I recently flew between Atlanta and Dallas on Delta Flights 2110 and 1710 (on September 11! #NeverForget) with my 13-month-old son. I checked in online the day before, with my app and my Precheck hoping to get my boarding pass so that he and I would not have to jump through any more hoops than necessary. My ticket listed him as “infant in arms” so the airline knew, and the TSA should have known, that I was traveling just with him and that we were assigned a single seat.
Seat Assignment Fiasco
The app refused to issue me a seat assignment until I arrived at the airport and went to one of the airport kiosks to print a boarding pass. Of course, when I arrived in Atlanta, after bumping into a former colleague who was very interested in hearing what I’d been up to since moving to d different company, I made it to the kiosk slightly later than I should have. And of course there was a massive line for checking bags and the like, but the kiosks were empty enough that I walked right up to one and got my boarding pass and seat assignment.
In Dallas, though, I did the kiosk check in and still wasn’t assigned a boarding pass. They insisted that I then proceed to the gate agent with my temporary pass to get a seat assignment and boarding pass. Surely that was a remarkably inefficient use of time and resources for everyone involved, considering that I was a ticketed and confirmed passenger for the entire trip.
Then I proceeded to the TSA Precheck line, armed with my boarding pass, ID, stroller-stacked-with-a-carseat, strapped-on diaper bag, and small, light carry-on suitcase. Needless to say, my hands were full. And people are very kind to parents traveling alone. I had several people ask if I needed assistance, wait to make sure I could manage my items, and even load some of the items on the belt for me as I wrestled the munchkin. They were very kind, and I sincerely appreciate their help.
In Dallas, though, the TSA agent couldn’t properly read my boarding pass to accept that I was traveling with pre-check and with an infant in arms. I had to show him both markings on my “temporary” document, another problem that could have easily been avoided had I been allowed to check in properly the first time.
Then, while trying to load all my piles of stuff onto the conveyor in Dallas, they have a table, a 3-ish foot gap, and then the conveyor belt. So if you loaded all your stuff onto the table hoping to slide it straight onto the conveyor, it was a no-go. Thank you, wholeheartedly, to the kind fellow passengers and the agent who helped me manage the luggage and stroller and car seat in addition to a squirming munchkin.
Something must have set off the metal detector in Atlanta, so I got hand-swabbed before being sent on my merry way, and then I loaded all my belongings back onto the stroller in reverse order and the munchkin and I got moving again. I think we hopped on the train after walking a couple of terminals, because the airport has an awesome ceiling display between Terminals A and B that I absolutely love.
The munchkin found this much less interesting than I did, although he napped on the MARTA ride into the Atlanta airport and was now awake. I was also eager to get to the gate so that I could change his diaper before we boarded. By the time I made it to the airport bathroom, set up my diaper changing materials, and popped his diaper open, I was surprised to find a perfectly clean diaper, which means not even a single drop of liquid making the blue stripe on the front of the diaper. So I wrapped him back up and loaded him back up and returned to the gate, having missed my opportunity for early boarding.
Once again, though, people kindly let me through, recognizing that I would need some additional time to get all my stuff situated with the baby. And a very kind lady actually did hold the munchkin while I folded up the stroller and carseat before we boarded.
So I popped our big bag in the overhead bin and D and I sat in our aisle seat, where he proceeded to wave at all the passengers and flirt indiscriminately with anyone who paid him a moment’s attention.
Really Poor Design
Since he was sitting on my lap, I figured when I felt some motion in his diaper area that it was finally time to change him. So I picked up diaper clutch and wipes and carried him to the bathroom. Where Delta had a ledge about four inches deep and 15 inches long on which I was expected to change my squirmy toddler. #NotGoingToHappen
The flight attendant studied my predicament and offered to put down some paper towels so I could change him on the floor, and a very helpful gentleman in first class had the clever idea of putting down an airplane blanket atop that so that we had a bit more of a barrier between the baby and nasty floor. And note that he didn’t suggest it. He hopped right up, told me to wait a moment, and DID it for me.
So I got down to business and found when I opened things up that he was still wearing a perfectly clean, dry diaper. In addition to feeling very foolish now I am growing concerned. When D finally did his business, I knew it was going to be a big diaper. #LittleDidIKnow
So I return to my seat after the nice gentlemen offers to hold D while I pack up my stuff and tells me we had a good trial run and would be set for the real one. The flight attendant tosses the full towel/blanket set-up in the trash and I returned to my seat.
Then we got our drinks and snacks on a tray table that had seen better days. I put my seat-mate’s spare newspaper on the tray before accepting our refreshments, since D would drop his pretzels and put them in his mouth anyway, and the cleanliness of that tray was suspect. D really enjoyed his apple juice and pretzels. Shortly thereafter, we get our tables cleared and D starts squirming and fussing.
A few minutes later, in rapid sequence–I kid you not–the pilot turns on the “Fasten Seatbelt” sign and D moves just enough for me to notice a big brown blob on my pants. Then the pilot announces the descent and another flight attendant passing by refuses to let me change D’s diaper. “You should have done it earlier,” she says, as if I didn’t try to do just that and as if I have any control over anyone’s bowel movements.
I politely explain to her that I’m covered in poo and that the baby is covered in poo under our blanket (wish I’d used the Delta blanket that time). There was actually even poo on the edge of his pacifier, which has a stuffed animal attached. The poo was on the stuffed toy’s foot, so far enough from his mouth. But honestly, was I going to take away my kid’s pacifier before we descended and let him scream bloody murder on the airplane? No, I was not. Judge away.
Anyway, she was singularly unhelpful and awfully smug. And there was nothing I could do. Of course, having finally emptied his little belly, D fell promptly asleep for the entire descent. Once the plane landed and the folks in the seat across the aisle cleared out, I quickly slid over to start cleaning D up. After all, my seatmates wanted to get out and I couldn’t put the munchkin back in the carseat while covered in poo. So I spend the next several minutes cleaning up D, changing his clothes, collecting all the soiled items, which now include the changing mat, the blanket, his clothes and pacifier, and the dirty diaper and the wipes, etc. There wasn’t anything I’d be able to do about my own pants until later, but I wiped up the majority of the mess and the cleaning crew gave me a trash bag to contain all my stuff in. I was definitely the last person off the aircraft.
More Questions Than Answers
The big question, though, in all of this, is where are the changing tables in the airplane bathroom? They could easily install one over the toilet that folds down and offers enough space to actually change a baby and is much less gross (admittedly not for me but for other more squeamish passengers) than trying to change a diaper on a vacated seat. At some point as a parent poo stopped bothering me. But the plane floor still takes the cake for being an absolutely vile spot for diaper changing.
Shame on you, Delta, for not considering this critical way to make parents traveling with small children better able to contain their kids’ messes. It’s already overwhelming to travel with a small child, but then being stuck between two equally inappropriate choices when it’s time to attend to their basic needs is simply ridiculous.
As a resident of the Atlanta area, I’ve long chosen Delta as my airline of choice, but this lack of family-friendly aircraft, the ridiculous staff member, and the difficulty of getting an assigned seat, and it makes me question this decision to be a loyal customer. I also know just how many of my friends with small children also read my blog (thank you all!), and I hope they, too, consider the challenges they will face choosing an airline that can’t accommodate the basic needs of their children.