Economists with crying babies on aeroplanes

Thank you Economist for a sensible response on the crying babies in planes issue. Thank you, because you are written and read by more than a few conservative men and when I saw that you were looking at this issue, well, there was a little trepidation in me, and then I read your piece and thank you for getting it.

Using persuasion on crying children is something that non-parents are convinced will work — until the moment they become parents themselves and realize their own utter stupidity. No, if a child is bawling uncontrollably during a flight, it’s not because the parent is derelict in their parenting — it’s because they’ve already exhausted the first four policy options and have no recourse but acceptance.

The other morning (a very, very early morning) we were all on a flight and I got chewed out by a guy for my children making noise on the plane because he wanted to sleep. I was pissed because the flight was an international one that had left at 4 in the morning, so yeah, of course he was tired, so was I and so were my young children and that’s why when they started squabbling towards the end of the flight it was more difficult than normal to resolve. (We had long since used up distractions of food and colouring-in books and looking out the window). I was also pissed because after a brief crying bout during take-off I had actually managed to get my toddler to sleep for the next two hours and he’d been heavy in my arms and it had meant I couldn’t move in my seat the whole time to go to the toilet or get a book or have something to eat lest I risk disturbing him and having him awake and crying again.

And yes, looking after my own kid is my job, bully for me, but I still felt like I had made something of a gesture to everyone’s peace already on the flight. I was also pissed because I wondered if whether Bill had been sitting there instead of me this guy would have felt so comfortable chewing a parent out. Finally, I felt pissed because this is life, kids are life, and I am sick of people getting shirty about this non-issue and taking it out on mothers, especially when I am frickin’ tired myself, thank you very much. It tells me something about how segregated our lives are, about how contained children and their mothers are, that the sounds of a baby crying on an aeroplane can cause such a fuss. That some people are not tolerant of these sounds the way they are of the sounds of a noisy city – that tells me something about the way it happens that women’s lives are not included.

People travel, people travel on cramped, budget airlines; some of those people will inconvenience you and sometimes you will inconvenience them. Try to be nice about it, whomever you are, the wronged or wrong-doing. And Get Over It.

Cross-posted at blue milk.

Categories: gender & feminism, Life, parenting, Sociology

17 replies

  1. Babies crying don’t worry me that much as I’ll sleep through a lot of noise and I’ve travelled with babies/toddlers and understand how hard it can be. I’d just prefer that the parents get to suffer along with me, unlike those times where the parents have put the kids and the nanny in economy and then travel business class themselves (nanny in business and parents in first class happens as well). Feel kind of sorry for the nannies as they cop all the death stares and have even less leverage than parents with the kids.
    As much as I’d like to I haven’t flown on a long haul flight with my toddler mostly because I’m quite worried she won’t handle it well and there’s nothing much you can do once the plane is in the air. For some people though its the only way to see family so I understand why they do it.

  2. We just flew to Fiji with 4, 6 & 8 yr olds. The first attempt at flying involved 7hrs at the airport that ended in the flight being cancelled. When I told the kids we weren’t going to Fiji that day, they cried. Dammit, I nearly cried. But some dude sitting opposite me gave me the death glare because my kids were crying. Maybe he was just jealous that he wasn’t allowed to cry too….
    I can’t help thinking that babies crying is only annoying because there is such a strong meme that it’s annoying. I used to find it unbelievably irritating, then I had my own kids and recognised the deep joy of crying that I was allowed to tune out. I no longer find it at all annoying. Babies crying should elicit sympathy, not irritation, but I don’t know how you go about resetting expectations.

  3. Oh wow, I’ve been away so long I’ve been sent back to the mod queue! Hi Hoyden, I’ve missed you. 🙂

  4. I think the noise of a crying baby cannot be compared to the noise of a city. Babies are hard to tune out because the biological imperative that goes along with the crying means they are supposed to be hard to ignore.
    None of which makes that business man’s sense of entitlement any less obnoxious, of course.

  5. travelling in non-western places, when small (an medium sized) children are fractious, you see other adults taking a communal responsibility for them. other adults will attempt to distract and amuse in order to keep the children happy and give the mother a bit of slack.

    In the priviledged west, however, children are quarantined to the domestic sphere and the mother demonised when children in public are not sweet as pie.

  6. Ahhh, so actually it’s been so long I forgot which name I used here! 🙂

  7. I tend to take it as read that there will be at least one crying kid on any plane I board, and that the kid in question won’t be able to be calmed down. Mostly, if kids are crying on a plane, it’s because they’re disliking the changes in air pressure (and I can quite sympathise, since I have middle ear issues – I know how damn painful it can get when you can’t equalise the internal and external pressures properly) and they don’t have the skill to be able to “pop” their ears. The poor little tackers are in actual, physical pain, damn it, and they’re not going to shut up just because Joe Business Class can’t sleep, because they can’t sleep either, and they hurt, and this is the only bloody way they have of getting the message across.
    So I don’t tend to get narky at the parents of children who are crying on any means of transport, even though the noise is annoying and disruptive. I tend to take the position that if Mum and Dad could do anything about the whole mess, they would have. I know nobody can do anything for it, so I’m more likely to just jam in the noise-reduction headphones, turn on the mp3 player, and try to block it out for myself (unless I’m sitting next to Mum or Dad, in which case I’ll ask if there’s anything I can do to help, or at least try to keep Junior distracted for them).

  8. My attitude is that if Joe or Jo Business flys that often they can just buy themselves some noise cancelling headphones and get over it.

  9. Chris wrote

    As much as I’d like to I haven’t flown on a long haul flight with my toddler mostly because I’m quite worried she won’t handle it well and there’s nothing much you can do once the plane is in the air. For some people though its the only way to see family so I understand why they do it.

    Our last flight was due to depart at eleven p.m. and arrive at dawn, the Tiny Tyrant slept most of the way. If we do that again, I intend to have someone to supervise at our place on the day of our arrival.

  10. Mindy @ 9 – noise cancelling headphones are so cheap these days most regular business travellers would have them. In my experience the people that complain or give death stares in-flight are mostly the newish and infrequent travellers. Those that travel a lot just get used to the fact that you have very little control in flights and that complaining about pretty much anything very rarely achieves anything at all. So you just learn to put up with it.

  11. Oh and I probably should have mentioned that noise cancelling headphones aren’t really designed to filter out noises like babies crying. People even wear them in noisy environments (low frequency constant noise like you get on airplanes) because they make it easier to hear other people talking. You really need a good set of earplug style headphones or you just play something else loud enough so it masks out the crying. But thats likely to hurt your own ears over a period of time as well. No easy solution really, planes are not nice environments to be in unless you score business or first class seats 🙂

  12. Thanks Chris, I just assumed that noise cancelling headphones cancelled out noises, so I am edumacated today. I think most people travelling economy wish they could have scored an upgrade (I know I do – sorry honey they only had one, you get stuck with the kids!) or wish that everyone else on the plane had suddenly decided not to fly. Although if that happened I’d be wondering why actually…

  13. Most of you probably already know this, but breastfeeding on the way up and down is a solid gold method of avoiding the hurty ears.

  14. I’m sure the 5 yr old would be game, but the 8yr old would probably be squicked! I try to have a chuppa chup handy because on the odd occassion that we do fly they still find it tricky to swallow etc to clear their ears.

    • Old diving trick for equalising pressure in ears (for kids old enough to talk and follow instructions): get them to hold their nose and say “banana”. Might need to do it a few times before it works, but kids love it.
      {edited for clarity)

  15. Chris is right – noise cancelling headphones work by detecting a constant noise and then essentially playing another noise at a frequency that cancels it out.
    Great diagram in the explanation here.
    They don’t work against crying babies, BUT using them on a plane to listen to music is pretty effective against all sorts of noise, and you don’t need to turn the music up very loudly in my experience. I find the Cure album Disintegration unfailingly puts me to sleep (I have made a playlist that just repeats the album (minus Lullaby, the least restful track) and it’s almost as effective as sleeping tablets. Although on a long-haul flight, I still take the sleeping tablets as well).

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