By Christopher Noxon
BEIJING, CHINA - Please excuse me. Really, I couldn't be sorrier.
That knocking on the back of your seat? The chewing gum smeared on your tray table? The whining and screeching and crying - the incessant, high-decibel weeping? All my fault.
I am the airline passenger you dread most of all, more even than the religious fanatic or flatulent fat guy. I am the passenger accompanying small children.
I'll also take the blame for the soggy Sun Chip that landed on your cashmere sweater during beverage service and the little sourpuss two rows up that's been staring at you since takeoff.
I feel your pain. I agree wholeheartedly that children and air travel don't mix - they bring out the worst in both. With kids on board, leisurely, meditative trips become chaotic, emotional ordeals.
Likewise, sweet and docile children become spastic hellions upon boarding a commercial airliner. And it's only getting worse.
As rising fuel costs and increased competition prompts airlines to cut back on little 'non-essential amenities' like legroom, food and courtesy, the kids are getting crankier.
We grown-ups may gripe and moan scrunched into a middle seat for six hours with nothing to sustain us but a Sandra Bullock movie and a bag of peanuts, but kids aren't so easily pacified.
They won't stand for it. They act out.
And so they make everyone around them miserable.
You, my fellow passengers arrive at our destination angry about Kids Today and the parents who let them run riot. Meanwhile we parents are exhausted and embarrassed.
Add beleaguered airline staff to the mix and nightmare scenarios ensue.
DOPING OR DOPES?
Last summer on a Continental Express flight in Houston, flight attendants objected when a 19-month-old boy "started saying 'Bye, bye plane' over and over," according to reports.
"You need to shut your baby up," the flight attendant reportedly told the mother, before adding: "It's called Benadryl."
A big controversy followed, with critics raising a stink about a flight attendant who would dare suggest doping a child.
While the stewardess sounded tactless, I can't say I entirely disagree with her sentiment.
Let's just say that my 2-year-old always seems badly congested just before takeoff. Benadryl has been one source of relief during a marathon of family travel this month, flying with three kids under the age of eight across the United States before taking a quick round-trip jaunt from Los Angeles to Denmark.
But I do find myself wondering. After all, families represent a sizable portion of air passengers. We may be a nuisance, but we're also a goldmine.
We shell out for family vacations, family automobiles, family restaurants -- so where's our kid-friendly airline?
Rumors have circulated for years about Disney Air or some startup devoted to families, but the closest we've come is Family Airlines, an upstart outfit based in Las Vegas that submitted an application to fly with the US government earlier this year.
Their plans are sketchy so far, but they're definitely on to something. Let solo travelers fly in plush recliners and Zen-like quiet - bunch us families together in mutual chaos, wherein the only people we can annoy are our own kind.
Ideally, the planes will be painted in garish SpongeBob yellow and vivid Princess pink (ancillary revenue: kid branding product placement!). On board, swashbuckling pirate pilots and plush costumed stewardesses offer headsets, juice and balloon.
It's easy to image the rest: TV monitors and video games at every seat and bubble machines spurting forth at takeoff.
Turbulence could be known as "wacky bumpy time," complete with dramatic sound effects and music and passengers could do the wave up and down the cabin and bounce beach balls between rows.
And while we're at it, let's steal an idea from the old movie palaces and include a "crying room." That way bawling infants and weary parents could huddle together and save the rest of the passengers the racket.
Sure, much of this is probably impractical. When airplane bathrooms are no bigger than a broom closet, crying rooms are probably out of the question.
But on behalf of unruly family travelers everywhere and the innocent bystanders who can't stand them, the airline industry should get creative and stop ignoring our pain.
Instead, capitalize on it. Forget the in-flight wi-fi -- where's our in-flight bouncy castle?