The holidays have nearly arrived, but instead of fretting about how to keep your kids quiet on flights, you can relax. New parents often needlessly stress out about their babies crying, toddlers kicking seats, or older kids arguing in that tiny confined space known as an airplane.
But take it from me: Americans are not the grumpy travelers so often portrayed in movies or interviewed during travel segments at blizzard-bound locations. They are kind, kid-friendly, helpful, and gracious, all of humanity’s best qualities mysteriously revealed at the sight of a stressed-out mom traveling with kids
There is plenty of reason to feel ruffled. You’ve got the bags—one for everyone—and an extra for mom, possibly a stroller and a car seat to lug around.
Getting through security by yourself feels like taking a turn on “American Ninja Warrior” (how fast can you get your shoes off, shear the cover off your laptop, strip down all your top layers, shove it all in three plastic bins, and push it in a timely manner onto the screening belt before the guy behind you starts sighing?) Now try doing it with a toddler who wants to jump on the stalled security vehicle or skip the line and run through the screening booth without you.
But then your spirit is restored. Airport staff smile and deliver stickers, wing pins, and coloring bags. Crews offer kids a view of the cockpit and extra bags of pretzels. Airports now offer play stations in their terminals (thanks, Indianapolis!). Dozens of strangers have graciously played peekaboo with my little guy as he poked his head over the seat behind him.
People Are Super Nice When I Fly With My Toddler
In the past year, I’ve taken 10 flights alone with my newly minted two-year-old and every time was like a countdown to a starting line. What kind of mood will my toddler be in today, and would we be sitting by an amenable party? Will we win the gold medal or come in last this time?
As he went ahead of me down the aisle to find our seats, I noticed that every single row of passengers (we board last to avoid sitting as long as possible) lit up at his curious, bashful stroll, making eye contact with all.
Thus far, I’ve never gotten a side eye or irritated vibe from anyone, even when he cried nearly the entire flight last weekend. The man beside me assured me it was no bother. The woman behind us tapped me on the shoulder and offered her headphones to my son in case that would help. Another woman told me she was “a grandma missing my grandkids” and would do whatever she could to assist. There were plenty of high fives and fist bumps to go around as well.
I’ve had folks help carry my bags out of the plane and get all-out silly to make my son smile. Once he just up and hugged a random woman’s legs and she was more than happy to oblige this act of affection.
Kids Bring People Together
Not only do kids bring smiles, they break down all kinds of barriers that divide us—age, religion, color, sex, class. You see everyone in an airport and, most of the time, you keep your head down and your earphones in. With kids, you don’t get to wear headphones and are forced to interact with fellow passengers—and that’s not a bad thing.
On one of our layovers, we were eating lunch in the international terminal of Dulles airport. A Muslim family was eating nearby, the mom covered head to toe except for her eyes, and was eating next to a little girl the same age as my son. We smiled at one another and she pointed out my son to her daughter. The two got a kick out of someone else their own age at the table. We moms smiled knowingly at one another.
The moment warmed my heart because I knew without these precious babies, this mom and I would never have had that moment of connection. They were off across the ocean soon and we were heading back to Indiana, but for a brief second our worlds collided and it was only because of our kids.
We’re All Together in an Airplane
Everyone in the airport in a stranger, and their political affiliation or background is anyone’s guess. I’ve never known these details about the passengers and staff who helped us so many times. It doesn’t matter. The shared humanity and decency that exists inside each of us shines when children are involved, whether they are crying or smiling or doing both within a span of 30 seconds, as was the case with my son many times.
As we touched down on our most recent flight after a rough go of it, his head dipped into a deep sleep. I hauled my 33-pound toddler, now dead weight, down to the baggage claim and sat down to collect myself for a few minutes before grabbing our bag and heading to the car.
Traveling with kids is hard. I knew that part. What I didn’t know was how much the strangers along our journey would restore my hope for unity at a time when so much division has overtaken our country. If you are traveling this holiday season, don’t hesitate to be a part of the restoration process.