Airplane experiment…role reversal gone awry



Lisa Earle McLeod

Wouldn’t it be great if your boss had to spend a week doing your job? Or your spouse had to take care of your jobs?

When you’re feeling low, it’s always tempting to wish other people could know your hardships.

In what my family now refers to as “The Great Airplane Experiment,” I had the opportunity to observe my spouse tackle one of my tough jobs.

My husband, our then 18-month-old daughter and myself were flying to Washington D.C. for my grandmother’s funeral. Our toddler was sick and cranky. She’d missed her nap, had a runny nose and was emitting a low-grade whine every few seconds.

In other words, she was just the kind of kid you don’t want to have next to you on the airplane.

To make matters worse, because we booked our tickets at the last minute, my husband and I were seated a few rows apart.

I was exhausted. The last thing I wanted to do was get on an airplane with a cranky toddler and spend the next two hours consoling her while fending off judgmental looks from strangers.

Then just before we boarded my gracious husband said, “Let me take her. You’ve been up late; it’s going to be a long day. You rest.”

And thus began the social science experiment. From my vantage point three rows back I got to observe how the world responds to a man with a cranky baby.

I had always thought that there were only one or two flight attendants in coach. Wrong. Apparently there are eight. And every single one of them has apple juice, extra diapers, wet wipes and a free drink for a poor man dealing with a cranky baby.

Did you know that flight attendants offer to hold your baby so that you can go to the restroom?

Think passengers are annoyed when someone comes on the plane with a cranky baby?

Wrong again. They’re not annoyed; they’re impressed! Some of them even patted him on the shoulder saying, “You are so patient with that baby.”

Where were the rolled eyes, heavy sighs and judgmental looks that are usually directed at someone who can’t quiet her baby? They were replaced by smiles and empathetic gazes.

The two women in front of me spent the entire flight speculating as to why that “sweet man” was traveling alone with that baby. “Should we offer to help him get his stuff off the plane?” they asked.

As the plane went up, my jaw continued to drop.

I was witnessing an alternative universe. It was a planet that I didn’t even know existed.

I felt like I was in one of those old Saturday night skits, where the black person goes to live in the white world and discovers that everything is free and that police are really nice.

By the time we landed I was fuming. I had hoped he would experience the world the way I did. Instead, he had two hours of hero worship.

Yet as I waited to deplane, I had an “aha.” I realized that wanting him to experience my problems was petty and small. It wouldn’t improve life for anyone.

It’s tempting to want others to experience your hardships, be they large, or in my case, relatively small. But the better solution is to find a way to create that alternative universe for everyone.

Which is why I’m always nice to anyone who travels with a baby.

‑ Lisa Earle McLeod is a sales leadership consultant, and author of “Selling with Noble Purpose.”


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