Airline Anxieties: The Crying Baby


I've been wanting to start this series for some time now. It may come as a surprise, given the amount of travelling I do, that I actually suffer from a few strong airline anxieties. Things that, if not handled carefully, can completely destroy a trip for me. 

The crying baby isn't actually one of those anxieties for me, personally. Yet I have witnessed firsthand the torment a distressed baby can cause other passengers. If you're one of them, or, like me, get aggravated by the aggravated passenger, perhaps this post can provide some relief. 

This is a story I've wanted to share for almost a year. I was fortunate enough to have this mile-high experience while going through my yoga training. It felt like divine intervention that I happen to be completing a reading assignment, Brene Brown's Daring Greatly, when a commotion started between an adult family in front of me and a mother of two in the row behind me. This young mother had a toddler in one seat and an infant in her lap.

The infant wasn't having it from the get go, wailing before the first inflight announcement. I was in the zone, reading about the damage of shaming each other and ourselves, when the mother of an adult boy started loudly sharing her opinion of mothers who can't control their children. The mother and son fueled each other's irritation and I watched them both grow red in the face. The breaking point was when the son, about 18 years of age, turned to the mother and crying infant and ferociously cried back in the baby's face. I kid you not. My reflex was to leap out of my seat, though restrained by my seat belt, and utter "Sir" in a reprimanding tone. To my surprise, the people around me didn't appear at all disturbed by this adult's behavior. Instead, fueled by their own disapproval of the crying, proceeded to laugh at this display. 

My outburst landed me a confrontation with the disgruntled mother. This woman wanted to go with anyone at this point, because she could no longer control her anger. Instead, I took a few deep breaths and responded to her from a place of compassion and calm. I told her how I know the sounds of a scared child cause us all uneasiness and that the person probably experiencing the most suffering is the mother of the infant. It surprised me to have to reason with this mother of four (she turned out to be) that an infant cannot be reasoned with --that as adults we have much more control over our actions than this seven or eight month old. When the woman responded that she knew how to train her children, even her child with a disability, I rationalized that she must know firsthand how unique children are and that no two will respond exactly the same way in the same situation. 

There was no concession from this woman or her poorly behaved son, but this did get her to turn around. And the gentleman beside me --the one who snickered at the heinous attack on the young mother-- well, he bowed his head and wiped the smirk off his face very quickly. You know what's funny though? As soon as that disorderly mother and son got quiet... so did the baby. 

I know that the shrieks of an inconsolable child are unbearable. Probably even more so for those of us who don't have children and should, by reason, be the ones who lack the empathy for a parent unsuccessfully attempting to soothe their baby.  But here's the thing... we have the tools to not let situations like this upset us. 

The first tool, HEADPHONES. 

For those of you whose brains feel like they might explode by the decibel of a screaming toddler, this is your first line of defense. If you left yours at home, the cheap airline pair is worth the $2. Shoot, if the baby is loud enough, they're pretty much priceless. What I recommend for airline attendants, faced with a growing number of agitated passengers... hand those cheap suckers out FOR FREE. There's a quick and inexpensive way to settle down angry passengers, because even if people brought their own headphones, people love free stuff. Who doesn't want an extra pair to keep in their carry-on for the "just in case I forget mine" moments. It is also a very subtle reminder that if you don't want to be flustered by a baby's crying, you can do something about it. Stop listening. 


This is an elevated tool. One that takes practice, but is available to all of us. Take a breath and think about how the parents of the sobbing child must feel. Do you honestly think they are enjoying themselves, being the center of everybody's hatred while their newborn cries out in fear? Give them a break. No one likes to hear a terrified child, most certainly the parents of said child. And can we all stop to remember just how terrifying flights can be? Even when we were old enough to understand what was going on, to have our parents explain that the pressure in our ears would go away with time. Even then it was troubling. Now you tell me how to explain that to an infant. 


This one is similar to finding compassion, but comes from another yoga training read, The Four Agreements. The irritation building in your bones. The internal heat escaping through your pores. This crying baby isn't about you. Everyone around you is feeling the same thing, yet it isn't about any of them either. You can't control what's upsetting this baby any more than the parents can, and believe me, they're trying. So take a step back, or rather, recline your seat back and focus your attention where it can do the most good. On yourself. 

I hope that didn't sound too much like a lecture. My goal is for this post to serve as a reminder. A reminder that we are not alone on this planet and that sometimes the things that are out of our control are just that. So why ruin our own vacation, business trip, etc on something we cannot change? Instead, let's find a way to turn a trouble into a teaching moment and spread some love while we're at it. 

TravelLyndsay Cavanagh