When my son Laszlo was 6 months old, I took him to a bar at 9 p.m. I assumed I'd be kicked out or at least given dirty looks, but instead women kept coming over to tell me what an amazing father I was. If my lovely wife Cassandra took Laszlo to a bar at 9 p.m., people would have called child services. Yet every time I ask to take my son places he clearly doesn't belong high-end restaurants, movie premieres, corporate retreats people say they'd be thrilled to have him.
After a while, of course, they are not thrilled to have him. He knocks things over, cries and yells the word car every time he thinks he hears a car, which is every time there's a noise. So I'm proud of Malaysia Airlines for banning kids under 2 in first class. I've taken Laszlo on the business-class section of a flight, and it was a horrible thing to do to other passengers. I've also taken him on the economy section of a flight, and that was a horrible thing to do to those passengers too. But they were poor passengers, so they deserved it.
The reason I took my baby with me on business class is that airlines have a crazy rule that instead of paying for another seat, you can put a kid under 2 on your lap for an entire domestic flight. They won't let you keep your purse on your lap during takeoff and landing, since it might turn into a deadly projectile, but an infant is apparently soft enough to ricochet harmlessly off passenger after passenger. Once his skull ossifies over his soft spots, he's got to buckle up.
Since two people and a baby is tight in coach, Cassandra and I decided that instead of paying for three seats, we would use miles to upgrade to two business-class seats and keep Laszlo on our laps. It turns out business class is awesome for babies: they tire themselves out running around the airline's business-class lounge, and on the plane they can't reach the seat in front of them with their feet, there's more stuff attached to the armrest to play with, the aisles are wider for them to stumble through, and there are fewer people to hear them cry. If babies could just get their act together and land executive-level jobs, they would totally fill business class.
Until that happens, I want airlines to reserve a few rows in the back of coach for people with small children. Because the only thing more stressful than hearing a screaming baby on a plane is being the parent of a screaming baby on a plane. Shove us all in the back, where we can suffer together. Put some old toys in the overheads, sprinkle juice boxes around and cover the seats with plastic. Instead of a selection of bad romantic comedies, the baby section will always show Toy Story. Instead of a drink cart full of alcohol, it will be loaded with even more alcohol and Children's Benadryl. Instead of Us Weekly magazines, there will be children's books, which have the same word-to-picture ratio as Us Weekly. The blankets, of course, will be the exact same size as the ones in the rest of the plane.
Sure, it will suck for the last-minute traveler who can get a seat only in or near the baby section, but that guy is definitely not rich. Will the baby section smell good? No. Does the section near the bathroom ever smell good? No.
Airlines are already charging fees that let people pay for more leg room or cut to the front of the boarding line. I'd pay more for a plane with a baby section whether I was in it or not. I'd also like a quiet section, like Amtrak trains have. And a full-size section, a snoring section, a bad-breath section, a drinking section, a sleep-on-a-stranger's-shoulder-maybe-by-accident-maybe-not section and an out-loud-movie-laughter section.
Airlines can pull this off because they are the one industry that's up front about our class system: there's first, business and economy and Mexicans have a better chance of climbing two walls to pee in Texas than coach passengers do of passing that curtain to use the first-class bathroom. I long for a day when there's a curtain everywhere, separating me from everyone else when I, say, pick up prescriptions at a drugstore or get on the subway. Also, at certain hours, from Cassandra and Laszlo, who do not make any money.
It's insane to expect nonparents to sit near babies, chatty retirees to sit near iPodded teens or people doing sudoku to sit near me, since I'm so obviously silently making fun of them for doing sudoku. We have long ago progressed past the point in our history where people of all kinds interacted in the town square and hardened truckers traveled the country with best friends who were monkeys. We're all safely sequestered in our demographic. So either the airlines are going to have to segregate us for our six-hour trip or someone is going to start Baby Air. First class on the nonstop to Kuala Lumpur will sell out in minutes.