Why you need me to take my kids on your flight

Yesterday all four of us flew back to Chicago after spending a week in the New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania area, mainly to see the family we abandoned almost a year ago when we moved here. The New York-Chicago route is mainly filled with business travelers. I should know. I have flown this same route many times for work.

Now that I have traded the suit for sweats, instead of business travel complete with frequent flier card and airport lounge perks, I am now part of the family vacation travel crowd. So, I have become part of that family you see in the airport and you secretly hope and pray we are not on your flight.

Yes, we are a sea of overhead bags which means we take up a row of seats at the gate. Aside from the sea of bags, MBA Toddler still needs a car seat for the plane. That means you wait behind us at security while we take extra time to unlatch her car seat from her car seat travel cart (best invention ever, by the way) and lift her out of the car seat. Her car seat doesn’t fit through the detector so it must be hand checked, again, requiring even more time. While you want to race to the gate after clearing security, you can’t because we are in the way. Why? Again, our sea of bags at the end of the conveyor belt but now we must reassemble the travel cart, relatch the car seat, and buckle MBA Toddler back in again.

Yes, we are that family that boards first, taking up most available overhead compartment space. Thanks to narrow aisles we cannot simply roll the car seat down the aisle to the back of the plane, close to the bathroom, convenient for a 6-year old with no bladder control. So, for about 35 rows we carry the car seat over our heads, trying not to knock yours out in the process. No leg room means MBA Son and MBA Toddler kick your seat, even after my many pleas to stop. They scream and whimper during turbulence and bumpy takeoffs and landings.

So why do I bother? All of this must certainly inconvenience your typical business traveler and I know it’s a pain for me to schlep the crew halfway across the country.

Well, if I get this parenting thing right, at the end of the day, I will be adding two more productive, independent people to the world and they will get jobs, ideally ones that pay enough to get them out of my house. This means business travel, quite possibly quite a bit of it. Part of my job as a parent is prepping them for that world of business travel. They need to know that cramming in as much as possible into an overhead that actually fits into the compartment will save time since it will allow them to avoid checking bags, which every business traveler avoids at all costs. Their favorite pillows can stay at home; that’s what the hotel is for.

They need to know how to zip through security quickly, which means taking off big jewelry before getting anywhere near a checkpoint.

They need to know how to go off routine, how to wake up at 4 AM to get to the airport and still have a productive day. They need to know how to deal with last minute gate changes and to know to walk to another terminal to get the train to the car rental lot if the terminal they are in is suddenly evacuated due to a suspicious package (yes, that really happened).

They need to know a few bumps on the flight aren’t scary and they can read, work, or even sleep their way through them without a scream.

In short, my children need to know how to get around the airport, the gate, the world.

Would it be easier for me to throw them in the car and be on our merry way? Possibly. I know it would be cheaper. MBA Dad drove out here to start his job so it’s certainly doable. The thing is, car travel can be quite limiting and it is also my job to prep them for vacation travel. Don’t get me wrong; I am not a plane snob. MBA Son and MBA Toddler are car trip veterans but anything outside a few hours just isn’t practical. It’s just so much quicker to fly and I would rather spend more of my vacation time well, vacationing rather than travelling. Plus, the plane is their gateway to the world and will take them places the car can’t. I want them to see the world and my hope is, if they are comfortable with plane travel now, their minds will awaken to the possibilities of all the places they can go.

Plane training is not really different than taking them out to eat at restaurants that do not feature Happy Meals and chicken-finger-laden kid’s menus. We’ve been doing that with MBA Son since he was a month old. He knows the restaurant routine cold and looks forward to our meals out.

As for the plane, we’re getting there. On our last flight from Atlanta which featured a rather turbulent takeoff into a storm, MBA Son cried and clung to me for dear life. This time, leaving Chicago in the fog into a bumpy flight, one of those flights in which the seat belt sign was on the whole time, he actually enjoyed it. I would like to think I am training them well, but after all, it was vacation.

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Do you mind families with children on flights? Why or why not?

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