If you’re not used to being almost universally loathed, then the animosity of strangers in an enclosed environment is a incredibly confronting experience.
Last week I flew from London to Sydney with a six-month-old baby who had just gotten her first tooth. Suffice to say that neither she, nor I, nor any of our fellow passengers particularly enjoyed the trip. It was a 24 hour ordeal and by the end of the trip I was known to the people around me as “that areshole with the baby”.
Flying with kids is a tricky thing. On one hand it’s just a fact of life; having children doesn’t preclude you from needing to travel and it’s just not practical to take the train from the UK to Oz. On the other hand, a 24 hour flight in cattle class is a tough enough experience without having to be seated near a tiny, portable, air-raid siren with a penchant for shitting itself.
I know what it’s like on the other side of the fence as I’ve been a childless man, travelling long-haul in close proximity to other people’s spawn. The Qantas, standard-issue headphones do nothing to drown out the crying and the gin trolley is too infrequent to make an alcohol induced coma a realistic option. The most optimistic strategy when you’re near a baby on a plane (apart from wishing for an upgrade) is hope that your brain identifies the pitch of the screaming children and blocks all aural input received on those frequencies. Unfortunately, the human brain is rarely that obliging, and so all you can really do is try to watch a succession of heavily edited movies while pretending that the crying you can hear is just the world’s least enjoyable director’s commentary.
But what the other passengers should know is it’s not easy for the parents either. There’s nothing enjoyable about knowing that you’re contributing to the discomfort of your fellow travellers, and only an dyed in the wool sadist or Tony Abbott would think otherwise.
The problem is, some babies just need to cry. It’s their one way of communicating with the world and like political dissidents, crushed beneath the boots of oppressive regimes, they resent being told to shut up.
Our daughter Florence, for example, loves to whinge for between 20 seconds and 5 minutes after being put to bed. She’s not in pain, danger or any stage of advanced distress, she just does it to let us know that she would rather be semi-upright doing something that involves a woman’s breast. She does it every night, but is quickly overcome with fatigue and falls almost immediately into a deep sleep.
Unfortunately, when we put Florence to bed on the plane and she started crying, there was very little we could do to communicate the facts of the previous paragraph to the other passengers around us, so we didn’t bother. We put her to bed, she started crying and we had a drink, knowing she would be comatose within moments. Over the course of the next few minutes, the annoyance and frustration of our fellow passengers grew until they were seething in their seats, searching for a socially-acceptable way of telling us how bad we were as parents and how inconsiderate we were as travellers.
At this point, I just stretched out and tried to enjoy the gin and tonic that had gone warm and flat while I was changing Florence’s nappy on a fold out table that constantly threatened to dump her into the toilet below. I knew that the other people were angry, but there was nothing that I could do, so I refused to give a shit.
Being someone that is normally a little too concerned with the opinions of others, I was pleasantly surprised to learn how liberating not-caring could be. A great weight had lifted off my shoulders and I felt a freedom that had previously been all too elusive. Blissfully free of my bonds, I downed the last of my tepid gin and settled down for a bit of shut eye, when the baby in the bassinet next to Florence woke with a start and began to cry. And despite everything that I’ve just written above, my first thought was “what arsehole brought a baby on the plane?”