That dad with the hyper disruptive brats two rows back? I’m that guy. In this essay-as-desperate-apology, I try to make amends and imagine an airline geared specifically for families…
Please excuse me. Really, I couldn’t be sorrier.
That knocking on the back of your seat? The chewing gum smeared on your tray table? The whining and screeching and crying - the incessant, high-decibel weeping? All my fault.
I am the airline passenger you dread most of all, more even than the religious fanatic or flatulent fat guy.
I am the passenger accompanying small children.
I’ll also take the blame for the soggy Sun Chip that landed on your cashmere sweater during beverage service and the intense little sourpuss two rows up who’s been staring at you since takeoff.
I feel your pain. I agree wholeheartedly that children and air travel don’t mix - they bring out the worst in both. With kids on board, leisurely, meditative trips become chaotic, emotional ordeals. Likewise, sweet and docile children become spastic hellions upon boarding a commercial airliner.
And it’s only getting worse. As rising fuel costs and increased competition prompt airlines to cut back on little “non-essential amenities” like legroom, food and courtesy, the kids are getting crankier.
We grown-ups may gripe and moan scrunched into a middle seat for six hours with nothing to sustain us but a Sandra Bullock movie and a bag of peanuts, but kids aren’t so easily pacified. They won’t stand for it. They act out.
And so they make everyone around them miserable. You, my fellow passengers arrive at your destination incredulous about Kids Today and the parents who let them run riot. Meanwhile we parents are exhausted and embarrassed.
Add beleaguered airline staff to the mix and nightmare scenarios ensue. Last summer on a Continental Express flight in Houston, flight attendants objected when a 19-month-old boy “started saying ‘Bye, bye plane’ over and over,” according to news reports. “You need to shut your baby up,” the flight attendant reportedly told the mother, before adding: “It’s called Benadryl.”
A big controversy followed, with critics raising a stink about the insensitive flight attendant who would dare suggest doping a child.
While the stewardess sounded tactless, I can’t say I entirely disagree with her sentiment. Let’s just say that my 2-year-old always seems badly congested just before takeoff.
Benadryl has in fact been one source of relief during an insane marathon of family travel this month, flying with three kids under the age of eight across the U.S. before taking a quick round-trip jaunt from L.A. to Denmark. At this very moment my eight-year-old son is tipping a cup of Coke dangerously close to a dozing grandmother while my two-year-old repeats the word “cookie!” again and again (and again) in hopes the next utterance will convince his mother to give him one.
And I find myself wondering, must this be so awful? After all, families represent a sizable portion of air passengers—we may be a nuisance, but we’re also a goldmine.
We shell out for family vacations, family automobiles, family restaurants - so where’s our kid-friendly airline?
Rumors have circulated for years about Disney Air or some other startup devoted specifically to families, but the closest we’ve come is Family Airlines, an upstart outfit based in Las Vegas that submitted an application to fly with the US government earlier this year.
They’re definitely on to something. Let solo travelers fly in plush recliners and Zen-like quiet - bunch us families together in mutual chaos, wherein the only people we can annoy are our own kind (i.e. those accustomed to frequent meltdowns and the more frequent spilling of beverages).
Ideally, the planes will be painted in garish SpongeBob yellow and vivid Princess pink (ancillary revenue: kid branding product placement!). On board, swashbuckling pirate pilots and plush costumed stewardesses offer passengers headsets, juice boxes and balloon animals.
It’s easy to imagine the rest: TV monitors and video games at every seat and bubble machines spurting forth at takeoff. Turbulence could be known as “wacky bumpy time,” complete with dramatic sound effects and zany music. Passengers could do the wave up and down the cabin and bounce beach balls between rows. Little ones would be free to take a spin on the zero-gravity ride or the center-aisle zip line.
And while we’re at it, let’s steal an idea from the old movie palaces and include a “crying room.” That way bawling infants and their weary parents could huddle together and save the rest of the passengers the racket.
Sure, much of this is probably impractical. When airplane bathrooms are no bigger than a broom closet, crying rooms or zip lines are probably out of the question. But on behalf of unruly family travelers everywhere and the innocent bystanders who can’t stand them, the airline industry should get creative and stop ignoring our pain.
Instead, capitalize on it. Forget the in-flight wi-fi—where’s our in-flight bouncy castle?