Saturday afternoon I shuffled down the short walkway with my overloaded camera bag and purse to get on a small plane that would take me from Toronto to a connecting flight in Minneapolis. I’m sure I’ve written about this here before, but one of my favorite memories of the six months I took reservations for Delta Airlines was the phone call from the man who was very wary of small planes.
“Tell me…” he said because he knew the distance between his home and his destination was relatively short. “Are y’all gonna put me on one of those computer planes?”
“On a what, sir?” I asked not yet grasping his confusion.
“A computer plane. I ain’t about to buy no ticket to put my ass on one of them computer planes.”
“A computer plane?”
“YES. A computer plane. Them computer planes be crashing all up in a backyard. Tell me it ain’t no computer plane.”
Then it clicked. Commuter. I didn’t have the heart to correct him, so I delicately answered that the only flight we had between those two cities was on a “small aircraft.” To sum up his response, he didn’t buy no ticket to put his ass on that plane.
My other favorite phone call: “Can I sit in the cargo bay with my cat?”
My flight to Minneapolis was on one such computer plane. Very small. Limited space. I booked my ticket early enough in advance that I was able to pick a seat very close to the front of the aircraft, but not the very front because I like to have all my stuff underneath the seat in front of me. And, as you know, when you’re sitting in the front row you HAVE to stow everything overhead. There is no seat in front of you. I always feel sorry for those front row sitters having to get up in the middle of the flight to get what they need from the overhead compartment especially when what they need is a heavily dog-eared paperback copy of Fifty Shades of Grey.
When I ambled onto the plane, however, someone was sitting in my seat. And before I could point this out to him the flight attendant pulled me aside and explained that this elderly gentleman and his wife had been unable to book seats next to each other, and would I be willing to trade seats with him. She pointed at the front row. I surveyed all my stuff, determined that if I shoved it hard enough it would all fit into the tiny compartment overhead, and agreed to this plan. Because, I don’t know, that couple could very likely be someone’s parents, someone’s grandparents. I’d want my dad to be able to sit next to the person he loves on an airplane. I know. Gross, huh? You think I’m gross. Wait until I offer you a sip of the smoothie I’m making out of Marlo’s placenta that I saved and stored in the freezer.
So I traded seats, and I was happy to do so. But I guess this threw the seating chart into some sort of blender because the flight attendant had to negotiate with four other passengers about moving seats. It was complicated, but everyone seemed to be amiable about it and moved their belongings without much fuss. That was until one very frustrated man was given the choice between a seat in the front row or a seat next to a woman sitting directly behind me. She had a child in her lap.
“I need my stuff!” he yelled. “And I most certainly won’t sit next to a BABY.” He yelled this with his arm extended, his finger pointing at the child. Every person who was on board the plane could hear him.
The flight attendant tried to calm him down. “Well, you see—”
“I will NOT sit next to a BABY on an AIRPLANE,” he interrupted, his voice booming through the whole cabin.
Someone a few rows back sensed the escalating conflict and offered up her seat, and he gobbled up the offer like dessert at a buffet. It all happened so fast that it took me a few minutes to process it. I finally stood up under the compartment over my head, turned around and peered over my headrest.
“Hey,” I said to her. “If you need anything, let me know. I know how hard it is to travel with kids, so if you need a break, I’m right here.” She bit her lip to hold back a sob and thanked me.
Something about traveling on planes with kids totally changed me, and now whenever I’m traveling and I see a baby my first thought isn’t, “OH GOD, NO.” It’s, “YAY! IT ISN’T MINE!”
And I didn’t say that to her to be some sort of hero or to prove a point. I said it to her because if that had been me sitting there with an infant Marlo on my lap and someone had made that big of a deal about it, had tried to humiliate me like that, I would hope someone would offer me the same kindness. Because no one traveling with an infant gets onto a plane and thinks, “WHEEEE! I can’t wait to torture everyone around me when my baby’s ears explode during takeoff!”
HERE. HERE IS WHERE I PROVE A POINT: as far as I know, there does not exist an airline that prohibits children or infants. This means that when you purchase an airline ticket, to go anywhere, you risk being put in the company of those dreadful, awful, there-to-make-your-life-miserable human beings. This is just a fact of airline travel. Just one of many facts of airline travel. Children may be on your flight. Sick people may be on your flight. People who do not regularly bathe may be on your flight. EVEN TALKATIVE REPUBLICANS ARE ALLOWED TO FLY.
If you want to argue about whether people SHOULD travel with kids on airplanes, well then. No. Don’t even. Save your breath for the giant bubble that you need to blow up and live inside.
For those of you who are like, yeah, it’s a risk, but that doesn’t make it suck any less to have to listen to a screaming baby for two hours in the confined quarters of a plane: invest in some quality noise-cancelling headphones. And then sit back and read a book and be happy that you’re not spending the entire flight shoving Cheerios into someone else’s mouth thinking PLEASE DON’T SCREAM PLEASE DON’T SCREAM PLEASE DON’T SCREAM.