A long time ago, when I was happily childless, a female acquaintance regaled me with the tale of how she and her three small children had taken a transatlantic flight together. Oh, how she laughed about this hilarious story!
About halfway across the ocean, her youngest started throwing up. And that smelled so bad, her middle one started vomiting, too. And then her eldest, and then – pause for breathless mirth – her, too! Everyone in the family was throwing up! All over the plane! All over the other passengers! With hours to go before landing! Wasn’t that just hysterical?
She simply couldn’t understand why I didn’t laugh along with her. It never occurred to her that her family’s intestinal spray-painting of an enclosed space might epitomise someone else’s worst nightmare; she was one of those people who, the moment they reproduce, stop thinking about anything except themselves.
All I could do was take a few, deep breaths, thank every deity in the universe for the fact that I was not on that plane with the family from hell, and wonder how the other passengers refrained from forcing the lot of them into the plane toilets and flushing them out, one by one, into the troposphere.
Even now that I have a child of my own, whenever I get on a plane, I think “don’t let there be a family with small children; please God, don’t let there be a family with small children” and if I see one boarding, then my mantra becomes: “Don’t sit near me; not near me; please, please, not near me!”
The good news is that if you want to avoid proximity with small, vomiting children in pressurised cabins, now you can. As of last week, the Malaysian carrier Air Asia X is providing child-free seating areas. Honestly, although I had no plans to visit the Far East, this is almost enough to make me go.
For a mere £20 supplement, you can book a seat in a special Quiet Zone – the first seven rows of Economy Class – where you are guaranteed to be separated from all children under 12.
And to make absolutely sure you’re well-protected from the puke-fest behind you, there are curtains and toilet facilities to divide the child-free from the child-encumbered.
I suppose you’ll still be able to hear the general regurgitation in the cheaper seats but, hopefully, the staff will appreciate that you’ve paid extra to avoid any actual physical contact with it.
Having been child-free, and remembering the joy of it quite clearly, I absolutely support the right of all non-parents to get as far away as possible from other people’s offspring (especially when other people can’t always be relied upon to understand that their offspring – and their offspring’s upchucks – aren’t necessarily acceptable to everybody else).
Air Asia X is definitely on to a winning thing here. Unfortunately for me, being the mother of a seven-year-old, I’m stuck on the spew-spattered side of the curtain for a good few years yet, but this really isn’t fair. My boy is an excellent traveller and has never inflicted a Technicolor yodel upon innocent bystanders. In fact, he’s so completely continent, he’s even terrified of travelling with his eight-year-old cousin, who automatically disgorges whenever she’s near a turning wheel.
I realise that when I get on a plane, there must be people who look at me and my kid and think: “Don’t sit near me; not near me; please, please, not near me!” As a parent, you get used to being the Typhoid Mary of the boarding gate. After all, even if it doesn’t throw up, your child could still be a screamer, or a seat-kicker. There needs to be some sort of Good Traveller badge, to reward well-behaved children who can keep their food down on public transport, and – more importantly – which will allow them and their innocent parents access to the Mecca that is the Quiet Zone.
If that doesn’t catch on, I’ll just have to keep on doing what I’ve done on planes ever since I first heard that hideous story of the transatlantic barf-a-thon: sit as far away as possible from people with kids, and always carry a plastic mac. If you’re this well-prepared, then all you have left to worry about are the drunks.