Screaming kids. They just don't do it for me. Unless they're blood relations or I have a vested interest in the young sprog (you know who you are), I just don't see why my eardrums need to be assaulted by the glass-shattering yelps of someone else's progeny. Out in the open they're bad enough, but within the confines of an aluminium tube zipping along at 30 000 feet they become completely intolerable.
The high-pitched squeals seem to bounce off the walls, collect a diamond-tip from the overhead lockers and bore directly into the core of my brain. iPods, in-flight entertainment and alcohol are all powerless in the face of a 100-decibel infant aria.
But worse than the 'scared or in pain' squeals - which, yes, I can summon enough sympathy to ignore - is the bored whining that carries on endlessly until I'm convinced that a seat down in the hold would be preferable to the incessant mewling.
And why do parents subject themselves to it? I can only imagine the bubbling annoyance and (well, perhaps hopefully) guilt they feel at inflicting aural torture on a few hundred unsuspecting fellow travellers. If it were me I think I'd be tempted to take my child for a quick walk on the wing to spare everyone the pain.
Now, before the hate-mail begins arriving in paper-bag form on my front doorstep, I'm not for one minute saying that parents shouldn't fly, I just don't quite understand why they and their offspring seem to rank higher up the economy-class food chain than others.
A Declaration of Flightiquette?
Surely we all pay the same fare (or near enough) and should have equal rights in the cabin? I'm willing to let the priority boarding slide (mainly so I don't have to squeeze past baby-carrier and assorted paraphernalia), but don't we all enter some sort of social contract when we step on board?
Don't we all subscribe to a Declaration of Flightiquette that begins with the premise that Thou Shalt Not Annoy Thy Fellow Passenger For 12 Hours Straight? What would the response be like if I stood on my chair and started belting out Bruce Springsteen covers in the middle of the night? Bar a few like-minded friends I bet you wouldn't stand for it, so why do some travellers have annoyance rights that are inversely proportional to their size? It's a bit like Equatorial Guinea running the United Nations - a small, dirty grump inflicting their will on two hundred others.
What I also don't understand is why airlines haven't cottoned onto the fact that - by and large - passengers would really rather not sit next to a squealing, food-throwing, snot-producing toddler that seems to think that the aircraft is their own private activity-centre fiefdom. Fair enough, they've paid for their seat and they should be allowed on board, but why not group them all up at the back of the plane where they can raise merry hell together and leave the rest of us in peace?
And parents are the worst. Either they're so darn exhausted they simply clip the kid in and collapse into a sleep-deprived coma or (even worse) they grin maniacally; ever-so-pleased that they have managed to combine a few chromosomes to produce a two-legged miniature version of themselves.
"...Don't for a second think it's all innocent..."
And just for the record: when your kid paws my gleaming white Macbook with his sticky fingers, smiling proudly at me is not the appropriate response. Mortification and offers of professional restoration are what you were looking for, capiche?
And long-hauls are the worst. Invariably there is a selection of small humans who seem to have held conclave beforehand to carefully synchronise their yelling schedules. As soon as one tires of exercising their vocal chords (or perhaps reaches the end of their shift?) then the next one starts up in some sort of diabolical domino effect that's clearly intended to ensure that everyone on board knows just who runs the show.
So don't for a second think it's all innocent and that the little so-and-so's don't know what they're doing. Just witness how quickly the little blighters shut up as soon as someone pays them attention, or they get what they've been hollering for. I've even seen a two-year-old flip me a smile and a wink just seconds after bawling like he'd had his arm lopped off. I half expected him to slide a few bills into my shirt-pocket to buy my silence.
And, like dogs with people who don't like dogs, screaming kids seem to be magnetically attracted to me. Regardless of whether I'm up in Business Class or in the depths of Economy, it seems that Holmes' Third Law of Travel (the first two involve Customs Searches and Airline Headphones) dictate that travel writers and their nemesis are never far apart.
They're small, they're loud and they know exactly what they're doing. And they're out to get me, I'm sure of it. So if you can read this, young travellers? I'm onto you.