On my return flight home from a work trip this past weekend, I sat snug in my seat and watched as a young man strolled down the aisle of the airplane carrying a wiggly, whining wee one while searching for his seats.
Behind him, his wife eagerly attempted to silence their other small child, while rolling a tiny pink suitcase down the narrow aisle. Both parents looked stressed out and as they made their way to their seats, sighs of relief filled the air each time they walked by each row of passengers.
It was obvious that no one wanted the young family to sit beside them and none of the strangers were shy about showing their elation when the children kept moving further down the aisle - away from where they were seated.
When the gentleman and his baby sat down in the seat next to me, I smiled, told him that he was doing a great job and let him know that I had three children so I had been there. He seemed comforted by the fact that he was seated by a fellow parent and I was sure to keep to myself as he tried to calm his baby.
Behind the mother and toddler, an older couple began to sing, “The wheels on the bus go round and round” through the crack between the seats, and the toddler sang along between bursts of giggles.
It’s a common pet peeve for passengers, protesting the presence of crying babies, and I get it, it can be an unwelcome interruption. But just like offensive smells and cranky curmudgeons, some things are just out of our control when we set foot on a flight.
That is, until Japan Airlines came up with a solution.
Now, when passengers select their seats on long-haul flights booked directly through Japan Airlines, a small baby icon appears on the seats that have been assigned to small children.
On the updated seating maps, the Japan Airlines website reads, "Passengers traveling with children between eight days and two years old who select their seats on the JAL website will have a child icon displayed on their seats on the seat selection screen. This lets other passengers know a child may be sitting there.” This new feature was designed to appease those passengers who are hoping to sidestep little screamers during their jet-setting jaunts.
I get it, babies squirm and scream and sometimes you just want to soar through the sky in silence, but do you know what’s worse than being seated beside a baby on a long-haul flight? Being the person in charge of that baby.
As a child-free passenger, you can put in your earplugs, close your eyes, and drown out the surrounding sounds, but as the parents of those bawling babes, you’re stuck sitting there in a sweat, hugging and hushing your unhappy tot while onlookers ogle and object something that is often out of your control.
As a result, some customers commended the airline, commenting that the act should be made available across the board.
Other passengers - especially parents - took offence, stating that babies are a natural part of life and that people should be more patient when in the presence of crying babies on flights.
I think that adding baby icons to seat maps is a great idea. While it seems to me like segregating the sounds of tiny travellers would be as effective as trying to implement a smoking section on an airplane (because like the smell of smoke, noise travels), I’d be happy to select a seat near a family. Not only will it be better for the parents of those babies to be surrounded by people who have opted in to sit in their vicinity, but maybe there will be more opportunities for empty side-by-side seats in those sections as a result.
Keep the grumps away and surround those stressed-out parents with an opted-in support system. This will keep the creeps away and the parents (and their babies) more calm in the end.
Now if only they would create an icon that indicates where the grumpy grown-ups will be seated too.
Bianca Bujan is a mom of three, writer, editor, and marketing consultant. Find her on Twitter @biancabujan and Instagram @bitsofbee.