Why are some air passengers such arseholes about children?

Flying without children is a whole different world

One of the many high points of our childfree 48 hours in Denmark is the flight.

Flying with Hector, three, and Alfred, 18 months, has been an almost entirely miserable experience.

Some children lie quietly on their parents’ knees, cuddling sweetly. Ours – or at least this was the case until Hector turned two-and-a-half and became civilised – climb and scream and throw things. They want to run up and down the aisle. They spill stuff.

I’d forgotten how relaxing a flight can be: time to snooze, read your book, chat (and you should see how fast we get though security without formula and Calpol in our bags).

So absorbed am I in my book that I miss the start of a juicy row breaking out in the seats behind me.

“Will you just STOP shaking your head like that,” a man in his forties is shouting to another passenger.

“Well stop him making so much noise,” the passenger growls back.

I’ve obviously become so accustomed to hearing my own children scream that I’ve failed to notice someone else’s is kicking off behind me. Now, though, I tune in as hard as I can.

“I can’t stop him. He’s a child,” the father replies, despairingly. “His ears probably hurt or something.”

This is the excuse I always use when one of mine howls through a flight – and I stand by it: children don’t just scream like that, for so long, for nothing.

There must be something wrong, although it might not be the ears, it could be the unfamiliarity of the situation, the strange noises, the temperature, or something else that they are unable to explain to us.

Why else would so many children cry on flights when they’re babies and toddlers only to become reasonably good company once they are a little older and can understand what’s going on?

“The crying is very annoying,” chips in a woman from further down the plane.

I can’t see from where I’m sitting but I imagine the shaking head man is now excitedly nodding his horrible head.

“See, it’s not just me,” he smirks, predictably.

The culprit, who must be about 18 months and is slumped on his mother’s knee with tears streaming down his face, continues to howl. His face is puffy and red, his little fists clenched.

“Do you have children?” the father shouts over the noise. He doesn’t bother waiting for a response.

“Because if you do, you’ll know that he’s just a child, and children cry. But one day he’ll grow up and be an adult like you, fat and drinking champagne.”

Ah, so the shaking head man is sipping champagne – how louche, decadent and utterly selfish this seems when you’re in charge of a shrieking toddler, with a Tommee Tippee beaker, a packet of raisins and a dummy on your tray table.

I sense things are about to get really heated but then, from out of nowhere, an air steward screeches to a halt by their seats.

“Calm down please,” he says, authoritatively. “It’s only a child crying.”

Thank you, I think, at least the airline understands what this poor father is going through.

But alas no, he doesn’t actually. He turns to the father, smiles simperingly and makes a gesture with his hands, as if to put out a fire.

“Take a deep breath. I know what it’s like when your child is crying – it’s very stressful,” he says. Patronising bastard.

“It’s not,” rages the father. “It’s people like him who are stressful.” He points towards the fat champagne drinker, who I’m dying to get a glimpse of.

“No, no it is,” pursues the steward. “I know from my own experience. Now, calm down or you’ll say something you regret.”

“I can assure you I won’t.” the father fumes.

At this point I nearly let out a laugh but I’m glad I manage to hold it in because I feel for this guy, his wife, and their spluttering, sobbing child.

They’re trapped. The fasten seatbelt sign is on, so they can’t walk their son up and down the plane to give their fellow passengers a break from the din.

He’s lying when he says it isn’t stressful that his child is kicking off in public but this petty individual with his tutting and shaking head (and his growing fan club) are making everything so much worse.

Why are certain members of the general public (particularly, in my experience, those in their fifties and sixties, pre-grandchildren) such arseholes on flights (and other means of public transport)?

Yes it is annoying to have to sit through a child crying. I have been reminded quite how relaxing a flight can be – it’s irritating to have your peace interrupted.

But we were all children once, we all cried. Where’s the solidarity? How is getting angry with the parents going to help? Until there are child free flights or child free cabins what is a parent to do?

We had a similar situation on the TGV in France this summer, although the children weren’t even crying. They were just not being completely silent and a french couple took umbrage and started sighing and shaking their heads and eventually asked us to move to another part of the train.

This would have been a possibility given the rest of the train was empty but my husband wasn’t going anywhere. If they didn’t like us, they could move, he argued.

It just so happens that the screaming child and his parents are on our flight back to London.

The boy doesn’t cry this time. He sits angelically on his mother’s knee and the champagne drinkers with their laptops and newspapers ruffle his hair and coo adoringly at him as they pass.


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