Travelling on a long haul flight on your own with two toddlers is something to be avoided if at all possible. For me, the stress is divided equally between the two main stages of the journey. In Stage One, The Airport, the kids run away at top speed through the departure lounge, tripping up humourless businessmen or disappearing into lifts with the doors closing. Stage Two, The Aeroplane, is 9 hours of complete confinement where The Naughty Spot becomes noticeably absent and air stewardesses who clearly don’t have children talk of nothing but air turbulence and the lack of seatbelt wearing.
I don’t know if it’s just because I’m their mother, but it is my strong opinion that actually my children behave quite well on aeroplanes. I’m edgier than most when it comes to strangers viewing my – or their – every move, so I think if I’m feeling relaxed about what the kids and I are doing, it really must be going ok. On this flight, we hadn’t yet taken off and were all looking out of the window, when the man in front of my son, Bill, turned around to tell me his seat was being kicked. I frowned more than replied, because both of Bill’s legs were on the floor, but I knew right then, five minutes into sitting down, that we were in for it.
Apart from the five or six times an hour he turned around to complain about absolutely nothing with increasing nastiness, I could really only see the top of this man’s head. It was entirely cuboid, with thick hair on top of it that looked spongy, like a cake. He reminded me of Simon Cowell, only more sarcastic. Bill would press his touch-screen TV, which by definition needed touching, and Simon Cowell would instantly pop up over his seat like a perfectly square, burning piece of toast and say plaintively, “Buddyyyyyyyy?” while we all stared blankly at him. If Bill grazed the man’s seat with his toe because, horror of horrors, he needed to shift an inch in his seat after sitting still for four hours, Simon was there, with a gritted smile, saying, “You gotta take it easy on me, maaaaaan!” I think if I’d brought a potted plant onto the plane with me and placed it in the chair for nine hours, it would still have been too much movement for Simon.
I explained to my son, when Simon was in the bathroom, that actually he was being really good, he just had Mr Fussy in front of him. Bill nodded quietly and then bellowed upon the man’s return, “Mummy! Mr Fussy’s back!” It didn’t help. Mr Cowell took it up a notch, actually punching the back of the chair intermittently; then he started yelling at the cabin crew about the quality of scones the airline served and the length of time he was expected to sit in a seat, especially (with a gesture backwards at my mildly-mannered four- year old) ‘in front of THIS’. Had I been a braver, more confrontational adult, or had I been my husband, I would have suggested he get off the flight right now, and neglected to hand him a life jacket.
By the time we landed I had a banging headache and was twitching every time either Bill or my daughter, Scotty, moved a toe. When the pilot announced that there was a slight delay because the doors of the plane were frozen shut, and they were just trying to get a heater of some kind, I think I saw Simon Cowell patting his pockets down, looking for a lighter. I am happy in the thought that I will never, ever sit near that man again. For the next flight over, as a pre-emptive strike, I’m making t-shirts for the kids. Bill’s will read, Welcome to Public Transport. Scotty’s will read, My mum travelled with other people’s kids for years. Your turn.