Funny what you remember.

Travelling with kids: what to do with babies in business class?
January 9, 2014 Updated: January 9, 2014 17:17:00

I show my passport to the security agent and, as the proverbial phrase goes, turn left. I am sure that there are many things better than flying business class on Etihad Airways but at this particular moment, just as the stewardess hands me a hot towel, I cannot think of any. The seat is warm and hot scented vapours waft around my face.

I kick off my high heels, lean back and inhale deeply. No nagging kids, no questioning staff, no husband. I am alone. All is quiet. It is bliss.

It is also the moment when a baby begins to fuss. I clench my knuckles and let out a silent scream, “Nooooooo.”

I turn around. In the seat diagonally behind me is a young mother wearing a pastel silk hijab and rocking her whimpering baby boy.

She smiles at me apologetically but her eyes have that trusting confidence that comes when you see your own kind. She is sure I will understand. She, after all, sees a fellow mother. And I do understand. I have travelled with young babies before: my own.

I love flying business class. I hate flying business class. Both reasons have to do with kids. I remember years ago, when my girls were babies, my husband and I decided to fly Lufthansa business class from New York to Mumbai. By the time we got to Frankfurt, we were ready to turn our tickets in.

Our baby daughter whimpered during the flight, inviting dirty looks and even the occasional hiss. The worst part was when we were flying above Greenland, when our infant Malu launched into a crying bout. That was it.

All those nice people who smiled at me when I walked into the plane began to frown. It was as if they deserved the quiet since they had paid so much more for a ticket.

My husband did the only thing possible. He began walking up and down the aisles with our daughter. “The people in economy are so much nicer,” he whispered when he came back. “At least they don’t give me dirty looks simply because the baby is crying a little.”

When it was my turn, I did the next best thing. I carried little Malu into the tiny business class toilet. I stood there for what seemed like an hour. Malu bawled her colic out and I just stayed in the toilet, too afraid to confront my fellow passengers and their admonishing stares. This time I was the one giving the admonishing stare – when the baby behind me wouldn’t stop whimpering. “Don’t you have a pacifier?” I asked the young mother, holding back my kindly smile.

Therein lies the fundamental hypocrisy of my position. I love travelling business class but not with other people’s kids.

This time, however, I did the only thing possible (and this is only possible in Eastern cultures that aren’t wary about passing kids around).

I offered to carry the fussing baby. I took him into my arms and walked up and down the business class aisle. He reminded me of my daughters back home; the ones I had tried so hard to forget.

* Shoba Narayan

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