kids while you can. Before to long, you’ll be the one in diapers making a fuss and pooping and they will be trying to keep you quiet and dreading the next trip. :-)

Ben in DC
Guest

I appreciate this column now, because I am just a couple of weeks from taking the family from DC to Boise with a layover in Denver each way. I have a 2 year old and a 4 month old. The oldest hasn’t flown since last Christmas, and that was difficult. This time, I’m hoping he’ll be entertained by the plane (he’s already turning into an #avgeek) and we are stocking up on movies that he hasn’t seen, hoping that will keep him busy. But your experience reminds me to have several other entertainment options ready!

JuliaZ
Member

Wrap up some little toys in shiny paper. Dole them out at moments of horrible boredom. The surprise of a wrapped present is real, and a new toy can occupy them for a while. Think little cars, crayons/coloring books/stickers, silly putty, stuff like that. Stuff little enough to be light to carry, cheap enough that you don’t care if it gets lost, and different from the toys they already know and like. I still do this for my 6-year old and it buys me a lot of peace and quiet on the plane.

Ben in DC
Guest

Thanks for the idea Julia! We will be trying that.
Cranky, we’re actually on Southwest out of IAD, so no seatback entertainment. However, 3 of our 4 flights have wifi (the one to Boise does not) so we will probably try that inflight entertainment they have

James S
Guest

That model train circling the rotunda at LAX T4 is a good idea gone horribly wrong. I’m sure it was assembled with the best of intentions, but it makes a LOT of noise (the whistle goes off every 60 seconds or something) and the gate agents and shop employees nearby absolutely hate it. I fly out of T4 every week and I’m always praying I leave from a low gate so I don’t have to listen to it.

Southeasterner
Guest
My wife and I took our first trip with our two month old son and we had a very similar experience in that the flight out (to the East coast) he was perfect, the flight back I aged 6 years in 6 hours and we were definitely “those people” with an inconsolable screaming baby (we did finally end up using all 5 “s’s” to calm him down). It was primarily due to the constant change in elevation and pressure and the seat belt sign being on almost the entire flight so we couldn’t stand up and bounce him, his favorite… Read more »
DesertGhost
Guest

I hope you and your family have a great new year.

MeanMeosh
Guest

I’m sorry, Cranky. My mom likes to remind me that I, too, was a cranky toddler once, though I eventually did grow out of it. But your experience does just cement my declaration to my wife that once we have kids, we’ll be exclusively road tripping until they’re at least 5…

Jeremy
Guest

I found that it got better after my kids were 4 years old. And, yes, that means when your youngest is that age. Between 1 and 4 they just didn’t have the attention span to entertain themselves during the flight.

SEAN
Guest

But what about some of the adults when they fly – some can be worse then cranky’s kids.

mb5377
Member

I feel bad for you – been there, done that. But the good news is that they
will grow up and it will get better! I always said that until the kids
were teenagers, we took “family trips”. After they got older, only then
did they become “family vacations”.

Nick Barnard
Member

Does anyone else think showing a movie called “Planes: Fire and Rescue” on an airplane is a bad idea? Yeah, I realize its a Disney movie, but still. Its a horrible title to have on a plane.

CF, I’m presuming the AA kiosks are from Legacy-AA, have you heard any news about upgrading them when they put the reservations on one system?

Nick Barnard
Member

Also, the flight attendants missed that your son wasn’t buckled in? Um… Safety check fail.

Steve M.
Guest
“I could just feel the looks from people hoping we weren’t in their row. We were ‘those people.'” When I was around 4-5, I was on a flight with my Mom, and I decided to throw my lollipop at the woman seated next to us, getting it stuck in her hair. Despite that, I turned out fine. I get that air travel is stressful for little ones, and I’m not going to make a fuss. You did nothing wrong, and hopefully the rest of your passengers could see that. (Now if you bring your cat, and it doesn’t stop meowing,… Read more »
MeanMeosh
Guest

“(Now if you bring your cat, and it doesn’t stop meowing, that’s a different story.)”

Lol, that’s exactly why I convinced my mom not to fly with her cat to Florida and back, and that I would drive them instead. The cat meowed a good part of the 1,230 miles, but at least it was only the two of us being driven mad!

Nick Barnard
Member
MeanMosh – Did you keep the cat in a carrier the whole 1,250 miles? I drove mine from Cincinnati to Seattle and after four hours or so of meowing they settled down and found their spots in the car. Well that is until we came over the mountain pass and one just raised holy hell. In hindsight I’m guessing his ears didn’t equalize as we came down the mountain. Though my last flight (that I know of) with a cat was wonderful. Another passenger had a cat in a carrier below the seat in front of her for the whole… Read more »
MeanMeosh
Guest
@Nick – in fairness to Bevo, the meowing was mostly in short bursts every few hours, except for the first couple of hours, where he was yowling pretty badly, and when he caught sight of a few stray cats at a dinner stop. What worked, kind of, was for one of us to sit in the middle row with him with the cage door open, and he would sit half on the lap/half on the seat. The bigger problem was that he kept relieving himself on the seats instead of in his litter box. That made the drive rather, um,… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

Well… you have to pull over for a cat to use the litter pan.. They’re more particular than Mr. Cranky Junior.

MeanMeosh
Guest

Tried that. Multiple times. Didn’t work. He just plain refused to use the box inside the car, stopped or not. Bevo’s just one of those cats that isn’t a good traveler, though mom had no choice but to take him in this instance.

Nick Barnard
Member

Oy.. cats are picky..

I’ven’t flown with mine.. One of them makes a horrible mess in his box.. If I ever have to take them flying I’m going to use a slingshot.

jaybru
Member
Back when, up until college, the only air travel I took was, feet on the ground, reading my timetable(s). and once or twice a year getting to drive Dad’s old pickup truck all the way down to Philly airport and to get out on the marvelous observation deck to see how the one other half (or 1 percent) lived. [Can it be? Yes, that wonderful-looking TWA Super Connie over there is really going to fly over our farm and off to LaLaLand! Maybe stopping at KCI, if I’m reading my timetable right.] Well, that was then and this is now.… Read more »
Brian in Big D
Guest
Did you not consider Southwest since it didn’t have direct flights to Indy? I believe the cost would have been even cheaper than your other options. Reading all the Group 2/3 boarding craziness makes me wonder why they call southwest a cattle call when clearly group boarding has its own cattle call madness. On Southwest you just line up at your designated spot with your designated group and calmly board. And flying with kids under 5 gets you family boarding at the end of A group at the worst so no worries about whether or not you are sitting together.
IO
Member

i think you need a switch to straighten-out your children.

IO

Wild Bill
Guest

AA does a horrible job with gate lice. ORD, LAX, AUS, DFW…….I can’t think of one airport where they manage the kettles properly

john96
Member
I swore after every trip I would NEVER take my children on another flight. Between the screaming, the kicking of the seat back, the picking at each other, the you name it … aaaarrrrggggghhhhh. Then they just became less unpleasant over time. AND I learned that I needed to sit in the middle seat…less kicking, or leaning into the other’s space. They could both lean / sprawl across Dad, and there was peace … except for the argument about how it was unfair that she got the window seat! At least the screaming subsided. However – I highly recommend the… Read more »
LT_DT
Guest
We’ve flown at least once (usually 2-4) times a year with both of our kids from the time they were born. Most of those flights were coast to coast and many of them had us saying we’d never do it again. It does get better, especially when they start being able to read. That was a big turning point for us. Our kids are now 9 and 5.5 and do just fine. We have a strategy of holding out on “special books,” like the Harry Potter series, for them to get to read on the big annual trips. It also… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

Hrm.. This leaves me curious, I wonder if any other airlines have kicked around a Southwest style boarding.. No need to get rid of assigned seats, just predefine how people get on the plane!

This in theory would make things go very fast as things could be ideally optimized. The plane might have 150 seats on it, but there isn’t anything that prevents an airline from having 200 boarding spots, and just reserving then skipping some other ones.

Ethan
Member
Cranky – Ah – boys. We had the same problems with our son (now 5) – flying with him around 3 years old was not fun at all. There is something about that age (and probably boys) where they just want to get up and move around and explore. Then we decided to drag the (big) car seat along and put it in the airline seat and what do you know, he was quiet and relaxed the whole trip. Maybe it was because he was used to it, maybe because it felt like driving – who knows. All we know… Read more »
Leslie H (tripswithtykes)
Guest
These are tough travel ages to be sure. Some times you luck out and some times you don’t. Your son should be turning a corner really soon. Boys take a little longer – by my daughter’s third birthday, flying got a LOT easier, but I’ve definitely noticed the boys take a little longer. Daughter is 5 1/2 now and it has been a breeze with her the past few years. She did 12 hours to Hong Kong this past spring no sweat. Of course, my husband and I had to ruin our travel bliss by having another one. Little guy… Read more »
Michael
Guest

I generally refuse to carry a credit card that requires an annual fee. But my American Airlines MasterCard is the exception. I get one free checked bag on each American flight I book using their card. One single round trip per year and the card pays for itself. But if you’re buying four tickets per flight, that’s four free bags. Plus I get miles for the charges so I actually get to double dip on each trip. I don’t know what other airline cards offer. No, I don’t work for American or Citi. I just appreciate useful perks.

IO
Member

btw, cute pic of your children plane watching.

IO

IO
Member

could have been a family pic if you were able to get someone to take one of y’all :-)

IO
Member

one last one. can your family be called ‘crankyfliers’ now :-)

A
Guest
Sorry to hear your holiday travels weren’t enjoyable. Makes me thankful I don’t have kids (yet). Have a good friend with 4 young kids, three being boys. Heard some horror stories from him. I traveled over Christmas to visit family in Detroit area. Northwest really hit a home run when they built the McNamara terminal there. Truly my favorite airport for connections but also a joy for O/D travel. Even when busy it never feels crowded and check-in/security/baggage claim, etc. are all painless when compared to 99.99% of other US airports. To add icing to the airport got to fly… Read more »
CelticSmackdown
Guest

We stopped flying to the grandparents and in-laws over the holidays after one nightmare of a post-Christmas day spent at O’Hare. My wife and I finally realized those trips weren’t much of a vacation for anyone, the children included. Since then, we’ve told the grandparents we’ll fly out to them anytime of the year except the holidays. If they want to see the kids for the holidays, they can fly out to see us. We never regretted that decision.

Eric Morris
Guest

Practice does not make perfect, but the more you do it the more you can predict how your kids are going to react to each segment. That’s why Southwest is really the only option because you can make last minute audibles on seating arrangements–or if people are ill (suited) you can delay the trip. If Southwest is more expensive, then it probably isn’t the right time to risk flying.

DJ New Orleans
Guest

Have you considered drugs? A small dose of Benadryl goes a long way. Our pediatrician approved. And yes, I would drug a child without giving it a second thought for the convenience of the other passengers as well as myself.

deltabsg
Member

god u should try flying DL
we r so much better than AA
bg

Kit
Guest

You need one (or probably two) of these. I fly about fifteen times a year with my now six-year-old, and while I am not a baby-gear person, this is one I loved. Also allows you to check the stroller (for free!) because the kid can ride along.
http://www.wayfair.com/Go-Go-Babyz-Go-Go-Kidz-Travelmate-with-Handle-QRKIDZ-L732-K~RL1024.html?refid=GX54801543900-RL1024&device=c&ptid=80547915420&gclid=Cj0KEQiA_ZOlBRD64c7-gOzvrP0BEiQAAYBndzyvR5UlhB_tnmrXYi9TUyZ0BLXl4qXWAlVGk5B8uVQaAiik8P8HAQ

John G
Guest
Brett, I know it’s an elaborate procedure just to get the kids in the car to go to the store right now. But that time passes quickly. Just yesterday morning my oldest was throwing a giant tantrum about the seat belt sign, arching his back, screaming, and refusing to sit down when tries to fly. It was just yesterday morning, or at least it seems like it…but now he sits down just fine…in his car, as he pulls out of the driveway to drive back to his house after a visit. It feels like days like these go on forever.… Read more »
tdr
Guest

I traveled through both PHX and PHL on very busy holiday travel days this season and can echo your experience: Check-in and bag check was awful. TSA, on the other hand, kept the security show running almost as smoothly as on normal travel days. As much as I hate the security theater, I feel like we should tip our heads to TSA for managing the holiday travel (at least at some airports) better than the airlines themselves.

wpDiscuz