I know this week’s column is going to make me very unpopular, but can we talk about babies on planes?
It began with a recent night flight from Singapore to London. I was looking forward to a relaxing flight of meals and movies. Now, I know what you’re thinking, but stay with me.
Some people de-stress on a beach. Some take refuge in a bottle of Johnny Walker. Others lie face down on the massage table. Meanwhile, my flatmate Saffy likes to sit with her feet up on the window sill to, as she puts it, “air” herself.
Me, I like to get on a plane on a long haul flight. For 13 blissful hours, no one can get hold of me and bother me with urgent deadlines, give me bad news, or send me stupid 15MB attachments of their ugly restaurant interior.
I don’t get annoying calls from people who want a few minutes of my time to take a survey. And best of all, I don’t have to talk to anyone. Unless you’re on a flight to America and sit next to an American who will usually want to tell you his/her whole life story within the first ten minutes of the seatbelt sign coming on, in which case the best thing to do, I find, is to pretend you don’t speak English.
Of course, the inevitable happens. Struggling down the aisle towards you will be a woman who appears to be some Indian goddess incarnate. Because there’s no way a normal person should be able to juggle, with just two arms, five bags, a stroller, a baby, a box of toys, and three squirming toddlers.
And usually, it’s just the mother. “Where’s your husband?” I asked the woman on that flight to Singapore from London while watching her struggle to unload her nursery and toy shop onto the seat next to me. This broke my golden rule of never speaking to anyone on the plane unless she’s offering me a choice of chicken or seafood. But I couldn’t help but think if I’d been her, I’d have divorced that sorry-assed husband of mine two weeks ago.
She paused struggling with the seatbelt on her three-year old and pushed a strand of oily hair out of her face. “Oh, he’s working back in Sydney. Katie, please stop yelling at me. I’m talking to this nice gentleman. Yeah, I just took the kids to see their grandparents.”
She looked like she was one Dopamine away from a full-blown hysterical fit. So I tried to distract her with meaningless chit-chat: “So once we land in Singapore, you’ll have a two hour layover, and then another 8 hours to Sydney?” In the throbbing silence, I added, “And all these kids are your’s?”
As Amanda later pointed out, “That’s why it’s all about having a full time nanny. If I had to travel with four children without help…well, I just know that will never happen.”
Saffy’s contribution to the conversation was: “I think people just adopt fully grown children. Preferably just as they’re about to be shipped off to boarding school.”
Meanwhile, back on BA11, I was stuck with the horror that came from sitting next to a mother whose four children had clearly never met an Asian mother with a rattan cane before.
“Are they going to remember the occasion?” I asked after a while of watching the child next to me alternate between screaming at the top of her lungs and chewing the inflight magazine.
“Your kids. I read somewhere that children don’t form any long term memory till they’re about four.”
Her eyes narrowed. “I don’t get what you mean.”
I tilted my head and gave her my best Oprah frown. “Well, it’s just that… I mean, was there any point in them meeting their grandparents at this stage in their lives if they’re never going to remember it? Is it worth the effort?”
For the rest of the flight, every time she clambered over me to get to the toilet, I could tell my probing question was haunting her. Either that, or she was wishing there was some safe way she could push me off the plane.
But I didn’t care. And I still don’t. I paid good money to be on that flight. Children get to scream, throw up, cry and run up and down the aisle through the whole night. If I did the same thing, the crew would’ve sedated me and slapped on handcuffs; and once we’d landed, charge me with disorderly conduct. That’s just plain rude.