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Driving with Teenagers, Flying with Babies and Other Red-Eye Thoughts

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I took the red-eye home from Los Angeles last night.

After a week or so of driving cross-country in a tiny 2007 Ford Focus crammed to the roof with teen paraphernalia, a one-way ticket to Detroit seemed like it would be the last rosy leg of a journey which saw my daughter launch her way into adulthood.

I don't know what I was thinking when I cooked up this idea of a road trip from Michigan to California. Perhaps it was the lure of a repeat performance of three years ago, when my son and I made the same trip. He still gives glowing reports about it to this day, even though we endured an entire country's worth of 100+ degree temperatures and his car broke down twice.

What could be more rewarding and special than ten days of mother-daughter bonding?

The "specialness" wore off rather quickly when I realized I was trapped in the car with a woman-child who was depressed over leaving her friends and boyfriend. She slept the first two days, breaking only for food and bathroom use, text messaged non-stop when she was awake, and barely maintained any conversations of more than a couple of sentences.

While not exactly surly, she wasn't great company. By the end of my ten-day journey, I was looking forward to going home and settling into my now empty nest. I had plans for her room. Huge plans. I also wanted to see how my garden was growing and was wondering if my husband had killed my cranky lovebird in my absence. In essence, I was excited to be leaving LA.

Then I got to the airport. I had forgotten how tiring flying could be.

During the initial stages of my transcontinental odyssey, I was largely incommunicado. Part of the reason was that I was driving, and the rest had to do with a lack of internet access, even with a laptop connect card. Because of this, I completely missed the results of this poll which determined that most people would like the younger passengers on their flight segregated by age.

After last night’s flight, you can add my vote.

Before you pick up a virtual tomato to hurl at me, remember that I am a mother and my kids were once young travelers too, and sometimes not among the best behaved. I’m the first to admit that parents do the best they can under stressful situations, and sometimes they just can’t control everything. Once my then three-year-old son once dumped his barbecued rib dinner onto the lap of a seatmate. I guess he didn’t like the look of the guy. Of course, I apologized profusely, but that didn’t alleviate the stickiness felt by my fellow traveler, who spent the remainder of the trip to Denver growling under his breath.

Last night’s late-night flight included several young children in my section of the airplane (the dungeon of the 757, otherwise known as Row 47, the second-to-last row), and three of them screamed for most of the four-hour flight.

The only way I can “sleep” on a red-eye flight is to have a good strong mixed beverage beforehand (double Cuervo Gold margarita, hold the salt) and chase it with a couple of Benadryl or a Tylenol PM. That’s usually enough to put anyone, including me, into a coma. But even though I felt I was sufficiently self-medicated during last night’s trip, I could only doze off briefly between the shrieks of the panicked toddlers.

I’m not a curmudgeon, but I’m all for sectioning off an area for the under-five set. I’m fairly certain most parents would go for this idea as well. Make it interesting and fun, sort of a cross between McDonald’s play land and Disneyworld. Put it in the aft or dungeon section, where people with connecting flights don’t want to be but where, as things stand, they usually end up simply by the luck of the draw.

While they’re at it, a truly progressive airline would figure out a way to configure red-eye aircraft so that everyone is reclining in the prone position. Heck, I would pay a king's ransom if I could just lie down flat. I don’t need a mattress or even a blanket, but a nice flat surface would be a godsend. I spent most of the early morning just before landing trying to do the math in my head. Can they get more people on a plane that way? Perhaps the airlines can provide pods encased in sound-proofing, so that old folks like me who want to sleep can't hear the screams of frightened babies. Such pods could double as flotation devices in the unlikely event of crashing into water.

Hmm… Sleep deprivation really does affect critical thinking.

All in all, though, if I had a choice, late-night flying in a packed aircraft full of howling babies is the considerably better option than that long car trip in a Ford Focus with a surly teenager.

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About Joanne Huspek

I write. I read. I garden. I cook. I eat. And I love to talk about all of the above.