Why We Need To Stop Being So Critical Of Parents And Kids On Airplanes

by Susana Kuehne
Originally Published: 
A girl sleeping next to a woman on the plane.
Michael Edwards / Getty

I was once on a commercial flight where I asked the flight attendant to help me store my carry on into the overhead compartments and she declined, stating that it was not her job to assist with baggage. I was 4 weeks postpartum and worried about my C-section incision, but that didn’t matter to her. Instead, a nice stranger lifted the bag for me.

Why is it that parents and children get treated like they don’t deserve to be on planes each time they board one?

First off, it should be noted that I think it’s ridiculous certain people treat kids like they’re animals with some contagious disease anytime they go out in public. In case you’ve forgotten, you were once a kid as well. And children are small humans, but humans nonetheless. They may not have the right to vote or drive or drink, but they have the right to exist and breathe the same air as you.

In restaurants, I can somewhat understand that the atmosphere should be a little more pleasant if you’re paying $50 for a steak and a baby is probably only drinking their bottle of milk. Parents might already be aware of the aura of the space and be wise enough to not bring a child to a fancy place that will likely bore them.

Airplanes, on the other hand, are a public form of transportation. They are used to take trips. Anyone who thinks children should not be allowed on planes must also believe that you should not be allowed to travel in the air (or on a bus or train) or go to any other public place such as a park or museum until you are an adult. And I’ll refrain from commenting on how I feel about that.

Instead, curious about how much of the airline business is funded by flights that parents buy for their kids, I researched the percentage of airline passengers that were kids last year. I could not find a number. What I did find though were articles about airlines that are trying to make it so that you can pay to be separated from families on airplanes. How nice it must be that this option is even being considered for people that have either zero patience for noise or that think so highly of themselves that they believe they deserve the privilege to sit apart from what they view as a source of nuisance.

What I’d like to know is why aren’t airlines responding in the opposite way to kids? These days every child over the age of 2 must pay for his or her own flight so that means they have just as much right to comfort as the adults who glare at them every time they behave less than perfect. We have a variety of alcoholics beverages and steak meals offered on the menu, but where’s the mac-and-cheese or milk? And if airlines care so much about how their non-kid-friendly guests feel about having to endure a painful two or three hours on a flight with a child that’s crying or screaming or messy, whilst mother of said child scrambles to do all she can to control the situation, where’s the option for people who don’t mind kids but perhaps mind alcoholics or perverts or smelly people?

When Randi Zuckerberg complained that the drunk man next to her was making inappropriate comments, the flight attendants told her she could sit in the back of the plane. When my friend complained that the man sitting next to her was molesting her, the airline told her there was nothing to be done and that there was only an hour left on the flight–as if being molested for an hour versus two makes it okay.

An Airplane Etiquette study was conducted by Expedia in 2017 and in it, 59% of passengers reported that they are annoyed by “inattentive parenting” on planes–situations in which parents either don’t seem to care about or cannot handle a crying or misbehaved child. Yet, 55% of people also said they were bothered by aromatic passengers (poor hygiene or excessive cologne or perfume) and 49% were aggravated by either drunk passengers or those who talk too loudly or listen to music loudly.

I can only speak for myself but it seems outrageous that there are adults out there who think they are better than the kids on these flights. Maybe those kids aren’t mature enough to say “excuse me” or to not cry when they are hungry or uncomfortable but…they’re kids. Adults should be mature enough to understand that children aren’t on their level and shouldn’t be expected to behave as if they are 25 or 40. Kicking and screaming about the fact that kids aren’t banned from being in public spaced sounds like a misbehaved adult to me.

Furthermore, if a program does get instated that allows you to use your money to avoid kids, which are a part of life, I would very much like to know how seating on planes will be determined. I can assure you they’re not going to have children in the front part of the plane with first class, so isn’t this discrimination based on age now if we sit all the families at the back of planes so that Mr. CEO or Mrs. Beverly Hills can drink their wine with only the sound of their annoying laughter surrounding them?

In general, airlines can do better and shouldn’t be promoting the attitude that kids are second class citizens just because they don’t behave perfectly or please all passengers. Kids will be kids, and sometimes even with proper discipline or good parenting, they cannot be controlled, so the judging passengers on planes should consider how their parents raised them before pointing their fingers at the “inattentive” parent struggling to feed her baby while her toddler demands that she find his headphones.

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