I was sure my parenting had made our baby’s first flight go smoothly. Then came the return trip | Arwa Mahdawi

I was sure my parenting had made our baby’s first flight go smoothly. Then came the return trip | Arwa Mahdawi

On New Year’s Eve, my wife and I locked ourselves in a tiny British Airways bathroom and frantically pulled off items of clothing. It would have been a pretty exciting way to see off 2021, were it not for the fact that the clothes belonged to our seven-month-old, who had decided to do an enormous poo at 30,000 feet.

I had had a little chat with the child before the flight and told her Mummy and Mummy would appreciate it if she held off on any major bowel movements while we were in the air, but she didn’t cooperate. Babies, I have learned, are not very good at listening.

They are good at screaming, though. At least, my kid is. She has always had a good set of lungs on her, but, my God, screams reach a whole new decibel level when you are squeezed into cattle class on a plane, surrounded by people who are quietly judging you.

So, I would like to extend an apology to everyone on BA175 from London to New York last Friday who may be experiencing mild PTSD after seven hours of being trapped with the high-pitched squeals and shrieks – interspersed with grunts and farts – of my darling demon child.

My wife and I had not approached our first big trip with a child lightly. We had spent days researching how to take a child on a plane without making your fellow passengers want to murder you. We had brought along an array of soothing toys and teethers; we had bought a fancy little tent that you stick over your baby to lull them to sleep.

On our way to London, this had worked like a dream. As I kept telling the lovely flight attendant, who popped by every few minutes to check on us and mutter: “Oh dear,” our baby was not normally this cranky – she had been an angel on the first flight of her life. I had got all smug, thinking I had this whole parenting thing down. Ha! Ha! HA!

If I have learned anything during my short time being a mum, it is that you should never be smug. The moment you think you have everything figured out, your child will very loudly put you in your place. Another lesson I have learned painfully? Bring several changes of clothes with you everywhere. A few hours into our flight from hell, I spilled dry baby formula all over myself. This was stressful – you don’t want to have an Arabic name and arrive at US immigration covered in mysterious white powder.

I decided to deal with the stress via the medium of chocolate. I looked around for the little pot of aeroplane pudding I had set aside earlier. Then I discovered that I was sitting on it. It had exploded all over my trousers. An organised mum would have had something clean to change into. I just sat in my chocolatey, formula-specked trousers and wished myself dead.

I reckon a fair few other passengers wished the same; no one wants to sit in the vicinity of a “lively” baby. A few years ago, there was even a trend for parents to hand out goody bags on planes as penance for procreating; on a flight in 2017, Amal and George Clooney gave noise-cancelling headphones to their fellow first-class passengers, in case their six-month-old twins started crying.

Sorry, but bribe bags are not the answer. We need to find a better way for babies to fly. Maybe we could stick them in the hold, as we do with pets? Only joking; I am not a monster. I would never put my dog in the hold.

Anyway, I am afraid I don’t have any answers when it comes to improving the in-flight experience. I have only apologies. Lots of apologies. Sorry, once again, to my fellow passengers. But, however bad it was for you, let me assure you that it was much, much worse for me.

Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist

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