Screaming and shouting. Calling names. Hitting and kicking. Shrieking at ear splitting levels. No, this isn’t a wrestling match or a fight in the local schoolyard. All too often, it’s what airline passengers get to experience, not from fellow adult passengers, but when unruly children board planes.
When your dinner in a nice restaurant or your night out at a movie you’ve been dying to see gets interrupted by poorly behaved kids, at least you can choose to walk out if the parents do not. But when children decide to throw a hellish tantrum aboard a flight, you know you’re locked into a tiny cabin, your only option to hope that the child exhausts quickly.
Anyone who has been through a very long and bad flight with one or more problem children may cheer a much-publicized decision by small airline, AirTran, to remove a family from one of its planes in January (2007) when a toddler could not be convinced to take her seat and calm herself. Said an AirTran spokeswoman, “The flight was already delayed 15 minutes and in fairness to the other 112 passengers on the plane, the crew made an operational decision to remove the family.”
Reports of the incident indicated that the child refused to be belted into her seat – required by the Federal Aeronautic Administration for anyone, aged two or over. The child was also allegedly observed striking her parents, climbing under her seat, crying very loudly, and refusing to listen to her parents’ commands.
The family removed from the Florida-to-Boston flight is very unhappy with the airlines decision. They said they should have been given more time beyond the quarter hour to calm their child or been allowed to hold her during takeoff, despite the FAA rule.
However, many others applaud what seems like an all-too-rare ruling. When I discussed the issue on one of the blogs I run, I found myself deluged with email, mostly from those who support an airline “finally” – as many wrote – making a stand that some childish behavior is unacceptable when it inconveniences the rest of the passengers on a flight.
One person who wrote me, who identified herself as the mother of four and a childhood behavior specialist, noted that she believes airlines have been “too understanding” of situations like this.
“Two decades ago, many parents would have been comfortable either spanking a badly behaved. Clearly, striking a child is not a good choice. But too many parents now are so worried that they will be seen as abusive that they don’t set and keep limits for their children. The result frequently is kids that simply can’t and won’t be controlled in public. I think it’s incumbent upon airlines, when they see kids who cannot follow simple rules and where the parents seem to have no control or influence, to remove these families from the flights.”
“It happened to me once,” wrote another mother. “When my son was nine, he was a royal terror. As we boarded a flight in Seattle, he hit two other children and kicked the attendant when she offered him a hand-held game. I didn’t like it, but I understood when I was asked to leave the flight with my son until he could calm down. This family should appreciate that strangers shouldn’t have to tolerate this behavior and delays.”
Of course, not everyone agrees. Two sent e-mail saying they were sending letters to the airline to voice their complaints and threaten not to fly with them if AirTran makes this regular policy.
Another wrote, “Some people just don’t like kids and will use any excuse to make trouble for parents who can’t get a crying child to stop instantly. Why not make those who complain about the kids get off the plane?”
As someone myself who likes and enjoys kids, and understands that even the best child may have a few bad moments – as well as that it doesn’t make a person a bad parent if his or her child has an occasional tantrum, I have to say that I think the airline may have made the absolute right decision. After all, once the plane is airborne, all choices are lost and everyone is stuck.
Most of us have suffered through flights where the little darling that started to pitch a fit before everyone boarded is still shrieking, shouting, throwing things, and making the flight miserable one, three, or six hours later. Sometimes, the flight crew bends over backwards trying to placate the child – or children – as well as the rest of the passengers, while other times, the attendants can make other passengers feel terrible for complaining.
On one flight, a family with several children boarded with all of them fighting to the point where others were pushed, hit, and shouted at and where it became impossible for anyone to try to move about on the plane because the children took over the aisles. One poor elderly woman who walked slowly with a cane had her cane wrested away by a pre-teen old enough to know better when all she wanted to do was reach the rest room. On that flight, the attendants seemed to try their hardest not to notice the difficulty, even when the kids disrupted meal service so badly that many passengers were never served at all.
On another trip, I had a dilly of a time on both legs of a journey from Hartford to California. On the first jump, a son and father spent an hour arguing in the seat in front of me until the boy, perhaps eight years old, grabbed his dad’s tomato juice glass and tossed it over the seat, where I and another passenger got doused. Behind us, a little girl spent the three hour flight kicking hard the back of the seats while singing the same tune over and over.
The situation worsened over the second leg, where a group of kids moved about grabbing items from other passengers. After one boy had made repeated attempts to take my laptop, he finally got a cord and yanked the new and expensive computer onto the floor. This was after I had politely asked both the parents and an attendant to have the child stop and was told, “Kids will be kids.”
Not only did I have a disabled laptop and no apology, the flight attendant told me it was “my problem” when I asked her how I would submit a claim for the damage. Then she suggested it was my fault for bringing aboard any carry-ons when I “knew” there might be kids. Two passengers who overheard this protested far more loudly than I did.
While I don’t think there is anything wrong with, given the parents’ agreement, other passengers helping to engage bored and restless kids, I don’t think it’s quite fair for strangers to be expected to tolerate extremely bad behavior from kids anymore than from other adults. If that means identifying possible problems with children who won’t listen to their parents even enough to get the flight underway, then removing such a family may be the way to go.
No public airline is ever likely to discourage parents with children from flying. This would mean even greater economic disaster for them than most already face. But any airline that gladly inconveniences most adult passengers on a flight to satisfy a parent with one or more children that cannot be controlled is also at risk of losing business.