Sunday 23 October 2016

Katie Byrne: Have passport, will unravel

Are disgruntled air passengers as disruptive as screeching babies?

Published 21/08/2016 | 02:30

Features writer Katie Byrne
Features writer Katie Byrne

I recently joined a queue that seemed to go on for days at Dublin Airport. Hundreds of passengers were waiting in a meandering line that stretched from the check-in desks all the way back to the other end of the hall.

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Most of the passengers were in good spirits in spite of the delay, but one woman was absolutely furious - and everyone was bearing the brunt of it.

Dublin Airport was blasted for its lack of organisation. Her children were reproached for "acting the maggot". Her husband, who at this point had probably retreated to his 'happy place' - an imaginary land where the clouds are made of cotton wool - was castigated for not noticing that people were "Clearly. Skipping. The Queue!"

Even her wheelie bag was getting it.

Meanwhile, I got chatting to a solo Australian traveller who was waiting in front of me. "That woman isn't helping matters at all," she noted. "We're all in the same boat."

I thought back to this incident when I read about 'airplane bribes' a few days later.

Damon Darlin, writing in the New York Times, suggested that parents with crying babies and screaming children should consider handing out goody bags to their fellow passengers "as a pre-emptive move to fend off criticism from people like me".

The goody bag isn't Darlin's idea. He was referring to a growing trend on parenting blogs. A number of people who have travelled with young children are now suggesting that parents pass out gift bags - containing items like ear plugs, gum and sweets - to their fellow passengers.

Some of these gift packs have since gone viral on social media. One, from twins Ashley and Abby, reads: "We just turned 18 months and this is our first time on an airplane!

"We are heading to FL [Florida] to see Grandma & Grandpa, and Mommy & Daddy said something about a mouse. We'll try to keep our cool, but in case we decide to get crazy, we've provided a sweet treat and some earplugs for your enjoyment."

Personally speaking, I can barely pack for myself, so I sympathise with parents who have to pack for themselves, two toddlers and half an airplane before they depart.

And to what end? Is a watermelon- flavoured Blow Pop really going to assuage the man who believes that dramatically rustling his newspaper is a healthy way to express annoyance?

Is a Hershey's Kiss really going to mollify the woman in 14C who tuts loudly and eye-rolls every time the baby screeches?

In that case, perhaps incapacitated elderly and obese people should pass out goody bags too.

Air travel, like life, is rarely smooth. Planes get delayed. Luggage gets lost. Babies cry.

Sometimes passengers take too much Valium and try (and generally fail) to join the Mile High Club. Sometimes air attendants pass out too many Chicken à la King meals and the passengers in the later rows are left with vegetable lasagne (real story - still recovering).

Just as you can look forward to unashamed seat recliners and in-flight elbow jostling when you board an airplane, you can also expect uptight air stewardesses, keyboard-thumping executives and men who actually seem to enjoy watching Jason Statham films.

Economy air travel introduces us to the entire spectrum of human diversity, just as it reminds us that even the most forensically organised trips don't always go to plan.

There are two options when this happens. Most passengers take the approach of the Australian woman that I met at Dublin Airport: we're all in the same boat, they reason, and complaining won't get us to our destination any sooner.

However, a small pocket of passengers prefer to huff, puff and passive-aggressively tut. Incidentally, they tend to be the same people who complain about low-cost airlines despite consistently booking flights with them.

Everyone has a bugbear when it comes to air travel. Some people see red when they have to deposit their liquids into a plastic bag. Some people can't bear their fellow passengers pushing past them to depart the airplane. Some people can't stomach the taste of white wine at 36,000 feet.

All of these aspects of air travel have irked me at one point or another, yet my enduring bugbear is passengers who complain loudly and use language like 'disgraceful', 'despicable' and 'ludicrous' to convey their annoyance.

You wouldn't sneeze in somebody's face, so why then it is deemed OK to spit out an angry tirade and infect those around you with your umbrage?

The irony is that disgruntled passengers are just as disruptive as screeching babies - the only difference is that the babies eventually shut up.

Irish Independent

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