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Are you kidding me?

Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel AsiaWhy fatherhood is not for the faint-hearted aloft.



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by Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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IT STARTED innocently enough. I boarded and found my customary aisle seat. Ah the independence that travel brings, and the joys of a frequent flyer gold card. I flipped open my MacBook Air and settled in. Shortly, a lady carrying an infant and dragging a limp toddler, staggered past. It couldn’t have been easy. Limp toddlers are dead weight. And when they stare at you with large unblinking kohl-rimmed eyes while being dragged, lifeless, down an aeroplane aisle, it’s unnerving.

The toddler locked eyes with mine and I waved goodbye with as cheery a smile as I could muster. A stewardess had a quick look at the trio’s boarding passes and, in seconds, they and all their impedimenta had been unceremoniously deposited in the two window-side seats next to mine.

I feigned insouciance as the young tyke wobbled upright, grasped my shoulder, and peered at me, expressionless, inches from my ear. I’ve travelled with small children. But that was in the dawn of prehistory when cooing flight attendants actually grabbed bawling kids and took them away from frazzled fathers. That can-do ardour has cooled. Perhaps because dads nowadays are much savvier and know a thing or two about child rearing. Any hint of nappy rash 30,000ft aloft, and those hunter gatherer genes kick in as they head out with focused urgency on an artful search – for the stewardess’s phone number. Well you have to start somewhere. Bawling brats are left to their own devices. Call it character building.

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Next to me, the young mother settled in and handed out a packet of digestive biscuits to the kids. The infant instantly crumbled the lot and hurled it all about. His brother joined in the action and soon the bulkhead floor resembled something almost as impressive as a Boracay beach but considerably more accessible. I was impressed. The stewardess was not. She glided by, talons barely concealed, and glowered at me.

As we reached cruising altitude, the kids frolicked, usually by falling off the seat and landing headfirst on Boracay. I wondered whether I had packed my bathers.

{The kids continued to smack into the floor with quartz movement regularity. I was concerned – there were simply no more free aisle seats anywhere...

The child next to me glued his face to the flip-up LCD screen, hugged it for dear life, and then fell off the chair, still holding on to the screen as it pivoted down, smacking his head loudly on the floor. The beach arrested some of his fall. I helped him up and tried to lock the video arm in place but he repeated the trick, leaning on the screen and staring at me blankly through kohl-rimmed eyes as he took another dive. THUNK!

Unfazed, his mother left for the toilet, leaving the second infant on his window seat clutching a milk bottle. A minute later he slipped off his perch and landed on the beach as well. I leaned over and helped him up. Where was the mother? The kids continued to smack into the floor with quartz movement regularity. I was concerned – there were simply no free aisle seats anywhere.

A stewardess approached again and fixed me with a baleful look. She didn’t smile. I shrugged and tried to watch the movie. Just then the toddler wiped his snotty nose with a slender walnut brown hand and placed it on my knee. “Papa,” he chortled. My fate was sealed.

And that’s when I spotted the WMD. How did it get on-board? The perpetrator was red-faced with exertion as he armed the device. And then he sighed, the job done. A myriad thoughts raced through my mind. The contents of a soiled baby nappy are enough to make a jihadist stop in his tracks and consider a permanent return to school to study quadratic equations. The mother materialised and threw her hands up in despair. The stewardesses were nowhere to be seen. “May I help?” I asked in a choked voice, as inaudibly as possible.

In 2012, JetBlue gained notoriety when it offloaded the Vieau family flying from the Turks and Caicos to Boston after their two young daughters threw tantrums and took far too long to get belted in. The airline tersely explained: “The captain elected to remove the customers involved for the safety of all customers and crew members on board.”

In 2007, a toddler who imperilled a take-off by Continental Express in Atlanta by repeatedly saying, “Bye-bye plane” during the safety demonstration, was disembarked along with his mum Kate Penland after she refused to administer her son sedative Benadryl.

In 2014, Vijay Verghese, frequent flyer extraordinaire, held one snotty toddler with kohl-rimmed eyes by the hand and walked him off the plane in Hong Kong following a gruelling flight from Bangkok. “Papa” offered no statement about the WMD or how it was eventually disarmed. Verghese lives with his real son in Hong Kong where they argue about whether it is better to eat banana nut crunch cereal or Coco Pops.

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