As I was waiting to board the plane which would take me on an expectedly uncomfortable journey between Boston and Dublin this month, I found myself surrounded by three different young couples.
Each pair was pleading, cajoling, or wrestling with a child between the ages of infant to four years as the babies in question wailed and cried and made a whole slew of unappealing sounds. Some people near me were smiling at the parents in an attempt – I assume – to show sympathy or understanding, but I wanted to just grab the handles to the perambulators and give them a great big push.
I know that flying is hard on families with small children, and I remember that I was not too fond of long plane rides when I was a child myself, but it is my opinion that once a child is old enough to insist that its mother hand over that Lego toy now they should be able to comprehend and obey the orders “sit down and stop being a gigantic brat.”
The plane ride itself was even worse, for despite my attempts to sneak a look at the families’ boarding cards to ensure that I was seated nowhere near them, I was within deafening hearing range of the tiniest baby of the lot and one of the more self-entitled toddlers. Although I did not appreciate the infant’s shrieking wails as we ascended through the clouds, I could understand that when one is the size of a loaf of bread – and just about as articulate – it can be hard to do anything but scream as the air pressure threatens to implode one’s tiny baby skull.
Besides, it eventually cried itself to sleep and, besides a few relatively gross gurgling noises throughout the in-flight entertainment, I managed to forget about its presence for a while. Hopefully the mother could do the same, but I doubt it.
It was the toddler, who could most certainly form words and insisted upon doing so with gusto, who invoked my real wrath. When the brightly colored magic markers he had whined and screamed and grabbed for were finally in his tiny clutch, he proceeded not to draw quietly with them but to toss them at his father.
Three year olds do not have very good aim, and at this point I was certainly not the only passenger who was wishing that the child had been confiscated at security for behaving suspiciously. The flight attendants did an admirable job of handing the markers back with cold smiles and barely perceptible scolding noises, but the mother was too pre-occupied with forcing the squirming tyrant back in its seat to apologize appropriately. Occasionally, during the few moments of silence in which the lad crammed individually wrapped snack bars into his mouth, she would smile at her perplexed neighbors with a look that was obviously meant to say, “Look! Now he’s cute! Isn’t this worth all the trouble?” She failed to convince anyone, possibly even herself.
As it happens, I am not the only traveler to get unreasonably grumpy at the prospect of witnessing a seven hour temper tantrum. In 2007, AirTran employees removed a family from a flight to Boston because their three year old daughter refused to calm down, stop hitting her parents, and take her seat.
This child alone, no larger than the carry-on luggage, managed to single handedly delay the plane’s departure for quite a while. If this weren’t the most irritating thing I’ve ever heard, I would almost be attempted to congratulate her on her sheer force of bratty will.
Despite the fact that AirTran reimbursed the family, flew them home the next day, and gave them extra tickets for later as consolation, the father insisted that he would never fly that airline again because of the way that they had been treated. I imagine that the other 112 passengers on that flight, and many others who heard about the incident later, mentally applauded the airline employees who managed to make the flight less unbearable for those individuals who were able to control their tempers and sit the hell down.
There are public places which are perfectly appropriate for lively young children. Jungle gyms and performances of Peter Pan, for example, or anyplace where your food is delivered by waiters dressed as jolly animals.
I must concede that, naturally, sometimes a parent has no other option to bring their squalling offspring on a transatlantic flight. Some people, for reasons I can’t entirely fathom, would rather not leave their kids at home.
In other cases, which inspire much more optimism than that of the parent-slapper previously mentioned, children manage to sit quietly and adorably watch the clouds sail by out the window. But if the child can understand the phrase “Which kind of biscuit would you like?” and answer accordingly, it should be the responsibility of the doting parents to tell that child effectively, “Oh, do stop screaming before you damage the pilot’s ear drums and cause the plane to crash and kill us all.”