Father confesses his parental fear of flying

Posted: Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I have a confession to make. I don't like to fly. I never really have.

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I think my discomfort with flying is rooted in the fact that I can't look out the front windows, so I don't know what may be coming. This has always been the case, even when I was a boy. Still, when it comes time to fly somewhere, I don't hesitate: what choice do I have?

These days, my fear of flying has more to do with angst over how my children will behave, or misbehave as the case may be. They are my children, after all, and they can't look through the front windows either.

There are always inconveniences to endure when traveling. This is true whether you fly by yourself or with your kids. Unfortunately, travel inconveniences are usually incomprehensible to young children, and it is almost impossible to gauge how they will react when reality diverges from itinerary.

Delayed bags are a nuisance, but they usually catch up. Airport security is more tedious than in decades past, but it's easy enough to allot extra time to pass through metal detectors, baggage screening, and body cavity searches.

Then comes the prospect of a delay before boarding the plane. This can happen due to a myriad of reasons, causing delays that can last from a few minutes to several hours. On the bright side, pre-boarding delays allow the kids to run around the gate area and helps them burn off some energy before getting strapped into an airplane seat (or in your lap if they're under two) so maybe they'll sleep once they get on the plane.

Once in the air, there are occasionally in-flight delays. These don't happen as often as delays on the ground because airplanes need fuel to stay in the air. The airlines are very good about putting planes back on the ground before their fuel runs out, and they're usually too cheap to put in very much more fuel than they need for a given flight, which further reduces the prospect and duration of any in-flight delay.

Until this summer, I never even considered that there are crises other than airborne emergencies to make air travel a nerve-rattling experience, but a few months ago the flying public was introduced to a new experience possibly more harrowing than an actual crash or even a hijacking: being stuck in a plane on the ground.

More harrowing than a hijacking? Well, yes. Also, if you attack hijackers on an airplane you're considered a hero. If the airline is your captor and you go on the attack, you'll get arrested.

I was stranded in a plane on the ground for a couple of hours once. I didn't like it. I can truly feel for the folks we heard about during last summer's travel season, especially those parents traveling with young children, stranded on airplanes at times for nine hours or more.

I have to wonder how well my children and I would cope with such a nightmare. Would we sit and stew, or would I entertain my kids by showing them how to deploy the emergency slide? Before I try to answer that question, I suppose I should think about how long it will take to build the road out of Juneau.

We are told in all the travel and parenting magazines that any parent who takes their young children on an airplane should plan for any contingency. This can be difficult to do when these contingencies can add extra hours or days to a travel plan.

Books, diapers, changes of clothes, DVDs and all the assorted electronic gizmos that help young children pass the time on a long trip are hard to cram into carry-on bags. Getting children to carry these bags can be even harder.

Since I do have some experience in traveling with my kids, I feel I am as qualified as most in offering advice and tips on flying with children. My best advice is to take them flying as rarely as possible.

We don't have any travel plans for the holidays this year. Personally, I prefer the sentiment behind the old Bing Crosby song. I'll stay home for Christmas.

• Michael Wittig is a stay-at-home parent and longterm Juneau resident.

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