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FROM THE AISLE SEAT

An "Old-World" Touch

 by Craig Stevens Corey

The woman, fully-covered from head to toe in a mysterious black birka, quietly got up, walked across the aisle and motioned for the baby. The exhausted mother surrendered without hesitation. Within a minute or two the screaming baby quieted down and was soon asleep.”

 (Written as a supplement to the newsletter FOOTPRINTS: Conversations with Craig, Travel Tips & News." Information such as details, dates, prices, etc. are subject to change without prior notice.)

First Published, May 1, 2011.

It was an Air France flight from Chicago to Paris. I was all settled in, anticipating the free Champagne and big baskets of tasty French bread that are trademarks of the airline's in-flight service. My seat was behind a young French couple and their adorable baby who was cooing, and batting its sparkling blue eyes. Prior to take-off, the flight attendants were all clamoring around, and doting on the baby (Gallic pride no doubt.)

Once the wheels were up and the big Airbus A-343 jetliner was off the ground and climbing, the adorable baby began to scream. The change in cabin pressure is typically painful on baby's eardrums, and this one was no exception! The screaming continued nonstop all through the meal and beverage services and well into the movies. By now, most of the passengers were wearing their audio headsets if just to drown out the noise! The baby's parents tried in vain to sooth it, but to no avail. And the sympathetic flight attendants had all tried to help, even the head purser had temporarily abandoned her duties to rock the baby to sleep, but eventually gave up.

At first I was annoyed by the nonstop screaming, but I quickly softened recalling the story my mom had told over the years, of when she as a young mother with a new bouffant hairdo and two kids in tow (my sister and I) had traveled to Lebanon to spend the summer with her family, while my dad stayed behind at work.

That was in 1959 and we flew an Air France Constellation Superstarliner with its twin tail fin and huge propellors (the most elegant airliner in those days, just before jets,) New York-Gander-Paris-Athens-Beirut. As my mother tells the story, the Air France hostess said "Madame, I am sorry but we have no food for zee baby (referring to me.") Mom was furious, having paid half-fare for the two-year old (moi!) But the airline had nevertheless forgotten to load the extra meal, and the hostess apologetically returned with only a piece of French bread. It's a that point, according to legend, that I started my endless screaming rant. And hélas, it probably explains my lifelong penchant for crusty French baguette!  

We were now four hours out of Chicago, and the baby's screaming continued. It's father had long-ago bailed, having passed-out after three or four Cognacs, sprawled out in his seat, arms dangling to the side. The mother kept up though, turning and tossing the baby in a frenzy. It looked like a circus juggling act. The poor baby was just miserable! An elderly Middle-Eastern couple was sitting across the aisle. The woman, fully-covered from head to toe in a mysterious black birka quietly got up, walked across the aisle and without saying a word, motioned for the babyThe exhausted mother surrendered without hesitation and the elderly woman returned to her seat craddling the baby. Within a  minute, or two the baby quieted down and was soon asleep. It was a remarkable occurance, and the baby's relief was shared by everyone on the plane. What powers did this woman possess which none of us seemed to, I wondered?

As we touched down at Paris hours later, the baby was still fast asleep. It reminded me of how we take for granted modern technology and the routine of today's air travel. And how the traditional touch of the old world still plays a significant role in our everyday lives, transforming an otherwise unremarkable flight.