Flying By the Seat Of My Pants

As I prepare to fly in a couple weeks with my children (yes, both of them this time) I can’t help but reflect on travel times past. This was by far my most memorable flight ever, which is totally saying something since in 1983 I got to fly solo for the first time. I still remember the stewardesses (yes, this was pre-flight attendant days) allowed me to help pass out drinks and visit the cockpit where I received my very own Frontier airline wings. It was obviously quite the day for my 7 year-old self.

What is your most memorable (good or bad) travel story?


The many wonders of parenting would not be complete without a horrific travel story or two, and it is not until you are a parent that you realize just how true, even if hilarious, the “Jeffrey” story is from the classic Bill Cosby stand-up routine. If you have not survived some sort of horrible plane flight or horrific car trip with your child, count yourself lucky … or just be counting the minutes.

Emma took her very first trip at five months old, so by the time my tale of woe took place, she was actually a bit of a seasoned flyer, for a two-year-old that is. Plus, I was one of those very cocky confident first-time mothers of one who didn’t think twice about packing up her child to jet off for a weekend away. Hence my plan to surprise one of my best girlfriends from high school with a visit to help celebrate her 30th birthday, per her husband’s suggestion. Obviously, if she and I had been planning the surprise, the trip probably would have looked more like the two of us on a beach somewhere drinking fancy umbrella drinks alone, not surrounded by our three collective children, but I digress. The travel to and the visit itself was actually really great – the kids all got along well and we shared a lot of laughs. It was genuinely fun and fabulous!

But the day we were supposed to come home, Emma decided to totally buck the system and skip her nap, despite my repeated attempts to make her take one. To make the day a bit more stressful, I began feeling pretty awful with unexplained stomach pain and mild nausea as the afternoon progressed; but because I am a mother, I did the only thing I could do – I sucked it up and packed our suitcase. My sweet girlfriend drove us to the airport where we said our tearful goodbyes. My tears were because I was saying goodbye to my friend, and Emma’s because she was now hours without a nap and exhausted. By the time we got through security, I was feeling really sick and Emma was hysterically sobbing in her stroller.

I got to the gate only to discover that our flight was, yes, you guessed it, delayed. However, much to my joy, I discovered that the very next gate had a flight to Charlotte leaving only fifteen minutes after our original departure time. I rushed to the counter, explained my situation, not that it needed much explaining, given the sobbing coming from just below the counter, and begged to be let on that flight. They told me that they could get us on the plane, but that our luggage would still come on our original flight, hours later. Fine, no problem, who cares, just get me and my screaming, way-overtired toddler home as quickly as possible.

I boarded and managed to wrangle Emma onto my lap with her pacifier (yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, I know, two-year-olds don’t need pacifiers, spare me the lecture, I was desperate here!), knowing that just any minute now she would pass out from exhaustion. Which she totally did. NOT.

And then as the plane was taxiing down the runway, I got the overwhelming, sweat-pouring-down-your-face feeling that always comes right before your stomach sends its contents right back out the way they came in. I frantically checked the seat pockets in front of me only to discover that I had plenty of emergency landing instructions and more than enough in-flight magazines, but not a single air sick bag! Knowing that vomiting all over my already wailing toddler would probably not help her into a blissful slumber, I looked across the aisle and spotted one in the seat pocket there. Using the go-go gadget arms that motherhood seems to magically give you, I was able to grab it just seconds before becoming violently ill, all while attempting to hold still on my lap my HYSTERICAL, UNCONTROLLABLY SOBBING, ATTEMPTING TO BAT AWAY THE BARF BAG THAT I AM ACTIVELY USING toddler. And did anyone offer to help me, you might be asking yourself? With the exception of the flight attendant walking by and placing several more air sick bags next to me, the answer is no.


We finally took off (oh yes, this was all before we had even left the ground) and Emma sobbed. And then screamed. And then cried. And writhed while doing all three nonstop throughout the flight as I got increasingly sick. Now, by this point, even if I was just a writer, I would have known that there was something legitimately medically wrong with me; but because I am actually also a nurse, I definitely knew, like didn’t need to break out the old Web MD, that these symptoms were worthy of concern. Uncontrollable stabbing back and abdominal pain with pretty constant vomiting mixed with sweating and chills? It equals more than just some good times in the health department.

Emma finally fell asleep about five minutes before we landed in Charlotte. Yes you read that correctly – she fell asleep just a mere 1 hour and 45 minutes into the flight, which means she had sobbed uncontrollably for every single second since we boarded. Upon landing, the pilot came on to the PA system and did the classic “your gate is not ready” speech. This news gave me a chance to practice my best Exorcist impression for the flight attendant where I pretty much suggested (through gritted, clenched, pain 9 on a scale of 10 teeth) that she might want to tell the pilot to find us a gate Right. That. Minute. Since I am pretty sure that she is still waiting for a thank you for the extra air sick bags, I am fairly certain that I did not make her favorite flyer list for that performance.

The only and I mean only upside to this story is that Robert was flying back to Charlotte from a different trip at the same time and was able to meet us at our gate, which being post 9/11 would not have been possible otherwise, so I knew that he could take over with Emma once we landed. I had been able to call him from the runway to let him know what was going on, so he had my dad en route to take Emma home, as he knew that we were heading straight to the hospital. Upon arriving at our gate, which was quickly procured after the flight attendant realized that the lady in aisle five was possibly dying (not really, although it totally felt like I could have been), the medics boarded the plane. While one carried the still sleeping Emma (thank you, Lord) to my waiting husband, another loaded me up right there on a stretcher and carried me off the plane.


I was then taken by ambulance with extremely high blood pressure (duh!) where it was determined that I was having a severe kidney stone attack. One of my best girlfriends summed it perfectly when she said to me upon hearing the story that either of these scenarios (Emma crying hysterically for the entire flight OR the kidney stone attack on an airplane) would have made for a horrible travel story, but the combination was like something out of a really bad nightmare. I am so thankful to be able to have come out the other side, and, I hope, to have passed my horror travel experience test with a merit badge for life now earned.




Flying By the Seat Of My Pants — 21 Comments

  1. What?! This can’t be true!! Except that it’s too awfully wicked for anyone to fake. Taken off the plane directly into the ambulance?! That beats all my travel stories- and you can imagine I have some travel stories…with 4 kids and 8 overseas moves in 11 years. You STILL win. Ugh. At least you know there’s NOTHING you can’t handle.

  2. it is really an amazing fact that I was able to meet you at the gate in person. I just wish the meat-wagon had taken us to CMC-Pineville instead!

  3. This makes me afraid to ever fly again with my kids. HOLY COW!!! That is awful. Absolutely awful. I laughed at the “if it was up to us, we’d be on a beach somewhere.” Nothing more true than that statement!

  4. {Melinda} Oh. my. word. Any experience I could share (which seemed pretty horrible) now pale by comparision to your wretched tale. I am so sorry. Merit badge earned.

    My worst stories actually have to do with family photo taking experiences. Thinking back on them is actually making me a little queasy right now. Good think I’m not on an airplane.

  5. That is such a horrible, yet entertaining, story. Nice to be able to say to anybody who complains that they had a bad flight, “I can top that.”

  6. Oh My GOSH!!! I could picture EVERY single horrific scene play out as you so vividly described it!!! (yes, I pictured the puke and screaming child thrashing in your lap attempting to grab your puke bag as you hurled and hurled and sweated through your shirt, your hair all sweaty and the smell and Emma’s snot dripping from the crying and youtwisting and turning to keep her on your lap as you puked and people staring wide eyed in disgust NOT doing a DAMN thing!!!) Oh how I wish I was there to help you!!! I cannot CANNOT believe no one helped you. Thank God Robert was able to get to you asap. What a horrible story Ashley!
    I had a horror story of my screaming child for an entire flight from Texas to Columbus, while I paced up and down the aisle (sp?) with him literally three straight hours praying he would finally fall asleep. Looking back, I seriously thought the walking would do it so I exposed his SCREAMS to the ENTIRE plane instead of sitting in my seat in the back…friggin’ real smart mom! He never fell asleep- so the total embarassment of it all was horrifying and I cried with him the last hour… not even MY SISTER offered to help. Nice. What was I thinking pacing the aisle? Those poor passengers!
    Okay- enough said. Your story is just awful. SO glad it’s over now…

  7. OMG! That is terrible! I’m so glad that you were safe in the end.
    Traveling on an airplane with young children is not fun at all! We were ‘randomly’ selected by the TSA to be searched on time. I say ‘randomly’ because both Brent and I think they flagged us due to all of the junk we had. There is nothing worse than watching your 15 month old be patted down and trying to explain it to him.

  8. I will never, ever forget this story…..and to hear you tell it is even better (if anything can be better about that story!) than reading it here. Oh my gosh, such a horrific moment for all of you! I did like that you started out with Bill Cosby, though! :))

  9. On one of our many international flights with our two children, my husband once refused to help me with our boys because he “really needed a nap.” So I got my older one settled in with a movie (luckily it had those personal screens) and held my screaming infant while I made constant use of the airsickness bag. I didn’t end up on a stretcher at the end, so it can’t compare to your story. Maybe my husband almost did. 😉

  10. It was definitely quite an experience! Thank you all for reading and commenting! Wish me luck as I prepare to board another plane this Thursday! 😉

  11. This story is just terrible. I remember always feeling peeved when I flew while pregnant – you are so right – can ANYONE lend a helping hand??? Seriously.

  12. oh my god — I was laughing — then feeling guilty for laughing — then laughing again! you tell such a great story! the screaming toddler alone would have done me in, never mind the kidney stones! glad you survived! my favorite line: “Knowing that vomiting all over my already wailing toddler would probably not help her into a blissful slumber”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *