The miserable experience started when I was hit with stomach problems literally the second we arrived at the airport. I was flying from Tampa to Chicago, alone except for the companionship of my two-year-old and her mountain of stuff. And my purse and computer bag.
Before we could even check our one mammoth suitcase, I had to run to the bathroom. Well, run as much as is possible while also pushing a giant car seat/stroller. In fact, I couldn’t even shut the door to the bathroom stall.
I started to feel better, and I made my way to the ticket counter to check in. Bad news. Our suitcase was 7 lbs overweight, and my choices were to pay an additional $50 or pull 7 lbs of crap out of the suitcase and add it to the piles of crap I was already trying to carry. I chose to pull stuff out.
I wrapped baby tights around my neck like a scarf. I shoved chargers into my pockets. I slid a few books into my computer bag. We walked away, one suitcase lighter but 7 lbs of carry-on heavier. Another stomach cramp hit, and I shuffled into the bathroom.
We made our way through security, using 11 bins and making quite a spectacle when I took Cleo’s giant stuffed bunny (Bun Bun) away from her to put in the 12th bin. She sobbed her way through security.
As I was rearranging our carry-on bag, I noticed that Cleo’s DVD player wasn’t in there. This is almost as horrifying as flying with a known terrorist. Except the terrorist would be a baby weighing approximately 21 pounds with a fetching Afro and a piercing scream.
I knew where the DVD player was. On the kitchen counter in my parents’ house. I called my mom. She hadn’t even arrived back home after dropping us off at the airport. She promised to grab the DVD player and return to the airport.
Cleo and I went back to the other side of security. We stopped for me to run into the bathroom. Again. Twenty minutes later, Saint Grandma pulled up outside Departures and handed me the DVD player. More valuable than 50 vials of Xanax.
Cleo and I went back through security, now needing 13 bins. At this point, I decided it was time to buy some Immodium. Bad news. The sundries store by our gate was out of Immodium. Where could I find some, I asked. Oh, there was another store, but it was on the other side of security. Hell to the no.
I decided to make do with a roll of tums and some pepto bismol. There wasn’t much time left before boarding anyway. Feeling slightly nauseous, I settled down with Cleo in the boarding area. There was a passenger making a spectacle of himself, clearly drunk. He slumped across a bunch of seats. Please do not let him be on my plane. Please do not let him be on my plane.
Despite the fact that he was clearly not fit to fly, Spirit allowed the guy to board. Of course, he was seated directly across the aisle from us, one row back. Whatever. Not my problem. I turned my attention to dealing with Cleo, who wanted me to read and explain to her every picture from the panic-inducing emergency evacuation card that was in the back of the seat pocket in front of her. She was particularly fixated on two of the illustrations: 1). the baby receiving oxygen; and 2). the baby floating in a life jacket. Why, why why, she asked.
In case something goes wrong and the plane stops working, and the baby needs extra supports to keep her safe, I explained cheerfully.
Hey, Cleo, let’s read one of your baby books, I suggested. No. Cleo preferred to look at pictures of a drowning baby. I wrestled the card away from her and began reading a book about Amelia Bedelia, the intellectually challenged baker who redeems herself through pie.
Blessedly, the plane taxied down the runway and lifted for takeoff, and I took a few deep breaths to settle my queasy stomach.
And then I heard a most unwelcome sound.
The drunk guy stirred and began retching. Massive, explosive, torrents of peach schnapps sprayed everywhere. The drunken man sitting across the aisle vomited over and over, the alcohol fumes so strong that my nose hairs burned. Alcohol and barf flooded into the aisle, onto the floor, wave after wave of noxious odors spreading across the plane.
The flight attendants, poor things, came rushing down the aisle with piles of paper towels and plastic bags. They opened packages of ground coffee and poured copious amounts of coffee beans on the floor, trying to mask and absorb the smell, since we had the entire flight ahead of us to endure.
There is no complimentary drink service on Spirit, which was convenient, because the entire aisle was blocked off for about 4 rows. The pilot came on and announced that HazMat would enter the plane when we landed in Chicago, and they would lay down cardboard and materials so that people behind the puke could safely disembark.
So we settled in to enjoy our ride.
Cleo fell asleep briefly, intoxicated by the fumes. Then she awoke and happily watched five minutes each of 8 different movies.
Then she had to pee.
I unbuckled her from the carseat, and we carefully hopped over the slippery pukefest that was in the aisle. I carried her to the potty; she peed.
After she practically jumped from my arms at the sound of the flush, she asked for some water. The water that comes out of the bathroom sink is clearly labeled not potable, and I didn’t have a cup anyway. We came out of the bathroom and I looked around. There were no flight attendants in the front of the plane to ask for a cup of water. There were no sinks. There were no carts. The flight attendants were all the way in the back of the plane.
Cleo began to howl. She was thirsty. She had been fighting a sore throat and an ear infection, and she was a thirsty baby who had been subjected to an hour-and-a-half of foul-smelling air.
I looked in the galley, and I saw a half-empty bottle of water next to a cup. I took it and gave it to Cleo. Go ahead, go ahead, judge me for giving her water when I don’t know who was drinking out of it. I preferred to believe that whoever was drinking out of it had poured it into the cup.
We made our way back to the seats, hopping over the barf.
A minute later, a voice came over the loudspeaker.
“Whoever took my bottle of water, please ring your call bell, so that I can get it back.”
It was a flight attendant. She was pissed. I pushed my call button. The passengers around me laughed. She appeared at the row, and I pointed to Cleo. I threw my curly-headed baby under the bus. Or the plane.
“She has it.”
And so she did. Cleo was happily clutching the water bottle, slobbering all over the mouth.
“I’m sorry,” I explained. “But she was thirsty, and there wasn’t anyone around to help us find some water, and this airline doesn’t even provide a complimentary drink of water, so when the baby cried that she was thirsty, and I saw the bottle of water, I gave it to her.”
“I want it back,” the flight attendant said.
The passengers around me gasped incredulously.
“You have to pay for it,” she went on. “You can’t just take things that don’t belong to you.”
Thank you for the moral lesson. Here I am, a mom who adopted a baby out of foster care and who wrote a book about anti-bullying, now being accused of thievery by Spirit Airlines. Great, just great. I thought about saying No, but then I had visions of calling Andrew to bail me out of jail because I STOLE a bottle of water, and I decided it wasn’t worth the risk.
Never mind that she hadn’t said one word to the drunk asshole barfing throughout the plane and decided instead that it was a good idea to take out her anger and frustration on a mom flying alone with a baby who had, until now, been a perfect angel. Honestly, I had been feeling empathy for the flight attendants up until that moment, but I was all dried up.
“Okay, you can take the water back” I said.
She took the water away from my baby. The baby howled. “Cweo want the watah back!!!” She began to cry. I thought I might cry, too.
The flight attendant told me I could have a different bottle of water for $3. I scrounged around for some cash.
“No,” she told me. “You have to use credit or debit.” She waited while I tore apart our bags, trying to find a wallet. She took my card, swiped it, and handed me the water.
“I’ll be writing a blog post about this,” I said.
Don’t f*ck with a mommy blogger. We have friends who fly. But not on Spirit, not again for me. Nope. Don’t let the drunk guy on the plane and then treat the mom with a thirsty baby like a criminal. That just isn’t good customer service.
Portrait of an Adoption has been nominated to the Circle of Moms Top 25 Book Author Mom Blogs! If you hate poor customer service, please support Portrait by clicking here and voting! So easy to do, and you can vote once a day until December 7, 2012.
Portrait of an Adoption is hosted by Carrie Goldman, author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.