Posted by: emjb | July 22, 2007

Kids + flying = show some compassion, jerkwads

Here are the key things you need to deal with a child’s meltdown:

1. The ability to remove the child from the environment they are melting down in;
2. The ability to provide the child with alternate/lesser/more comforting forms of stimulation.

How many of these do you think are available on your average overbooked, tarmac-parked, delayed, overheated, loud, uncomfortable airplane?

If you answered “none” then dingdingding! You win!

And you know, even before I had a toddler, I knew this! Because, being a person with a brain, I didn’t actually believe that 3-year-olds plotted how to torment adults with piercing screams. Having met some 3-year-olds, you see, and understanding that they have the attention span of a hummingbird. They are not capable of nefarious plots, other than trying to steal their brother’s cookie, which is strictly a crime of opportunity anyway.

What they are also not capable of is the kind of superhuman patience, endurance, and self-distraction it takes to get through an average hellish airplane flight without a lot of help from adults around them. Heck, I’m barely capable of it. It wouldn’t take much more to make me run screaming down the aisles, on many flights.

So when I read about people bitching about children misbehaving on flights, I wonder if they know any children, or have ever been one, shuttled around an airport with no chance to play and nothing to do. Personally, I find adults who have loud cellphone conversations, or take up all the elbow room with their laptops, or don’t shower, or leer at stewardesses, to be more odious than a bored child babbling at his mom or crying because his ears hurt. Because hey, my ears hurt too. Airplanes suck.

Which begs the question of why anyone flies with a child. And I have to assume the answer is “because it’s the only way they can get where they’re going in the time allotted.” Most Americans get maybe 2 weeks of vacation a year; if you’re going to take some time to see Grandma A at Christmas and some time with Grandma B in the summer, that means you can’t spend 3 days of each precious week driving to Tucson or Pennsylvania. If you want more parents to drive instead of fly with their children, agitate for more vacation time for American workers.

And anyway, as you’re shooting the stink eye at Mom and Dad while their child is flailing his arms and telling a loud story about dinosaurs, or stealing his brother’s cookie, you might remember that they do not want to be there. They not only have to endure the shrieking and misbehaving, they’re being judged and held responsible for dealing with it by an entire planeful of people. They’re the ones who have to convince the 2-year-old to take off his shoes and give up his sippy cup for the security guard, who have to pack a week’s worth of food and amusement into 3-ounce increments in carry on bags, who are, quite frankly, in hell. So really, they’re being punished much worse than you are…after all, when you get off the flight, the torture ends. They still have to get all the luggage and the kids to their destination.

So instead of bitching, you might, occasionally, show some compassion. Pick up a lost crayon, give a mom your unwanted bag of pretzels for Junior, talk to the 6 year old about Barbie while her mom’s in the can. Tell the apologetic dad with the unhappy baby about the time your kid cried for 3 days straight with an earache and drove you insane. Practice remembering that all human beings start out as annoying, screeching little heathens, yourself included, but most of them improve in time, so long as the adults around them make an effort to help. And then be one of those adults, if you have the chance.



  1. WORD. I remember once flying out of Albuquerque, which in itself is a sweet kind of Hell, and my toddler at the time was pitching a royal fit. I did my best to ignore her, rather than fuel the toddler fire, while some old fart was staring me down with his best bitchface. I stared right back at him and when he chose not to avert my return I asked, “What? You were never a cranky toddler?” Then he looked away and everyone else cracked up 🙂

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