Most airlines have a rule: if you’re listening to electronics, you have to wear earphones. This makes sense—you don’t want to disturb other passengers with your music or movies.
There is another rule for airlines, this one unspoken: do whatever you have to do to keep children from screaming. Food, drinks, books, toys, movies….whatever it takes! The reason is the same: you don’t want to disturb other passengers with crying babies.
Usually these rules work together just fine. I’ve seen kids as young as two with earphones on, watching movies on iPads, eating pretzels, having a great time. But occasionally a child is old enough to be entertained by a movie, but too young to keep headphones on. This happened on one of my recent flights. I was working on a presentation when I thought I heard some music. Assuming it came from a neighbor with headphones and a loud movie, I ignored it for a while. After several minutes, though, I started looking around and saw a family sitting a few rows behind me with a young-ish child (maybe a year and a half?) watching a movie with no headphones.
About a minute later a flight attendant passed by, then backtracked to their row to tell them to turn the sound off. He wasn’t super polite about it—said that he could hear it from five rows up, and there is a rule about headphones. The mother apologized, and immediately turned the sound down. I couldn’t hear it any sound at this point, but the flight attendant continued to give the mother grief until she just turned the sound completely off. The baby immediately started crying. The flight attendant said the child could have sound, but only if he put headphones on. The mother explained that he wouldn’t keep them on. The flight attendant reiterated the sound policy, then walked off.
I kept an eye on the family for the remaining hour of our flight. The baby cried about half the time, with the parents frantically offering various toys, books, and snacks to keep the wailing to a minimum.
Here’s the thing. While I get that there is a policy against sound without headphones, I feel like a crying baby disturbs people way more than intermittent noise from a kid show. To be fair, I am a mother with a toddler not much older than the child from the plane so it’s definitely possible I’m biased. But there is not much worse than being on a plane with a screaming child, and if it takes an episode of Mickey Mouse with a little bit of sound then it’s okay with me. People can’t control much of the noise on a plane—other passengers will talk (sometimes loudly), you can often hear the sounds from the movie your seatmate is watching, someone will fall asleep and snore. The only way to ensure that you are not disturbed by other people is to wear your own headphones, which I recommend.
I also have to say, as a mother and as a passenger, I was bothered by how unapologetic the flight attendant seemed.
Readers, what do you think? Is it more important to enforce the no-sound rule or to keep a baby from crying?
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