Can Babies Cry in Business Class? (Yup)

The sun set quickly not long ago. I didn’t see it though — as our 777–300ER Emirates Flight 240 races across the Atlantic towards the coast of Portugal, I pulled my shade at least two hours ago. Knowing that in Mumbai, my final destination, it was already past midnight even though it was only 3:30pm ET, I knew sleep was at a premium.

The baby that had been crying a few seats back since boarding would surely end its assault on the rest of us. After all, we had paid dearly for these tickets — obviously, somehow, the baby, or hopefully the baby’s mother, recognized this.

Some two hours later after tossing and turning in the most comfortable airplane seat I’ve ever enjoyed, I gave up. The wailing from seat 11A , as I would soon confirm, wasn’t just a baby crying. This sounded like real pain. And the pain wasn’t going to stop with the passage of flight time. It would be silent for 45 seconds at a time (nearly exactly), and then escalate quickly from a whimper to full out deep-throated screaming before descending just as quickly into a slightly elongated yelp before resting for another 45 seconds. On and on, never once so far on the plane has it stopped.

My mind moved to the mother or father — my mind, not I, imagined what he or she or they were doing. Why couldn’t they control their child? I thought about how good Bo — only 2 months from turning 3 — has been on planes, and Tibby (12) and Izzy (10) before him when they were babies. What could possibly be wrong back there? When the baby finally broke the pattern and went “on” for nearly a minute without stopping, including a new form of a moist choking sound, I decided to get up and stretch my legs. I had to see this.

Amid the darkness of the cabin, a light shone bright above seat 11A. A woman wearing all black, covering her entire being other than a small part of her face, stood over a small figure I could not see well — dark curly hair, that’s all I saw — as I sailed past them, drawing the curtain in the aisle and heading back into coach. I noted the mother was shuffling pillows and blankets around, I thought about the bright light. I thought how I, too, might be wailing if someone was hovering over me with a bright light in my eyes. I could now recognize judgment building inside of me.

As I worked through coach class, bumping people just slightly who were seated on the aisles, I saw two other sets of parents working feverishly to calm crying babies. OK, I thought, well at least they aren’t getting their shut eye either back here. I helped myself to an orange juice at the very rear of the plane before heading back up the right side of the plane. It felt good to stretch my legs.

When I moved the curtains over to enter back into business class (because apparently we are conducting confidential business up here) a steward asked me where my seat was… I wasn’t wearing business attire, he assumed I was out of my zone. I told him 9A and said I needed to use the restroom. I couldn’t help but notice the baby had returned to the 45 second off/15 second on rotation. All was well.

I placed my empty orange juice cup on the galley counter as I waited for the lavatory — both occupied. My flight attendant, who knew me at this point and would not have asked my seat simply based on my inappropriate Under Armour work out tshirt, looked at the plastic cup and gave me a puzzled look. “Coach?” she asked me bewildered. I told her I had to take a walk. “We have everything here!”, she said emphatically as the bathrooms remained occupied. “What can I get you? a Twix bar? A sandwich? A biscotti?”

I listened to the options and looked at the five types of sandwiches they had before settling on a black coffee, a cheese mini-sandwich, and a small biscotti. Not being able to help myself, with a “look”, I added that she could help me figure out how to get some sleep. There was a pause, but she had not missed a beat. She heard the baby more than anyone else. Maybe others had complained already? She looked at me, with understanding and the same incredible hospitality she had shown since boarding still exuding from her eyes.

“Yes, I know” she said. “We don’t have this happen very often. But this is a different baby. Not a normal baby. The baby was the first to board. It had tubes coming out of multiple parts of its body, it didn’t seem to be breathing well. The face was like that of an old lady. I said to the baby ‘hi baby!’ and it did not respond or even look at me. Something is very wrong with the baby. The mother seems very concerned. I’m sure the baby will be quiet soon. Which sandwich would you like me to bring to your seat?”

The baby won’t stop crying. We have 6 hours and 27 minutes left until Dubai, and it will be 8am there when we land. I’ll try again to sleep on the Mumbai flight shortly after. And when I finally get to Aamby Valley City three hours southeast of Mumbai, I’m sure I’ll take a long, long, long nap.

In the meantime, I’ll know that my precious sleep, my expensive ticket, my judgment without knowing — all of those will cease to be concerns on this flight.

In nearly an instant, my mindset shifted from annoyance and judgment to gratitude and empathy. I am mostly grateful for all of the healthy people in my life… my kids, my wife, even myself — most of my friends, my immediate family, my co-workers. Sometimes the gift of perspective comes at a time when you really didn’t feel like receiving that gift, but that doesn’t mean its still not a gift.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m still thinking about the wailing baby in 11A, the vision of the woman in black draped all over it with the bright overhead light creating an eerie scene, but I’m sending thoughts of well wishes and prayer for a happier and healthier future for both the baby and the mother. It’s the least I can do from the comfort of seat 9A.

PostScript: I love to video takeoffs and landings… you’ll note on this final approach into Dubai our little friend in 11A was truly ready to de-board that plane. Click here, and turn your volume down.

Originally published at

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.