• Andrew Wien

What made me lose it on the plane— and it wasn't the crying baby

Last week I flew from Denver to New York. It was one of those flights. My seat was 36B—you know, the one in the last row that doesn’t recline, close to the bathrooms, and in the middle. I stayed positive. “At least I’m not flying to Europe in this seat.”

After sitting down, the woman on the aisle, let’s call her Jessica, started an arm rest battle. A few minutes later I gave up and conceded the arm rest. “This is obviously a lot more important for Jessica’s happiness, so I’ll give it to her.”

You can guess what happened next. Yes, a crying baby just a few minutes into taxiing. “It’s okay, babies can’t cry forever.”

20 minutes later, and we realize that this is not a crying baby—it’s a toddler throwing a temper tantrum. This goes on for the next few hours.

The middle seat in the back row, the lack of arm rest, and the screaming toddler did not bother me. Through mindfulness and emotional intelligence, I’ve learned to let go of things that I can’t control, which has helped me better focus and be happier despite seemingly unpleasant external conditions.

Jessica, however, was not aware this was possible. With each scream of the toddler, she was getting increasingly agitated—a tense body, visible sighs, spastic movements of frustration. I was afraid at one point she might try to jump out of the airplane window.

And then, I finally lost it. I thought to myself JESSICA! GET IN CONTROL OF YOURSELF! YOU ARE CHOOSING TO BE AGITATED FOR CONDITIONS THAT YOU ARE CREATING IN YORU HEAD! There are so many more skillful ways to deal with this screaming toddler.

I spent the next 5 minutes fuming to myself about how poorly Jessica was managing this situation. Why was she choosing to be so miserable?! And then it hit me…. Wait. Just like Jessica is letting this toddler drive her insane, I was letting Jessica drive me insane.

I took a few deep breaths, reframed the thoughts in my head to have compassion for Jessica, and then spent the rest of my flight getting back to my work. Internal meltdown averted.

We don’t have as much control as we’d like over external events. But imagine if we had just slightly more influence over how we let those external events affect our productivity and happiness. How would your life be different?

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