Crying kids, angry parents

Looks like I touched a nerve when I suggested banning screaming babies. How about this: Ban obnoxious adults!

By Patrick Smith

Published February 24, 2011 4:40PM (EST)

My complaint about screaming babies on airplanes requires some follow-up, I think.

Look, to the moms and dads out there:

I neither stated nor implied that all, or most, or even a high percentage of parents are selfishly indulgent toward their noisy or otherwise disobedient children. I understand that parents are, nine times in 10, doing their best with a difficult situation. It cannot be easy trying to keep a toddler or infant happy over the course of a flight.

I am not assigning blame. Whether it's the fault of Mom, Dad, the physiology of the infant's inner ear -- the latter, in fact, when subject to the changes in cabin pressure, is often the culprit in many crying fits -- or anybody or anything else isn't the point. I'm simply saying that the noise of a crying child is tough to take. Sometimes extraordinarily so. I have been on long-haul flights where children cried for hours on end.

And, let's be honest, there are those parents who make little or no effort to hush or restrain their volcanic offspring, seemingly of the belief that everybody around them is able to sympathize and shrug it off.

What can be done about it? Well, perhaps nothing can be done about it. This is one of several uncomfortable realities of modern air travel. I can live with crying kids. I expect them to cry. But I don't have to like it. Who would?

The backlash I have been receiving was not entirely unexpected, but much of it strikes me as unfair. Based on some of the e-mails I've gotten, you would think that I advocated that children be gassed or thrown overboard. One mom accused me of providing the kind of "rhetorical impetus" that can encourage certain people to physically abuse children. Many of your criticisms begin with the likes of, "Obviously you're not a parent," and scanning the letters section I come across the word "compassion" -- as in what I'm lacking -- at least 15 times.

"I used to be a big fan too of Ask the Pilot," writes somebody named Cowgrrl. "And I don't think I am anymore."

Yikes! Four-hundred columns, and I lose you on a single paragraph about crying kids? Baby with the bathwater, as they say.

"This is one of the least constructive, least entertaining and least intelligent articles I've ever read on Salon," says dothatgirl.

"My father was a pilot, and I used to like your articles," offers Gitland. "But you are a f8%ing punk!"

Talk about hitting a nerve.

Lost in all of this is that the bulk of the article was about in-flight smoking and onboard etiquette in general, not about babies. Of nearly 900 total words, 49 of them talked about babies.

Despite what you seem to think, I have due sympathy for those exhausted parents who, like the rest of us, are merely trying to get from one place to another in as much comfort as possible. However, I do sense a touch of ... what to call it but self-righteousness: I have not partaken in the joyous rewards of child-rearing; therefore it is boorish, even inhumane of me to complain. Childless, I have failed to achieve not only the true fullness of life, but I am lacking some higher empathetic power that would otherwise allow me to ignore the glass-shattering screech of a 2-year-old while I'm trying to read.

Crying babies are annoying? What! "Dear asshole," you are "flip" and "arrogant" and "smug" and "a bigot." "Fuck you," and "I will never read your shit column again." "Go to hell." And so on.

At least one angry reader, though, had a useful idea: "How about calling for a ban on obnoxious adults while you are at it?"

Fair enough.

I have written in the past about the rude behavior of adult fliers. I've discussed so-called air rage multiple times, and maybe you remember the story of "Angry Dude." I have seen people smoke in the lavatories, steal liquor from the galleys, throw things, vomit on people, leave dirty diapers on seats, threaten or assault their fellow passengers, you name it. When babies cry they aren't trying to be obnoxious. Grown-ups, on the other hand, are supposed to know better.

If you ask me, two of the biggest offenders are, as I like to call them, the assault-recliners and the tray-slammers.

Assault-recliners are those who slip their seat back hard and fast, all at once with no warning, then give it an extra shake by lifting and plopping themselves against the cushion, as if to say, "so there." If you've got anything on your table when this happens, it's liable to end up in your lap, your computer screen crushed between the tray and the seat back.

When and if I recline, I always do so slowly, out of courtesy to the person behind me.

Tray-slammers are those people who don't understand the concepts of gravity and a mechanical swivel latch. They believe that the only way to properly stow a tray is to slam it shut with as much force as possible, subjecting the person ahead of them to what feels like a kick in the shoulders -- and causing him to miss another keystrOOPPSDGe in the column he's trying to write. (A few years ago I was flying from Paris to Delhi on Air France. Some insolent teenager was behind me, and it was SLAM, SLAM, SLAM all the bloody way to India.)

These are two reasons why I much prefer the style of tray that folds from the armrest rather than the kind mounted to the seatback.

Heaven help you if you're unfortunate enough to be sandwiched between an assault-recliner and a tray-slammer -- a simultaneous front and back attack.

Then you've got the snorers, the barefooters, the cellphone sneaks, the loud talkers ...

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Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith is an airline pilot.

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