It was a horror scenario for me. A long-haul flight from Rome to Sydney surrounded by babies and toddlers in every seat, including a toddler right next to me who climbed on me the moment I sat down. Most were crying or noisy before we’d even taken off.
Before any parents accuse me of political incorrectness, I flew with my child all over the world. But I still always felt sorry for those around who had to endure the tears (including a businessman who had her banana pushed into his suit) and always felt anxious.
The child in the seat in front had decided to put a mushy bread roll between the seats which landed on my leg; and her sister was hitting the man next to me on the head with an empty plastic bottle.
“A two-Valium flight,” I thought to myself. But to my utter surprise it was the opposite. Perhaps one of the happiest flights I’ve had in recent times.
The surprise started early. As I rolled my eyes, not one person rolled them back. Rather, they smiled in delight at being surrounded by all those children.
Perhaps I should clarify now.
It was my first long-haul Air India flight and filled with Indian families. Their attitude to children on flights was so different to our own that I was amazed.
Even while on the tarmac, people began getting out of their seats and playing with other people’s children. One older woman (they respectfully call all older women “aunty”) had brought cakes on board to hand out to other people’s kids and was walking down the aisle giving families sweeties to the glee of all — with parents saying, “Thank you, aunty.”
During the flight a crying child was often entertained by men and women in front, side or back. Bottles on heads were endured with laughter and play.
With so much communal support most children settled quickly, and when one woke or began crying they seemed to calm down easily.
Unbelievably, the flight was relatively quiet. Not only that but the joy around me was infectious.
I felt like I was part of a big family, as I always do when I’m in India.
Some online comments complain that on this airline children run about kicking seats and disturbing everyone. Yes, there were a lot of kids because Indians are very family oriented and there were certainly moments of chaos, but it was remarkable to observe how the group dynamic changed things.
In the end I could just see happy faces, including cabin staff, and the possibility of how it could be when whole communities brought up kids, not just a couple alone behind picket fences with post-partum depression. It was a really nice experience.