It's that time of the year when we are corralled into a tiny container with our children for several hours and forced to see our lives through the disdainful eyes of others, at least there's a holiday at the end of this nightmare says Sophie White
In the early days of parenthood, a friend advised that I take all the flights I could while the child was still a largely complaint, slug-like being fastened on to my boob. More like a very important, expensive handbag than a fully fledged, defiant individual aware of its rights and enthusiastically exercising its own free will. I thought my friend was crazy and proceeded to avoid air travel, waiting until the spawn was older and (LOL) more manageable. Idiot.
Cut to last week and I was on the return leg of a lovely week in France. I know enough about children to know that any travel will be attended with calamity and a frustration-induced, face-breaking headache. Layered on top of that glorious melange, is the judgement and often outright loathing of the other passengers. For the duration of most flights, if I'm not on the verge of screaming at my kids, I'm gunning to erupt at the martyrish Eye-Rollers and the Audible-Sighers and the Head Shakers. "Seriously???" I fantasise about screaming, nostrils flared, eyes mad and darting. "You think you're in hell right now? This is my actual life, you're just tolerating a couple of hours of this, I actually live here."
Earlier this year Inside Edition posted a segment on YouTube titled Child Screams For Most Of 8-Hour Long Flight. Despite a hilariously uncatchy headline, the video's been viewed close to three million times. The comments, of course, are a travesty with not a single person expressing any sympathy for the person suffering most at the hands of that hell-child, its mother. People complain bitterly about being seated near children on flights but honestly, no one hates those kids more than their own parents in that moment.
Every summer, a long-raging debate rears its head. Child-free flights and child-free seating areas on flights have been mooted for years but, as yet, few airlines have gotten on board.
A 2017 study found that more than half of those interviewed believed families with children under 10 should be sequestered together in a specific area of the plane and some airlines like AirAsia already have this in place.
I know travelling with my kids can be intense. I get it, believe me. By the time we reached our summer holiday destination this year, not a single scrap of my younger child's clothing had survived the trip. We'd lost the trousers to an in-flight sh**cident and the top somewhere in passport control. However, I cannot understand just how crappy other people can be about it – were they never babies themselves? Can they not endure a couple of hours of mild discomfort? They're not even doing anything, they just get to sit there feeling put upon. I'm the one doing the heavy cardio of physically restraining my children for two and a half hours.
I think the simmering resentment of other passengers usually comes from some misguided notion that I am not trying hard enough.
Pre-kids, I’d witnessed parents and kids on planes before and I know the subtle-but-snide shock waves of judgment that invariably ripple forth through passengers and cabin-crew members, a storm of intense irritation with the parents and kids at its epicentre. Before, I would never join in with the muttering — “Would they not control that child?” or “This is what’s wrong with kids these days, no discipline”. I was too busy luxuriating in the profound relief that it was not my problem. Before, you couldn’t pay me to be these people. Obviously now I am those people.
Apparently, the Loud Mutterers do not realise the planning and precision required to bring a human child on to a plane. Every parent comes equipped with an arsenal of distractions to appease the babies. In the event of tantrum or extreme rage, these are to be administered at intervals in order of effectiveness, from least effective to most.
Plan A might be a toy they like, Plan B a snack, Plan C is the phone, and so on until we get to Plan F, which is a Chupa Chups lollipop.
The point of the plans is not to “cure” the upset outright, as that is simply not possible, they're kids. The aim is simply to buy time. The red car will get you maybe 15 seconds of calm, while Plan G, the lollipop, could get you half an hour or more – though by god you'll pay for it in terms of stickiness.
The real key to surviving a flight with your children is to divorce yourself from caring about the raging neighbouring passengers. If they can't summon any compassion for you in that moment than they are dark souls. As my kids have gotten older, I've found their antagonism has an unexpectedly positive effect. As any flight progresses and the surrounding people become more and more irked I start to feel closer to my children. We are united in the face of their righteous irritation.
"F**k you all," I think. "In exchange for your complete lack of understanding or empathy, I am now going to abandon all my efforts to restrain and control my wild, beautiful children. I'm going to wield my adorably annoying children as weapons against you. I'm going to set them on you like a pack of flying monkeys. 'Fly my pretties, fly! Let the seat-kicking COMMENCE.'"