Several airlines refuse to allow a woman on board if she is more than 36 weeks pregnant. What do they do, measure the fetus at the gate? I assume this policy exists because airlines fear for the safety of a lavatory delivery at 20,000 feet. Nope. It stems from the high cost of diverting a plane for an emergency landing. Ah, the friendly skies of United. We got in just under the wire on our flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was Sarah’s family vacation, and my traveling companions were an older man, a pregnant woman, a 9-month old baby, and a mother and father obsessed with the 9-month-old baby. The most reliable member of the crew was the baby.

First issue: the Baby Stuff. You think you hate going through airport security? Try going it with diaper bags, a stroller, toys, food, breastfeeding accouterments, and a Pack ‘n Play box the size of a steel girder—accompanied by an older man, a pregnant woman, and two parents who won’t carry anything but the baby. Guess who’s carrying all that Stuff? It ain’t the 9-month-old.

Sarah’s brother, Ben, is always hatching get-rich-quick schemes, probably because he’s a doctor, which means he’s getting rich slow. Years ago, he was in the security line at O’Hare, and in front of him was a young couple lugging a wailing infant and enough Stuff for five adults. They kept dropping boxes and bags and Cheerios and barking at each other, and looked generally miserable that they’d ever left the house.

So Ben had a thought: Baby Stuff Rentals.

What if parents could rent an entire baby package—stroller, car seat, pack-and-play, diapers, formula, everything—then return it all at any other airport? Just like a car rental. No schlepping, no arguing, no wishing you could cram the kid in the overhead bin. I thought it was a brilliant idea.

Then I asked some parents what they thought. Their reception ranged from lukewarm to downright hostile. It turns out no new parent trusts someone else’s Stuff. “It sounds good on paper,” said Level-Headed Jonathan. “But Jen is really particular about having things exactly the way she wants them. Besides, you need that stuff on the plane, so you’re schlepping it anyway.”

Now Ben has a 9-month-old, and he’s dragging his own armada of Baby Stuff around. When Sarah reminded him about Baby Stuff Rentals, he looked puzzled. “What are you talking about?”

She explained his original concept back to him, and Ben wrinkled his brow. “That’s a terrible idea,” he said. “Why would I want to use someone else’s stuff?”

* * *

Lillian, the 9-month-old in question, is a delightful child: happy, cute, quiet, well-adjusted. But was she happy, cute, quiet, and well-adjusted enough to fly 2,000 miles with? I wasn’t taking any chances; I scored a seat eight rows away. She turned out to be wonderful. Not a peep, I am told. Meanwhile, the little fascist in the seat behind me threw two raging tantrums when his mom made him turn down the volume on Shrek 2 on his laptop.

One interesting thing did happen on the plane. Sarah is supposed to be drinking a zillion glasses of water an hour, so she carries this big Nalgene bottle and fills it up wherever she goes. About 30 minutes into the flight, Sarah finished her bottle, so she walked to the back of the plane and explained her predicament to a flight attendant. The woman had recently given birth to twins, and began to fill up Sarah’s bottle.

Another flight attendant, an older lady who looked like a little bit like the actor Albert Brooks, grabbed her colleague’s hand. “Don’t fill that bottle,” she said. “We don’t have much water on this flight.”            

Sarah explained that she needed to drink 64 ounces a day, but the lady wasn’t moved. “You should have filled it up before you got on the flight,” she said.

“I did,” Sarah responded. “And I already finished it.”

The woman turned toward her colleague. “Don’t fill that bottle,” she said. Eventually, Sarah worked out a deal in which she got a half-bottle of water and the other half of ice.

An hour later, she was done with both. The younger flight attendant walked by and Sarah stopped her to ask for a refill. Out of nowhere, Stewardbitch came running up. “Don’t give her any more water! She’s already had half a bottle!”            

The only thing we could figure out was that she was sick of dealing with pregnant women and their special requests. Or else she had a bag of pretzels permanently lodged deep in her own personal emergency exit.