The Travel Obligation


I thought there was no way I could find a relevant photo in my library. I was wrong.

As the holidays are approaching, people all around the world are preparing to travel either closer to or farther from their families depending on how they feel about them. Here in Japan, many ALTs are planning on traveling to other countries or returning to their home countries for a few weeks. Whatever the reason, people all over the world are about to get on airplanes.

Anyone who has traveled on an airplane knows that they are probably the worst way to travel in terms of comfort and dignity (unless you are rich and always travel in first class in which case my blog has a contact form please email me I’d like to offer you an investment opportunity (It’s me. Please give me money I have no career goals.)). They are sadly, though, a necessary evil when you want to, for example, move to Japan, or get to L.A. NOW damn it because your time is important and if you drove the 8 hours you’d probably fall asleep behind the wheel and die anyway.

I have been on a respectable number of airplanes in my life, and like most people who have flown I have many stories about airports and airplanes. 

One time while I was waiting for my plane in Heathrow, London, a woman I had never seen before in my life came up to me, pulled her shirt down off her shoulder, and asked me to re-adjust her bra strap for her. After an initial moment of “Who is this lady and why is she displaying her shoulder to me? Is this some sort of English mating ritual?” I unrolled the strap for her because that’s just common courtesy and ladies gotta stick together.

Once when I was maybe 6 or 7 I was flying unaccompanied to visit my great aunt in Denver and I definitely took candies from a stranger when they offered. Looking back I probably could have died, but I choose to believe that even if the candy had incapacitated me in some way the flight attendants would not have let me leave the plane with a stranger.

There was one flight experience, though, that has always stuck with me. This was when I learned about the Travel Obligation. 

I believe I was coming back from a summer camp I attended in Missouri. I was 16, and was feeling like a badass travelling with my trombone for the first time. The flight from Missouri to Las Vegas was fairly short, and it was a small plane for a quick weekday run.

I sat on the aisle, and two rows in front of me a young family sat with their infant son. Once we were in the air, the baby looked at me, and I smiled at him because I’m human and that’s what humans do. 

Now at this point I should mention I have a complicated relationship with babies. Half the time I smile at them they instantly burst into tears. I think this is probably because of my bright curly hair, and that those babies are already afraid of clowns. (Here in Japan, though, I can make babies stop crying because they can already identify foreigners at like 6 months.) 

But on the plane years ago I took a real chance in smiling at that baby. I could have been the inciting incident for two hours of crying baby on a small plane.

In a way, I still was.

The baby didn’t cry when I smiled. In fact, the baby thought I was the best thing he’d ever seen. He laughed and smiled and waved. I played along, because you know, I’m a good human, but once I was tired of waving at the baby, I turned back to the sketchbook I was drawing in, stupidly assuming that our game was done.

That was when the crying started. And I mean the red faced yelling crying that only a baby can get away with without losing all their friends. You could feel the groan of the passengers rumbling the side of the plane as we all realized we were trapped with this baby for the next two hours.

The baby was staring at me, and remembering my earlier success I decided to smile at him.

That was when the miracle happened; the baby stopped crying. I had the magical power to keep the baby quiet and happy. I’d never felt so connected to the human race before. Here I was, a young adult with a newly printed drivers license, and suddenly I realized that it was my responsibility to keep this baby quiet for the good of my fellow man. 

Once the baby was quiet and happy again, I turned back to my drawing. This was my mistake. It turns out this baby needed constant attention or he was going to lose his shit. I completely understand this. My friends probably understand this even more than I do since they are on the receiving end of all of my endless text messages throughout the day and night saying things like “I’m dying” “Send help” and “Didn’t do _______ today whoops my bad.”

I realized then that the only thing keeping this plane full of my comrades in travel from suffering through the screams of this infant was my constant and undivided attention. I didn’t have a responsibility; I had an obligation, nay, an ethical duty to keep this baby from crying. This was my calling. This was the quest given to me with the hopes and dreams of my fellow travelers and I had to rise to the occasion.

I spent the better part of that flight entertaining the baby two rows away. Sometimes he would look away for minutes at a time, but he would always look back and always yell until I looked back at him. When the plane landed the parents apologized to me, and I nonchalantly told them it wasn’t a problem and walked away towards baggage claim with the disinterested swagger that only the hero who saved the day can pull off (or at least my best attempt at it with my trombone case swinging in my hand).

This is the Travel Obligation: if you can keep a baby from crying on the airplane, you must do it by any means necessary¹. The Travel Obligation includes more than just crying babies, as well. The Travel Obligation also is being kind to flight attendants, only puking in the toilet or provided barf bags, and sharing your body heat with the person next to you² if the cabin is cold during the flight. 

If you are flying this holiday season I hope that, should the occasion arise, you will accept your quest. Remember that we all have an obligation to make airplane travel a pleasant experience. Whether that means stopping your children from kicking the seat in front of them, putting your bag in the overhead compartment in such a way that other people will be able to fit their bags next to it, or keeping a stranger’s baby from crying, we all can make a difference.


Here is a selfie I took on that trip to Missouri when I was 16 and clearly in love with travel.



²In a non-creepy way.



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