Travel

Christopher Muther

George Clooney, please don’t apologize for flying with your infants

While the Clooneys’ random act of aviation kindness was thoughtful, it reinforced a dangerous trend, Christopher Muther says.
Jordan Strauss/Invision/Associated Press/File 2017
While the Clooneys’ random act of aviation kindness was thoughtful, it reinforced a dangerous trend, Christopher Muther says.

Oscar winner, entrepreneur, and all-around good guy George Clooney and his whip-smart barrister wife, Amal, just set the bar impossibly high for parents flying with babies and toddlers.

The Clooneys gave their fellow passengers on a flight to London noise-canceling headphones (wireless and worth a reported $350), accompanied by a note: “Our twins just discovered squawking!! Hope this helps make the flight a little quieter.”

Because the famously attractive couple’s twins, Alexander and Ella, are probably a pair of angels — they are Clooneys after all — they didn’t make a peep on the flight. At least that’s what fellow passenger Quentin Tarantino said. (Although the headphones weren’t needed to drown out babies’ cries, they might have helped drown out Tarantino’s stream of consciousness chatter.)

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While the Clooneys’ random act of aviation kindness was thoughtful, it reinforced a dangerous trend. Over the past decade, some guilt-ridden parents have adopted the practice of bringing along goodie bags when they fly with their young children. The bags, handed out to fellow flyers in their immediate vicinity, usually contain a pair of ear plugs, maybe some candy or gum, and an apology note.

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The note is generally written from the toddler’s perspective, as if the infant were preemptively apologizing for any forthcoming tears or whining. They read something like: “Hi, my name is Madison and this is my first flight. In case I get cranky and cry, here are some treats to make my existence bearable. Thanks! Your new pal, Madison.”

I’ve got news for parents who are distributing these goodie bags. If your little Madison, Harley, Oliver, or [fill in cute baby name of choice here] could write notes, they would not be apologizing for making noise. They don’t care. You see, they’re babies. They’re not known for being rational.

Do you know who can, and should, be rational? Adults on airplanes. Any adult who is truly angry that a baby is crying on a flight does not deserve a goodie bag. They deserve a dirty look and maybe a stray service cart ice cube down their shirt.

The Clooneys, while well-intentioned, have reinforced the goodie bag mentality with a new layer of celebrity sheen. Most parents of small children don’t have the time to run around assembling these bags before they travel with infants. They barely have time to make sure they have the essentials needed to keep their toddlers happy and safe during their travels. Those parents should feel no guilt for not handing out treats to ogres. I’ll give them a standing ovation.

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I’m the first to admit that babies are not always the best passengers. They can be fussy, they cry, and sometimes they screech louder than Celine Dion singing the Canadian national anthem at a hockey game. This, however, is usually not the fault of the parent. I’ve never seen a parent ignore their crying toddler. They comfort, rock, and try to walk the aisle to calm them.

Indeed, it’s usually the parent who is most upset by all of this. On a flight last year, I sat next to a woman and her infant. The infant was clearly not happy to be on the plane. I’d venture to guess that this infant would rather have been at her pediatrician’s office getting shots than sitting on a plane at 10 p.m. The crying began on cue, and the mother, unable to stop her, did her best to make the child happy.

It wasn’t working, and the mother started gently sobbing and apologizing. This show of human vulnerability, on an airplane no less, left me in tears, as well. I wish I had a goodie bag to give the distraught mom.

I’m not saying that all parents have halos. I’ve had to turn around many times to tell parents that their children are kicking the back of my seat. I’ve also observed parents give their children iPads and other tablets to watch movies, without headphones. This means the rest of us are forced to listen to “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.” Hint: No one wants to hear it.

While in-flight crying is nothing new, the topic has gained momentum over the past two years as the goodie bag phenomenon has grown. In May 2016, JetBlue launched a “FlyBabies” flight, wherein passengers would receive 25 percent off their next ticket every time a baby cried. Indian budget carrier IndiGo and Air Asia X announced that they will offer “Quiet Zones” on their planes where children are forbidden. Multiple studies have found that travelers would pay extra to sit away from children.

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On a flight earlier this year, a Delta flight attendant asked a woman with a crying baby to leave the first class section of the plane and sit in the back. Punished for a crying baby? Delta promptly apologized. Baby shaming does not make anyone feel better.

So parents, the next time you are on a flight, please do not distribute goodie bags or look sheepishly away if your fellow passengers throw shade in your direction like a bitter queen from “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Those with a heart will feel empathy for you. The rest, well, they should start bringing their own noise-canceling headphones.

Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther.