If you were in a cinema and the person next to you screamed all the way through the film would you complain? What about if you were in a restaurant and the diner next to you was repeatedly sick, wet themselves, smelt a bit and started throwing their food around? What would you do then?
So how come when you are on a plane and some flaky parent parks themselves next to you and then plonks a three-year-old bawling sick machine on their lap, are you supposed to keep smiling? Oh, don’t look shocked, you know you all feel the same.
The only time you don’t inwardly weep when a child is next to you on a plane is when it’s your own. And come to think of it, wouldn’t most parents like to deny all knowledge of the miniature oik ready to blow next to them? This week it emerged that some US airlines are placing families at the back of the plane all together in one screaming, wriggling, toy-chucking mass. I suddenly found myself rather liking US carriers.
But it seems that parents are not happy – although what they have to complain about I cannot imagine – and have accused airlines of creating “baby ghettos”. It seems parents can cope with their own child causing mayhem but are affronted by being grouped with others doing the same.
The airlines have claimed that families tend to have fewer earned merit points when flying, so get thrown to the back of the plane for this simple reason alone not because they are being discriminated against. Who cares? Little children do not like flying, it panics them and makes them scared – so why would you put them through an experience they will obviously loathe? Would you send your one-year-old on a rollercoaster? Would you normally try to make a four-year-old sit in one seat for 12 hours? It’s bad parenting.
On a recent flight back from Beirut to London there was a three-year-old girl who cried so intensively she went a fetching shade of purple. While the father read his paper the mother gave in and let the brat wander the aisles, spreading hatred. The parents looked utterly dismayed when every 10 minutes a stewardess returned the runaway. I wanted them arrested.
I would certainly have paid extra for the family to be hauled to the back of the plane or to have been seated in a guaranteed child-free section. But try and complain to an airline even if you have spent €5,000 on a business class seat and you’ll be accused of throwing your toys out of your pram. What me, do that? Say that again and I’ll scream.
Andrew Tuck is editor of Monocle
The trials and indignities of air travel are bad enough. But imagine doing all that queuing with a convoy of buggies, about 18 bags and a hypersensitive infant? A long haul-flight is a parenting endurance test. I have friends who would do anything to avoid an air crossing with their brood. It is a last resort, a logistical imperative. That’s because, once they’re through the obstacle course of security and on board, they are treated like pariahs. They are tutted at, shunned and even heckled by fellow passengers, as if they themselves were howling in the aisle.
Even the airhostesses are anti-baby. Of course, a baby’s in-flight behaviour largely depends on its parents. If they fret, their offspring will too. If they try to kick back and read, their toddlers will stampede up and down business class and get trampled by the drinks trolley. Most parents would do everything in their power to stop this happening. But babies are super-sensitive. And they are prone to sobbing if their ears hurt.
The point is, to object to babies on planes is simply naïve. Air travel doesn’t entitle us to an uninterrupted night’s sleep as our plane cruises across hemispheres. It is a deeply flawed experience. Nobody wants to sit next to the muttering cleric or get sandwiched between two giant chortling businessmen. But we do it.
Flying is a study in yogic-like tolerance. It involves myopic focus on small details like breadsticks, plastic stirrers and the uncanny coiffure of the airhostesses. We are, after all, crammed in and hurtling hundreds of miles through the air in a compressed metal chamber. It just isn’t right and babies know it. Who can blame them for howling a little?