Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Air Rage

A strange thing happened on an airplane. I was on the last leg of a multi-city journey, ground down and exhausted. I made my way to the penultimate row, in the stench of the toilet, and readied myself for what I hoped would be an hour of deep sleep. As I began to drift away, the kicking came; percussive, forceful, and consistent. I turned to see a four-year-old boy and his middle-aged, besuited and bespectacled father seated behind me in the last row. The child looked up, reared back and kicked with both feet, grinning from ear to ear and causing his tray table to open. I said, in the most cloying tones I could summon,

"Hey little buddy, you think you could stop kicking my seat?"

Before he could answer, his father slammed his folded paper down, and said through a glare and a grimace,

"That's my son! He's four years old. He's four years old!"

"Can you get him to stop kicking my seat? We got an hour up here and"

"What the fuck is wrong with you? He's four years old!"

The man was clearly agitated and I gave up right quick. The child kicked intermittently throughout the flight when he wasn't crying, and sometimes when he was crying. I did not sleep. I wondered if I'd somehow created this scenario, if my loathing for this man and his hellspawn was evident beneath my forced smile and affected baby voice, if hours of travel on multiple planes had set a giant chip on my shoulder, invisible only to me.

We were landing now. A portly male flight attendant whisked by and asked the man to place his child in a seat and fasten his seat belt. I craned just enough to see the man had the kid in his lap. He said no.

"Sir, you're gonna hafta put your child in his own seat and fasten his seatbelt before we land — it's FAA regulations."

The man clutched his son close as if he were about to be taken forever.

"He's four years old!"

"I don't care how old he is, sir, it's FAA regulations and you're gonna hafta comply now or there's gonna be a problem." People were noticing now. The man's face was a mask of anxious despair.

"No, I will not, goddamn you. He's my son! He's only four!"

The flight attendant pulled the intercom off the wall. The man reached out for the intercom and the flight attendant pulled back quickly, poised to strike.

"Sir, I will hit you with this intercom! You are in violation of Federal regulations! Now belt your child immediately!" The man did not. The flight attendant made a hushed call on the intercom. The man rocked back and forth almost imperceptibly. He began to apologize. He'd been traveling for a long time. He'd overreacted. His son was only four years old.

We landed, and police entered the rear of the plane almost immediately. The man was cuffed and escorted out the back door, his son in the arms of a uniformed officer. He kept muttering his son's age over and over.

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