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Flying with a 6-month-old requires baby steps


Life Lines: Candy Puterbaugh

It sounded simple enough. Fly from Portland to San Diego with my two grown sons and 6-month-old granddaughter for my nephew’s wedding.

My husband and daughter-in-law would take a later flight due to a golf tournament and work. We loaded the car with luggage, diaper bag, stroller, car seat, two strapping sons and a strapped-in baby. All we had to do was park the car, take shuttle to terminal, check in, pass security, board, fly, land. So easy even a child could do it.

The first hitch came on the shuttle.

“That baby needs to be taken out of that carrier!” the driver said none-too-softly over the loudspeaker. “She needs to be held. Current safety rules.”

I tried to sound congenial: “They think it’s safer out of her carrier and in her dad’s arms?”

Over the loudspeaker: “Yes, they think that, in an emergency, the parent will protect the baby’s head.”

Hitch No. 2 hit at the check-in counter.

The ticket agent looked at little Nina, a pink-cheeked, pint-size cherub bundled into a tiny carrier.“Is your baby under 2?” she asked.

“Yes,” my son answered, smiling at what seemed a joke question.

“I need a birth certificate for her.”

Uh-oh. He’d packed that the last few times flying and it wasn’t needed.

“Is there a relative you can call to verify her birth date?”

Luckily, my husband had just finished his golf tournament. Luckily, he answered his cell phone. Luckily, he remembered her birth date.

On to security — and through, we hoped. Hitch No. 3 came in short order. This was playing out like a board game. Baby forced out of carrier ... .crawl back three spaces. Baby doesn’t have birth certificate ... take two baby steps back. Now, at the gate, no early family boarding.

“Go to the back of the line,” barked gate agent Steve. We chose to ask a friendly-looking female agent instead.

“Oh, yes, there’s early family boarding,” she said. “Just go against the wall up in front under the big heart on the wall.”

We trudged merrily there, where we were the only ones except for a man in a wheelchair. Steve was ahead, standing between us and the gate. He looked at us, then said loud and clear into the microphone: “This area along the wall is for special needs. Family boarders need to go to the back of this line here and wait.”

He motioned toward a snaking line that disappeared into the distance.

When I told him the female agent had sent us here, he bristled, “It’s a new rule.”

Back to the nice lady: “I put families through early yesterday. That’s a pretty new rule.”

Another agent chimed in, “Is the gate agent Steve? Then that’s the way we’re doing it today.”

Much later, we boarded, flew and landed. It was the adults who were near a meltdown.

Nina’s meltdown didn’t come until the next day at the wedding when the minister said, “We are gathered here today ...” and ended when he said, “I now pronounce you husband and wife.”

But the rest of the night she was a doll-size Cinderella in her Mary Jane socks. Our dapper 6-foot-6 nephew twirled this tiny diapered diva around the dance floor in his arms.

The plain truth is, babies and planes don’t understand each other. Airplanes draw lines — for boarding and just about everything. But loved ones always work between the lines. And the jostling was worth it, for babies belong at weddings. They don’t know what they mean and may melt down, but they also melt hearts, which swept this baby into arms and out onto the dance floor. She joined other tiny twirling little ones to make the wedding complete. Only a child could do it.

Candy Puterbaugh is a Southwest Portland resident and writer.