For those of you who don’t read the New York Times on a regular basis, allow me to inform you that there’s a lot of hating going on about kids traveling on airplanes. This article opens with the salvo:
HORRIBLE. Annoying. Distasteful. Miserable. These are a few of the words used by readers to describe traveling with children — whether their own or someone else’s — on planes in response to my Nov. 6 article, ‘Are We There Yet? When Families Fly.’
You know those looks you think you’re getting from everyone on the plane as you board with your kids – you know, the ones where you feel like everyone on the plane wants to murder you with their plastic forks? You’re not paranoid: apparently, you’re right. Out of all the responses to the first article sent to the paper, “most wrote in to complain about how miserable it has become to fly with children on domestic airlines.”
I don’t doubt that people can hate other people’s children. I have been guilty of this myself. But I do think the sample pool here is somewhat skewed.
Imagine, if you will, the following scenario. Over a steaming cup of café latte, a couple reads the Sunday New York Times. NPR plays on the radio in the background, and the tranquility is interrupted only by the timer beep which signifies that the couple’s mozzarella and zucchini frittata is done. One member of the couple says, while reading the New York Times travel section, “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with travel…children on planes. By God, I’m going to write a letter to the editor.”
Here’s a little secret: this breakfast scenario is something bordering on a sexual fantasy for the parents of little kids. Parents of toddlers do not read the Sunday New York Times. They do not make café latte or frittatas. NPR is not happening. These sad souls, instead, are on their hands and knees in puddles of juice that emerged from insufficiently-sealed sippy cups. They are cleaning Cheerios out of cracks in the kitchen floor. And I can assure you that they would rather brush their hair or go to the bathroom than write an eloquent letter to the editor defending the rights of children and families.
Hey, I don’t have time to do it either. But if I did, here would be a few talking points.
1. The New York Times article states, “Of the 2,000 travelers polled, 59 percent supported creating special sections on planes for families. Nearly 20 percent said they would like airlines to offer child-free flights.”
Well, I for one object to the idea of being closed off into fewer flight times, or fewer seats, because some jerk doesn’t like kids. Would it be at all socially acceptable to say, “You know something, I really don’t like fat people. They take up too much room. So I’d like airlines to offer fat-free (ha) flights”? Probably not. And I’d be willing to bet that you couldn’t get away with saying that about an ethnic or religious group that offends your bigoted sensibilities, either. So why is it okay to say it about families, or children? Isn’t it especially odd considering the fact that every single person was once, himself or herself, a child?
2. Air travel has become increasingly awful for everyone. There are fees for absolutely everything except for toilet paper (as of this writing, and I’m not so sure that won’t change). I recently tried to buy a ticket advertised as $300 roundtrip. Imagine my surprise when I booked two tickets and found that $300 and $300 added up to over $2,000. That was because there was a “fuel surcharge” of $600 plus per ticket. As my husband correctly pointed out, “fuel” is not an “additional expense.” If it is, they should be using unleaded, not supreme. So from the get-go, the airline – by blatantly lying about my costs in traveling – treated me with a fundamental lack of respect.
For the exorbitant price of air travel these days, airlines can and should make an effort to make our experiences as travelers – no matter how old we are - better. There are many international carriers that make much more of an effort, for example, with virtually everything from child entertainment to food. When possible, we should give these carriers our business and loudly sing their praises. And, conversely, if there’s a movement afoot to get the airline industry to feel less like cattle cars and more human, please contact me, because I would love to get on board.
“The main culprit” of people’s angst, though, according to the Times, is the parents who fail to manage their children while flying.”
Yes, I will admit that there are spawns of Satan-esque children who behave terribly. I also hate crappy parents who play with their Blackberries rather than their kids.
But while we’re at it, let’s do a reality check. I also hate the fact that babies cry – but they do on planes, especially at take off and landing when they don’t understand why their ears hurt, and that can’t be “managed.” I hate that there are kids who have developmental disorders, or are on the autism spectrum, or are sick, who are not easily “managed” and whose issues are in no way a comment on their parents’ love or abilities, but still have every right to travel.
While we’re at it, I hate people who feel entitled. And that’s what the complainers sound like, to me. Well, turn down the NPR and listen up, you frittata eaters. Not every kid is a “bad kid.” Not every family is put on a plane to make the lives of other travelers miserable. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that parents want their kids to behave well.
But the guy who is talking overly loudly to his seatmates about the strippers in Vegas is obnoxious – can I put him in the loud section of the plane? Or say, “Hey, buddy – you’re an obnoxious misogynist, so you shouldn’t be allowed to fly”? No, I can’t. I have to either talk to him directly about his behavior or suck it up, because that is how adults function in society.
Until there are serious changes to modern air travel, the only palatable answer to making kids on a plane a more pleasant experience is to act like an adult – not to behave like a petulant toddler yourself.