My Toddler Threw an Epic Airplane Tantrum — and I Survived


airplane tantrum - Boston Moms

Several months ago, I was on a flight where I observed the worst toddler tantrum I have ever seen in my 33 years. To my horror, the toddler was mine.

My husband unexpectedly had back-to-back trips come up that would cause him to be gone for nearly two weeks. I decided I did not want to be a solo caretaker to our barely 3-year-old and 6-month-old for that amount of time. Fortunately, we had just enough airline points for the flight to my mom’s house in Texas, so I eagerly booked it. All that stood between me and 12 days of family, friends, and Tex-Mex was a four-hour flight with my toddler and baby.

Finally, the travel day arrived. I took deep breaths to calm my anxiety and repeated self-affirmations in my head: “This is just like a playdate. I take these kids everywhere by myself. This is no different. I got this.”

TSA was surprisingly painless, and the Boston Logan staff were awesome, as always. My daughter and I shared a slice of pizza, filled our reusable water bottles, and prepared to board. I sat my daughter by the window, and I took my place in the middle seat as a buffer between her and the unfortunate but kind lady who happened to occupy the aisle seat.

The flight was long, but, for the most part, uneventful. My son alternated between sleeping and nursing, while my daughter alternated between snacks, coloring, and the iPad. I was feeling like a rockstar. “Best kids ever. Best mom ever. This is going great!”

At last, the fasten seatbelt sign lit up, and it was time to descend. We made it! I started nursing my son in preparation for a smooth landing and asked my daughter to let me put her seatbelt on. But she did not want to put her seatbelt on.

We spent a few minutes gently discussing the importance of putting her seatbelt on. And then things started to escalate. The flight attendants were making their rounds, so I forcefully buckled her seatbelt, as we really did not have an option in the matter.

Game over.

The next 20 minutes felt like three additional hours had been tacked onto our flight. Not only did my girl not want her seatbelt buckled, now she was holding her ears screaming at me that they hurt. I told her they needed to pop and tried to offer snacks, but it was too late.

My 3-year-old was past reasoning. She was done talking to me. The most extravagant tantrum I have ever witnessed in any child ever ensued.

I remembered that before takeoff, the lady sitting next to me had declared that she enjoyed children on airplanes. So, I put her to work. I handed her my baby while I frantically tried to help my daughter. I begged and pleaded. “You can have any snack you want! You can watch anything on the iPad! You can color! You can look at my phone! Just PLEASE STOP!” Regrettably, the more I petitioned, the louder she screamed.

In a moment of pure desperation, I hoisted my daughter in the air above my head where she could see our now completely silent airplane audience. Through gritted teeth I implored, “Look at the people! See the people? THE PEOPLE CAN HEAR YOU!” She stopped screaming, so I lowered her down thinking maybe my antic had worked. Nope.

The screaming started again, along with kicking the seats in front of us.

Finally, the plane landed. Her ears must have popped, because the minute we touched down my sweet girl reappeared and started chatting my ear off about seeing her uncles soon. I profusely thanked the lady next to me for her help as I took my son back. I sat stunned, speechless, and humiliated at what had just occurred. We exited the plane, and I could not make eye contact with a single person.

Once at baggage claim, I did not even notice my brother walking up as I stared into space, completely exhausted and defeated over the longest 20 minutes I have ever experienced. We grabbed our bags, loaded up, and I found my sanity on the drive to my mom’s house.

As the holiday travel season approaches, I regret that I do not have any advice on how to avoid a toddler airplane tantrum. However, I can promise that you will survive, too, and life will go on.

I learned that my daughter’s epic airplane meltdown did not make her a bad kid, or me a bad mom. It made us both human. And resilient humans, at that.

Have you survived an epic toddler tantrum of your own?