I moved a few feet forward.
I moved a few more feet forward.
I was close now, I knew it. Just a few more steps to go.
Finally, it was my turn. All my waiting had paid off.
I pulled out my boarding pass.
Finally, I was through. All I had to do now was find my seat and settle down for my ten-hour-long flight to India. I shuffled slowly down the aisle, waiting for the people in front of me to put their bags away. And then I smelled something. It was very faint, but I knew exactly what that smell was. “Shit,” I thought, “baby powder.”
Suddenly, my senses were on high alert. There was at least one baby on this plane, and a baby meant wailing—loud wailing. Loud wailing in a small, airtight space 35,000 feet in the air. Generally, babies are at the most helpless stage of human life: small, round, and unable to even feed themselves. But on a plane, they become destructive forces of nature, capable of bringing pain to dozens of people at once. There are few worse sounds in the world.
I kept moving down the aisle, looking for any more signs of infantile life. I didn’t find any. And then I reached my seat. There he was, in the row behind me, tugging on his mother’s hair. He looked innocent enough, swaddled in a blue blanket, sucking on a pacifier. But I knew better. I knew that come takeoff, that pacifier would be forgotten, the blue blanket a tangled mess. I knew, for the next ten hours, that baby would be the bane of my existence.
I’m not the only one with such strong views on babies. Malaysia Airlines, for instance, received so many customer comments regarding wailing babies that it has barred infants from its first-class section and even created a baby-free zone in economy. And for $14, you can upgrade to the child-free zone of Singapore’s Scoot airlines. But my airline didn’t have any of that.
I hadn’t come completely unprepared, however. I did have my own defense. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my secret weapon – a pair of headphones. With the volume cranked up, I knew I wouldn’t be able to hear a thing. As if the baby knew what I was doing, he spit out his pacifier, filled his lungs with air, and uttered a piercing, ear-rattling scream—or at least I assumed it was ear-rattling; I couldn’t hear it. I smiled to myself. Maybe this flight wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Five minutes later, an air hostess walked up to my seat. “Sir,” she said, “I’m going to have to ask you to turn that off.”