Kids in flight

Today I followed a link at 11d to an NY Times blog column: a humourous account of the unpleasant conditions suffered by plane travelers. Am I the only one who’s curiously disappointed that blogs associated with newspapers aren’t any better than blogs in general? The London Times blogs, for instance, are pretty lame. Shouldn’t journalists have higher standards than the blogosphere at large? But that’s not the point, since this column was, in fact, fairly funny. The point is that the comments on the column were full of people complaining about children.

I totally sympathize with anyone who complains about a child who repeatedly kicks the back of her seat. This is unacceptable behaviour, and a parent who doesn’t put an end to it is a bad parent: all stops should be pulled out at the first sign of seat-kicking. But then there are people complaining about babies crying, or children throwing up. Excuse me? Do they think children cry and puke for their own pleasure? Do they think we took them along on the trip for a lark? “I guess I’ll take the baby to Paris this weekend! She won’t be any trouble!”  Do they not understand that the parents of these children are cringing with shame, doing their absolute best, and cursing the journey’s necessity?

There’s also a complaint about children who stand up on their seats and get friendly with the people in the seats behind. What’s that about? I know people like to be left alone, but can’t they see that, while this kind of behaviour invades their physical space, it may be keeping their aural space free from the sounds of weeping and whining?

I do understand that one’s heart might sink when a child climbs into the next row. I remember a woman who eyed my daughter and mouthed an audible “oh no” to her companion when we boarded a flight a couple of months ago. She had the grace to apologize afterwards: “your daughter was great,” she said. But maybe this is not enough. My daughter hasn’t always been great on planes. The heart may sink, but an adult can suck it up, tough it out, and be kind.

These small creatures are our fellow human beings. They can’t be swept away because they’re messier and noisier. And there’s more to it than that. The complainer says: “I paid for my space and it’s all mine.” The mentality is ubiquitous. But it doesn’t work. In a confined space, children become everyone’s responsibility. And the world is a confined space.

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12 thoughts on “Kids in flight

  1. Indeed, newspaper blogs are at best average. And google news links to the them. Open the links up expecting news and you get stuff that isn’t even decent op/ed.

  2. I’ve been on five flights in the last three weeks and each time we saw atrocious parenting. I mean, I love kids and I’ll pitch in to help a suffering parent on the way – not just to keep the peace but because kids are neat – but at least twice I saw parents using the flight to catch up on their reading and rest and not even supply their kids with games or books or crayons. Or they seat themselves together and leave the kids to fend on their own where they bug the people around them.

    And then what are you supposed to do? Tell the parents off in front of their kids? I’d never do that.

    Anyway, I’m not worried about the kids, I’m worried about the parents. I think that airlines should publish guidelines to parenting at 30,000 feet. And then I think that airlines should come equipped with supplies to keep kids amused, inasmuch as is possible on long flights.

  3. My God. I don’t even know what to say. So, if this kind of behaviour is common, no wonder people complain about more reasonable (or inevitable) behaviour, like crying, puking, and making friendly with neighbours. Maybe they see it all as one package.

    I also wouldn’t tell these people off. I never tell strangers off, on the theory that it doesn’t do any good. But maybe there is a way it would work. Poor kids.

  4. My favorite personal kid-on-a-flight story: I was on a completely packed flight from Cape Town to New York (17 hours) and was asked to switch seats with someone so that he/she (can’t remember) could sit with his/her friends. I agreed to switch, and ended up in what I thought was the only seat that had an unoccupied seat next to it. Sweet, I thought, elbow room. Then, as the plane’s doors were closing, a woman came down the aisle with 5 children in tow, all of whom were seated on different parts of the plane, including the seat next to me. I ended up spending the next 17 hours getting elbowed about once every ten minutes and listening to this kid laugh hysterically at the in-flight movie coming through the back of the seat in front of him. Now granted, this kid was like 10, and was not actually a bad kid, but it sucked, and I didn’t think that the mom (or whoever–she might have been some kind of chaperone) should have had the kids seated all over the place like that.

    Of course, that may have been a karmic reversal for the circumstances of the flight to Cape Town four months earlier. In addition to being half full (elbow AND leg room!), I sat amongst the members of the band Tree63, a Christian rock band from Durban, ZA, and their wives, childrens, and associated roadies/crew/managers et al. And the children were as well behaved and charming and well-behaved as any group of 3 or more of the under-4 set (including a 5-week-old who was cute as hell and made nary a sound) should ever be expected to be.

    Other than that, I’ve never had an especially big problem with children (esp. young children) on planes. I mostly sympathize for the parents, especially parents of infant twins, a demo that seems to be present on at least 2/3 of the flights I take.

  5. I’ve had lots of good experiences on planes, both with other people’s kids being well-behaved and with people being kind and helpful when mine wasn’t. I’m not actually in despair about the way people deal with kids. Most people are great.

    This business of spreading one’s kids out in different seats is mysterious to me. It’s definitely not right.

    Your comment makes me wonder, not for the first time, whether religious folks (and specifically Christians) have special child-rearing skills. I’m glad not be a Christian for a million reasons, but some of them seem awfully good at inculcating decency and respect.

  6. I agree, but I’m having trouble drawing a distinction between kicking seats and making friends over the seatback. Both are activities that amuse and, one hopes, prevent meltdowns. Both can be annoying but aren’t necessarily so — there are times when I’d prefer kicks over conversation.

    I noted a relevant behavior on my many flights this holiday (all on an open-boarding airline): People intentionally picking seats next to cheerful-looking children. You can recognize them because there are other open seats and they say “Well, hello there, young fellow!” as they sit down. They are uniformly greeted with a look of relief (verging on love) from the accompanying parent.

    My favorite kid-on-plane story is the time I got projectile poop sprayed on me somehow from the baby across the aisle from me. It was one of Those blowouts, and the mom, not the kid, had a total meltdown, bursting into tears and generally losing her, um, shit. Mom sobbed while flight attendant cleaned and I held the baby.

  7. You are a saint. An absolute friggin saint. Who else, when projectile pooped on, would hold the baby for changing rather than gag and run for the bathroom?

    So I am going to take you seriously on the getting-friendly-with-the-people-behind thing. I like to be left alone too. I hate my fellow man as much as anybody. But I do think we should all, including me, be more hello-there-young-fellow in all our daily dealings.

    My favourite Eila-plane story is of her first flight, aged 6 months. We were delayed 8 hours in the Buffalo airport, every minute of which she spent crying, and when we finally boarded she immediately had a huge poop and fell sound asleep. I didn’t know whether to change her (which would wake her) or preserve the silence and put up with the smell. I decided to change her (obviously) but I didn’t know at that time that plane bathrooms have changing tables, so I did it on the seat, and it stank, and the person next to me was pretty nice about it but obviously completely disgusted. And all of us on the plane were already at the end of our ropes because of the delay, and it was the middle of the night and the snow was blowing all around the plane and tension was high. And, having been woken up, Eila cried loudly for the rest of the flight, which mercifully was only an hour long.

    On the second flight we were diverted into first class. The flight attendant brought me Cheerios and warm milk from a secret stash, and Eila stretched out in a big seat and slept through the whole thing. Expensive tastes from an early age.

  8. Not a saint, really. I ran for the can after it was all over, be assured. It would take a heart of stone to be pissy when mom was so clearly having a nuclear meltdown; in fact, she was the one who really needed holding, but the baby was more manageable.

    I am serious about the getting-friendly thing. Why does seat-kicking not count? Is that not getting-friendly in a different mode?

    For the record, I am always friendly to kids, although I try not to sit next to them. Much friendlier to children than to chatty adults, whom I have no use for on a plane.

  9. Anyone in his right mind would ask for your number esque!

    Meg I don’t know how to respond. I see seat kicking as hostile, and as the work of the spoiled and sullen son of an irresponsible idiot. I hate hate hate having my seat kicked, and often when it starts it goes on for the whole flight. I might at times find the friendly over seat thing annoying too, but it’s at least never as long lived. At least when I used to let Eila do it, from time to time, I always checked immediately to see how it was received. If the people were taking it well, their funeral. If they clearly wanted to read, I stopped her. But seat kicking friendly? I don’t get it.

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