I admit I was feeling smug as my family and I boarded a jet back to Burlington a couple of years ago. Our trip out west — and our first time flying with our 7-month-old twins — could not have gone more smoothly.
Sure, my wife and I had endured the annoyed sighs, eye rolls and muttered complaints of our fellow passengers when they spotted our infants on the plane ride over. We'd also been burdened by our luggage: two car seats, the double stroller, our suitcases and a diaper bag better stocked than some Mount Everest expeditions. But none of that had kept us from having a great time. Our spirits were high as we headed home.
As the wheels lifted from the tarmac, I laughed at how anxious I'd been about flying with small children.
I wouldn't laugh — or even crack a smile — for the next 36 hours.
In Chicago, the final leg of our homeward flight was delayed. For many hours. When we finally boarded, we were cranky and running dangerously low on diapers. Another passenger and I discovered we'd been assigned the same seat. Just as we'd sorted it out, we were informed that, because of the delays, our flight would miss the arrival curfew in Burlington.
Curfew? Turned out, nighttime construction on the BTV runway meant no planes could land after a certain hour.
We threw ourselves into the mass of people now fighting for the earliest next-day flight out of Chicago and a nearby hotel room for the night. Most of these people, I noticed, were not also trying to soothe two super-tired, super-cranky, super-smelly infants.
Then came a sleepless night in a strange hotel. And an early-morning taxi ride to a drug store for diapers. And an unexpected transfer in Washington, D.C. And a missing flight reservation once we got there. When we finally touched down at BTV, it struck me as an aviation achievement on par with the Wright Brothers'.
For the next two and a half years, the idea of air travel with our kids was out of the question. Then last winter, my wife and I lucked into an opportunity to visit relatives in Florida that was too good to pass up. But how could we steel ourselves to board another aircraft with our kids?
I thought of something English author G.K. Chesterton wrote: "An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered." Maybe I was to blame for my bad time — me and my bad attitude. So I adjusted my expectations. The unpleasant surprises of air travel? They became little thrills instead.
When you think about it, air travel isn't so different from, say, spending time at an amusement park — a site of cherished family memories. You may wait in a long line, only to discover the ride is broken and someone has to repair it before you can get on. Sometimes, after waiting a long time, you're told that the ride won't be fixed until the next day, so you'll have to come back then. Sometimes the news about the broken ride comes after you're already strapped into your seat. That's the greatest disappointment of all.
The food is as startlingly expensive as it is unhealthy.
There's nothing of lasting value in the gift shop, and everything is overpriced.
The facility has been designed to require you to walk long distances without seeming to be walking long distances. No one is fooled by this.
The rides are often packed with people in various — and justifiable — states of anxiety. The roller coaster can be bumpy to the point of inducing vomit. No one pays much attention to the safety instructions.
And the carousels sometimes promise more than they deliver.
Yet people still go to amusement parks and have a great time. Surely, I thought, I could find the fun in flying.
Discovering these parallels freed me from trepidation as my family and I boarded that Florida-bound flight. Of course, since we were prepared for the worst, materially and mentally, the whole trip was hassle-free.
I know better than to expect such uncomplicated air travel the next time around. But we'll fly if we want to — and cheer at the first jolt of turbulence, as if it were a dip in a roller-coaster track.