The characters board an airplane or other public transport. Almost inevitably, a baby will start crying.
Babies are new to this world and have no language skills to articulate their discomfort or understand instructions on how to relieve it. So when they're faced with air pressure changes, unusual loud noises, the presence of strangers, and the other hazards of public transportation, they're left with the default of screaming their lungs out. Plus, the child may be ill and in pain, and there's always hunger and dirty diapers to cause further discomfort.
This Real Life situation is often used in fiction when the characters are forced to take public transportation. It may just be an offscreen wail, or the parent of the child may be shown desperately trying (and failing) to hush the infant, or callously ignoring the kid and the pained reactions of those around them.
It can also be used as a characterization moment, with the character being a Jerkass to the harried parent, or demonstrating an ability to soothe the child.
A similar effect happens in theaters, auditoriums, churches, and other crowded buildings, but in these cases, it's usually possible to remove the baby and alleviate the problem. (In fact, these places often have specifically designated "crying rooms" for this precise purpose.)
This is very common on a Plane Awful Flight.
- An E-Trade commercial features its now-famous stock-trading baby discussing his strategies on an airplane. He is then interrupted by an offscreen screaming baby, and shortly afterward, another baby turns around to complain to him about the racket.
- At one point in Mama Is a Fourth-Grader, Natsumi has an Imagine Spot of her potential future career as a flight attendant, and it's her baby (strapped to her back) that starts screaming.
- In the first issue of X-Men (2013) by Brian Wood Jubilee is taking the baby she rescued from Bulgaria home on a plane when this happens, and a stewardess can be seen coming over to offer help while the people next to her plug their ears.
- In Daredevil: Road Warrior, one of the perils that Matt Murdock must face on a six-hour flight in economy class is a crying baby. Did we mention that Matt has hypersensitive hearing?
- In Hannibal (the book anyway), Hannibal Lecter is at one point pestered on a plane by a family consisting of a mother, a bratty kid, and a crying baby.
- Mentioned by Dave Barry as parents apparently poking their baby with hatpins because there is no way a baby could make that much noise for so long unassisted. Later when he experiences the joys of flying with a baby of his own, he discovers the baby is in fact perfectly capable of producing these noises (he calls it the baby's Public Behavior Mode, "a snotty behavior pattern that modern children get into because they know that modern parents arent allowed to strike them in public for fear of being reported to the police as child abusers."
[Dave's son Robert] went into Extended Public Behavior Mode, a mode that baffles medical science because in it a child can cry for more than forty-five minutes without inhaling. Robert wanted the stewardess to open the airplane door, only we were 35,000 feet in the air. After a while, I got the impression the stewardess was seriously considering opening the door for him anyway.
- On Modern Family, Mitchell and Cameron try to keep Lily awake before their flight to Hawaii so that she sleeps on the plane and avoids this. Mitchell tells the story of how he sat next to a crying baby on a flight from New York, then reveals that the baby was Cameron whining about how they couldn't get tickets to Billy Elliot.
- Big Wave Dave's: Marshall has to go back to the mainland from Hawaii for a business meeting. In a throwaway joke, he says he doesn't want to because he knows he'll have to sit between a fat sweaty guy and a mother with a crying baby. In The Stinger he's boarding the plane; when the flight attendant asks him if he'd like help finding his seat, he replies no thanks, he knows where it is. He just finds the fat sweaty guy and mother with a crying baby with a vacant seat between them.
- On 30 Rock where Liz is on a plane that keeps on waiting for take-off, the longer she waits on the plane, the more babies cry.
- In one episode of Frasier, Roz dressed up her daughter as a turkey (it was a Thanksgiving Episode) for the flight home so people would think, "Aww, how cute!" and wouldn't be so annoyed if she started crying. Upon learning this, Frasier tells her that when he and Lilith had to take their infant son on a plane for the first time he promised to buy the entire cabin a drink if the baby cried. Partway through the flight, he woke up from a nap to find the passenger behind them poking the baby to try and get him to cry.
Frasier: Of course, that was cheating, the man did not get his drink.
- Played for Drama in the last episode of M*A*S*H, when Hawkeye had a Heroic BSoD as a result of this trope: He was trapped on a bus full of refugees who are trying to hide from North Koreans when a baby starts to cry, and the mother chooses to smother her own child rather than risk exposing them to danger. The real kicker is that Hawkeye was the deciding factor in the murder, by telling her, "Will you shut that damn thing up?" It traumatized him so badly he accused an anesthesiologist of trying to smother a patient, altered his memories of the event until they were unrecognizable, then drove a jeep through a wall in the officers' club and ordered a double bourbon, which he never drank, finally causing him to be sent to a mental hospital.
- In the Yes, Dear episode, "Greg, Don't Leave Home Without Him", Greg gets roped into flying on an airplane with Kim, Sammy, and the Hughes to Kim and Christine's parents' house. During the flight, Sammy will not stop crying. Meanwhile, Jimmy gives Dominic and Logan some Benadryl to get them to fall asleep so they won't bother him on the flight like Sammy is doing to Greg. Greg then finds out from Kim that Sammy needs a diaper change, so he takes Sammy to the bathroom to change his diaper.
- "The Baggage Coach Ahead," a standard Victorian tearjerker, features a crying baby on a train and its clueless father. Considering that the mother is "dead in the coach ahead," the kid has more than enough reason to cry.
- Even children's songs get in on this. One common verse for "The Wheels on the Bus" is "The babies on the bus go 'Waah Waah Waah'...", which is usually followed by "The mommies on the bus go 'Shh Shh Shh'..."
- Dilbert gets stuck behind a whole bunch of them in one strip (their moms are flying to the Mothers of Colicky Babies Convention or somesuch).
- In Baby Blues, this happened during Zoe's first plane trip when the family went to visit Wanda's parents. Wanda's method of apologizing to the other passengers was to stand up and shout "HEY! Count your blessings! I could have had TWINS!"
- For Better or for Worse: Michael had to sit next to one once. Fortunately, he knew how to calm the baby down (he credits his sister April, who was born not long before this strip).
- Comedian/folk singer Martin Pearson gives a hilarious account of this on his album Too Close for Comfort.
- Bill Cosby did a variant in Bill Cosby: Himself in which his flight held an annoying four-year-old who went up and down the aisles disturbing all the passengers on a red-eye flight who are trying to sleep. The passengers got their revenge when the kid finally went to sleep himself shortly before landing, so they all took turns telling him to wake up as they left the plane.
- Eddie Izzard once theorized that if a plane didn't have any screaming children on it, the crew would find one and put them on board before takeoff.
- An episode of The Ricky Gervais Show had a segment in Karl's Diary where Karl wrote about how he had to sit next to a crying baby on a plane.
- In an episode of What the Fuck Is Wrong with You?, Nash and Tara come across an article about a man who got jail time for slapping a toddler on an airplane (as well as calling it racial slurs) because it wouldn't stop crying. Needless to say, Nash and Tara are appalled by the man's actions, pointing out that not only is the changing air pressure hard on a baby's ears but to a small child, being stuck inside a flying metal tube and everyone else acting like it's normal is probably terrifying.
- Whateley Universe: Ayla and the Late Trevor James Goodkind:
Then, for the last half hour of our flight, as we descended into Chicago, we were serenaded by the screams of a baby whose mother didn't seem to grasp fundamental concepts, like 'air pressure differential' or 'Eustachian tube'. Poor little kid. I'll say one thing. That kid had the lungs of a full-grown howler monkey. I wondered if the people sitting next to them would be deaf by the time the plane touched down.
- Done more than once on Family Guy.
- In one episode, Peter, Joe, Cleveland and Quagmire are sapped and flown to a mysterious island on a private cargo plane. Despite the fact that they're flying to the secret headquarters of a shadowy organization, on a private plane, there is an indignant mother with a crying baby accompanying them, to which Peter replies, "Really?!"
- The second Family Guy example found (there may be three):
Guy on Airplane: Oh great, I always end up sitting next to a damn baby.
Stewie: What did you just say!?
Lois: Stewie, stop fussing.
Stewie: Pipe down, Lois. *slaps guy on head* Hey, big man, turn around! Oh, you can't hear me now. Fine, I was going to watch the in-flight movie, but forget it! For the next 5 hours, you're my bitch. *begins furiously kicking guy's seat* WAAAH! WAAAH! My ears are popping, and there's no way to console me! I'm hungry, or possibly teething! Maybe I'm wet; who knows? I'm a BABY! A-WAAAAAH!
- The third: While watching a school production of God and His Magical Rainbow Suspenders, God starts explaining his rainbow suspenders "through interpretive dance!" To escape, Brian punches Stewie, who starts crying. "Oop, crying baby, I'll take him out."
- In the episode, "Big Man on Hippocampus", Stewie complains about having to move to a small, run-down apartment, saying he belongs there no more than a baby belongs on a plane. The Cutaway Gag that follows is a father on an airplane calming his crying baby, which seems to work, until the flight attendant announces that their in-flight movie is Hancock, which causes both the father and the baby to cry.
- In "Screwed the Pooch", a cutaway gag references a police-documented incident in December 1996 where Brian slowly lost his temper after listening to a baby crying at a South Attleborough Denny's and ultimately snapped. Overwhelmingly livid, he started mocking the baby's crying and screamed at it to shut up.
- A similar situation happens in an episode of American Dad!, where Stan, Francine, Hayley, and Roger, who is disguised as a little girl, are stuck on a grounded plane. Because of his disguise, Roger can't order any alcohol and becomes very upset, wailing his head off and annoying the other passengers.
Angry Passenger: Hey, can you shut that kid up?!
Francine: (turns around, speaking like a sassy black woman) Oh no! You do NOT tell me how to raise my child!
Hayley: You do NOT tell this woman how to raise her child!
Roger: Yeah! You don't tell her how to raise me!
- On The Simpsons, Bart complains about being seated next to a crying baby on a plane. The camera then reveals that said baby is his sister Maggie.
- On a Cartoon Network episode of The Annoying Orange, Pear gets on a plane and is seated next to a crying baby. After he grumbles to himself about it, the baby says that if he has a problem with his crying he should just say so, instead of being passive-aggressive about it. He politely asks if he'll stop crying, and the baby refuses because he's uncomfortable.
- The Flintstones TV movie Hollyrock-a-Bye Baby has a scene where Fred gets annoyed by a crying baby on the plane to Hollyrock, then having to take care of it when its mother goes to refill its bottle.