Oh, how sweet! There’s a screaming baby on the plane!
Planes can be a serene, encapsulated escape of their own. No phone, no email, and a beautifully coiffed person to bring you drinks. You’re suspended in time and space.
Of course, they’re also filthy bacteria recyclers, where you’re at risk of being cropdusted by a gaseous fellow passenger, of being sweated or drooled on by strangers. There’s a creepy sort of intimacy.
But in general, I love to fly. I even have special plane underwear (seam and underwire-free). I enjoy shopping for mini travel-sized products, I’ve perfected the art of packing hand luggage so I’m prepared for any situation, and I use flying as an excuse for unhealthy behaviour such as reading trashy magazines and drinking spirits before midday.
Sharwood vs. Shepherd: Babies on planes
So I take the experience quite seriously, you see. I control it and ritualise it; I try to anticipate any potential areas of discomfort.
Which is why, when I’m buckled in with my special flight socks on, I’m prone to silently (but forcefully) cracking the shits if a baby is seated near me. There are no earplugs I have found that can cancel out the piercing sound of a baby on a plane. A toddler running amok or kicking the chair is annoying - but a baby’s constant cry is Guantanamo-grade torture.
It’s horribly unfair, I know. It’s no one’s fault. I’d never say anything out loud. But I know I’m not alone. You can see it like a ripple effect when families with small children board. Shoulders rise with tension, death stares smoulder. You can almost hear people’s prayers for the family to keep moving, please oh God don’t let them sit near me.
Nicer people will look on sympathetically. But still silently will them to keep walking. And the poor parents, they have a grim choice between grimacing forbearance, harried apologies or belligerent entitlement.
Hell, even parents are afraid of their own kids’ caterwauling.
There have been calls to ban children altogether, or to force the parents to pay for drinks.
It’s just another battleground in the war against those-who-are-different-from-us, another skirmish in this life where we want to control every factor, where we feel entitled to be free of annoyances (but also entitled to be as annoying as we like).
Well, I’m backing down on this one. I can’t say I’d ever welcome proximity to a screaming baby or a tantrum-chucking toddler. But I was completely disarmed by this story on News.com.au about parents who apologised in advance for their kids, and offer bags of lollies as token compensation, along with a note which read:
We’re twin baby boys on our first flight and we’re only 14 weeks old! We’ll try to be on our best behaviour, but we’d like to apologise in advance just in case we lose our cool, get scared or our ears hurt. Our mum and dad (AKA our portable milk machine and our nappy changer) have ear plugs available if you need them.
Normally any missive in which a parent pretends to speak with the voice of their children (hello, new parents on Facebook) makes me want to block up my ears with my own eyeballs. But this really was a sweet gesture, a reminder of how far good manners can get you. It was considerate, and lacking in that most annoying of attributes, the belief that one’s child - being perfect in your eyes - is also perfect in everyone else’s.
And it was a bloody smart move by the parents to forestall the vicious anger of sleepless passengers – it’s up there with politely inviting the elderly neighbours to your all night doof-doof party.
In future, I’m going to try to be nicer and empathise with the poor parents instead of getting caught up in a nasty thought cycle about how apartheid-style segregation should be enforced, with all children and babies in the cargo hold.
And I may invest in an expensive set of noise-cancelling headphones.
(But I’d still pay for child-free first class on Malaysia Airlines, if I had the cash.)
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