Saturday, September 6, 2014

Passenger of the Day: Meltdown


I'm a typical Sagittarius- love to travel, outgoing, tend to speak my mind, often without fully considering the ramifications. On my last birthday, I turned 46. I often still feel like I'm in my 30s; mentally, that body often demands that I'm 46. I have a younger brother who came to be when I was 9, so I have vivid memories of his younger years. Being the oldest grandchild, I have numerous younger cousins. Many of my friends have children and I've been a flight attendant for 14 years, so I have seen my share of kids and temper tantrums.

I have never seen a meltdown like this. Ever.

It was a red eye to Newark so much like any of the many red eyes to Newark I work on a regular basis. The sun had come up and a few passengers had their shades raised, so it was light in the cabin. I looked at the display at my jumpseat which showed 22 minutes left of flight. My flying partner came to the forward galley to inform me that all though the seatbelt sign had been turned on, a man in row 10 was having trouble getting his daughter to sit down and buckle up. He snapped at her when she asked to have the child buckled up. I looked back and saw that he was now going down the aisle to the aft lavatory with the princess in tow.

I remember them from boarding. She was a cute thing; blond hair, chubby cheeks, cute lavender-colored shirt. She was about 3 years old. Dad was about my age, his brown hair beginning to gray. He was traveling alone with his daughter.

Early morning from the plane

When they came back up the aisle, she was still unhappy, but not any worse than many kids I see at this stage of flight. Some have issues on descent with the air pressure hurting their ears. Others just get bored out of their gourd, or tired, so they act out. I often find it a little humorous when they have their tantrums. I remember my brother; he'd go silent as the big scream would build pressure, then he would simply collapse to the ground like a rag doll, or one of those toys that goes limp when you press on the bottom of their stand. Then, being the big brother I was, I would wave my arms in unison to his cries, like a musical conductor. It never seemed to help the situation, but I enjoyed it.

The captain signaled our final approach and it was time to prepare the cabin for landing. I made my announcements and then walked back to the cabin to assist in the checks. I got to row 10 and the little girl was now in full-tantrum mode. Dad, his full attention on his girl, was struggling to have her sit down and get her buckled in. I could tell I didn't need to say anything, so I didn't. I observed for a moment and let him know I was there in case he needed anything. He barely regarded me, as he continued to struggle with her.

I could see them quite well from my jumpseat. What's worse, I could hear them as well. Actually, not them, but her. She screamed in a gravelly voice of a little girl. Her vocabulary for this meltdown was limited; basically just, “Let me go! I need to pee,” (which she was making up) “No! I don't want to!” and, “I want to go!” People around managed to mostly ignore the tantrum, but every now and then I could see a smirk. Sure, I felt badly for the dad, but it was a bit humorous.

As we neared the airport, the meltdown went into hyper-mode. We were about 1500 feet from the ground and she was now standing in her seat. Her head bobbed from side to side as her hands went up and down as if she were beating an invisible drum. (I think I saw her eyes roll back and green vomit spill forth.) She began to hit her father, who was taking it all very well, but was looking worn and tattered. His calm was waning, but he calmly answered her cries and tried to sweet talk her into sitting in her seat.

Suddenly, I could no longer see her, and Dad had moved into the window seat, where she had been standing. I could only see the top of his head, which was directed towards the wall. It appeared that he was holding her in place in the corner of the wall and the seat in front. His head bobbed from the continued affront by his daughter; I could tell he was still being pummeled.

As we continued to descend into the New York area, I had thoughts of, 'what if he hurts her? What if he reaches his limit and stuffs a sock in her mouth?' I looked back and he had returned to his center seat and again struggled to place her in her seat belt. He soon gave up, and amid her shouts he simply held her as close to him as he could, all the while, she struggled to free herself and attempt to beat him, still screaming to be let go.

About a minute before touching down, I saw a few heads turn. Passengers in front were looking back, passengers behind were looking around and forward. Up to this point, Dad seemed to think that if he didn't look at anyone, no one would notice them. But he was now looking around and centered his gaze at someone just behind him who I couldn't see.

I heard him demand, “What are you laughing at? You think this is funny?” Um, well...

I was this close to picking up the microphone and letting him know that I would not be having any of that on my plane. But I realized this man was a hero up to this point in dealing with the meltdown, and it was amazing that he had not had his own meltdown before now. With his little girl continuing her rampage and screams, and with the plane just above the treetops, I continued to observe.

Dad stayed in his seat after the door opened and the passengers filed into the early morning of Newark's Liberty Airport. Many smiled and rolled their eyes at me as they left, and as the passengers came from further and further behind row 10, I realized that this girl's meltdown was louder than maybe I thought, as everyone seemed relieved to be leaving the monster behind. And where most children sober up at this point, hers was still going!

There was a lull in people leaving and the dad took the opportunity to make his way off the plane. In one arm was the demon child from his loins. In the other was his carry-on bags. I noticed her little pink flip-flops on her delicate feet, which, as she reached the door, she began to kick and they went flying in two directions. The nice woman behind them bent down to pick them up for him. He only got about 10 feet inside the jet bridge when he had to put her down, take possession of the shoes she'd kicked off and readjust, while still trying to calm his girl down.

At this point, the little girl was pointing back at the plane yelling that she wanted to go back. I was thinking, “Oh, hell no, you're not getting back on 'this' plane!”

When my two flying partners reached the galley area, I quickly debriefed them of the goings on just before touchdown. They could hear her screams all the way in the back, but didn't hear him yell. It was so sad and I felt badly for the father and girl.

The three of us made our way into the terminal to meet our hotel van. It had been a long night and we were ready for sleep. There were a gaggle of passengers ready to board the plane we had just brought in from San Francisco, but the next gate was vacant. There was meltdown girl, still with the tantrum, some 40 minutes after it had begun, and Dad, seated next to the window, as far away from others as possible, hair a now a mess, trying to reel her in. He had a hold of her, but she soon broke free and started away from him. I looked back and the last thing I saw was this little girl with beautiful blond hair, grabbing stanchions and tossing them to the floor like some lavender-shirted Godzilla letting lose on a city. I've never felt so bad for a parent. I've never been more sure of not wanting children of my own!

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