The 'little' horrors of air travel

We bet you have encountered them as well


Sushmita Bose

Published: Thu 7 Jul 2022, 3:48 PM

Each time I say this — whatever I am about to say — I get a lot of flak, starting with, “You don’t like children”, and ending with “You’re a sociopath”. The thing is, whenever I travel, I am terrified of kids. Kids in the airport constitute some sort of a vague ambience which you can ignore. But you can’t — or at least I can’t — ignore them when they are at check-in… and they hog the top of my mind space when I am inside the aircraft. I’m just back from a short trip to India, and both ways had children stealing the show. Shouting, check. Crying, check. Throwing hissy fits, check. Bouncing on the aisles, check. The list of checks go on.

On my way to India, I had been seething at parents, and their public display of affection on travel itineraries. Why do parents step it up when they are waiting to check in? Why can’t they hug and kiss their child/children to their hearts’ content at home, before they leave for the airport?

There was this youngish couple in front of me, and there was a bonny baby (“A Glaxo baby is a bonny baby,” I remembered that jingle) in the man’s arms. The woman was fixing her hair. So far so good, even though I was a bit edgy, I tend to get edgy whenever I fly.

Now, right before they were supposed to walk towards the check-in counter, rendering me the next person to get checked in, the man — who would have had to give away the baby to his wife since he was the one carrying the tickets/passports, and would do the I’m-in-charge gig at the counter — was besieged with tender emotions. What did he do? He started cooing, and doing baby talk while the baby smacked his face playfully, and then, horror of horrors, he began to throw the infant up in the air, and catch him, like he was practising ball… up and down, up and down, while the baby gurgled in delight, and then changed his/her mind and began to wail loudly.

The mother, who had by now taken a break from hair-fixing, egged on the show, clapping her hands. At least three to four minutes were wasted in the process. The man at the check-in counter had no other option than to put his game face on, while muttering, “Sir, can you please come over this side?”

The father of the child was in no hurry. Another minute passed before he transferred the now-weeping bundle of joy into his wife’s custody.

On my way back to Dubai, the flight was remarkably empty. At the waiting area, there appeared to be very few children. Okay, maybe I’ll be able to get some shuteye that I so desperately needed: it had been a super hectic trip, with no scope of relaxation. My entire row was empty, save the window seat at one end. I was just about to pull the blanket around me and drift into a quick snooze, even before the flight took off, when a mother-child duo moved into the space behind me.

From then on, there was no sound of silence: the child, probably three or four, gave a running commentary (in a loud, excited voice) on everything — from cloud formations to the food being served to people she would meet upon descent. I thought a spate of (fairly intense) turbulence would shut her up for some time, but, no, she sailed through it without letting up. When her mother suggested she should watch Tom & Jerry, I heaved a sigh of relief, but the child turned down the offer in favour of talking some more.

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