As an airline employee, I spend a good amount of time on airplanes, whether it’s for business or pleasure. I have always been drawn to the energy of airports. And often, as I sit waiting to board, I enjoy observing the people who are part of the fabric and rhythm of the airport terminal.
I have had the pleasure or sitting next to some wonderful customers. But I would have to say that my favorite customers have to be the littlest ones – the children. I love sitting onboard and watching them come down the aisle with their baby rolling suitcases festooned with Thomas the Tank Engine or Dora the Explorer. Usually they are clutching a blanket or a binkie or a stuffed animal of some sort. And they think every row is their row. “Is this it? “ “Is it this one?” they ask.
Often times, our pilots will invite kids and their parents to come up to the flight deck for a look and a picture while the plane is still at the gate. I love that about our pilots. They realize what a cool experience it is for a kid to see where the pilot sits.
As parents know, it’s not easy traveling with children. Between all the gear, the diapers, wet naps and snacks, the toys and everything else that goes along with having a child, parents arrive at the terminal loaded down like nomads ready for a six month excursion in the wilderness instead of a weekend at grandma’s house.
And what three year old wants to be confined to a car seat for take off and landing? It’s not hard to find where they are seated on the aircraft. Just follow the sometimes not so little voices. And seated next to them, wishing they could crawl into a hole, are the mortified parents who know that everyone on the plane has an opinion about what should be done about their child.
I once sat next to a sweet little Shirley Temple lookalike on my way home from Boston. She was almost two and seated in mom’s lap for what was about to become the longest flight of mom’s life. As soon as the cabin was prepared for departure and the door closed, the angelic little tyke with the lovely blond curls turned into the main character from the Exorcist. Evidently, at around two years old, the word “No” takes priority over every other word.
As mom tried to contain the very loud and wriggling lap child, she tried to look invisible while everyone around us made sounds of disapproval. Suddenly, I had what could only be described as a total MacGyver moment. In record time and armed only with a pen and the air sickness bags from the seat back pocket, I fashioned a series of puppets that each looked like a cross between a dog and a cat and proceeded to perform a puppet show that, while it made me look like a total lunatic, stopped my little seat mate from wailing.
By the time we leveled off at thirty thousand feet and seat belt sign went off, we were both enjoying a snack of cheerios, animal crackers and apple juice, much to the delight of the people around us.
I think most rational people, especially those who have had children, understand that sometimes babies cry and toddlers throw tantrums. Sometimes it’s because they are tired and past their nap time, sometimes it’s because the altitude or drop in air pressure can makes their little ears hurt. And sometimes, it is because they don’t want to be confined, or they are reacting to the stress they sense from their parents.
At that age, kids don’t always have the vocabulary to tell us what’s wrong, so they cry. I’ve met adults who do the same thing. Remember, at some point in our lives, we’ve all been THAT kid. So for me, as hard as it is to sit in front of or near a crying child, next time I’ll put on some headphones, turn up the volume on the TV and take a deep breath (if I’m not too busy producing puppet shows at 30,000 feet).