March 8, 2012 -- I've traveled around the world. I've been in a car wreck in Mexico, swindled in Bangkok and stranded on an island in Croatia. But nothing – and I mean nothing – has provoked the kind of anxiety I'm experiencing in advance of the travel challenge I'll take on in a few short weeks.
I'll be traveling, by plane, for the first time, with my infant daughter.
The panic that sets in every time I think about this looming trip is, I'm told, very common among new moms. And that's why Nanny in the Clouds may succeed.
The concept is simple: Parents plug in their flight details on the Nanny in the Clouds website to see if there's a nanny registered for the same flight. Nanny in the Clouds charges the parents $10 for the match, releases the nanny's contact information, and then lets the nanny and parents take it from there.
The service, which launched in November 2011, is the brainchild of Julie Melnick. On a return trip to Los Angeles from the East Coast last summer, she struggled to handle her 2-year-old son, his car seat, her luggage, a diaper bag and more. She asked for help, and was told by an airline employee that "her belongings were her own responsibility."
Things didn't get much better when she boarded the flight. Looking around the aircraft, she thought there must be a nice person, a caretaker maybe, who could help. And a light bulb went off in her head. She bounced the idea off her mom friends, they liked it and Nanny in the Clouds was born.
Melnick, who had her second baby last Sunday, knew handling two kids by herself would be even harder. But she also realized she'd have to face the music eventually – she lives on the West Coast, her family on the East Coast. She's not the only one worried about handling more than one child at a time.
Libby Conover has two daughters under the age of 3. The Style and Entertainment director at GQ magazine has traveled plenty but has yet to take both girls on a flight, opting to take only one at a time, and only when it's absolutely necessary. "The flight is not relaxing, it's exhausting," she said. "Entertaining a child is not easy in a 2-foot square for four hours."
Eileen Ogintz, family travel expert and author of the nationally syndicated column Taking the Kids, believes the service could work especially well for a mom or dad traveling solo with a couple of young kids. "You don't have to worry about leaving your child with a strange nanny as you are on the flight," she said. "Especially if it is a long flight, it's tough for any parent to entertain their kids, especially the younger ones."
Conover said she would "absolutely" use a baby sitter in-flight. "Sometimes a new face with some new tricks can be great," she said.
The most fundamental issue facing Nanny in the Clouds is gaining the critical mass necessary to make it work. To date, there has not been a successful family-nanny pairing.
I searched for a nanny on both my outbound and inbound flights with no luck. The site will send an email if and when a nanny does register for my flight, but with only two weeks to go, I'm not optimistic. But Melnick said the website would soon have new functionality that would allow parents to plug in city pairs and search flights over a range of dates, so they could identify a flight with a nanny registered before they actually book.
If you can find a nanny to help you on your next flight, Melnick suggests screening the nanny the way you would any babysitter. Check references (the site requires two for the nanny), have a phone conversation, ask how the nanny will help out during the flight and make expectations clear. She said to keep in mind this person is there to lend a hand – but not be a bellhop.
And hey, if your kid is screaming, you can always try to pretend he or she belongs to someone else.