If you haven’t seen this video yet, you should. This is six-year-old Anna Drexel getting a pat-down in New Orleans earlier this month. The TSA is taking a lot of heat for the rather thorough screening of this young lady.
Alright, maybe TSA Administrator John Pistole’s reaction was a little inappropriate, calling the screener to basically congratulate her on a job well done.
And maybe the TSA’s overall response was somewhat predictable: Defend something that, for many parents, is indefensible, and then admit that it’s wrong — although not in so many words.
What could be worse that screaming babies on a plane? Screaming babies in a movie theater, according to a new survey by Baby Orajel teething pain medicine.
Asked in which of the following situations would you least like to encounter a crying baby, a majority — 56 percent — answered “movie theater.” About a quarter (22 percent) said on a plane, with the balance going to a religious function (12 percent) and restaurant (10 percent).
The most embarrassing moment of my life? That’s easy.
Our son, Aren, had just turned one and we were flying from New York to London on an airline whose name I’ve promised never to mention.
We’d managed to score an upgrade — seats 1A and 1B — and to ensure Aren had a pleasant trip, we offered him a nip of Benadryl. Most kids fall asleep when they’re given an antihistamine.
The medication had the exact opposite effect: Aren turned hyper, tearing down the aisle of the first class cabin, shrieking and bumping other passengers. He woke up the person sitting next to us and drooled on the passenger behind us.
All of which bring me to this week’s topic: Kids in first class. Should we or shouldn’t we? And if so, when?
Allow me to state my completely unbiased opinion right up front. No. We should not. At least not mine. I downgraded myself on the flight home, that’s how badly I felt for the other London-bound passengers that day.
What was I thinking, trying to bring a toddler into first class?
I’m not alone.
· An overwhelming majority of air travelers to a recent survey by Skytrax — 9 in 10 respondents — said families with children should be seated in a separate section on flights, presumably not in first class.
· Another poll by corporate travel agency Carlson Wagonlit found that business travelers, who are most frequently found in the business- and first-class cabins, believe crying babies are the second-most annoying aspect of air travel. The first? Air travelers who carry too much luggage on board.
· Several years ago, a United Airlines flight attendant just came out and said it: no children in first class. A passenger disagreed, sued the airline — and lost.
Last week in this column, we argued about whether kids belong on planes, and resolved that although many of us would like to keep the little ones from flying, it’s just not practical. This week, as promised, we’re having a more nuanced and civil discussion about children in the good seats.
Well, sort of. I asked some of my readers for their opinions of kids in first and got an earful.
“No, no, no, no, no,” says Mona Palmer, an administrative assistant from Friendswood, Tex. “First class tickets are too expensive to have the investment destroyed by an unruly kid whose parents think they’ve paid for the privilege of ignoring their kids’ rotten behavior.”
The other side of this argument is equally vehement.
“Give me a break,” says Jennifer Thomas, who describes herself as the owner of a public relations firm and mom. “These questions about kids and flying are frankly disrespectful. Let’s see, kids in first class or terrorists allowed to fly on planes? Or how about just plain rude adults who take to the friendly skies? I would take a child any day over previously mentioned. Why not ask questions about those two audiences?”
Kids! Kids! Can’t we just get along?
Instead of spending the rest of this story fighting (as entertaining as that might be to some of you, dear readers) let’s instead focus on three solutions to this problem.
No children in first class
One of the most persuasive arguments for limiting first class to adults is that the premium cabin is essentially an adult product. Which is to say, it’s difficult for a youngster to appreciate a wine list or a gourmet meal. It’s just no place for kids. Plus, it’s pricey — even if you’re using miles to upgrade. Rosanne Skopp, a grandmother who says she “really loves kids,” puts it this way: “If I’m going to be sitting next to a screaming baby, at least let me feel good that I haven’t paid for a first class ticket, only to be tortured.” No airline that I’m aware of has banned children from first class or business class, but it wouldn’t be accurate to say any of them have opened their arms wide to their junior passengers, either. Like a five-star restaurant or a luxury resort, the first class cabin is not particularly welcoming to young fliers. Or, for that matter, their parents.
Age limit for premium seats
Here’s another suggestion: If we can’t ban minors, then let’s at least prevent the littlest passengers from sitting “up front.” Babies and toddlers are too disruptive to the other passengers, who are paying a premium for their seats. “No one under 12 should be in first class,” says Richard French, an anesthesiologist from Christchurch, New Zealand, who by way of full disclosure, is himself a father. “I pick that age because kids are essentially self-caring by that age and that is the age that airlines start charging an adult fare. It is really depressing when you have treated yourself to a very expensive fare, to have a three-year-old running up and down the aisle.” I can’t argue with that. During my research for this story, I heard whispers that several international airlines had informal age-limit policies for first-class passengers, but they were difficult to confirm.
Let the kids fly
The overwhelming number of travelers I spoke with said kids should be able to fly in first class if their parents could afford to pay the freight. But they were quick to add that they expected the children to behave. “Of course children should be allowed in business- or first class,” says Frank Nowicki, a retiree from Winter Haven, Fla. “As long as the parents have raised their children properly — as far as behavior goes — there should never be a problem on a flight.” Still, Nowicki admits that’s not always possible, and has seen “many occasions” when parents have allowed their offspring to run wild on a flight. “Don’t blame the children,” he says. “Blame the adults for their permissive ways and their lack of parenting skills.” But how do you mandate good parenting on a plane? A multiple-choice quiz? Social references? Even peer pressure —dirty looks and all — isn’t always enough to stop these indulgent parents from boarding a flight, or buying an upgrade for their brood.
I’m afraid this is one of those instances when new rules and regulations, even with the best of intentions, would not end the problem of disruptive kids in first class. This is ultimately a parent’s decision that the entire first-class cabin must live with.
But before buying a premium ticket, here are a few useful questions to answer: Can my child behave like a first-class passenger? If not, do I have the parenting skills to contain a meltdown? Is it really worth the hassle — not to mention the money?
I’ve already answered those questions. My son Aren, who today is a reasonably well-mannered first grader, now has two siblings: a four-year-old brother with a penchant for practical jokes and a slightly hyperactive two-year-old sister. Even if I could, I would never inflict them on another first class passenger. Ever.
But if you think your kids can do better, I have just four words for you: Welcome to first class!
Kids on a plane.
No four words incite more acrimonious debate among air travelers. Not “your flight is delayed.” Not “here’s a new fee.” Not even “snakes on a plane.”
On one side, you have childless customers who just want a little civility while they’re locked inside a pressurized aluminum tube. And on the other, parents who believe airlines should accommodate anyone, anytime — particularly their beloved offspring.
Talk about oil and water. Or maybe, nitroglycerin.
Children and planes can be a combustible mix. Consider:
Ask your irritating child to smile
Two hours into her recent JetBlue flight from New York to Las Vegas, Marilyn Parver watched as a loud child that had been annoying other passengers nonstop since takeoff finally made one of them snap. She videotaped the ensuing fight, and oddly, was threatened with arrest after refusing to delete the footage.
When Tamera Jo Freeman’s kids began to argue about a window shade on a Frontier Airlines flight and spilled a Bloody Mary into her lap, she spanked her offspring, which provoked a confrontation with a flight attendant. Freeman threw a can of tomato juice on the floor, and was arrested and convicted of a federal felony defined as an act of terrorism under the Patriot Act.
Bye bye, plane
Kate Penland’s toddler son wouldn’t stop repeating the words “bye, bye plane” as a Continental Express flight from Atlanta to Oklahoma City taxied down the runway. A flight attendant suggested that Penland administer baby Benadryl, a medication that’s often used to sedate overactive kids. When Penland refused, the flight turned around and both passengers were kicked off the plane.
Hey little girl, want some Xanax?
Who can forget the case of Daniel Reed Cunningham, the Northwest Airlines flight attendant charged with spiking a 19-month-old girl’s apple juice with Xanax, a prescription depressant?
Question is, what to do about the littlest air travelers?
A decade ago, the last time I wrote about this issue, my sympathies were with solo passengers who wanted to ban babies on board. But now I have three kids — ages 6, 4 and 2 —and I’m leaning to the parents’ side.
Here are five ways we might approach the kids-on-a-planes problem — and what you can do to become part of the solution:
1. Kids’-only sections
“I would gladly pay an extra $20 each way to avoid the noise and headaches,” says Randy Gillespie, a travel agent from Collingswood, N.J., adding that such an option should be built into the fare rather than offered an optional add-on. Kids’-only sections have been tried on an informal basis in the past, but never quite caught on. Families couldn’t be forced into one section of a plane any more than kids could be excluded from, say, first class. But you can still find your own “kid free” section on a plane. On domestic flights, children may not sit in exit rows, and they’re unlikely to make an appearance in business- and first-class sections, where seats are super-expensive.
2. Ban ’em
“I don’t know whether it would be practical to have child-free flights,” says Bill Armstrong, an information technology consultant from Calgary. “But certainly, I am on the list of people who would pay a little extra for that.” Armstrong recently endured a nine-hour flight with a child that “had developed a uniquely annoying scream” that didn’t stop and could be heard even while Armstrong wore headphones. But is getting rid of all children a viable solution? Probably not. That’s not to say crewmembers shouldn’t be more vigilant about looking for potentially disruptive kids during boarding and warning their parents that outbursts and other forms of unapproved behavior won’t be tolerated. If you suspect you’ll have a problem with an unruly child sitting next to you — and this is especially true if it’s your own child — then speak up before the cabin doors close. A crewmember might be able to move you to a different section. Or a different flight.
3. No, get rid of the adults!
In fairness, I can’t raise the issue of banning kids without handing the mic to angry parents who think annoying adults should be banned, too. So here it goes. “Are there really more disruptive kids on planes than obnoxious adults?” asks Hayley Schultz, who travels with her three kids, ages 5, 7, and 9, and notes that they sit in their seats, read books and watch TV without incident. Good point. If you want to see annoying adults, just take a red-eye flight from Las Vegas, where half the unlucky passengers are trying to drown their sorrows one mini-bottle of cheap whiskey at a time. Or board a wintertime flight from any New York airport to Palm Beach, Fla., a route known for its preponderance of irritating passengers. Schultz represented some of the more levelheaded comments I’ve received from parents who thought this whole debate shouldn’t be happening at all. Point taken — but not enough to end the discussion.
4. Encourage responsible parenting
Many in-flight altercations are a result of negligent parenting, to hear some passengers talk about it. Mauranna Sherman, an administrative assistant from Forest, Va., was recently kicked repeatedly by a five-year-old on a flight from Charlotte to Albany, N.Y. When she turned around, the boy’s mother just shrugged. “Mom had no bag of toys or books or techie stuff” to distract her son, she remembered. Airlines bear some responsibility in helping adults prepare for a flight with their offspring, and their Web sites could do a far better job of telling new parents what to expect on a flight. But ultimately, of course, it’s parents’ job to make sure they’ve packed enough food and entertainment for the flight. I’ve heard of childless passengers packing their own snacks, toys and games to deal with stressed-out kids they might encounter on a flight. That’s not a bad idea.
5. Pass new seatbelt laws
“I would like to see kids more secure during flight,” says Nancy Hatten, a flight attendant who lives in Farmington Minn. “Parents of children under two should be required to purchase a passenger seat for the child and then keep them buckled in a child car seat during flight.” That would require parents to buy a seat for their kids, which they currently don’t. But it would almost certainly make air travel safer and saner for everyone else. Toddlers strapped in a car seat usually come to terms with their circumstances quickly and know that a stroll down the aisle to visit the pilot is not possible. Airlines can make it easier for parents to buy an extra seat by offering a discount and providing parents with special seats or child-friendly seatbelts, the same way car rental companies do.
Even though I have three children, I still can’t quite bring myself to siding with many parents, who seem to feel as if their kids should be able to fly anywhere, anytime and behave in any way they want to. (They’re kids, after all!)
My offspring are capable of some of the most annoying behavior ever. After all, I’m their father. So when a flight attendant tells me my kids are out of line, I’m the first to agree. I wouldn’t dream of seating my children in business- or first class even if I could afford it. That’s a topic for another column, though.
But ban kids outright? I used to like the idea, at least in theory, but now see eye-to-eye with readers like Lisa Hirsch, a Los Angeles-based entertainment journalist.
“What are parents with small children supposed to do?” she asked me. “Never travel?”