With the possible exception of the Free First Class Upgrade who doesn’t get his meal choice, nothing sends airplane passengers flinging themselves over the edge faster than a crying baby. People are reasonably understanding on take-off and landing, when the changes in cabin pressure can easily and accurately be blamed, but let a baby make a peep in flight or on taxi, and eyes set to rolling almost immediately. Ducking dirty looks like dodgeballs, the parents of course try to soothe the baby with bouncing, bottles, toys, or threats, but they are cut only the stingiest amount of slack by their fellow passengers before it becomes An Outrage! And now yesterday, the Huffington Post reports, a man on an airplane on the ground in Hanoi popped open an over-wing exit, apparently to “help” a mother with a screaming baby to make good her quick escape from the cabin. Apparently the escape slide — which inflated automatically, as the safety video warns you it will, and probably with a bang, at that, which every crying baby loves — wasn’t used, but the guy’s gonna get fined, and the airplane will have been pulled out of service until the slide can be repacked.
As my friends started having babies, they would often come to me for a word or two of advice on traveling with kids, and I would give them three: Everybody Calm Down. Babies cry; they do it in restaurants, they do it in Target, and they do it on airplanes. Sometimes they’re hungry (bring Cheerios), sometimes they’re restless (bring toys), and sometimes they’re just not having it. Grown airplane passengers fuss and whine all the time, why should babies be held to a higher standard? When I first started flying, I was on a 747 from San Francisco to Los Angeles on one of those days when the wheels just came right off the wagon. A woman had had a heart attack on take-off, we’d been forced to circle and dump fuel into the Bay and return for an emergency landing, the paramedics had stampeded up the aisle and then back down it with her on a stretcher, and now we were sitting on the ground on a hot airplane waiting to take on enough fuel to try the whole carnival ride again. People were cranky, people were grumbling, and yeah, a baby was crying. “Isn’t there something you can do to shut that kid up?” groused a grumpy man in a rumpled suit.
Like what? I thought but did not say. “I bet not,” I said instead. “That baby is hot and cranky, and he’s expressing his frustration the only way he knows how.”
“Yeah, well, it’s annoying.”
“I know it,” I said. “People complaining on airplanes is annoying, isn’t it? But you gotta figure: if you get to, he gets to.”
We managed to depart shortly after this exchange, and I never heard a peep out of either one of ’em after that. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but I now know to be grateful that the guy didn’t take matters into his own hands and abandon ship.