'Baby on board' is not a good sign when flying

March 12, 1998|By KEVIN COWHERD

WHEN IT comes to airline travel, the old saying is true: There's no hell like having a baby sitting near you.

I was reminded of this when a baby sat in front of me on a recent flight to the Midwest.

OK, I say sat. Actually the baby was perched over his father's shoulder facing me. Which meant his fat, little drool-covered face was about 6 inches from mine.

Now, normally I have no problem with drooling babies, figuring drooling is simply their occupational hazard.

But I sure had a problem with this baby. Because this baby wasn't just drooling.

This baby was also wailing.

No, that's not quite strong enough. This baby wasn't just wailing. This baby was wailing like someone was sawing off his leg.

As if this were not bad enough, as soon as we took off, the plane hit turbulence. So here we are, the plane rocking back and forth like we're about to lose a wing -- and this baby is screaming in my face.

At this point, of course, an air disaster was not looking all that bad to me.

Anyway, about a half-hour into the flight, the baby's dopey father finally figures out the kid might be wailing for a reason. So he gives the baby a bottle.

For me, this is good news and bad news.

It's good news because for a few blessed minutes, it's quiet while the baby slurps down his bottle. But it's bad news as soon as he's finished.

Because now the baby's in a good mood. And he's looking for something to do. And he's looking for someone to do it with.

Guess who he picks?

That's the thing about babies: They're like dogs. They can smell fear in a man. As soon as they sense you don't want anything to do with them, they'll zero in on you. Especially on airplanes.

And, sure enough, as soon as the baby is back up on his dad's shoulder, he zeroes in on me.

He ignores the sweet-faced grandmother next to me who's pinching his cheeks. He ignores the college student with the girl-next-door looks who's talking baby-talk to him.

No, this baby wants to play with me. So he starts grabbing at my newspaper with his fat little hands.

At this point, the plane has finally stopped rocking enough so you can actually read. Only I can't read now, because this little monster keeps grabbing my sports section.

Now, when a baby is pawing at your newspaper on an airplane, there's really not much you can do.

You can't swat his fat little hand and bark: "Knock it off, kid!" You'll come off looking anti-baby, and the other passengers will turn on you, big-time.

You think I'm kidding, but I'm not. People in this country will not tolerate any sort of anti-baby behavior. No matter what babies do, it's considered cute. Even if they're hassling strangers on an airplane.

Oh, I'll tell you what I wanted to do when this baby was grabbing my paper.

First I wanted to swat his fat little hand. Then I wanted to tap the father on the shoulder and say: "Hey, sport, think maybe the kid could torture the folks in front of you for a few minutes?"

But of course I did nothing of the sort.

Instead what I did is smile weakly and say: "Heh, heh. Boy, he's a cutie!"

It was the kind of smile you flashed when you were 7 years old and your parents made you drape an arm around your little sister for a snapshot.

Yeah, that kind of smile. A pained smile. A totally insincere smile.

Which proved to be a big mistake.

Because the thing about babies is, they can't tell when you really mean a smile and when you don't. So when this baby saw me smile, he must have thought I was getting into his act.

So now he starts windmilling both his little arms at my paper. Now he starts throwing lefts and rights -- WHAM! WHAM! -- like he's Oscar de la Hoya or something.

You try reading when a baby is punching the hell out of your newspaper. It's not easy, let me tell you.

By this time, of course, all the other passengers around us are laughing and pointing and saying: "Look at that little fella go!" In other words, me and the baby are now the in-flight entertainment.

So for the rest of the flight, I had to sit there and let the little thug whale away on my paper and pretend to be enjoying it.

And they wonder why I hate to fly.

Pub Date: 3/12/98

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