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My Least Favorite Person On a Plane

Erin Zammett Ruddy

Flying with kids (mine in particular) is always a little stressful but there are some things (i.e. people) that make it way worse.

As you guys know we flew home from Michigan a few days ago (more details on the trip tomorrow). My kids are not perfect angels on airplanes—or anywhere—but they’ve gotten to the point where they behave at about a B/B+. I’m OK with this. We're constantly striving for the A+ plus but, for now, so long as they are not those kids on the plane, I'm satisfied. The right mix of snacks and stickers and bathroom runs and movies makes it so that Nick and I can even read a few pages of Sky Junk or catch a nap. And most people on the plane don’t hate us, which is extremely important to me both as a former childless traveler and as someone who cares way too much what strangers think of my parenting skills. Many people chat up my kids or ask us about them or tell us how cute/funny/polite they are. But as we were boarding the plane on Saturday and getting situated I had a run-in with the worst kind of fellow passenger: The one who takes one look at your kids’ proximity to her, rolls her eyes, sighs and then puts up her super-sensitive, annoying-kid radar and waits for you to set it off. Which you inevitably will because you’ve now been set up to fail. You are the enemy. There is no pleasing this kind of passenger unless you suddenly realize you're on the wrong plane and get off. We were not on the wrong plane. 

As any parent who has flown with children can tell you, there is a window of chaos during the boarding phase when you’re getting to your seat, stowing carry-ons, figuring out who will sit where and, in our case, wiping down the seats to rid them of peanut residue (Alex is allergic). The parents are distracted and the kids are excited and there may be a seat bump or two. Or a shriek. This is normal. No one should be asleep yet, the effing plane is still at the gate and everyone is bumping everyone, adults included. Well, the woman in front of us started her twitchy and dramatic, “I’m trying to read” motions right away. I had a nervous knot tightening in my stomach, the way I imagine people who are afraid of flying feel. It sucked. Meanwhile, the guy next to Nick—who had a massive watch with more bling on it than I’ve ever seen and an “I’m somebody important possibly a music producer” vibe to him—loved our kids. He had laughed when Nora freaked out at Alex on the jetway ("Don't you touch my bag, Ali!!!")  and I immediately thought, phew, this guy is cool. I was relieved when I saw him sitting close to us. I love those kind of people on a plane, the ones who don’t hold you to such insanely high standards, and who put you at ease about the whole awful shit show of flying with kids. I’m on your side they say without saying it. You got this.  

Sometimes, if the you’re-going to-piss-me-off person looks like they have a slight sense of humor, I may engage: “Don’t worry, they’re pretty good.” Or, “She’ll fall asleep as soon as we takeoff” OR “Once we hit 10,000 feet, they’ll be plugged in, promise.” But there was no chink in this woman's armor. She looked angry. We made it worse. Once Nora was buckled into her car seat (we always bring her seat onboard so she knows she can’t get up), I was getting stuff out of her bag to occupy her while whisper-explaining to Alex why he couldn’t get the 10-foot bear sculpture he’d eyed in Sky Junk, and...Nora kicked this woman’s seat. A few times. Not on purpose, not hard, but enough that the woman felt it. Enough that it would have annoyed me, too (hey, no one likes pain in the ass kids on a plane, right?). As soon as I realized (Nick is also hyper-aware of our kids' behavior on planes and alerted me from across the aisle), I grabbed Nora’s feet, whisper-explained to her that she had to stop and that was pretty much it. But the woman was already doing a showy move from her seat to the middle seat, which was empty (and in front of me). I said, apologetically/bewildered: “Oh, no, you don’t have to move, I’ve got her feet in my hand, she’s not going to do it again.” The woman just sighed and sat back in her seat (she wasn’t with the guy on the aisle so it would have been really freaking weird for her to move). And so I sat there with my arm draped over Nora’s leg to prevent any movement. I was a nervous wreck and they hadn’t even shut the cabin door yet. Did I mention this was a one-hour flight? In the middle of a Saturday? And we weren’t in first class? I’m not saying she should have to put up with any of my kids' antics at any time, but I hardly think the dramatics were called for.

As we were taking off, Nora said, “Goodbye Michigan, see you later” in her loud, raspy, New Yorker voice. Most people around us chuckled. (Jay-Z’s boy, who had missed his first two flights which is why he was in coach--or so Nick eavesdropped--certainly did). I did too, then I quickly shushed her and the knot got tighter. I spent the rest of the flight draped over Nora like a blanket. I hated that woman for putting me on such an edge and for ruining the flight for me. I think if I had been able to relax, the kids would have been more relaxed, too. Ultimately, Nora got a B- (there were a few screeches and a window blind opening/shutting incident) and Alex got an A. They are a work in progress and believe me, we work on it. I used to travel a lot and I was not a fan of screaming/kicking/annoying kids on planes (who is?) and I may have even secretly rolled my eyes a time or two if I got seated next to one (karma?), but I never turned around and stared, I never huffed and puffed and I did always have a sense that it was way worse for the parents than it was for me. Now I know that’s true. And on the rare occasion that I do fly sans children, I try to be super cool to any parents I see onboard. I'm rooting for you I say without saying it. Although there is my second least favorite person on a plane: The parent who allows their child to watch a movie or play a video game with the sound turned up and without headphones. Really?

OK, that’s all I got. How about you guys? What are your thoughts on flying with kids and who you like/dislike as fellow passengers? 

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