30 August 2013

Just Let Us Sleep: A plea/rant on behalf of redeye passengers

Well, this is... interesting.
(She didn't spend much time in the bassinet.)
Nearly four months until we go back to the States for Christmas, and the New York Times' Motherlode blog has me dreading the flights already.

The post itself is pretty mild; just a note that Singapore Air, Malaysia Airlines, and AirAsia have created child-free zones in their planes. (Some of the comments are brutal; I have to remind myself they're outnumbered.) It's just reminded me that I have to take the red-eye, and the way Aer Lingus runs the red-eye seems designed to make sure everyone on board gets the full jet-lag experience on their vacation or return to the Emerald Isle.

I don't know why it has to be this way.

First off, I should note that overall, we've had great experiences taking our baby daughter on Aer Lingus flights. They really do seem to do the best they can to make everyone comfortable: they group the parties with small children together (so at least everyone's sympathetic); they've given us extra seats on non-full flights; they're generous with bottle-warming and bottled water.

BUT. Butbutbutbutbut. They have no daytime flights from Boston to Dublin. No one has daytime flights from Boston to Dublin (and, no snark, the daytime flight from Boston to London is a consistently pleasant experience and I miss it terribly). Believe me, I would much rather not run the risk of my toddler having a sleep-deprived meltdown and ruining your chance at the airplane version of a good night's sleep. At least on a day flight, we all have the nighttime left to look forward to when it's over.

Unfortunately, Aer Lingus does not behave as though they think sleep on overnight flights is a priority to any of their passengers, not just the babies. They run their overnight flights to Dublin on exactly the same schedule as they run their daytime flights to Boston, so what was already going to be a short sleep - the whole flight's maybe seven hours, taxi to taxi - dwindles to a nap, if you're lucky. Whether you're travelling with a kid or not.

I don't know why it has to be this way.

I don't know why the red-eye isn't run as though it were happening, y'know, at night. When people sleep. I don't know why they keep the lights on for all but the middle two hours of the flight. I don't know why they give us a huge meal an hour into a short flight, when anyone with any knowledge of jet lag is fasting. I don't know why they run an active duty-free service after they've cleared dinner, keeping the hustle and bustle going for another hour. I don't know why they feel the need to make PA announcements throughout the flight. It's nighttime. In both time zones. I don't know why they're so committed to pretending otherwise.

It matters more to me because I have a kid to take care of - I used to just stick my earbuds in, maybe put on an eyemask, and get away from it all, and that's not an option these days. But I don't see any disadvantage to child-free passengers if the overnight flight is organised to promote sleep. They dim the overhead lights for take-off anyway; why don't they just leave them off? Anyone who needs light has a reading lamp above their seat. 

And while the flight we take does leave when people on the East Coast are starting to think about supper (I assume to accommodate the business travellers, for whom landing at 5:25 a.m. gives at least a chance of a shower before they report to work), that doesn't mean we need a full-on chicken-or-beef meal service. If anything, a high-protein meal will make it harder to sleep when the lights finally do go off. The airline currently gives us a full meal at the beginning and a snack at the end of the flight; would it be so hard to reverse that? Let people who need to eat when the flight takes off request a sandwich, and then serve more substantial fare before landing, when we're all looking forward to a full day of trying to keep ourselves awake.

Nowadays we buy her her own seat.
She still sleeps in our arms (or not at all), but
at least we can keep the diaper bag in arms' reach.
I understand that I'm only seeing one side of the picture here. I'm sure there are all kinds of regulations and behind-the-scenes issues that make it impractical or impossible to just leave the lights off and the environment calm and quiet from take-off to, if not landing, at least breakfast. But from my limited angle of vision, so much of what keeps the lights on and the aisles busy seems unnecessary. Dinner, if you must, but a separate drinks service before and coffee service after? Really? (I mean, coffee service? It's the middle of the night, for cryin' out loud.) A PA announcement about duty-free shopping, and one more cart going up and down the aisles, well after everyone's calmed down from dinner? Why, for the love of god, why?

On our last trip, flight attendants kept stopping by our row to marvel at our one-year-old's cheerfulness. "Wow, she's still awake!" they kept commenting, as the flight moved east and the hours pushed on towards morning. Well, yes, I wanted to answer. The lights are on full and you keep making loud announcements, walking back and forth, and stopping by to ask us things. Wouldn't that keep you up?