Nobody likes to hear a baby cry, least of all said baby's parents. Crying is the only way really small babies can communicate anything -- hunger, tiredness, discomfort -- and older babies cry for lots of reasons but usually it's distress. On an airplane a baby may cry for their usual reasons, but they may also experience ear pain due to their narrower eustachian tubes behind the eardrum becoming blocked. An adult knows to swallow or yawn to help relieve discomfort, but a baby doesn't. So if your baby is crying due to ear pain, offering something to suck or eat -- breast, bottle, sippy cup, or pacifier -- may provide some relief and the crying will hopefully stop.
But as every parent knows, sometimes babies cry and we don't always know why. No matter what we try or how many possible reasons we cross off the list, the crying continues. That's stressful in the most ideal of circumstances, i.e. being in the comfort of your home, and when you're on an airplane, not only are you supposed to comfort your distressed infant, but apparently every passenger within earshot.
Recently I appeared on Fox & Friends Weekend to discuss the latest "trend" of seating families at the back of the plane. While this notion of a "baby ghetto" is not new, the idea that it is actually happening but also having the onus on parents to ensure they are actually seated with their small children is ridiculous. Representing the other side of the flying with baby topic was Ben Mandelker of the bsideblog. Ben videotaped himself on a flight two years ago in which a baby cried for almost the whole duration while according to Ben, "the dad read a book and the mom did a crossword puzzle for the whole four and a half hour flight."
From our TV discussion and Twitter interactions afterwards, I think Ben seems like a nice guy. But his video made me annoyed. However if it is in fact true, that the parents ignored their baby's cries, he has a point, to a point. Ben didn't come across as anti-baby, more like anti-uninvolved parent. And while I sympathize with Ben and his fellow passengers for having to listen to a baby's cries non-stop, mostly I feel terrible for the baby.
I truly believe that the parents that "do nothing" must be in the minority. I suppose there are parenting philosophies that subscribe to the notion that you are spoiling a baby by responding immediately to their cries, but air travel is a special circumstance. Pick up and at least attempt to soothe your baby.
And as a traveling parent, you should be prepared -- prepared to provide for your baby but also prepared to amuse and comfort her. Pack your carry-on luggage with enough food, snacks, and distractions to last the duration of your journey. Psyche yourself up for a busy flight that may result in sleeping only if you're lucky. Babies are unpredictable. I advocate booking flights at times you think your babies will sleep, but mine usually don't (too noisy) so I book for times they are likely to be in a good mood. I don't feel responsible for the comfort of my fellow passengers, but I am proactive in keeping my kids engaged and comfortable. A bonus side effect of that engagement and comfort is peace and quiet, which benefits everyone around us.
But saying I don't feel responsible for other passengers' comfort seemed to hit a nerve with people. Within minutes of my Fox News appearance, I had an inbox full of hate mail. And it truly was hate mail.
But I stand by what I said. I hope other passengers will be courteous and civil, but I learned a long time ago not to expect it. As an adult, I feel 100% responsible for my own comfort. If a child kicks my seat, I ask them to stop. And if they didn't stop, I'd notify the flight attendant. If I knew the sound of babies or children would bug me, and I might be around kids, I'd invest in a good pair of noise-canceling headphones. And if a baby is crying and the parents truly weren't doing anything about it, I'd say something. I'd say something like, "I notice your baby is in distress, is there anything I can help you with?" Chances are they'll probably say no. And the baby would probably keep on crying. But at least I'd pointed out the parents' inactivity in a manner that would avoid adding more tension. Passive aggressive? Absolutely. But also? Proactive. Certainly much more so than sitting there stewing and rolling my eyes.
My kids travel well. It isn't and has never been easy, but it's worth it. My husband and I teach them how to conduct themselves in public and in different situations because we want them to grow up to be kind and courteous. Travel and exposure to new cultures expands the mind, and I believe it will help my children develop into the kind of open-minded and tolerant adults I hope they will become.
Corinne McDermott is the founder of Have Baby Will Travel - your online guide for travel with babies, toddlers & young children. From baby packing lists to tips on coping with jet lag in toddlers, Have Baby Will Travel wants to help you travel with your baby! Connect with Corinne on twitter and on Facebook