First Class, Baby

I always wondered what it's like to travel first class. I've done a lot of traveling spending as little money as possible. Well, not exactly. I've done a lot of traveling spending as little money on extraneous things like plane tickets and breakfast as possible. In Sweden I pitched my tent in a city park and stole food off someone's reject cafeteria plate. I also bought this gorgeous canvas coat and took weekly trips to Copenhagen. Anyway.

I got upgraded one time after spending the night in the foetal position under a desk in the Colombo airport (take pity on a poor white girl). There was someone working for an international aid agency in the seat beside me. She had nice hair and a perfectly modulated voice. I had so many questions to ask her but instead I slept through the flight -- a full nine hours. I still have the complimentary eye-mask.

I've most certainly never traveled first class with a baby. Now that I'm on the road with Sweet Baby James, hitting up all my favourite cities on a Last Hurrah/Give Me My Green Card, Bitch cross-Canada tour, I'm willing to give it a try.

Our introduction to the Executive Experience happens on Air Canada flight 758 to Montréal. It's an early morning flight and I begin the day exhausted, tripping over my own two feet which is kind of obscene when you're carrying a baby. I've always felt I should dress up for air travel but today my hair is still damp from the shower, pulled back into a drooping bun. You could say 'drooping' is kind of the unifying theme here: bleary eyes, sagging jeans, and somehow also the once-trusty ring sling which Sweet Baby James has learned how to wriggle loose.

I am constantly readjusting it, tightening it around him for some semblance of safety as we go through baggage check, security, washroom pit-stop, airplane boarding, minuscule airplane washroom pit-stop... It's driving me crazy. And my pants are falling down. I am that mom. That harried mom with frizzy hair and a kid who looks like trouble. The passenger no one wants to sit beside.

What nobody knows is that the last time we took a flight, I kept this baby quiet like my life dependend on it. I walked him up and down the aisles. I took him for a poop in the bathroom. I comfort nursed him whenever he looked a little peevish. I sat paralyzed, staring straight ahead as he slept because I couldn't quite reach my magazine. I tied disposable cups to strings and hung them from different parts of the plane, creating a beverage-themed mobile for his batting convenience.

God dammit, I kept him so content and entertained, no one had cause to complain. No, instead they complimented my husband when he came to pick us up at the gate. "He was so quiet the whole flight! What a good baby!" I don't know why they congratulated him when they should have been thanking me. Anyway.

This flight starts off well with Sweet Baby James relaxing into my arms in our Economy Class seat during take off. I'm a bit on edge because although I took him to the washroom a few minutes before, he hasn't had his morning poop. And he didn't have one yesterday.

For the first ten minutes, it's clear sailing. The man with the aisle seat has begrudgingly consented to switch with me if the baby starts crying and I have to walk the aisle at some point. I'm thirsty. We hit some minor turbulence and the captain turns the seatbelt sign on. I put Sweet Baby James back in his sling and wait for the sign to be turned off. He fusses a bit so I sing him some ants.

The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah.
The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah. The ants go marching one by one, the little one stops to suck his thumb --
and they all go marching down, to the ground, to get out of the rain.

(bum ba-bum bum)

And then I sing him some more. And some more. We're up to ten ants (the little one stops to pet a hen) and still the seatbelt sign has not been turned off. There hasn't been any turbulence for at least fifteen minutes. I'm not the only one getting antsy. Poopageddon seems also to be nigh for several middle-aged men, who jump out of their seats in a desperate bid for the washroom, only to be turned back by a sour-faced stewardess. She comes onto the intercom. "Ladies and gentlemen, the Captain has left the seatbelt sign on. Please return to your seats and fasten your seatbelt, for your own safety and that of others around you, or I will publicly humiliate you in ways only I know how. Thank you."

Sweet Baby James is looking at me like, "Mom, I really have to go..." 

He's a little disturbed by all this. Not so much the seatbelt sign, which I have now come to believe El Capitan has forgotten to turn off, but the accusatory voice emanating from the ceiling. She clicks off loudly and that's when I hear it: the unmistakable sound, the sound I would know anywhere. It is the sound of a pooptrastrophe in the making. Sweet Baby James looks at me, not altogether displeased with himself. I check his diaper and see the tide rising. I quickly snap it back and press down, not wanting to invite our new friend to further explore the terrain of his lower back.

I should take a little time-out here and explain something. Some of you may be wondering what the big deal is, because I have a baby and babies poop their diapers all the time, whatevs. The thing is, we practice 'Elimination Communication' (or Natural Infant Hygiene, as Isabelle Bauer calls it in her inspiring book, Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene). Most of Sweet Baby James' poops actually happen on the toilet when we cue him to go. I'll write more about this in another post, but for now I'll say that I do not feel good about letting my baby sit in his own crap. I also prefer not to be its intermediary processor, especially not in confined spaces 30,000 feet above sea level.

So we subsist for a while, me singing more ants and trying to keep Sweet Baby James in a standing position, his twists, turns and dives reduced to a minimum. He complains greatly at this new restriction, lunging for the earbuds of the woman sitting next to us who is watching an old Seinfeld episode and politely ignoring the aroma wafting out of my baby's pants.

At long last, the captain remembers us and pushes his benevolent finger on the off-button. Cue the sound of 300 seatbelts unbuckling. This is my chance. I should be the first in line. I should be running down the aisle as fast as those pudgy middle-aged guys, I should be -- there is no way. Fifteen people line up on each side. In my sleep-addled brain I do the calculation. If they all take an average of three minutes in there (and let's be honest, some of them are going to take a lot longer than that), we're looking at 45 minutes of waiting.

A stewardess approaches me. She must have seen the desperation on my face because she's smiling and suggesting I use the washroom "up there." I can hardly believe my ears: where? In First Class? You want me to take my poopy baby up there into the dimly lit foreskin of the plane, where men in business suits are drinking Sake and... watching old Seinfeld episodes?

I saunter up the aisle, baby on my arm. Apparently people in First Class don't have to pee quite so often because, Hurrah, hurrah, I'm at the head of the line. I slip into the washroom, eager to unclip the changing table and get the baby out of his padded fecal bag when my hand grazes against... nothing. Nothing at all, save the bare beige wall, mottled airplane plastic. There's no changing table.


I do my best. We do our best, Sweet Baby James and I. He cries as I set him down on the toilet seat, perhaps out of surprise at the cold metal on his back, perhaps out of fear at the precarious nature of his position. I can't protect him from rolling off, though I try by straddling the seat with my legs, my hands busy with the task of un-sticking the diaper from his bum. And how the hell am I going to get a fresh diaper out of the case without getting poop on his pants, which are also in my hand? I do it, we do it, and when we exit the washroom to walk back to our seat, not a few of the passengers are smiling at us.

I smile back. No poop to be seen here, folks. Just your average mama with your average adorable baby.


Is there something inappropriate about having a baby in First Class? Or is it just that no one does it, and that's why there are no changing tables in those washrooms? Could it be that most First Class passengers are male, and therefore much less likely to be traveling with a baby? I don't know. I took a picture of the changing situation for the 'I've changed my baby...' project. Next time I'll be putting up a sticker.

In a few days we're taking the train to Toronto. I just booked the ticket, a five hour trip. First Class, baby.

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