Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Screaming Along at 36,000 Feet

Well I'm back, but not in necessarily the fashion I had envisaged. Not fashion in clothing terms, you understand - I dutifully turned up in 4 degree London in Del Monte-esque pastel linens - but in terms of how enjoyable a return it was. You see, as good as my book was, or the fact that I hadn't seen any of the in-flight films before (don't try to watch 127 hours when eating lunch; beef stew and self-amputation don't mix well), it was quite a painful flight. Why, you ask? Because as always, as it seems I am fated to be on every flight until the end of time, I sat within very easy earshot of Damien the Devil Child.

Now I may be the only person to blog about this particular flight, but I can all but guarantee almost every reader will have had a flight pretty much ruined by a screaming child, and there were at least 100 fellow passengers in my position yesterday. I am also not talking about the briefly screaming child. This baby screamed for at least 7 of the 8 hours of flight. Like it was being murdered. Really painfully murdered. Again and again. In fact, whilst we're on the subject, so horrific were the screams that they would have made those of the subjects of the Spanish Inquisition pale into insignificance as slight grumblings about the cleanliness of the ablutions provided. Now you might suggest that this baby was the 1, the 5, the 10% that simply won't stop crying whatever happens and I am being unfair. If that was my only flight ruined by a screaming child I might agree. But I have taken a few hundred flights, 95% ruined by screaming children, and I refuse to believe that the same percentage of no-matter-how-hard-I-try-it-won't-stop-screaming children always end up on my flights. So this post is about all of the flights, not just yesterday's VS 672 row 42 seats C-F. You know who you are, though.

So, babies scream. We know this. Also, they generally don't like flying. We know this too. Even I know this, and I have no children. They often don't like new surroundings. They don't know how to clear their ears to deal with the pressure differentials involved with climbing and descending. Sometimes they are ill too. So, this rather comes down to the parents. With toddlers and young children, you have similar problems, and also boredom thrown in to boot.

I shall make my point clear. If you take you children anywhere you have a duty to try to control them and not let them shout the house down or run wild and ruin everyone else's day. Whether this be screaming babies or riotous toddlers, your friend's house, a church, a restaurant, or an aeroplane, this is one of the many jobs of the parents. They may not always realise this, because whilst you need a Government licence to fish or watch below average television, you don't need one to procreate. I won't get into that one now, but you have all seen parents happy to let their children do as they will, spoiling it for everyone else. Now one would hope that at least some parents would be mortified if they were in a nice restaurant and their child screamed to high heaven for the entire meal, or spent the main course kicking the crap out of someone else's chair. They would have essentially ruined the, let us modestly say £100 per table, meals of anyone in earshot.  Why does this mentality seem to disappear when every single seat costs £500-£1000 on a plane?

I know you can't take them outside, as much as it was tempting to suggest it at 36,000 feet, but you have to do something. This comes in several parts, most of which I was aware of anecdotally but is also easily available online for example. Maybe ask your parents - they probably had children. If you know your baby is uncomfortable in the crappy cots airlines provide, buy an extra seat and take their car seat - they tend to know this means sleep time. Book flights that are most likely to tally with their sleep times. If they are ill, have all the required medicine for them, and if possible some nice soporific stuff like Calpol. Don't feed them just before you get on the flight, because getting them to feed on climb and descent will equalise their ears as they swallow. For toddlers, sweets to suck on during climb and descent work for the equalisation. For boredom, bring games, colouring-in, whatever floats their boat. Now these measures might take a bit of preparation and effort on the part of parents, and even cost them a bit of money. But remember parents, we didn't choose to have your child. You did.

My final point is one I hope I will stick to in years to come as and when I am karmically blessed with the noisiest travelling babies on earth. It is, even if you can't do anything, if you already have the car seat, have timed the feeds, have given them enough drugs to put Courtney Love under and are comforting them from here to Timbuktu, and the babies are still crying or if the children apparently no longer like their toys and have finished their colouring in  … make it obvious you are trying to shut them up. Worse even than the screaming yesterday, was watching the satisfied parents who have got used to tuning out the noise, enjoying their flights whilst everyone else suffered.

Maybe when the revolution comes, and I am made King, there will be family sections at the rear of the planes (much like when there used to be smoking sections - it may be my memory doing me a disservice but I distinctly remember Iberia having smoking and non-smoking divided by the central aisle thus making it all smoking after the left turn out of Heathrow). Now that is probably unfair to the many parents who have well-behaved children and who manage their babies as well as one can, but at the moment it seems policy is to spread the misery as evenly as possible throughout the plane. This policy would though make the standing area at the back a handy screaming-only place for soothing the not-so-happy youngsters, and maximise the joy by compressing the sorrow in a wonderfully utilitarian way. Not sure Unite would be so happy, but then again, they won't be until their waitresses and waiters are paid more than the pilots. Of course, if I'm King, I probably won't have to turn right when I get on the plane. Someone else will have to answer this one for me - do they have screaming children in First Class?

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