A Flight With My Son Descends Into a Battery of Embarrassment

On board the boy is asleep. My wife and I relax… then there’s beeping from the luggage

There’s trepidation now when flying with my son. He’s had a few, shall we say, loud flights lately, and we’re worried we’ll find ourselves owners of the hated noisy baby on a packed plane.

Luckily, he’s just settled in for a nap when an air steward approaches. ‘Excuse me,’ she says, ‘our security would like to have a quick word with you.’

Maybe it’s a Northern Irish thing, but when a figure of authority accuses me of anything I immediately lose all faith in my own innocence. ‘Surely, I didn’t pack machine gun parts in my luggage,’ I think to myself, unlooping the baby from my seatbelt and passing him to my wife. She looks more stressed than me, but I can’t tell if that’s because she’s been smuggling heroin in our suitcase. I smile, shrug and affect the manner of a flamboyantly innocent person as I disembark which, in hindsight, must have made me look like a gormless smuggler on Nothing to Declare who ends up doing 20 years for bringing puffin eggs to Perth.

It turned out our baby monitor was the culprit. It had turned itself on, causing its batteries to run down and then making horrific, clanging beeps so loud they could raise the dead. This noise had been detected by baggage handlers and, while it’s customary to decry the joyless overreach of security checks, I admit that beeping from stowed luggage is worthy of alarm.

They tell me to remove the batteries, and I do so with such a proliferation of smirks and handshakes that the entire left side of the plane – noses pressed up against the glass in the hopes they see me carted off at gunpoint – can tell this has all been a brief, but hilarious, misunderstanding.

Alas, things do not end there. I’ve only just retaken my seat when a man in full air-traffic control gear approaches to tell us that, by letting me take the batteries from my luggage, they had violated procedure and the entire plane now has to disembark, retrieve their luggage and go through security again. ‘The entire plane?’ I ask, my face now scarlet with horror. ‘Yes,’ he replies, his hi-viz ear defenders and giant gloves giving him the uncanny look of an oil-rig worker from a children’s book, only one who has paused from turning a giant crank on a sea platform to make my family and me figures of unanimous public disgust.

We bow our heads for the next hour as every passenger disembarks, is rechecked and reboards the plane, and all – we imagine – sustaining themselves by focusing their energy on a deep and concentrated hatred of us.

Through it all, the boy sleeps – one tiny mercy in the most excruciating afternoon of our lives. ‘Good thing he didn’t wake up,’ I whisper to my wife, as we finally approach Dublin. ‘Yes,’ she agrees through gritted teeth. ‘I mean, that could have been really embarrassing for us.’