They say traveling is a great way to learn about yourself. Well, one thing my travels have shown me is that I’m a man of two sides. The first is what I consider my best side: the one that allows me to be slow to anger and quick to forgiveness. The side that strives every day to treat everyone I encounter with kindness, patience, and compassion.
And my other side? He emerges when there’s a screaming baby on my airplane.
Maybe it’s the fact that I don’t have kids. Or maybe it’s the cumulative effect of the noise combined with the stress and sleep deprivation of travel days.
But the constant shriek of an upset infant rattles me like nothing else — especially when I’m trapped with that infant in an inescapable cylinder 30,000 feet off the ground. If the crying continues for more than an hour, I start to develop a silent resentment of this diminutive creature who’s robbing my fellow passengers and me of our opportunity to sleep, work, or watch “The Big Bang Theory” in peace. After two hours of non-stop wailing, the resentment shifts to the parents who brought this screaming hell creature into this world and onto my plane.
And if the crying continues for more than three hours, as it did on one miserable and sleepless flight from Australia, it’s all I can do to keep from jumping up in the aisles and yelling in my best Samuel L. Jackson voice: “Enough is enough! I have had it with these m************ crying babies on this m************ plane!”
But I don’t want to be that guy. I don’t profess to know much about karma, but I know it can’t look too kindly on a guy who loses his marbles at an innocent baby who’s clearly just having a bad day. I like to think I’m better than that.
On a torturous recent flight from Canada — when a baby sitting with one parent right next to me and her twin sister sitting several rows up treated our plane to a crying fit in Surround Sound — I came up with a new system to help talk myself off my crying baby ledge. When the screaming triggered selfish and mean thoughts from “Bad Me” (thoughts such as, Why don’t those parents shut that baby up?), I immediately summoned a logically compassionate counter-argument from “Better Me” (such as, The parents are just as frustrated as you are, maybe even more. Cut them a break. Besides, if they’d discovered some magical formula that can immediately silence a crying baby on a flight, they wouldn’t be flying coach).
You’d be surprised at how well that soothing inner dialogue works in calming myself down in the face of an extended aerial sonic assault by a pissed-off preschooler. Here are some other examples that may work for you. The way I see it, if you can’t silence the screamer in the next row, at least you can silence the anti-baby vitriol in your heart.
BAD ME: Why do these parents even bring this kid on airplanes? If he can’t handle a long flight, then maybe they should postpone that Hawaii vacation for a few years and keep Junior at home until he learns how to act in public.
BETTER ME: You can’t expect parents to go on five years of house arrest every time they have a child. Besides, do you even know that they’re actually taking the baby on vacation? Maybe they’re taking the kid to visit a dying great-great grandparent whose final wish is to lay eyes on his new namesake in a grand, “Circle of Life” moment before passing into the Great Beyond. Or maybe that couple with the crying baby aren’t its parents; maybe they’re aid workers delivering an orphan from a life of poverty and despair to a life of privilege with Angelina Jolie or Madonna. Either way, you never know someone’s story, so stop being all judgey over their motives for their trip. I think the Bible said it best: “Thou shalt live and let live, even whilst thine enemy refuses to sleep and let sleep.” Or something like that.
BAD ME: There should be a “No Baby” airline. Or maybe existing airlines can ban babies from certain, child-free flights
BETTER ME: That’s blatant age discrimination and the last thing cash-strapped airlines need is a monstrous class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of baby fliers. The airlines would certainly lose; not only do babies have a stranglehold on public sympathy, they aren’t afraid of long litigation. Heck, they can drag settlement talks out until at least junior high. And when the airlines inevitably lose this expensive age discrimination suit, they’ll have to start nickel and diming us passengers even more (“Would you like to upgrade to a pressurized cabin?”). Babies can be vicious litigants so it’s probably best not to poke the bear.
BAD ME: You wanna talk age discrimination?!? Well how come this baby can scream and yell all she wants and nobody says anything? But if I were to do that, the plane would get a fighter jet-escorted diversion to Bangor, Maine and I’d be taken away in cuffs. Isn’t THAT age discrimination?
BETTER ME: Do you want to start arresting crying infants for causing an in-flight disturbance? Let’s be real; they don’t even make tiny baby handcuffs (although those would be adorable). And equal standards for adults and babies would have to go both ways, with adults allowed to not just scream and cry on planes but also to relieve themselves wherever and whenever they want. It’s best not to go down that slippery (and smelly) slope.
BAD ME: Alright, fine. Maybe airlines should just segregate small children in their own separate cabin so we don’t have to hear their caterwauling.
BETTER ME: Someone’s already had that idea. In a recent interview, Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson revealed that his airline actually looked into offering a separate cabin for small children and their nannies. The idea was ultimately nixed, Branson says, for safety reasons: air regulators were worried that during an emergency you’d have parents looking for their kids, and vice versa, instead of evacuating. As desirable as quiet flights may be, safety is more important. Besides, if airlines can only offer this service for passengers rich enough to bring their nannies on vacation, then forget it. The One Percent already has enough perks — being able to escape noisy children on commercial flights is just one too many.
BAD ME: Okay, well, how about tiny baby oxygen masks, like the kind fighter jet pilots wear? Except these would be soundproofed so they can cry until their hearts are content without disturbing anyone.
BETTER ME: I’m not talking myself out of this one. This is a pretty awesome idea. Consider this my preliminary patent application.
BAD ME: That kid is just being a brat!
BETTER ME: Then that would make me a former brat. You see, I was once an airplane crier, a fact confirmed by multiple sources including the one who gave birth to me. “You cried through most of your first flight,” my mother said to me about one very loud trip from New York to Texas when I was about a year old. So maybe my constant exposure to crying babies is a sort of cosmic payback for that flight and all the others I ruined as a child. If that’s the case, the last thing I should be doing is complaining about a crying baby. Instead, I should be apologizing to my fellow passengers for making them collateral damage in my karmic retribution.
My inner dialogue doesn’t fully eliminate the “Bad Me” thoughts whenever I share a flight with a loud baby. I am, after all, human. And my ears work. But going through this exercise in empathy really does make my flight better. And I like to think that in some tiny, baby-sized way it makes me a better, more tolerant person.
So I invite aggrieved air travelers everywhere to summon your own inner “Better Mes” the next time a screaming baby is driving you crazy on a flight. Remember, unlike you, crying babies are on that airplane against their will. They deserve our sympathy.
So remove that negative energy and focus it toward something positive — like hating that selfish boor who keeps hogging the armrest.
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