It Was Our Turn for a Miserable Flight with a Baby

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Yesterday we took Baby Toddler S’s 20th flight in her first almost 16 months on this planet. While some flights have been easier than others (and this one was particularly less-than-fun), I think you could reasonably state that we hadn’t yet had a “flight from hell” or one of those epic flying with a baby experiences that makes you hurt a little inside for the parents and little ones. Some of that success came from being prepared and strategic, but a lot of it was luck.

flying toddler

Happy enough flying toddler

After almost 7 years of traveling with little ones we finally had some legitimate bad luck in the sky.

Here are tips to survive a baby’s first flight.

Our flight yesterday was a simple enough early afternoon nonstop flight from Houston to Washington DC on United. We had seats together, we were in E+, we were towards the front of economy, and we were as prepared as we could be. I am attending a blogging conference in DC this weekend, and my little ones and parents were along for the ride. I knew we would probably have some sleepy toddler problems since we would be in the air during naptime and it was unlikely she would fall asleep on the plane since she is well past that “sleep anywhere” phase, but I thought we would be okay.


On the flight we watched Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, played toddler games on the iPad, we swapped back and forth between Mom and Grandma, we snacked, we nursed, we snacked some more, and while the toddler was in the redline sleepy zone, we made it through roughly the first 2.5 hours of the flight mostly okay.

Tired, but content on the flight

Tired, but content on the flight

As we started our initial descent into DC, I pulled out my final trick in the bag to keep the little one happy…playing with Snapchat filters. I know, it sounds weird, but seriously try it. I loaded up a puppy dog ears filter for her to see in her reflection on the phone, and as I was watching the phone (because what is cuter than a toddler with puppy dog ears)….I saw something that was decidedly not a part of the filter appear in the reflection.

Out of her mouth what I saw coming was not the oversized puppy dog tongue that is a part of the filter, but something different. Something liquid. Something massive. Something stinky. OMG. No.

I looked away from the phone and down into my lap and there was the sleepy toddler covered in vomit. As fast as I could register what had happened, it happened again. Let’s rewind for a second and note that a key part of keeping the sleepy toddler entertained on the flight was snacking, nursing, and snacking some more.

I’ll skip an overly graphic retelling, but let’s just say that thanks to the snacking, nursing, and snacking some more this was not a minor event that could be categorized in the “spit up” category. She and I were covered. There were legitimate puddles in my lap of what was a few seconds ago in her stomach….where it belongs.

Not only were we covered, but she was screaming. Not the “I’m kinda tired and whiney” noises she was making periodically, but full. on. screaming. I had never before been the mom on a plane with a totally screaming child, but you can now add that merit badge to my diaper bag, and I couldn’t blame her one bit for her screams.

Dealing With a Toddler Disaster Mess in the Sky

Obviously I was concerned about the screaming both for her sake and for the others within earshot, but I actually had a more pressing priority. My first job was to try and deal with the ‘puddles’ that were covering both of us before they spread further. I did what I could using a combination of wipes, airline napkins (oh they stood no match), the airsick bags that nearby passengers were passing our way, and select sections of the in-flight Hemispheres magazine.

Because there was no saving her outfit, I then striped her down to her diaper and contained her destroyed outfit in a ziploc baggie I thankfully had in my diaper bag. Pro Tip: always have a large ziploc. Roughly as we were touching down I had a very tired, almost naked, slightly unwell, but no longer full on screaming baby that I then passed along to Grandma.

I still had to deal with the mess covering me, but at least we were now on the ground. We were stinky. We were grimy. I wasn’t sure what to do with the puke covered clothes and Boppy cover for the duration of our trip, but we survived. I was so grateful we weren’t heading east over the ocean to Europe or something and instead were heading to our hotel.

Helping Others When Their Kid Goes Nuts in the Sky

I already had tons of empathy for parents and little ones when things go wrong in the sky, but now of course I have even more. I’m glad that we were close to landing when this happened, but for those 10 minutes or so that she was legitimately going nutso there was nothing more I could do. I couldn’t place her on mute or pause in that moment, but I was thankful that at least other passengers didn’t add to the inherent stress of the situation by throwing us attitude. Or if they did, I was too busy to notice. Instead they passed air sickness bags our way and said things like “I’m a Grandpa, too, this might help…”

In case you are curious about what happened to the contaminated clothes…they were sent out with the hotel laundry for same day cleaning (fingers crossed). Shockingly things like “nursing Bobby cover” and “contaminated baby clothes” weren’t listed as options to select on the hotel laundry sheet between more standard offerings like slacks and dress shirt, so we’ll see how much this costs!

We have had many good and uneventful flights with a baby and young kids, but it was just our turn for a bad one. I hate that it happened for everyone’s sake, but we all lived and after a couple showers and sending out the laundry we no longer smelled like garbage. I think. Fingers crossed our flight home is much less eventful.

Have you earned your “I survived a miserable flight with a baby” badge yet?

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  1. Ya, we took the kiddo to Hawaii when she was 14 months and that’s when it started to get difficult. She wasn’t so bad in the flight, although there were moments but the trip sucked because she was foul the whole damn time. Other than a trip to SF, we didn’t travel with her again – although we traveled as a couple and left her at home, until she was close to 3 years old. Since then, we’ve been to Montreal and Costa Rica and it’s been fine. She’ll be 5 years old in May and we’re all going to Europe in June.

    • Totally agree that the 14 month zone being a tough travel age. We are also limiting travel as much as is feasible the next few months for that reason…have a Hawaii trip when she is about 20 months and I’m hoping we are starting to come out of this zone by then. Hopefully…. Agree that around 3 things really, really are generally much easier.

  2. That is never fun. Sorry for the bad luck!

    We took out three year old and 15 month old from ORD to Hawaii two years ago and the 15 month old threw up as we boarded and then again a few times in flight. No screaming though…

  3. Extra diapers! They are great for more than just emergency diaper changes. Extra diapers are perfect for that spilt bottle of milk, vomit, or that “oh no, I’m so glad we are sitting in the cheap ‘leather’ seats” moment when your potty trained toddler isn’t so potty trained.

  4. I feel you! My son vomited intensely on our AUA-JFK flight a few days ago. I am going to give you a hug because reading your post vividly reminded me of my experience days ago. #momlife

  5. With my first born, who always has been and is my easy child, I boarded a red eye with him. I still don’t know what the problem was other than maybe ear pressure, but he screamed at the top of his lungs for almost an hour and 45 minutes. That would have been bad enough on a normal flight, but on a red-eye across the country it was beyond my sanity. He was about 16 months old and I was that mom sitting in tears because she couldn’t console her baby. It was pretty awful. But with my second child, she was difficult enough on dry land that I did not travel as much with her. I can recall three or four flights that were pretty darn rough with her as well. She just turned 3 and now I feel like I have a better map of what I need to bring to keep her satisfied. There is always a big trip to the dollar store to fill up a bag with sticker books and anything I can get my hands on to keep her emotionally calm. LOL. My son is now 9 and continues to be the perfect little flyer both domestically and internationally. I haven’t been brave enough to fly with my daughter internationally just yet but it’s coming. At least you had your parents in tow as I travel by myself with the kids most of the time which is really a challenge! I often find just getting through security and to the gate is often more of a challenge than once I am on the airplane so I always allow for a good amount of time for any meltdowns or little child emergencies that might happen so that we don’t miss our flight 🙂 But I think I will start packing a large plastic zip-lock from now on 🙂

  6. So sorry. Hope she is feeling better now. Love the large ziplock bag idea. I usually pack small ones for sharing snacks but will add a large one to our supply now. You never know when you will need one.

  7. I was peed on from our flight from London to Seattle. I had a change of clothes for S, but not for me. Lesson learned. Now I always have one change for me in my carry on. It is a tough age to travel. I think way harder than the newborn stage, but worth it 🙂

      • Well, just to be clear, those are flights and not unique trips, but it is certainly more than the average 16 month old I’m sure which comes with its pluses and minuses. She has seen her family spread around the country more than most. She has had dedicated nonstop one on one time with us on those trips that most don’t get at home during work, activities, etc. Some of the skills and experiences she gets from being in a traveling family will benefit her as time goes on, but the reality is that she was born into a family where her mom does this for a living and sometimes that means she is just along for the ride. I hope in the long run the pros outweigh the cons.

  8. I’m sorry you had this happen! Thankfully I haven’t had a flight like this with my kids yet, but before we had kids my husband and I got sick on a flight from New York to London. We’d both picked up a bad stomach virus and it made an appearance about 30 minutes into the flight for me and then an hour or so later for my husband. We felt fine when we boarded, so it was totally unexpected, or else we’d definitely not have gotten on the plane. We were both sick the entire plane ride, plus continued to be sick at the airport and on the way home (we lived in the UK at the time). We didn’t even care that our luggage was lost, we just didn’t have the energy. I felt horrible for the passengers on the plane around us, and the flight attendants basically ignored us the entire time. Now that we have kids, we both worry about this happening again. There is no way we would have been able to take care of children in our condition, so as sad as it is to say it was probably for the best that it was your daughter and not you being sick (although I suppose your parents could have helped in this case)!

  9. Oh, my. What a story. I’m so sorry that happened, but I’m glad people were kind. B (7 mo) and I were on a flight once where she WAS the screaming baby. For about 45-60 mins non-stop. At one point, I was essentially topless, switching her back and forth from one breast to the other trying to pacify her–standing up at the back of the plane. Apparently it wasn’t as entertaining as it sounds because everyone was pretty cranky and proceeded to tell me when they got off.
    What a fun story you have now. 😉 Good luck the rest of the trip! xoxo

  10. My kids are now 8 and 5 and have been traveling since they were babies and we *still* bring a change of clothes for everyone on flights more than 2 hours, and for them on every flight. It’s a pain, but you just never know!

    • Oh for sure. I had all of that in carry-ons, so we did get another outfit on her before we exited the plane, but since we were heading to the hotel I just dusted myself off and headed forward.

  11. OMG that’s a bad experience, so sorry for you but glad the kiddo wasn’t sick with cold or flu.

    I have never had that bad of an experience in the air, but road trips have been just as bad.

    Living in Calgary, we a have a common friend, rehoult. My family was off to see the new edition to the rehoult family when 10 month old T decided to emergency evacuate her stomach filled with milk and crackers while we were stuck in afternoon traffic jam. Being the most gracious host, rehoult offered an open bar and use of their washing machine to clean the clothes and Britax seat cover.

    Second incident was four months later, dead of winter and the family driving home from Banff. 14 month old T decided to fill her diaper, onesie, and snow pants in what I now know Moms call ” up the back”. We were 20 minutes away from the nearest gas station.

    We got to the gas station ten minutes later. Mom , kid and me (dad) barge into the women’s washroom to get the kid cleaned up. A few minutes later the cashier clerk comes over because someone complained about a man in the women’s washroom. I respond, “oh good your here. We need more paper towels, soap, and new garbage bag”. Clerk “what’s the problem”. Me ” it’s an up the back poop incident”. Femal station manager returns with lots of supplies and told I was greatest husband ever for helping out my wife. Biker chick that complained about a man in the ladies room got told to get stuffed by the station manager.

    Third incident and only one in an airplane. Relatively minor compared to your experience. First flight with 7 month old T. I bought her a seat and brought onboard her bucket car seat. Doors close and I look over at T to see her face turn lobster red. Oh god she is filling the diaper. Rush to the back of the plane (319s don’t have baby change table in the front lav). Mom in the lav changing T diaper while I tell the flight attendants the situation. Call from the captain wondering if cabin is secure. FA responds no and gets me a garbage bag for the diaper. Captain gets on the PA and explains to all pax that the last of the bags are being loaded and we will be pushing back in a few minutes late.

    Here is where it gets interesting. Apparently when I bolted from my middle seat I smacked my head on the door to the oxygen masks. While climbing through the clouds our oxygen masks opened up and dropped down, but only for our row. Did I mention the wife is scared of flying. With wife starting to have a panic attack I ring the call button for the FA to advise on the oxygen masks. FA did a great job of explaining the situation and putting the oxygen mask compartment back together. We level off to a sleeping kid and a couple of drinks on AC for the O2 door incident.

  12. Just so you get a laugh, I was reading this with our 8 month old and he seriously puked in my hand.. couldn’t have been crazier timing!!

  13. Our 5yo threw up towards the end of our flight from SEA-OGG. She was in her car seat so it got all over the cover and straps. Her car seat is the kind that requires tools to remove the straps for washing. Pretty sure we’re the first guests to ever ask the Kea Lani for a screwdriver set…

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