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First Flight – Travels with a Five Year Old


In search of a way to vanquish Jaded Flyer Syndrome, to banish the blahs associated with air travel circa 2012 A.D.? Take your child (or grandchild) on their first flight and see the world through their wide, wondering eyes. 

That’s what this reporter did a couple of weeks back. Grandson John Patrick and I made the one-hour, five minute hop from Greenville/Spartanburg to Orlando with the aim of spending a couple of hours at the airport, having lunch, riding the airport train and flying back to GSP the same afternoon. It didn’t quite work out that way.

The southbound leg went beautifully. TSA passage was remarkably smooth. John Pat got to keep his shoes on, avoid full body scan and pat-down (TSA is beginning to get it. Sorta). I was able to get through sans scan.

We got Early Bird boarding on Southwest. I stopped at the doorway and told the flight attendant John Pat was severely allergic to peanuts. The crew packed away the offending nuts and pulled out the pretzels. Anything else I needed? Yeah, it’s his first flight. Out came coloring books, plastic wings, and a certificate signed by the crew. The trip was taking on the misty watercolor hues of the days when I first flew as a kid, on an American Airlines DC-6 out of Dallas Love Field.

John Pat immediately colonized a window seat in the back of the airplane. I proceed to explain in five year-old fashion how lift works, how Mother Nature and just the right speed can heft tons of aluminum into the heavens. His attention was complete, his eyes plastered to the window. 

Clouds came next, and 18-wheelers no larger than a thumbnail, and rivers like finely-drawn pencil lines, and shopping centers the size of corn flakes. So long cynicism.

After we landed, grabbed lunch, explored the in-airport Disney store and hung out at the atrium fountain it as time to get to the gate. This is Orlando folks, Orlando in the summertime. That means thunderstorms (Central Florida is the lightening capital of the planet). The gate agent hurried us on board and we headed — again — for the back of the 737-700. An ominous black cloud had set up shop by then over MCO and the captain came on the the intercom to say there were three lines of thunderstorms ‘twixt us and Greenville. The cabin crew would have to sit out a sigificant slice of the flight strapped in.

I’d told John Pat’s mother that I’d not take any chances if I felt the weather was wrong. I sheeplishly took my grandson by the hand and started for the door. I told the chief flight attendant I didn’t want to scare him on the second flight of his young life. What I didn’t tell her was that I’ve covered more than my share of weather-related commercial airline crashes, such as Delta 191 and Southern 242. The experiences stuck. 

We waited for the weather to clear, hopped a shuttle bus to Disney, and spent the night at Orlando’s in-airport Hyatt (nice hotel). The next morning we took a Southwest flight to Chicago, changed planes and headed to Greenville. By then John Patrick was worn out — and the thrill was gone. What was wide-eyed enthusiasm had become world-weary boredom. Looking out the window as we took off from Midway he sighed, “Buppa (that’s me), when are we going to land?”

Spoken like a seasoned frequent flyer. 


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One Comment
  1. Aw, this was a very nice post. Finding the time and actual effort
    to produce a top notch article… but what can I say… I procrastinate a
    whole lot and never seem to get anything done.

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