The Perils of Flying With Small Kids

High one-half left rear view of Pan American Boeing Model 747-121 "Clipper Queen of the Seas" (also named "Clipper Westwind") (r/n N753PA, c/n 19657) in flight over cloud layer. Color postcard.

Some four decades ago, my wife and I were flying with our two kids, Naomi and Adam, then aged 3 and 1, to visit my dad. It was a long trip – from Leningrad, where I was then working in the American consulate general, over halfway around the world (13 time zones!) to Hawaii, where my dad had recently moved.

We broke the trip up with a number of stops – Stockholm, London, New York and San Francisco – and we had lots of stuff to try to keep the toddlers amused, nourished and clean. Or so we thought.

Disposable diapers being not entirely foolproof, and toddler bowels being not entirely predictable, we found ourselves – in the tight confines of economy-class seating seven miles above the ocean – changing a particularly challenging diaper. (Not a world-record diaper. No. The world-record one entered family lore, thankfully, while we were on terra firma and able to hold the youngster, covered from neck to toe in hazardous waste, under the bathtub faucet and then repeatedly dunk the “onesie” in the toilet to cleanse it of the unspeakable slurry that filled it before it was fit to join the pile of laundry.)

No. While this airborne diaper was not the world-record holder, it had failed to fully contain our young son’s effluvia. And – oh, the horror! – in cleaning up his bottom and folding up the befouled diaper, we had somehow managed to soil a seat cushion. We cleaned it up as best we could, of course, but when the plane landed and we were disembarking, I told the flight attendant at the airplane door that the seat cushion in 23-B (or whatever its number actually was) had suffered the kind of toxic spill that required its replacement before the next passengers came aboard.

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” she said, smiling sweetly. “It happens all the time!”

I hope you’ll keep that in mind next time you’re on a plane and about to reach down for a pretzel you just dropped on your seat.

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