When Monsieur booked our flights to Bangkok a couple of years ago, he chose Eva Air. “Eva who?” I asked, somewhat concerned that there existed an airline I hadn’t yet heard of. “They’re Taiwan’s national carrier,” he explained, as if it were common knowledge, which it probably was to everyone else in the world, but not me. Nonetheless it inspired a frisson of excitement that we’d soon be flying with an airline I’d had no clue existed until we booked this trip.
When the departure date finally arrived, we were understandably excited about spending the next couple of weeks in the Far East. Then, to make things even better, the Eva Air check-in clerk gave us an upgrade from sardine to premier sardine class. “You’ll be sitting by the bulkhead. Is that okay?” she asked, and I wondered why she asked us anything given that with the upgrade we’d be sitting in seats considered to be better and therefore more expensive than those we’d booked. “Of course it’s okay!” we replied with a grin. Little did we know.
On board, we were seated in the central two seats of a row of four, directly in front of a bulkhead. Indeed we had extra leg room, thanks to the upgrade. On a thirteen-hour flight, that counts for something. This trip was starting well.
To my left was a man with a baby. He was friendly and chatted with me about rugby until his wife, seated directly behind us, decided that we were chatting a bit TOO much and insisted on swapping with him. Directly after take-off, the problems started. A flight attendant appeared with a cot for the baby, which was strapped to the bulkhead, thereby blocking my access to the aisle and destroying any leg room gain that may have existed a mere moment before. Added to which, there was so much baby paraphernalia now encroaching on my space that getting into my armrest for in-flight entertainment controls was becoming an issue. I’d say ‘excuse me’ and she’d huff and puff with a grimace, as if I were inconveniencing HER! Meanwhile, baby wipes and muslins and teats and all sorts of baby items were making their way across to my seat and my foot space. I was not a happy bunny.
I do sympathise with parents who travel with babies. It can’t be easy, what with extra carry-on and push chairs and feedings and little ears popping on ascent and descent, not to mention crying. Some parents manage incredibly well although they tend to be the ones who stay quiet and calm with their babies. Their demeanour seems to rub off on their wee one. Unfortunately, the mother next to me was not one of those people. She was tense and moody and grumpy and a downright pain in the arse. For the first time in my life I regretted that we’d ever been offered an upgrade and wished myself back with the regular sardines.
Then, out of the blue, and somewhat temporarily, Grumpy Mum started treating me like a human being. I think it probably had something to do with the fact that the cabin was now echoing with the incessant howls of her offspring. He screamed so long and so loud that I was tempted to ask if he had been born with any numerical birthmarks, like 666. Bugger it, I hadn’t brought any ear plugs.
(the grumpiest baby to be found on Google images. Not sure to whom I should attribute this image, because loads of different sites have used it…)
Eventually, Grumpy Mum realised that a soiled nappy was the reason for the screaming. At the risk of stating the obvious, and I know I may not be a mother myself, but isn’t that one of the first things you check when a baby starts to cry? But wait, there’s more. Instead of taking the baby to the rest room to change him, she removed his stinky, pooey, messy nappy right there in the cabin and did so with such lack of care for her child that the screaming intensified. Three flight attendants tried to tell her to take the baby to the rest room, but Grumpy Mum wasn’t moving. No sir. She was changing the nappy right there and then. In hindsight and on behalf of my fellow passengers, I should have taken the nappy and rammed it up her nose. Inconsiderate doesn’t even begin to describe it. The cabin stank for hours. Literally. I remind you that this was a long-haul flight.
With the aroma of baby faeces wafting up my nose I wondered how airlines could decrease the likelihood of such scenarios happening. Perhaps they could issue guidelines for people travelling with small children (if they don’t already)? Perhaps they could create a cot that sits IN a seat so that aisle access is not blocked – something that could be dangerous in an emergency. Perhaps they could follow a protocol so that passengers are informed if they are going to be seated next to a baby and can change seat allocation if that’s going to be a problem for them. On a site called Flying With Kids experts suggest that some airline assistants will block out the seat next to the parent of a young child to allow them extra space – according to availability. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen for us and as far as I was concerned the pilot couldn’t fly us to Bangkok fast enough. If my baby neighbour had been a new incarnation of the devil, it wouldn’t have surprised me in the least. To be fair, though, I think his non-stop screaming were due to poor parenting. Had I had enough opportunity to relax and sleep on the flight, I may have found energy to feel sorry for the kid. But, no. I’m embarrassed to admit that infanticide was the only thing on my mind by the time the plane landed. I practically ran off the plane to escape the previous 13 hours of smelly, noisy confinement. So what can we do to help ourselves avoid the baby cot scenario in future? Here are some tips. Feel free to add to them in the comments below.
- Sometimes airlines upgrade you because it will help THEM out. It pays to be aware of this. In our case we must have looked polite enough to put up with a 13 hour flight next to a screaming baby. Never again.
- If you are travelling à deux, never, ever accept a pair of middle seats in the middle row. By taking an aisle and a middle seat together, you will only disrupt your companion if you need to get up.
- If you are offered bulkhead seats, ask if your neighbours will be requiring cots.
- Reserve your preferred seats online wherever possible to avoid losing out in the lottery of last-minute seat allocation.
- If the clerk at check-in asks you to change seats, ask to see a plan of the cabin so you know exactly where you will be.
- Note that when travelling on low-cost airlines, unless you pay extra for preferential boarding, you will sit wherever there is space. There are often no set seat allocations.
- Pack ear plugs in your carry-on. For those unexpectedly noisy moments, like the screaming child or the high-decibel snoring coming from 33D.
- Ditto rosemary essential oil. A dab of that under your nose will help mask any unpleasant cabin smells without adding to them.
- And for the instance where your seat-mate decides to use the reading light when you want to sleep, take an eye-mask. You can get them imbued with lavender nowadays – which will help you relax and further reduce any effects of strange smells in the cabin.
- Have I forgotten anything?
- Oh yeah. Beta Blockers. They work every time.