Claire Black: Biggest problem on planes is parents

SO WHAT are we to make of the fact that seven out of ten people claim to dislike flying with infants so much (other people’s one assumes) that they’d like to see child-free zones created on planes? That’s not all.

Passengers are willing to pay to ensure they dont have to sit near children. Picture: Getty

More than a third (39 per cent) think that such zones should be compulsory on long-haul flights.

I’m taking the results of this survey badly because I am a recent inductee into a club of which no one wants to be a member – the parent of an infant who still wants to have a life which includes leisure time spent in places more salubrious than softplay centres. I’m not being snobbish, but you can’t get a flat white and an organic granola bar in any softplay centre I’ve ever been to.

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I know what it’s like to walk into a cafe peopled with customers gazing at their Mac Airs while simultaneously tapping on their iPhones in clothes that are both ironed (no one told me that ironing ceases when children are born) and free from puke stains. Their bags are slimline because everything they are carrying is designed by Apple, they have no need for two nappies (one is a novice’s mistake), wipes, a spare vest, a spare pair of trousers, a muslin, a rubber giraffe, a bag of rice cakes. They look at me as if I am carrying a vial of deadly toxin rather than a baby.

I know a screaming child isn’t exactly an aid to relaxation or concentration. And I understand that when in a confined space – a plane, let’s say – the threat they pose to peace and quiet is ratcheted up as though in direct proportion to each thousand feet of altitude, but we were all babies once. What’s happened to us that we’d be willing to pay up to £63 on a return long-haul flight or £28 on a short-haul one to avoid them entirely?

I’ve done my share of long-haul flying and I know what can happen. I once flew from Doha to London – I’d already done a six-hour flight by the time I boarded this one so I was in a state that I think could be reasonably described as one scented towel away from homicidal – and there was a small boy on board who spent at least two hours running up and down the aisles whacking the lolling heads of sleeping passengers with his fat, toddler hand as his parents blithely slept cocooned with eye-masks and sound-cancelling headphones. I did wonder if he would fit down the toilet in order to be flushed out at 37,000ft, but even in my addled state I knew the culprits were his parents not the boy.

And if child-free flights ever become a reality then the kind of parents who let their children torment everyone else will be the first in the queue to buy their tickets when they can escape their offspring, and trust me they are just the type to be chair-kickers, arm-rest hoggers and the kind who order their drinks from the trolley four at a time.

Give me the babies any day.

Take a breath

WHEN was the last time you gave a thought to your breathing? Obviously it’s keeping you alive so you’re probably not entirely disinterested in it. But I suspect there are few other activities essential to life to which we pay so little attention. It wasn’t until someone pointed out – years ago – that I frequently stop doing it entirely that I got interested in mine. The reason I mention it is because with the launch last week of an all-party parliamentary group on mindfulness, being encouraged to take a few deep breaths may be about to become more mainstream. Some MPs are already doing it (that’s got to help for PMQs, surely?) and I hope some MSPs are too. Meanwhile, teachers are teaching it to stressed students. Those who’ve experienced its benefits when it comes to mental health talk about its life-changing potential. If you are sceptical I offer you a challenge: close your eyes, feel your feet on the ground and notice your breathing, just follow it, don’t change it. Now notice what’s going on in your body. Aches? Pains? Hot bits? Cold bits? Just notice. Try it for a few minutes. How quickly did your mind fill up with other thoughts – what you did earlier, what you’ve got to do later. Being mindful is about being in the moment. If it sounds a bit cheesecloth shirt and knitted shoes, then all I can say is don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.