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Should Airlines Ban Children On Their Flights?

Children seem to be convenient targets for airline travelers today, but should they be banned? Our Parent Chat columnist recently flew with her kids for the first time, and has a few things to say about that.

I probably don’t have to tell you that the “friendly skies” don’t feel all that friendly these days.

But parents, am I right when I say that when you are flying with small children, it can feel downright torturous?

Of course, that’s also what other passengers seem to feel when your kids show up for their flight.

If you really want to receive the “stink-eye” from your fellow travelers, arrive at the gate with two children under 5. 

It took me a long time to tackle this particular parental milestone, in part because having read many an article and blog about traveling with children, the comments from travelers who are not fans of kids on their flights (to put it mildly) have made it perfectly clear: "We don’t want your (insert your kid insult of choice) on our plane."

Airlines have been getting pressure from travelers to outright ban children from flights, and it appears that some airlines are beginning to listen, to a degree.

Malaysia Airlines recently instituted a policy to ban children 12 and under from a section of their planes in order to allow business class travelers to enjoy a kid-free flying experience.

These days it seems people prefer precocious children to be contained in YouTube videos; ones they can conveniently turn off when the flight crew gently reminds you to turn off your electronic devices. Bring them on an actual plane, and those cute kids are now the spawn of your selfish loins who simply will not do in their recirculated airspace.

Lines, lines, waiting, waiting, and more waiting, and insane (and at times invasive) security requirements, can bring most adults to the brink of their patience, and frankly I cut a small child some big-time slack under these conditions.

And what really appalls me is the suggestion that I should drug my child to preserve others' flying experience. Me, that’s another story; that sounds rather appealing.

And, hey, why just stop there? Maybe require that children ride in a cage underneath the plane.

What’s sad is that there is a probably someone reading this right now who is saying to themselves, “Yeah, that sounds pretty good.”

C’mon people, give the littles  -- and their parents who are just trying to get everyone from point A to point wherever all in one piece without being run off the plane by an angry mob -- a break!

But I have to say, all things considered, I don’t think I would mind kid sections on planes. Maybe it would alleviate the stress of trying to make your children not act like children.

Let’s have at it. Let’s have a big old happy playgroup back there. But I have a few demands of my own:

  1. Better snacks are essential, and on the double please. A yummy food equals happy kids.
  2. If you get grossed out by my changing my baby’s stinky diaper in your general vicinity, how about a lavatory that actually makes it possible to change your kid? I cannot control the poop anymore than some passengers can seem to control their bodily functions in flight.
  3. We’ve got stuff. Get over it, and give us some space to store it.
  4. Depending on the length of the flight, please allow kids to get up occasionally. They’ve got wiggles, and it goes far easier if they can get them out just a little.
  5. And while we’re on the subject, if you are going to make everyone get to the airport so insanely early and wait, and wait, how about making kid- friendly play spaces available where kids can run out some of those wiggles before they get on the airplane?

Yes, I know, there are parents out there who leave something to be desired in attentiveness and consideration for others.

But honestly, most parents I know are planning nothing short of a full scale strategic battle plan—complete with carefully timed activities, plan B distractions, selected gifts (bribes) and more—all in order not to disrupt the other passengers.

We’re also kind of on the same side.

Airline travel these days straight up stinks — for everyone. Get mad at the right people (FAA, Airlines, etc.) and don't take it out on little kids and their stressed-out parents.

How did my little guys do on their first flights? Perfectly. Their mother, however, hopes to not have to fly for a while. It was exhausting, and as expected, uncomfortable.

Would it have killed the man next to me to give a mother scrunched up against a car seat on one side a stinking armrest? Apparently so.

I also noticed he was reading a book about Buddhism.

Need I say it? Karma, buddy, karma.

Rick April 13, 2012 at 04:55 PM
Those passengers keep chatting the whole way is more annoying than our precious ones.
San April 13, 2012 at 07:34 PM
As a parent & a newbie grandparent, I think more than a little slack should be given to parents traveling with their children. I remember my first flight with my then 18 month old daughter. It was a short hop from here to SoCal to visit with her grandmother. Went straight from church in a silk dress to the airport and after having her stand 1/4 of that short hop on my lap so she could see and smile at our fellow passengers, I disembarked that plane looking like a mess. It was worth it to see the look on my Mom's face as her granddaughter ran straight into her arms. A lot has changed in 25 years and unfortunately people appear to be less patient, less understanding, less courteous, less kind and the list goes on. I fully support having a separate section for families flying with children. I respect that those traveling in business class sometimes pay more to fly and relish some quiet time before the next big presentation or critical meeting. I've been there too. I do think it's important for parents to teach little ones to be mannerable so that they're not constantly kicking the back of another passenger's seat for most of the flight. However, I recognize that our children have the right to travel and their presence in the skies should be treated with kindness. Once upon a time, we were all children.
Sharon Svitak April 13, 2012 at 09:51 PM
I can't believe that it would be legal to deny childrent the right to fly. I agree that a family section would be more pleasant not only for other passengers but for the families as well. If parents are well prepared with entertainment and snacks for the kids then children are rarely a problem. I have flown thousands of miles on aircraft with small children without incident. The one occasion I did have reason to complain was because the parents exercised no control whatsoever over their son who was allowed to run up and down the aisles putting at risk flight attendents and other passengers. I was told by a companion that the ethnic culture of these people viewed male children as little princes who could do no wrong. Perhaps the little prince was doing no wrong, but the parents certainly were. So instead of denying children the right to fly, let's deny inattentive parents the right to fly.
Kirsten Branch April 13, 2012 at 10:39 PM
Thanks, San for adding your perspective. Gosh the kicking thing was hard, because my 4 yo was so excited to be on a plane and those seats are so close, especially when they are in a car seat! To Rick's point, the one guy in front of us made more of an issue of the ONE time my son got an errant foot off that I missed, than the woman who sat next to him and hardly took a breathe to pause her chat with him the entire flight. As I said, I think family sections would be just fine with me as well. I understand frequent travelers gripes. But, I think those gripes are worse because airline travel has become SUCH a hassle all around.
Rosemary April 13, 2012 at 11:42 PM
I have an 8 year old who has always been well-behaved on airplanes. Usually, he'd fall asleep right after take-off. I suspect the recycled air (as gross as it is) and the hum of the engines lull him into drowsiness. I have a 6 year old who can now fly without a problem but from the age of 3 to 5, he was a nightmare. He'd do fine for the first two hours but anything longer than that was a problem. No amount of food, beverage, games, books, toys, or anything else would make him happy. I suspect he just couldn't deal with the confined space and being unable to get truly comfortable. After two horrendous flights in which I thought passengers and flight attendants might throw us out at 30,000 feet (and truthfully - I also considered leaping out because death seemed like a better option), I searched and searched for a pediatrician willing to prescribe something. We tried Benadryl. No effect. We finally went to a prescription medication. Of course, then, some people were very judgmental because they realized that he'd been medicated. So, I'm criticized if he misbehaves and I'm criticized if I give him medication to help him sleep so that he's not a disruption during the flight. Sometimes, I think people are just looking for a reason to attack parents.

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