the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Wait until this gets picked up in a childfree by choice forum

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.

  • April Contestable

    2013/08/12 at 4:02 pm

    yes, like you said…oh yes, it least it’s not mine…ahhh…

  • Jen Wilson

    2013/08/12 at 4:12 pm

    I, too, think, “YAY! IT ISN’T MINE!” when I see kids on airplanes. Though the last baby who was on a plane with me smiled at me the entire flight and was a complete angel and almost made me want to reverse that thing I got done to make it so that I could no longer have children. Good thing it’s fool-proof and irreversible.

    Also, I cannot believe that guy had the balls to say that. How utterly and completely rude. Sometimes I hate humanity. (Though thankfully there are people like you who renew my hope in the human race.)

  • Heather Armstrong

    2013/08/12 at 4:29 pm

    Armrest hoggers are THE WORST.

  • CheeseburgerinLaradise

    2013/08/12 at 4:37 pm

    Should’ve totally gotten Bose to sponsor this post before you posted it.

  • Danielletodd

    2013/08/12 at 4:39 pm

    Indeed, I actually once gave an earful to a 4 year old who wouldn’t stop kicking my seat. I might be a monster, but the rest of my flight was peaceful.

  • Lady Estrogen

    2013/08/12 at 4:42 pm

    I once sat beside a man that obsessively scratched his genitals and then smelled his fingers . . . for an 11 hour flight. I was 16 at the time, travelling to Australia by myself and never fully recovered from that. Ever.
    Where’s a mother with a baby? Please, oh, please, may I sit beside you?! Heh.

  • Maggie

    2013/08/12 at 4:45 pm

    I don’t have kids yet, but I presume flying with a kid is about the same as being a government employee flying to a work training. (See blog post: republicans) Everyone has an opinion.

  • Nicole S.

    2013/08/12 at 4:45 pm

    My worse experience was I was sitting next to a very large woman sitting in aisle. She fell asleep. I had to pee really, really badly, but couldn’t climb over her and I was too timid to try and wake her up. She finally woke up and .002 seconds after I sat down on the toilet the plane went through some bad turbulence.
    If you’re traveling by yourself (and you don’t buy an extra ticket or two just so your row is empty), you’re going to sit next to somebody, and, really, what are the odds they won’t be somewhat annoying? Almost none. And it’s not like if the baby cries you’re not going to hear it, even if you’re at the other end of the plane.

  • americanrecluse

    2013/08/12 at 4:46 pm

    I was really hoping this would end with the passenger adjacent to the jerk’s new seat to stand up and refuse to have to spend an entire flight SITTING NEXT TO A RIPE GAPING ASSHOLE.

  • S

    2013/08/12 at 4:48 pm

    so hilarious! enjoyed reading this.

  • Kelli

    2013/08/12 at 4:51 pm

    Thank you! I have been that woman with the baby — my 10 month old actually screamed for 90 minutes on one flight. Each and every minute I felt like I would throw up if it got any worse (like if my child made herself throw up with all the crying). Bless you for helping calm that momma’s nerves. Hateful people are just horrible and mean — airlines should ban THEM from flying and make all our lives more pleasant!

  • ali

    2013/08/12 at 4:53 pm

    My first flight by myself with kids occurred when my oldest was 8 mos. He was teething with an ear infection. It was 3 days before Xmas and my husband had deployed to Iraq just 2 weeks before.
    I was fine until he vomited everywhere on the car seat and me. I started sobbing. The meanest looking man ever reached over, scooped my son up, and said “honey, we have all been there. Let’s get this handsome sugar man cleaned up”.

    8 years later I am reminded of the immense feeling of gratitude for that man everytime I see a baby on a plane.

  • marind

    2013/08/12 at 4:55 pm

    My husband’s grandfather died when my first child was only a couple months old. This meant flying with an infant. On the way back, a couple changed seats when they saw we had a baby and were in front of them. Savannah, my daughter, slept the entire flight. The laugh was on them as a later boarder came on with a toddler who screamed, cried, wriggled around, and so on. The. Entire. Flight. It kind of annoyed me (mostly because the mom didn’t even try to get the kid to cooperate) but I didn’t judge as I knew that could be me at some point. Then a month and half later, my husband’s grandma on the other side died. It meant another flight to SLC (which isn’t too bad). Luckily, she did great again! I was worried because she hated her car seat. Things went so well I could pump on the flight and no one knew. We didn’t fly again until she was 4, almost 5, and her sister was 2, almost 3. They both did great again.
    On a business trip I took, I helped a woman in front of me who was flying alone with a baby. She got sick and I held her baby while she handled her business. Poor thing. I felt so bad for her.

  • Sarah C.

    2013/08/12 at 5:02 pm

    THIS. If a parent is making every effort to soothe their child and encourage good behavior, I am 100% supportive, even if they are not completely successful. And if a baby is crying, no problems there, so long as a parent is trying to help the baby feel better (not because of me, but because the baby is unhappy!). But if a child is misbehaving and an adult is not trying to help the situation — and it is having an impact on my flight? UNACCEPTABLE. I will be super sweet about it, but you can be sure that I am going to say something. Manners are important in life. Being polite does not mean having to be a doormat (eg, letting a child kick your seat for an entire flight). I have also helped to entertain nice children sitting next to me, and I am always happy to keep an eye out when a parent goes to the lavatory. Manners go both ways.

  • hutchiehibatchi

    2013/08/12 at 5:04 pm

    i’ll be honest, i wouldn’t want to be moved next to a baby. but i also wouldn’t want to be next to a compulsive talker, guys who sit wide legged like they have the biggest balls in the universe, perfume-y people, the weak bladdered, snorers. Really, I detest all other passengers but me. the best is when nobody is in your row and you can lift both armrests and stretch out. mmmmm.

  • jawnbc

    2013/08/12 at 5:06 pm

    You’re missing what might have been his point: generally the front of the cabin is for frequent travellers, many of whom are business travellers who expect to get some work done on flights. Even on the puddle jumpers. I tend to book 1-2 rows behind the first row in economy to be forward AND to avoid the bassinet area on larger planes.

    In reality, if he was assigned a different seat he’s entitled to expect to keep it unless the gate agents officially re-assign him. Though it does sound like he was being a dick.

  • The Lovely Life

    2013/08/12 at 5:07 pm

    I’ve seen some amazing kids on flights. The Dutch kids are amazing. Really. Never seen children travel like these little toe-head babies. BUT…. there is the other side of hell… and that’s the one kid, one mom, one parent who ruins it for everyone….. who made my life a living hell…. and I have PTSD and every baby is a potential to put me back into my syndrome…

    I’ll be honest… if I’ve paid a fortune for a flight, and I’ve worked 24/7 for the past month with no break, the last thing I want is to put up with some screaming kid – if I wanted one I would’ve had one… I do think they should have sections of the plane where all of the moms and screaming kids can be quarantined together… I know I sound like an asshole… but it’s like me turning on my stereo for a six hour flight and then wondering why you’re upset about it.. but then you’re like wait… a stereo is not a human…. ahh you’re correct… but maybe it’s my little human… my therapy… maybe I’m still a kid at heart, completely immature and need my stereo just like your kid needs his/her bottle to shut the H up. Ok… yell at me now….

    I’m totally codependent and a people pleaser so I’m super nice on planes even if I hate you and your child… I’ll pretend I don’t… BUT… just letting you know what’s going on in my head even though I won’t be saying it to you anytime soon 🙂

  • Heather Armstrong

    2013/08/12 at 5:09 pm

    Not disputing the fact that he was entitled to his seat. He didn’t have to give it up. Not at all. He just didn’t need to try to humiliate a woman who was entitled to have her infant in her lap.

  • The Lovely Life

    2013/08/12 at 5:12 pm

    Ok. This comment just made my day. “Guys who sit wide legged with the biggest balls in the universe.” BAHAHAHAHA

  • Randianne

    2013/08/12 at 5:17 pm

    I hope the person sitting next to that man had dog-quality farts for the entire flight. I definitely would have been trying to squeeze them out if I sat next to him.

  • Rachael

    2013/08/12 at 5:22 pm

    I’ve said it before, but after this post I have to say it again – You are FUCKING AWESOME! If I could, I would serenade you with “You Light Up My Life”! Rock on, Dooce.

  • Jen P

    2013/08/12 at 5:36 pm

    Oh boy…. that made me all teary. Yay nice people!

  • Kim's Kitchen Sink

    2013/08/12 at 5:48 pm

    This is pretty much the perfect articulation of my feelings about this.

  • Kristina

    2013/08/12 at 5:51 pm

    I am traveling with a 4 year old, a two year old and what will be a three month old around Thanksgiving. We’re going to Australia where my husband’s family lives. We could not go (my preference), but, you know, family. Our travel time is 26 hours each way. I don’t have any other comment but that, I’m really just hoping someone will come to my house and give me a hug right now.

  • carrief

    2013/08/12 at 5:52 pm

    I travelled back and forth from Europe for three years with babies, while pregnant and then when they were toddlers. I had a woman offer to hold my sleeping toddler so I could go to the restroom, flight attendants bring extra ice-cream, people come admire my children. While 5 months pregnant I flew with my one year old son and we had a terrifying emergency landing and 24 hour layover in the middle of Nowhere, Nova Scotia. The other people carried all my things, found me a stroller, and basically looked after us. All without me asking for help. Luckily, jerks like that are the exception. Most people have children or grandchildren, or at the very least nieces and nephews. They understand it, I think.

  • LaVonne Ellis

    2013/08/12 at 5:57 pm

    I hope that guy doesn’t have kids. Ever.

  • Amanda

    2013/08/12 at 6:00 pm

    I seriously got teary, too. Stupid moms with their stupid mom hormones.

  • Amanda

    2013/08/12 at 6:02 pm

    Don’t knock that chicken and a biscuit.

  • THW

    2013/08/12 at 6:07 pm

    Question … are you willing to pay more for the convenience/perk of NOT having children in your section of the plane?

  • Debra

    2013/08/12 at 6:08 pm

    As always, you are my hero. I hope you said this loud enough for that man to hear.


  • Gigi Griffis

    2013/08/12 at 6:10 pm

    Agreed! If he didn’t want to sit next to the baby, he should have politely asked about another seat. No reason to make people feel bad. I’ve quietly pulled the flight attendant aside and asked to be reseated when I was in a row with a baby; she re-seated me with no problem and the mother and her two kids had the whole row to themselves. Everyone won.

  • Annie's Mom

    2013/08/12 at 6:15 pm

    Sure, a child free section. Also, 1) an alcohol free section so I never have to sit next to a drunk businessman, 2) a stink free section for those who prefer their seatmates showered, 3) a recline free section,for those who prefer to fly without hosting the seat in front of them in their own laps, 4) a porn free section, because, well blech. 5) a talk free section, so I never have to entertain a conversation with a lonely, bored, socially impaired person…I could go on and on. There are no *free* sections on the airplane. It is full of the whole mess of humanity that needs to move long distances, and of all the people on the whole huge plane I flew on last week, the children/babies were the least annoying, disruptive, and frustrating. And unless your stereo is playing at full volume because it is in pain, but it’s been a year since its seen grandma, then this is a poor analogy.

  • Candace

    2013/08/12 at 6:26 pm

    I was travelling with my son when he was 3 and he was exhausted from traveling and his ears hurt and he started to cry. And then the woman sitting next to us started screaming at me. In German. My son crying while I desperately tried to calm him down, the woman screaming on the other side of me. I think I still have PTSD from that moment.

    Many years later now but I will always have sympathy for anyone travelling with small children.

  • Suzanne

    2013/08/12 at 6:35 pm


  • pogonip

    2013/08/12 at 6:47 pm

    I’ve enjoyed so many of your posts, but this has to be my all-time favorite. Kindness is priceless.

  • Suzanne

    2013/08/12 at 6:49 pm

    Add one more teary-eyed read. Made my day. That of course reminds me of the time my husband and I took our son to HI. Because he was sick (the vomiting didn’t come till the next day IN THE GROCERY STORE!) he cried 5 of the 6 hour flight. I apologized to the man sitting next to us the entire time. Fortunately he pretty much said the same thing “We’ve all been there before.”

  • Erin Gill

    2013/08/12 at 7:00 pm

    Did Lord McDouche not realised that he could have very well been sitting next to a baby in the seat he booked anyway? Poor lady. And yes, noise cancelling headphones are ba-nay-nas.

  • Hanni

    2013/08/12 at 7:12 pm

    I love this post! Grrr…mean people suck! What an idiot. I feel SO lucky that my daughter has always traveled extremely well – really, really lucky. Iphones and DVD players are a godsend on a plane!

    PS The photo you posted of the sunset on Lake Huron brings back so many memories – were you near the North Channel? I grew up near there and can still remember the smell of the many cedar trees…

  • Margaret

    2013/08/12 at 7:13 pm

    Wow, Heather. This is probably the most insensitive post of yours I’ve ever read. Yes, that man was a jerk, I think everyone can agree on that, but I too am one of the unfortunate people who have had children kicking the back of the seat and pulling my hair and poking at me for HOURS on a flight, and the parents did nothing. When I asked (nicely, yes) if they could do something, the look of complete indignation was shocking to me. There were two of them and they didn’t even shift the baby from Mom to Dad to alleviate the situation. And then, they were mad at me! I’m just disappointed that you disregard that there are two sides to the issue. I get that traveling with kids can be stressful, but the fact that the parents’ decision (their situation, their CHOICE) has to be stressful for EVERYONE in their vicinity, just because they had the bad luck to be seated near them, is not acceptable. It just isn’t. You have a greater responsibility to manage the situation as best you can – don’t blame everyone else for not understanding. Just do your best and be polite. Your child/baby is stressful to US too – and you expect us to understand your situation, why can’t you understand ours?? There are plenty of people who have had to endure screaming, kicking, running, obnoxious children, and the parents attitude is to shrug their shoulders and expect us to take it in stride…because they are kids and that’s what they do! And, it’s SO HARD. Please. You are not the only people on the plane.

  • iris @mallemarok

    2013/08/12 at 7:18 pm

    I was the grit my teeth and hope for the best sort when I spotted babies on planes, until the second a had a baby. When my girl was four months old, I took her to San Juan, on vacation, by myself. Because I already my arms full, I packed exactly four diapers, which I thought was plenty to get from NYC to Puerto Rico. And nobody told me about altitude and little bowels, because she shat through all of that with two hours to go.

    There were no other babies on the trip, and no extra diapers, but a well-meaning middle-aged woman gave me four maxi pads and a wink, and I sort of made it work. This small act of kindness made me cry so hard the entire flight could feast off my leaky boobs.

    Also, Annie’s Mom, I think I love you.

  • ECS

    2013/08/12 at 7:20 pm

    I absolutely would.

  • tmb

    2013/08/12 at 7:40 pm

    Yes. You do sound like an asshole. Because even a screaming baby is better behaved than most adults.

  • Michelle Boehm

    2013/08/12 at 7:43 pm

    I call this “imaginary big dick syndrome”


    2013/08/12 at 7:59 pm

    Best flight I ever had traveling with my daughter was when she was six months old. Australia to the UK, 23 hours, slept almost all the time. Fast forward a few years, every time we traveled anywhere she threw up. And not quietly, either. Try traveling with a child who is vomiting all the time. Nobody, not even cabin crew, wants to know. We tried all the travel sickness remedies ever invented. Nothing worked. I decided that we just had to try to be as dignified as we could be under the circumstances. People have to travel and I think that man was just so rude for shouting in that manner, as if having children is something to be ashamed of. And as if he was more important than anyone else. That poor mom, she displayed great dignity as far as I can see. As for Mr Nasty, well, I believe in karma, so he should watch out.


    2013/08/12 at 8:00 pm

    P.S. I have noise cancelling headphones – they are brilliant!

  • Stella Mayfair

    2013/08/12 at 8:07 pm

    I don’t have kids. I was flying from San Francisco to Chicago. I’d just sat down, when a woman with a baby appeared at my row and started trying to get her stuff in the overhead bin with one hand while carrying the baby with the other. So I just stuck out my hands, and she put the baby in them so she could put her stuff away. Neither of us even said anything. (Yeah, I gave her the baby back when she sat down!) It’s that easy to help people. Babies and kids have people they want to see, and people who want to see them. They have that right. Deal.

  • KTC

    2013/08/12 at 8:13 pm

    Great post, Heather. I just want to say thank you for giving up your seat for the couple who wanted to sit together. I have major anxiety which surfaces a lot while flying, and it is reduced considerably when I’m able to sit with my partner. The last time we flew was to Hawaii and even though we bought seats together, when we got to the airport we were told we’d have to sit apart. The woman processing our tickets saw how upset I was and somehow made a miracle happen so we could sit next to each other. She was and still is an angel to me. You’re awesome!

  • Natalie

    2013/08/12 at 8:21 pm

    And remember, we were all babies once. That man was probably a total asshole of a baby too. He was probably the absolute worst baby there ever was. 🙂

  • Blasi

    2013/08/12 at 8:34 pm

    Some people just should not fly, at all. Our last flight, a man turned around and screamed at my two children, who were quietly playing with their little figurines. At the end of the flight he knocked my 4 year old over in the aisle while we were just standing waiting to get off, and then threatened to punch my husband when we asked him to cool it. We had to report him to the airline.

  • MichelleRiggenRansom

    2013/08/12 at 8:36 pm

    The other thing to note? Even if you don’t have a baby, you used to BE a baby!

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Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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