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Things I Think About On Planes

February 4, 2011

I have a love-hate relationship with flying nowadays

First of all, I know this is going to sound sort-of snobbish, but I was a child in the era of the Jet Set, and my parents were Jet Setters. They flew all the time on business, and dragged me with them, sometimes taking me out of school, which I found annoying and disruptive.

I got to fly on 747s, and sit up top and schmooze with the high rollers and everything, and I wasn’t even a double-digit yet. On one of the trips, I flew with my parents to Viet Nam at the end of 1967, just prior to the Tet Offensive, and we had three breakfasts, since we passed through three time zones. A weird, weird childhood, which makes me overly aware of kids on planes now.

Anyway, the point to this is that plane travel has changed, and these changes are extremely painful to experience, both on my psyche and on my posterior, which has grown enormously since I was 8. In the old days, you would go to the bathroom and there would be these little glass bottles of perfume; the stewardesses (no gender conflict in those days, and no question of what to call them; and yes, I still call them stewardesses, though not to their faces and not to men) would wipe down surfaces after each use. Later, you’d go back, and the perfume bottles would be new and full, the toilet clean. I’m not making this up, either. Even the cake of soap was fresh.

In those days, being a kid on a plane meant that the stewardesses ignored you and hovered over the men in seats around you. Stewardesses were trying very hard to charm the socks off these guys, looking for a husband; even I could see that, and I was eight, for god’s sake. That meant they had no time for me, and disdained me, in fact. Little kids were not the norm on planes, and it was a time when people didn’t like children much anyway, so having me there just annoyed adults. The parental credo of the era was “be seen and not heard,” so I tried to keep my whining to a low boil, otherwise there was a price to be paid that included disappointed remonstrations (dad) and yelling (mom).

Nowadays, however, little kids are everywhere on flights, and I have to go into my Inner Zen State (and insert earplugs) to ignore their high-pitched screaming.

So, here’s what I think about while flying nowadays. It’s pretty simple, really. I think about how uncomfortable the seats are, how there are too many people flying these days, and I think about children. I don’t like saying this, and I know how terrible this sounds, but I am not fond of small children. I pretend to think they’re cute, and humor their parents, because we’re all stuck in this cold tube of metal hurtling through the skies at 35,000 feet and I might need help putting on my oxygen mask. You never know.


Not so cute at 35,000 feet

But in reality, small children on planes, more so than on the ground, are amazingly annoying. For one thing, you’re stuck with them for the entire duration of the flight, and I take some long flights.

Small children are like alcoholics; one minute they’re laughing, the next they’re crying, and they fall down a lot. It’s too bad we have to go through that stage of cognitive development to become adults, but there it is.

Parents inflict this on you, and although I don’t hate them, I do question their priorities. They need to get from place to place, it’s an upwardly mobile society, and everyone apparently needs to see everything nowadays, and drag their children with them. Why children cannot stay at home, I do not know. Maybe they don’t have grandmothers anymore? It’s a distinct possibility, since I am not old enough to be a grandmother yet, but my grandmother was my grandmother at my age, although nothing prevented my parents from dragging me with them. 

The few times I flew with my child 20 years ago, older women the age I am now eyed her with great suspicion, and now I understand why. Each small child you see on a plane (a physical space where you’re compelled to be convivial with people you would never normally spend any time with) forces you to think about having children, becoming a grandmother, and getting older. Being on a plane with kids, therefore, is a form of psychological torture, especially for the Aging Whiney Woman.

Younger men get to comment aloud about noisy kids on planes, roll their eyes and laugh, but older women are expected to be nice. I hate this expectation. I don’t feel nice on planes; I am in pain and would like nothing more than to sleep. But because I am older, have had a child, and “understand” what parents are going through as they expend energy trying to entertain their rotten kids, I feel bad about how much I hate small kids on planes.

It’s like being stuck in an insane asylum for 8+ hours. I think this is the real source of jet lag: the physical reaction to listening to endless screaming, getting no sleep, and trying to keep a smile on your face the whole time causes cognitive dissonance and you go crazy. But at least it’s a distraction from how uncomfortable your seat is, and the inedible “food.”

The problem is so prevalent, someone’s made a video about it, and, having watched it, there’s a lot to know. I had no idea. I remember getting advice when flying with my daughter, and being told to use baby Benadryl, knock her out, and enjoy the quiet. Not everyone is going to find that solution moral or ethical, but your seatmates will bless you for your lack of morality and ethics.

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