Plane patience

I recently sat on a plane with a child – maybe three – who cried for the duration of our two hour flight to Dallas.

And I mean wailed. Hollered as if she were caught in a bear trap. At the top of her lungs. Relentless.

Before you get any preconceived notions about the nature of this column, this is not about the child.

It’s about having been there. And about the gentleman sitting next to this crying child.

More than a decade ago, my wife and I were flying out of Fort Lauderdale. Our kids were three and six at the time. As we sat on the tarmac waiting to depart, an enormously unsettling thump hit the plan. Apparently, we got struck by lightning. All of the power on the plane went out, and that included whatever magical creation keeps air circulation on a big metal tube sitting on asphalt in the summer in South Florida.

We were told that we had to stay put, as they were seeking a replacement part. I am not an airline mechanic, but I was a little skeptical, as I don’t think there is a part to cure “Yeah, everything’s broke…”

My wife and daughter were a few rows back from my son and me. My son was in a car seat at the time, and so I did my best to keep him occupied. That lasted about 11 minutes. 

After a while of sitting there trying to jiggle giant plastic keys and read books – all the while the very still air temperature inside the plane was slowly climbing – I decided to free him.

I plopped him on the floor and I wedged myself down with him so we could play some games. What games, you may ask. Answer? I was making it all up on the fly. Nothing in the parenting classes my wife and I attended prepared me for any of this. 

I did my best, but after a while, he had had enough. And he started wailing. Bear trap wailing. I tried to comfort him. I tried to distract him. I even considered swooping him up and delivering him to his mom, but then I remembered she was on the same mission with a six year old, and I opted to stay married and solve it myself.

But the guy next to me was not having it. He huffed. He sighed. He rolled his eyes. I tried to make eye contact and offer him a shrug and apology, but he was busy having his eyes stuck at the top of his skull.

The dude next to me eventually pressed the button to call for the flight attendant. I’m not sure what he was aiming for, but if his goal was to get my son and me booted off the plane – trust me – I would have gladly taken that.

He told her that he could not deal with the noise on the plane. She smiled, said she understood, and then handed the man some of the airline earphones they used to sell many moons ago. She said they were on the house, and then turned to me and said, “It’s OK. Ignore him.”

Bless you, ma’am.

Fast forward to my recent flight.

The gentleman sitting next to the crying child was not with the child. Mom was doing what she could at 38,000 feet. But let’s be honest – options are limited. And the man sat there and just stared forward. He occasionally closed his eyes, maybe dozing off. I don’t know. But he never showed any signs of exasperation or loathing. He just dealt with it.

I know it’s not fun to be next to a crying child. It wasn’t fun on this flight. (Yay, earbuds!) But it’s not fun for mom either. And losing your cool over it isn’t going to help the situation. I want to channel that guy’s inner-zen at all things in life. When the plane landed and we started to leave, the child was no longer crying. She was laughing, actually, at who knows what. The gentleman stood up, turned to another passenger in the row behind us, gave a smile, and said, “I’ll see you at the meeting tomorrow, Robert.”

Robert, I don’t know you or what you do. But at the meeting, I hope you sat next to that dude and got in on some of his sweet chill karma.

Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C. A graduate of the University of Alabama, he now lives in Mt. Pleasant. You can e-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike or at


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