A few weeks ago I wrote here about Rocco’s first trip on an airplane. The thought of a four-plus hour flight was not appealing, but whatever discomfort I felt the first time around wasn’t enough to keep me from braving the not-so-friendly skies. Even though I knew better, only a few weeks later, I decided to travel with Rocco alone. Flying with infants is not a feat to take lightly.
I try to get back home to Green Bay each summer. I had a bit of extra incentive this year because I wanted to introduce Rocco to my extended family in the upper peninsula of Michigan and to lifelong friends in Wisconsin. I especially wanted to introduce Rocco to his great-grandpa Dick. He is my only living grandparent, is 85 years-old and has been battling health issues recently. My desire for them to meet was simply more important than any discomfort that I, or anyone else, would experience on an airplane.
As expected, the flight to Green Bay was a relative nightmare. Despite my best efforts – toys both old and new and plenty of snacks – my beautiful baby boy screamed, cried and threw tantrums for most of the flight. Concerned for his safety, I decided against slipping Roc a mickey, the tried and true pre-flight shot of Benadryl to knock him out for a few hours, but I gave it a serious second thought as he wailed. Instead, I pinned my head against my seat, white-knuckled the armrest, clenched my teeth and tried not to lose it, while I secretly wished I could eject myself from the plane. I’m fairly certain everyone else onboard wanted to jettison both Rocco and me from the plane too.
I dreaded the flight home the entire week, but held out hope for the best. The Southwest Airlines cattle call of a boarding system worked out well for us. I was able to snag the very front row next to a sweet elderly couple, who faithfully rocked Packer gear. I sat next to the gentleman, who was a prince; he repeatedly moved our diaper bag into his foot space to make more room for Rocco and me. He made funny faces to make Rocco giggle and even let him play with his gold Packer watch. As kind and helpful as he was, Rocco’s interest in the nice man soon faded at takeoff.
Rocco began to cry roughly around the time the landing gear retracted, while the engines roared and the plane tilted up at an angle like the first hill of a roller coaster. I felt Rocco’s terrified screams in my stomach; an uneasiness similar to thrill ride anxiety, but the exact opposite of anything amusing. The bell that signals it’s OK for us to move about the cabin, also marked the beginning of one of the best examples of kindness and compassion, let alone customer service, I have ever experienced, all thanks to a Southwest flight attendant.
I’m kicking myself for not catching this angel of a flight attendant’s name, but I was pretty much in shock. She had the most gorgeous blonde hair and informed me that she had four grandchildren, although she didn’t look a day over 40.
Her warmth and love of children was apparent as she tried every trick she could think of to entertain Rocco. She offered special snacks and her iPad with baby-friendly games to try to calm him. When Rocco started to scream uncontrollably, she would take him and bring him up front to her work space and let him play with the many cabinets and doors. Open-close, open-close, open-close; he loved it. The flight attendant was also quite the multi-tasker, because along with all her other duties, she artfully managed attend to other passengers, even taking drink orders with Rocco riding her hip.
The standard pre-flight announcement and pantomime wants us to remember that a flight attendant’s primary duty is to ensure our safety. In recent years, as all levels of service in the airline industry have declined and charges for what was once free increase, it seemed as though safety was their only job and the only thing included within the price of our tickets. Most of us, sadly, see them merely airborne wait staff; there to sell and serve us overpriced food and entertainment.
To its credit, Southwest, even with the quirky antics and cost-cutting procedures, generally keeps customers comfortable and happy during the flight, but this Southwest employee went well above and beyond. She went out of her way to try to keep Rocco calm, not only for my sanity, but for my fellow passengers. She saw that Rocco (and I) was in distress and thought of creative ways to keep him happy.
The flight home was nearly five hours, but thanks to that Southwest flight attendant and the gentleman next to me, it was almost tolerable. Without their kindness and help, I would have probably thrown my own tantrum. It is nice to know that not all people are annoyed by children on planes and are willing to lend a hand to make the flight better for everyone. I was very grateful that day.
If you ever fly Southwest and see this lady, please tell her thank you for me and I’m sorry for not catching her name.