Voices: Stop shouting at babies on planes – nobody has the right to a ‘child-free’ existence

Voices: Stop shouting at babies on planes – nobody has the right to a ‘child-free’ existence

I know the feeling of being stuck on a flight with a baby screaming its head off. That’s because it’s invariably been mine.

Being a mum with two small kids on long-haul flights is a horrifying experience. There is no escape for you and your crying baby once the plane takes off. It’s a tense stand-off with other passengers, who desperately try to look sympathetic but end up feeling murderous.

As a result, I’ve spiralled into shame far too often on planes– I start to feel it’s all my fault. ‘What’s wrong with me – why can’t I stop my baby crying?’ Now I’m triggered with anxiety every time I take a step inside an airport, despite the fact my kids – Lola, six, and Liberty, four – aren’t babies anymore.

That’s why, when I saw the Tiktok video this week of an angry passenger on a Southwest Airlines flight to Florida shouting and swearing at flight attendants because a baby had been crying for 40 minutes on the plane, my heart went out to the baby’s parents.

The man’s outburst was so intense that the plane had to be diverted.

“We are in a f***king tin can with a baby in a goddamn echo chamber,” the irate passenger says in the video.

“You’re yelling,” the flight attendant warns him, to which the furious passenger answers: “So is the baby!”

I don’t know who or where the baby’s parents are right now – hopefully, their baby is asleep – but presumably, they are reeling from the incident and feel as powerless over the baby crying mid-air, as I always did.

On one flight to Dubai, in 2019, I had to wake my then-newborn baby Liberty out of one of those airplane cots that slot into the wall, because we had hit air turbulence. She started screaming the plane down, while my toddler Lola – then only two –had a meltdown because the Paw Patrol downloads on her iPad had expired.

My elderly 85-year-old dad, who needed assistance to even get to the toilet, was no use as I juggled the kids.

But from the look of outrage on the other passengers’ faces, I may as well have been keeping them awake with an illegal rave, rather than struggling with a newborn in economy.

One patronising woman offered her services as a stand-in nanny in the early hours of the morning, acting as if I was a bad mother. I overheard another passenger demanding to move from his seat as if the money he’d paid for his ticket entitled him to a child-free zone.

I tried to walk down the plane aisle soothing my baby in my arms, but by then, I was trapped in a tsunami of nappies, bottles, pouches of squeezy food and Fluffy the bunny piled up in the leg room.

This wasn’t some kind of fun ‘playdate in the air’ for me – it was a living nightmare.

When a flight attendant passed me a garbage bag to clear up the mess around me, I felt as humiliated as American MLB Pitcher Anthony Bass’s pregnant wife did this week, when a United Airlines attendant requested she clean up the kid’s popcorn off the cabin floor.

“The flight attendant @united just made my 22-week pregnant wife travelling with a five-year-old and two-year-old get on her hands and knees to pick up the popcorn mess by my youngest daughter,” Bass wrote on Twitter. “Are you kidding me?!?!”

It sparked Chrissy Teigen – who has recently had a baby with John Legend – to reshare Bass’s post, as she noted how his remarks could stir up a debate online.

It clearly has. My own message is loud and clear. Stop shouting at babies on planes –people don’t have the right to a child-free existence. Us parents can’t help it if our babies cry on flights. It’s not always possible to leave the kids at home.

I understand that a good night’s sleep is important for mental health – and it’s worse being kept awake by a baby that isn’t even your own.

But people need to understand that kids exist too, and if they really hate that, then maybe they should make their own accommodations: for example, stump up to fly business class? Some noise cancelling headphones reduce the volume of crying sounds quite well too.

Long gone are the days when I’d dread sitting next to a mum and baby on a plane – now, I am that mum. But if I hear a baby crying on a plane it’s not something I judge – it’s normal.

As the unacceptable behaviour of this airline passenger proved earlier this week, it’s not the baby that needs to stop screaming. It’s the adults throwing a tantrum just because a baby is crying who need to really calm down.