Last week, my nearly two-year-old son and I flew from Austin to another state to see family. We took a short hop of a flight from here to Dallas and then another longer flight to our final destination. We did the opposite on our return.
This was my son’s ninth or tenth round trip flight (including one that was international last summer to and from London). My point being that we have been on planes plenty of times. This was the second time that I flew alone with him and the first time that we bought him his own seat (he has often had his own seat just because the plane wasn’t full).
My friend lent me their Go Go Babyz accessory that allows you to put wheels on your car seat so you can wheel the thing around the airport and, if you are lucky enough to have a skinny enough seat or wide enough aisle, onto the plane. So, for the first time ever, I took his car seat with me because I needed it on the other end.
We flew American. We may never fly them again.
The first two flights were on MD-88s, as was the final one. The third was on a small American Eagle plane. I was by myself with a kid, two bags, and a carseat (the carseat looks like this one, just an older version).
[Note: Most of the gate agents and flight attendants on this trip were amazing and helpful. But the other ones ruined it for them.]
For the first two flights, I boarded with my group (for the first flight I didn’t realize there wasn’t pre-boarding and for the second, I got there late because we had sat on the tarmac on the first flight, so I had missed the beginning of the boarding process). We were sitting in row 29, way back by the galley. This was strategic on my part. I like how loud the back is, we often get off absolutely last, and I like to sit near flight attendants just in case I need anything and their movements give my son something to watch.
On the first flight, the flight attendant at the front of the plane followed me in case I had trouble. When we hit coach, we realized the width of the carseat was about 1/2-an-inch wider than the aisle. I took my son out of his carseat, the flight attendant picked it up, we made our way to the back. When I had trouble getting the wheels off, she directed me to the galley, people were able to get by, I put the seat in, and everything was great. At the end of the flight, she helped me get the seat off the plane, too. I thanked that flight attendant profusely.
For the second flight, I knew the seat wouldn’t fit. I asked someone to tell the flight attendant at the front I needed help. She informed me she could help me, I just needed to get on the plane with the carseat. And like the first flight attendant, she followed me to the back. It was easy. Wheels came off quicker the second time. Lots of thanks all around.
For the third flight, we were on a small American Eagle flight with one flight attendant. I asked the gate agent if I could board first since I was a single parent with a carseat and they let me. The flight attendant was also extremely accommodating and helped me out tremendously. He even stashed my wheels up front and made a plan for what we would do when we arrived (I just got off with my son and the flight attendant got the seat off for me). Again, I was super grateful for all the help.
And then came the final flight.
A short flight, lasting around 35 to 40 minutes. It was back to an MD-88. Knowing the trouble with the size of the carseat, I asked two different gate agents if I could please get on early seeing as I was alone with a 33-pound toddler, two shoulder bags, and a carseat too wide for the aisle, and I was heading to almost the back of the plane. Both said “maybe”. The first one wanted to make sure that I purchased a seat (She didn’t actually ask me, though. She simply asked for my last name without telling me why). The second gate agent told me that I could get on with Group 1, which basically amounted to me being allowed to get on first in group 2.
So, by the time I got on the flight, I was annoyed. I admit it.
When I got into the cabin, the flight attendant in the front was talking to the pilot. I had to interrupt her. I asked if she would help with my carseat. She said that was not allowed to leave the front (which, I guess, those other flight attendants on my previous flights didn’t know) and would have to bring it back whenever she could. I told her I was in row 28. She then told me to move into the galley. As I was trying to do so, while holding my 33-pound child and with two bags on my shoulders, she informed me that I was taking too long and holding up the other passengers.
In a big “fuck you” move, I just left the seat right then, right there, right in the way. I turned around to watch her motion to the person behind me in exasperation and throw her hands up like she couldn’t believe how incredibly rude I had just been to her.
She then called for a flight attendant from the back (She was serious. She was not leaving her front post). That woman pushed by me as if I wasn’t carrying anything at all. I knew she was heading up front for my carseat.
I made it aisle 28 (after hitting people’s shoulders and heads with either my son’s feet or my bags), put my son down, and put our bags underneath the seats in front of us. When I turned around, the flight attendant was trying to pull my carseat through the seats. It wasn’t on the ground, though. She had it in her hands, the retractable handle was completely up, nearly hitting the roof. And the seat was getting stuck each time she came to a new row. So, I left my son and walked forward to her (all the while, he was shouting “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!”). I told her that I could take the seat from here and I thanked her. She said to me (and I paraphrase): “How did you get that on other planes?” She was clearly annoyed with me and my fucking carseat. I told her that flight attendants had simply carried it above the seats to the back. It was like she simply could not comprehend this.
I made to my seat with the carseat. I put the seat in, like the other three times, and I stashed the wheels under my bags. I then called my husband, cursed a lot, shed tears in frustration, and then took my short flight home.
During the flight, the attendant who had “helped” carry the seat to the back made friends with the two children sitting one row behind us. I know the kids names, where they were going, where they were coming from, their ages, what their uncle does, how many hours they were traveling. Not once did she engage me or my son. I don’t know if that was a slight or what but it felt strange.
The next time she talked to me was after the flight had arrived in Austin. After the family behind me got off and as we were waiting for the very final people to deplane, she said to me, “Where did you get that carseat? We have never seen anything like that before. Our aisle is just very narrow on this plane.” I said, “Babies ‘R Us,” not really wanting to talk about the plane, getting the carseat on, or anything related. She obviously didn’t understand my answer, though, because she asked me the same question again as if she couldn’t believe that that monstrosity of a car seat was from such a normal store. And I explained that the wheels are separate but the carseat is a normal carseat that you can purchase at any big box store. She just kept saying that they had never seen anything like it. As if she was trying to justify the shitty treatment that I had received simply for wanting to travel with my child and his carseat. All I wanted to do was tell her about all the fabulous flight attendants who had no problems helping me out but I just kept my mouth shut. Confrontation isn’t really my thing.
My husband said later that I should have told her that I bought it at “Big Fucking Car Seats ‘R Us”.
I am going to write American Airlines. I’m sure they won’t care. Families are not a priority for them, it seems.
I get that people are fucking crazy about privilege when it comes to flying. God forbid that parents get some extra help because that may just mean that someone else isn’t getting quite as much help. But to pick up the carseat and go to the back of the plane with me would have taken a solid five minutes. And letting me pre-board would have made the whole event so much less hectic for every. single. person. involved. Not just me. Not just my son. Not just the gate agents and the flight attendants. Everyone.
One of the things that gets me about this whole episode is that my child’s carseat is for his safety. Not just some convenience (obviously!). And all airlines and all flight attendants make it clear that the most important job of the attendants is the safety for ALL passengers. So, what the fuck? My child’s safety is not quite as important because it is a bit more work (and by a “bit” I mean a tiny little bit)? Is it any more work than dealing with those people who tote on their overstuffed carry-on so that they don’t have to pay to check a bag (which I had done, I had paid the $25 to avoid carrying anything else with me)?
The day before this anger-inducing flight, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a statement about this exact issue of carseats and safety:
Airlines should no longer allow children under the age of 2 to fly in the laps of adults, according to a recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board sent to the Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday. The group urged the F.A.A. to require that every occupant of an airplane, regardless of age, have a seat on all flights — commercial, charter and private planes. In the letter, the board cited several accidents in which young travelers were injured or killed. While the N.T.S.B. says children under the age of 2 “should be afforded the same level of protection as all other persons,” the F.A.A. has rejected the recommendation several times, saying that parents unable to afford tickets for their young children would opt to drive rather than fly, resulting in more highway fatalities.
And to be clear about American’s policies about carseats, here they are. Specifically, note this: “For the safety of your child, American recommends purchasing a seat and using an approved child safety seat.”
It’s just that if you travel alone, there’s a chance that some gate agents and flight attendants won’t help you in any way. If they do, it’s after they have castigated you for holding up the line, have made sure to let other passengers know that you are completely rude, told you plenty of times that they are not used to helping parents with carseats, they have never seen such a carseat in their life, and that their plane is just too damn small for your giant wheeled car seat. All of which makes you cry because you are tired, frustrated, alone, and realizing that these same people are going to be the ones you ask for help when you get off the plane in 35 minutes.
Except that instead of asking them, I coached my son to walk off the plane (which is not an option when you get on because there are too many people, too many stops and gos, people are nuts about getting on the plane fast, fast, fast, etc.). The attendant who was oh-so-helpful getting the carseat to the back of plane and who couldn’t understand that you can buy carseats at BRU offered to help me out. I told her “no, thank you.” And I carried my two bags and my car seat off the empty plane as my son ran ahead.
So, here’s my big FUCK YOU to American Airlines and their fucking anti-family policies regarding boarding.
[Just soes you know, we have two trips planned very soon and there will be carseats available at the other end. Therefore, we are purchasing one of those CARES restraints and leaving the carseat at home. And we are not flying American. I don’t think. Unless they are way cheaper. And man, how that reality makes me even angrier.]