Dave Barry

Terror on flight 611

(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published Dec. 17, 2000.)

Recently, my wife and I took our 8-month-old daughter on a trip involving five plane flights in one week. Many people would be reluctant to travel with a baby that small, but we had a compelling reason: We have Fig Newtons for brains.

An intelligent person, or even a reasonably bright fungus, would know that two people cannot possibly carry both a baby and all the supplies the baby needs, including stroller, car seat, clothes, diapers, industrial-sized bale of wipes, stuffed bear, stuffed tiger, stuffed frog, stuffed paramecium, etc. The total weight of all these supplies can be hundreds of times the weight of the actual baby. This is why your famous explorers rarely traveled with babies. If Magellan had tried to sail around the world with a baby on board, his ship would have sunk at the dock from the weight of the formula alone.

We were one of those wretched traveling families you see getting on planes - the kind where you don't actually see the people, just this mound of baby equipment shuffling slowly down the aisle toward you. This sight is always hugely popular with the other passengers, some of whom will yank open the emergency exits and dive out of the plane. Because they know what babies do on planes: They stand on their parents' laps and stick their heads up over the seats, so they can get maximum range when they shriek. On a baby-intensive airplane, you see shrieking baby heads constantly popping up all over, like prairie dogs from hell.

As a parent in this situation, your fervent hope is that the other babies on the plane will shriek louder than yours, thereby diverting passenger hatred away from you. It would not surprise me to learn that some parents creep under the seats and pinch other people's babies to set them off. I myself would never do such a thing. I carry a slingshot.

The trick for keeping your baby from crying on the plane is to come up with a new activity each time the baby gets bored. A standard baby gets bored every 15 seconds, so on a four-hour flight, you, as a parent, need to come up with 960 different activities. By the third hour of the flight, your standards are pretty low. Baby wants to play in the airplane toilet? Sure! Baby wants to crawl into the cockpit and bite the navigator on the ankle? Whatever baby wants!

Here's what a stupid parent I am: On our first flight, I brought two newspapers on board. I did not read one word of either one. What I read was a book called Farm Faces, which is made entirely of cloth. There's a cow on the cover, and each page has a new animal. Here's the entire text: "chick," "lamb," "pig," "duck," "horse," "worm." I read this book to my daughter maybe 40 times, using a dramatic and excited voice to show her how fascinating it was. I mean, talk about a surprise plot twist! I NEVER would have guessed worm!

I also tried to interest Sophie in the in-flight movie, which was The Perfect Storm, in which George Clooney goes to sea in a fishing boat and is killed by special effects. Sophie did not care for it. I could see her point: I thought Farm Faces was less formulaic.

It goes without saying that your baby will poop massively on the plane. This must have something to do with atmospheric pressure, because it never fails. Each year, more baby poop is produced on airplanes than in all of Portugal. Fortunately, most planes have a little changing shelf in the bathroom, which is the perfect size for a baby, provided that it is a baby gerbil. For human babies, you have to use the seat, which then must be burned when the plane lands. The only really practical place to change a baby on an airplane would be on the wing, but of course, you can't take the baby out there. The other passengers would never let you back inside.

You know what we need? We need an airline just for people with babies (it could be called "Shrieking Prairie Dogs From Hell Airlines"). The planes would not have seats: Everyone would squat on the floor. The preflight safety lecture would consist of a demonstration of how to get a Lego out of a child's mouth. The in-flight meal would be Cheerios eaten off the floor. If the noise reached a certain decibel level, plastic tubes would automatically pop out of the ceiling to dispense liquid horse tranquilizer to the parents. The in-flight movie would be Farm Faces, starring George Clooney as: worm.

(c) 2008, Dave Barry

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