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

American, Trip Reports

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.

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88 comments on “Apparently Travel With Kids Gets Worse Before It Gets Better (Trip Report)

  1. Cranky, I isually park at quikpark as well but I prebook through 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 :)

    1. Jared – I actually usually book at and I
      fairly consistently see a rate of under $8 a day. But this time, it was
      double, so I think it was just some holiday revenue management going on. I
      looked again for dates in January and it was back down to under $8. But I
      may need to try CHEAPISM next time.

  2. 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.

    1. Sue – You clearly seem to enjoy being angry about this, but I was on the
      side. The way gate D33 is set up, they take your boarding pass and you
      enter into a separate little room/corridor (which I assume it sterile for
      arriving international passengers) before walking on to the jet bridge.
      The gate agents asked me to leave the stroller just inside that room before
      walking on to the jet bridge instead of dropping at the bottom as you
      usually do. I was on the side folding my stroller. There was plenty of
      room, and the people could have just walked right by me with no issue.
      Instead they deliberately walked on the right side of the corridor and
      brushed by me just so they could be obnoxious about it.

      1. I really don’t understand why people need to stand RIGHT in front of the gate if they are not actively boarding. I’ve always thought they need a “red line” for people to stay behind or something.

        Sort of why I like Southwest. The no assigned seat thing pisses me off, but at least getting on the plane everyone knows where they stand.

        I stand with the stroller dads on this one. Sit your butt down and wait your turn. Or get bludgeoned by a stroller at your own peril.

      2. I think this is a Dallas thing, just like gate lice is a Pac NW thing.

        When it comes time to board all the elite flyers, I’m always pushing my way past people who clearly have Zone 2/3/4 on their boarding passes, and get dirty looks from them when “PA” is VERY visible on mine, along with Kryptonium status. Both times were also on the D gates – and yes, people SNARLED.

        With the current state of charging for bags and more elite flyers than before, its getting very tight on the overhead bin space – I get it. But travelers should also take heed to their seat assignments and opportunity to buy into premium boarding.

        1. It is a Dallas thing. A few weeks ago going to LHR out of Terminal D on BA, same thing. Um…get out of my way folks so I can board!

  3. 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?

    1. 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

    2. James – I was surprised too, especially in the womens room. It’s more
      common to see them lacking in the mens room, but honestly, an airport like
      DFW with a new terminal like that should have it pretty much everywhere.
      Maybe there was a family restroom that she missed nearby or maybe it’s just
      not in every restroom.

      Were we better off with a stop? That’s a tough one. The nonstop on
      American going west is really late and doesn’t arrive until 9p in LA. I
      don’t think that would have gone very well at all with our kids. Delta has
      an early morning nonstop which wouldn’t be bad, but the price was so much
      higher it just wasn’t an option. It also requires waking up insanely early
      for us since her parents are a good 45 minutes from the airport. We’ve
      done it before and might do it again. I really just think we need the kids
      to get older!

      Lastly, is there enough room to change a kid in the airport bathroom? You
      mean on the airplane? There are changing tables in a lot of airplanes so
      there is room for smaller kids. It would probably be tough with my son
      since he’s pretty big now, but you do what you have to do I guess.

      1. Get this, the FAMILY RESTROOM at STL next to WN’s baggage carousels doesn’t have a changing table, or even a counter! Just a big room, with a shitty banquet/VFW style stackable chair that was attached to the wall via a skinny cable. I don’t know if there’s a big market for these chairs outside the STL airport or what. I had to try to balance my 19month old baby on the seat and try to change the dookie loaded diaper last week. STL, what a dump!

  4. 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.

    1. Olamide – Oh he’s comfortable on the airplane, everywhere except the
      bathroom. He gets excited and really likes it, but he just has too much
      energy to sit still for long. I keep telling my wife I think we should
      travel with his car seat because he’s used to sitting in that in the car
      more often. But it’s really very bulky so we use the CARES harness instead
      which is much easier. My daughter is still in the infant car seat, but I
      think those days are just about done. She’ll be out of that on the next
      trip for sure.

      1. My daughter had the same bathroom issue when she was that age. Refused to go before boarding because “she didn’t need to” and then refused to go in the airplane bathroom and would try to hold it even though she had to go badly. The next step in the process is willing to go on the airplane, but refusing to acknowledge needing to until on final approach when it becomes an emergency situation!!

        You’ll be smooth sailing with airplane bathrooms in about 2-3 years.

      2. I finally figured out something for myself on my cross-country trips… sugary snacks do you no favors. They make ME hyper and fidgety. I think it’s worse for kids. Stick to the savory… cheese and crackers, bits of jerky or sausage, cut-up veggies… whatever non-sugary stuff they’ll eat. Cookies, candy, etc., make me an over-stimulated grump. Traveling recently with my son and this in mind, it went MUCH better than the time I came armed with gummy bears and other “treats”.

        I don’t like the CARES harness. Sure, it’s easier, but the proper car seat is safer and also soothing in its familiarity. Kids often zonk right out in them, and then you know you’ve got the safe car seat for your destination travels too.

        Finally, if he won’t learn how to use an airplane toilet “like a pilot” — show him videos of space shuttle toilets and that might get him into the whole thing — then insist on keeping him in diapers on flights. “Big boys who won’t use the airplane toilet have to wear baby diapers.” It seems harsh, but we don’t need more incidents like the Chinese 3-year old crapping on newspapers on the airplane seat to make people hate folks traveling with kids even more. LOL

        I was able to get my son over those fears with the astronaut videos. I’ve also kept him in a 5-point harness car seat at age 6.5 using the astronaut angle. :-)

        Congrats on surviving it. Even when I travel without my kids, I try to be friendly, helpful, and patient when I see people struggling with their kids on flights. I’ve offered my Kindle, a cracker, and stuff like that, with permission, a few times. I also carry bags or car seats for parents wrestling too much crap down the aisle… I’ve been there. Group 3 jerks are everywhere and there’s not much you can do about it.

        1. JuliaZ is clearly a professional! A couple thoughts.

          *On sugary snacks, I saw that as well. So now I hold that as a prize for
          after we land. It might make them nuts on the ground, but it’s a good
          reason for them to remain good on the flight. I can’t remember what flight
          it was, but we gave my son something sugary at the beginning awhile ago.
          That was not a good plan.

          *I’m not worried about a car seat being safer. For me, the biggest concern
          is for something to happen during turbulence, and the CARES harness is
          going to protect the kids when that happens. But the soothing piece I
          totally get and agree with completely. My wife just doesn’t want us to lug
          it around. (She already loads me up with a bunch of other stuff, so it’s
          not like I can unilaterally make the decision.) In the destination it’s
          not really an issue because the grandparents are well-equipped.

          *I like the video idea about space shuttle bathrooms. He might be a little
          young, but we’re close to the right age at least. He’s still in diapers
          (though getting pretty good at going potty), but it can’t be all that long
          before the diapers go away. That’s when it’ll get really tough I suppose.

          Thanks for all the great thoughts here.

      3. Of course, once your son does get comfortable with airline lavs, you’ll encounter different problems. When my son was 4 or 5 he went to the bathroom on his own, but when he finished his business he couldn’t figure out how to unlock the door! We had to enlist a flight attendant to show us how to unlock the door from the outside.

        1. An easy way around that is to show how the lock system works before using the lav. If that doesn’t work, there’s always the FA.

          1. Of course we showed him how the lock system works — that’s how he managed to lock himself in! The reverse operation turned out to be more challenging, though. Anyway, now we know how to open an airplane lavatory door from the outside.

  5. 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. :-)

    1. David SF – I feel like I’ll be able to enjoy it in a couple years. By then
      the older one will be much better behaved and the younger one will be
      coming out of her terrible twos. But for now, I think it’s all about just
      sucking it up and hoping for the best! That’s what we get for living far
      from the in-laws.

  6. 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!

    1. Ben – The 4 month old should be a piece of cake as long as his/her ears don’t hurt. But you probably already know this. That 2 year old though, good luck. I assume you’re on UA, so if you have seatback video that might help. I just found that keeping attention is nearly impossible for long periods. And he can sit at home and watch Cars straight though. Just something about the distractions on the airplane that get him. This is the first trip where we was willing to put headphones on though. So that’s a step.

      Good luck! Report back after you fly.

    2. 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.

      1. 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

  7. 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.

    1. James S – Good point. I can’t imagine having to listen to that thing all
      day long during my shift working. That would be brutal. I find T4 to be
      so crammed at the end of that rotunda anyway that even without the model
      train I still don’t want to be there. I think the new gate 41 is probably
      the most spacious one out there now that they’ve redone it, but the halls
      in T4 are still just so narrow and cramped. It’s not a good terminal.

  8. 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 thing to do. What really screwed us over is that while the seat belt sign was on there was no turbulence, which would have quickly calmed him down. We provided free chocolates to the people around us and bought drinks for the person stuck in the window seat of our group of 3 seats.

    However a few surprising good things about the trip. Our security checks were faster over the holidays then I have ever experienced on a normal business trip, which gave us plenty of extra time to kill in the terminal and get the baby in flight mode.

    I was also shocked by was how great the changing tables are in the airplane lavatories. After hearing all the horror stories from other parents I expected the worst but in reality I thought it was a great little enclosed space with a big fold-down table, and plenty of room to maneuver with a diaper bag (I’m 6’3). Note I was on a US Airways A321 on both flights.

  9. 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…

    1. MeanMeosh – I’m all for that. I drove with my son to Phoenix to see my
      parents over Thanksgiving. Did he fuss? A little. But I could just pull
      over and let him run around. Or go to the bathroom. And just knowing he
      wasn’t bothering anyone but me made it a lot easier too. But with the
      in-laws in Indiana, the road trip isn’t an option. I think for the next
      couple years, it’ll be just flights to visit the in-laws. I might consider
      a sub-1 hour flight but that’s about it for a couple more years I think. I
      am amazed that people take their 2 and 3 year olds to Europe or Asia.
      There is no way I’m doing that until they’re older.

      1. Can the in-laws come to you for visits while your kids are so young? Until our youngest child was at least five years old, my in-laws from Minnesota came to us in Portland for visits. (Except for once, when we all drove to and met in Glacier Nat’l Park.) Having been a long-haul purser for Pan Am for eight years, I was not willing (i.e., brave enough) to fly with my kids until they were old enough to be reliably good flyers (and, an issue in those days, big enough to be seated and restrained safely).

        1. Leslie – I love your plan! The in laws do come out here, but so far I’ve
          yet been able to convince my wife that we should stay away from traveling
          long distances by plane until the kids are older.

  10. 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.

  11. 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”.

  12. 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?

    1. Nick – Yep, the kiosks are legacy AA. I don’t imagine they’ll update them
      until after the transition. With everything being moved to AA’s
      reservation system, they’ll just keep the same AA kiosks for now.
      Hopefully at some point it gets put into a project plan to fix them.

  13. “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, that’s a different story.)

    1. “(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!

      1. 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 flight. It only started meowing when we were having a roughish crosswind landing.. I was actually convinced the cat’s sounds were from the hydraulic system (we were sitting right over the wings.) All in all that cat was quite well behaved and it wasn’t a problem of any sort.

        1. @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, unpleasant, and probably the biggest reason why I don’t think he’d do too well in an airplane.

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

            1. 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.

            2. 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.

      2. Oh! There was someone with a little yippy dog on our first flight home. I
        kept thinking I was hearing things because it would yip randomly every few
        minutes but not sustained. That was crazy.

        1. I
          kept thinking I was hearing things because it would yip randomly every few
          minutes but not sustained.

          Cranky – they have doctors for that sort of thing!

  14. 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. Poor Dad does write a wonderful blog. I chuckle at his expense. Hope my window seat is not next to him and his family. Kids these days! Wishing Dad and everyone a Happy New Year!

  15. 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.

    1. Brian – We definitely considered Southwest but they were crazy expensive.
      For the outbound pricing was similar but the nonstop won that battle
      easily. On the return, Southwest was a hundred or two more with only
      Anytime fares offered.

  16. 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

  17. 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 nonstop – 3 hours of hell vs. 6-8 hours of hell (including 2X the potential of disruption).

    1. John E – Yeah, we sit one in front of the other with both on the window and
      each of us in the middle (or aisle on the MD-80) to act as blockers. Seems
      to work best when we can corner them.

      1. We prefer sitting across the aisle from one another, makes it easier to transfer stuff (or kids). Though this year we started separating the kids by flight — me with two children, my wife with the third or the other way around. This was out of necessity (availability of award seats), but worked out pretty well.

  18. 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 helps when we’re able to fly JetBlue or a Delta flight with personal TVs. Another trick we used frequently when the kids were younger was to bring a big tub of Cheerios and then slowly dole them out one by one. It’s torture for the parents, but keeps the kids fed and occupied (and the neighbors happier).

    Also, on the boarding, while I don’t like the lack of assigned seats on Southwest, I do think that their boarding process is the most orderly and least “mass gaggle” one out there. Boarding a United mainline flight where they have one lane for groups 1-2 and one lane for 3-5 is chaos in comparison.

    1. 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.

  19. 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 is that it worked and he was calm the entire trip (2.5 hours?)
    Granted, dragging the car seat along is a pain in the butt, though once we purchased a backpack carry case for it, it wasn’t half bad. We debated getting it wheels, which was the other option. And on the other positive side, we boarded early because, you know, we needed the extra time to lock that seat into the airline seat.
    I feel your pain but it does (should) get much better in the next year or so…
    Happy New Year!

  20. 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 is 15 months old and we are just starting those toddler travel dark years all over again. At least you are getting it all over in one fell swoop.

    1. That is true. We put them close together and now we’re done. So it’s just
      extra hard now, but it’ll calm down and then we won’t have to go through it
      again. Good luck getting yours to a good travel age!

  21. 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.

  22. 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 both ways on brand new 737-900’s that are my new personal favorite in the DL domestic fleet.

    Happy New Year to the Cranky family. Looking forward to your 2015 posts.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

    1. Eric – Southwest is more expensive a lot. But I would much rather have the set seat assignments in advance with the kids. Also, if I need to cancel, it’s $200 and I can still do it just as I would with Southwest. Sure it costs $200 more, but when the price on Southwest is so much higher, it’s worth doing it that way every time.

  25. 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.

    1. DJ – Yeah, we’ve thought about it and I know a lot of people like that
      approach. But we just don’t want to do that.

      1. A word of caution – depending on the child, Benadryl or any drug for that matter can cause a bounceback effect. However you know your children best.

  26. 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.

  27. 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. But in reality they go by in the blink of an eye. Treasure them, tantrums and all.

  28. 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.

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