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  • Writer's pictureLiz Fehlman

Our No Fly List Baby

Donald and I made the early decision that we wanted to travel with our kids. By early, I mean we had booked a domestic and international flight for Carter before he was even born. We knew we'd have to adjust our expectations and our itineraries. We knew it wouldn't be easy - but like all things that aren't easy - we sensed it would be worth it. Traveling is important to us and we want to instill that in our children...even when they're 3 months old and will never remember they were at Disney World. That's what Facebook photos are for.

On our flight home from Ireland this past month, we learned that not all believe children should travel.

We awoke at 4:30am to drive the hour from Galway to Shannon Airport. With a week of Guinness, wedding celebrations, new friends and amazing experiences behind us - we were exhausted from the shenanigans and ready to be home. Unlike our last international departure (which included a fire in Heathrow's terminal, a missed bus, and us sprinting through the airport), we arrived with plenty of time to change Carter and get a quick bite before boarding. As I strapped Carter into the Ergo and walked towards the gate, he began his usual howling that is associated with being strapped into said Ergo. I smiled at passengers who gave me sympathy winks and joked with them as I secretly prayed he'd quiet down soon.

He didn't. Donald and I boarded the plane quickly and sat down in our bulkhead seats (non-frequent fliers: the bulkhead is the amazing row at the front of the plane, with no one in front of you and 14 miles of legroom). We fumbled to fix a bottle to silence our Howler Monkey when our passenger in 8F literally jumped from his seat and exclaimed loudly "I WILL NOT SIT NEXT TO A CRYING BABY FOR THIS FLIGHT." Donald and I discretely rolled our eyes at each other and went on to calm Carter with some delicious powdered milk and all was fine. This man didn't stop. He called a flight attendant over and demanded a new seat. When he was presented a new seat in the middle of the plane, he had a change of heart - "I will not move. This is my seat and I paid to be here."

Well, so did we buddy. It's your funeral.

I'll admit that at that point, I started to squeak every squeaky toy and rattle every rattle in hopes this man would realize he didn't want to be our Seat Buddy for this long flight back to New York. He didn't. Instead, he took every opportunity to slam his tray table, fidget in his seat, complain to the attendants, and utter snide remarks (at one point, yelling "Jesus Christ!" when Carter yelped). This man was a gem, and the three of us had quite the flight ahead of us.

Carter wasn't a perfect baby. Not even close. But Donald and I did our best - standing up to bounce him, walk him up and down the aisles. We got nothing but encouragement and smiles from the passengers around us - who knew better than to say anything...and knew to slip on their headphones and drift away from the Howler Monkey. Donald and I couldn't drift away - he's our Howler Monkey. We persisted - bouncing, feeding, playing. For 6+ hours. We were exhausted by the time the captain announced our landing but encouraged that we had survived.

Then I noticed Grumpy McGrumperson pull out his camera and begin to snap photos of our luggage at our feet (which should have been stowed overhead for landing...but wasn't because...crying baby.) He took pictures of the bassinet that United issues to families of small children who sit in the bulkhead. I thought it was odd but shrugged it off. I saw a small device sitting on his tray table but didn't know what it is. I later learned it was an tape recorder and he had been audio recording my son's cries the entire flight.

As the wheels touched down, Grumpy turned to my husband and said "I hope you know that I plan to tell United that your baby should be on the No Fly List."

'scuse me, sir?

Come again?

He continued. "This is the worst flight I have ever experienced. Why on earth would you travel with your baby?"

Mama and Papa Bear hid their claws for a few minutes. Donald calmly apologized to Grumps and explained that the past 6 hours hadn't been rainbows and sunshine for us either. But, this man was relentless and continued to pick at us as we taxied to the gate. Then we lost our cool. We defended our choices, our rights and our decision to fly as a family and reminded him that he had another option he chose not to take. This man boasted about his Million Mile status of which I so badly wanted to retort, "then why isn't your pompous ass in First Class?" but I refrained. We took the high road - we told him we were done with this conversation and turned our attention back to Carter (who, ironically, had slept through this entire confrontation). He continued to make remarks but we would no longer entertain him.

The seatbelt sign flashed off and he flew out of his seat, bumping into another passenger who had been incredible to us the whole flight - giving us winks and bits of encouragement. That did not go over well with Happy Passenger. Grumpy and Happy started to get into it and I thought for sure this was going to be my chance to be featured on NBC Nightly News. They exchanged words. We exchanged a few more words. Flight attendants stood there doing nothing. Carter slept.

We got off the plane and naturally, went straight the bar. We debriefed over a few beers at 9:30am - nothing wrong with that. What could we have done better? What could we have said to silence this guy? Was he right - should we not have brought Carter?

We momentarily doubted ourselves as parents. Looking past the long, stressful flight and looking past this crabby old man who was clearly acting on suppressed feelings of not being picked first in Gym Class - that is what upset me. Someone else made me feel like a bad parent. Someone else made me feel like I didn't know what was best for my child, my family. Someone else couldn't put aside his own feelings and dig deep to find empathy for us. Perhaps offer a helping hand. If not, perhaps shut his mouth. Be a decent human being and be kind.

We all have differing opinions, especially when it comes to parenting. If your child is safe and loved, then your choice is not wrong. It may not be my choice, but it's not wrong.

We'll continue flying with our children and taking them to see and explore the world. Especially since we filed a formal complaint against the man who had been recording my child without my permission. Turns out, that results in the captain of the flight calling and reprimanding our Seat Buddy and $300 in free flight vouchers for Team Fehlman. So yes, we will fly again...for free. Thanks Grumpy!

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