Thoughts on Action
"Contemplation often makes life miserable. We should act more, think less, and stop watching ourselves live." ~ Nicolas de Chamfort

Childfree Flights: Navigating the Unfriendly Skies?

There was a bit of a stir on the Maybe Lady Facebook page recently when I posted a link to an article from a Mom (Priyanka Kher) who was insulted by Malaysia Airline’s decision to offer premium-priced seats in a Childfree section of the plane. After fielding too many complaints over the years, and reviewing a survey that indicated one-third of passengers would pay extra to avoid seat-kicking and temper tantrums, they made a business decision to create Childfree sections on certain planes, and make other planes entirely Childfree.

Kher’s initial reaction was outrage, and most of the article went on to discuss how it’s actually parents who are the most distressed by having children on the plane, and they should be shown some compassion. She also felt that her rights were being infringed upon and that this was a sign of an increasingly intolerant social structure. When I posted this story on the Maybe Lady Facebook page, one reader went so far as to comment that this was the beginning of a slippery slope where we’d soon be calling for flights that were gay and Muslim-free or English-only.

Yowsa. That’s a lot of reaction for trying to create a quiet section of the plane – let’s break it down:

Feeling sorry for traveling parents.

I do feel terrible for parents who have to fly with kids. It seems like I can barely get myself through security without some kind of kerfuffle over whether lip gloss is a liquid, and I’m always panicked my toothpick arms won’t be able to lift my overstuffed carry-on into the overhead compartment. But this is entirely my own fault. It’s unlikely I need all nine pairs of shoes for a 3-day weekend, and could have checked a bag if I wasn’t such a cheap bastard, but well, there we are. And for parents who have the added mania of folding up strollers, packing enough distractions to get them through the flight, and worrying about a complete meltdown if the kid in front of them gets the last apple juice – well, that too is entirely their own doing. I feel for them – truly, I do – but that’s a choice they made long ago, having full prior knowledge of the consequences. Having compassion for them is not a good enough reason for me to disagree with what Malaysia Airlines is doing. Mainly because…

I don’t understand what “rights” are being limited or infringed upon here.

The right to sit amongst the Childfree or parents traveling without kids, who don’t want you sitting amongst them? Why is that even desired? As Kher herself and many of my friends with kids point out, their greatest worry is that their children will disturb other passengers. If they were all sitting together with people in the same boat, wouldn’t that take the anxiety down a notch? It seems tolerance would run high and struggling parents might even be able to better help each other out if they were all together.

It’s also strange to me that the Childfree are actually the ones being “segregated” – it’s a Childfree section, not a Kids-Only section – that’s being created. And it’s entirely voluntary! Childfree people who adore children are still free to sit amongst them and chat about everyone’s favorite color to their heart’s content. Wouldn’t it be great to know that the adult sitting next to your kid is one who enjoys being around them, or at least wasn’t willing to pay extra to not sit next to them?

This slippery slope looks more like a bunny hill to me.

Slippery slope arguments always, by nature, seem a little silly. I don’t doubt there are crappy people out there who do want flights that are free of gays, Muslims or anyone who doesn’t speak English. But to insinuate that this might be the next step? No airline in their right mind would enact that policy (talk about a PR nightmare), but more to the point, none of these groups consistently cry, shout, scream or kick the backs of the seats in front of them. These are the specific airplane behaviors Malaysia Airlines is looking to group together. It would be impossible to discriminate for those based on ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, but it is possible to identify groups more likely to exhibit these behaviors based on age. And yes, there are adults who cry, shout and kick seat-backs. I’m one of them when they run out of blankets on the red-eye. But it’s with nowhere near the consistency of children. If kids didn’t do it with alarming regularity, no one would even think of offering a Childfree flight. And you certainly wouldn’t get a one-third vote saying they’d pay extra for it (which, by the way, includes parents traveling without children).

Fine, let’s compromise.

I think a Childfree section of the plane is a marvelous idea, but there are likely too many dissenters for this to become mainstream anytime in the near future. So in the meantime, maybe this is a good opportunity to review some airplane etiquette. And lest I be accused of singling out children or attempting the ultimate no-no of providing parenting advice from the perspective of a Childfree person, the following commands apply to every human, regardless of age:

  • Do not kick the back of the seat in front of you. Unless there is a spider on it, then for God’s sake, crush it with a roundhouse that would make Steven Segal proud.
  • Read the visual cues of your neighbor: when you try to discuss where you think the value of the Euro is headed or show off your crayon drawing, does he/she look interested, or are they pretending to repeatedly read the barf bag instructions?
  • Imagine a three inch force field separating you from your neighbors.  Your swinging legs, wildly gesticulating arms, or drooping, sleepy head should come nowhere near actually touching anyone who is not in your traveling party.
  • No crying, screaming, shouting or Fran Drescher-esque whining. Exceptions can be made only if the stewardess has run out of cold Heinekens.
  • Always place the most annoying member of your traveling party furthest from the stranger in the row, keeping a human buffer to deflect flying Legos or excessively boring political conversation.
  • Don’t steal your neighbor’s SkyMall magazine. This should be a crime punishable by death. To deny someone the pleasure of flipping through pages of cat litter robots, AquaBells Travel Weights, or fish tank coffee tables is essentially inhumane.

 

If we can all agree to these simple rules, maybe the whole Childfree flying thing will become a moot point. But I’m positive I’ve missed something – what annoying airplane/airport behavior needs to be added here?

PS, if you’d like to join in these additional rowdy discussions  (and get access to Childfree and parenting articles, cartoons, memes, etc.), just click the little Like button in the upper left of this site or on the Facebook page itself, or follow me on Twitter. Doing so will really help a sista’ out when it comes time to sell the Maybe Baby, Maybe Not book. Oh yes, it’s coming.

19 Responses to Childfree Flights: Navigating the Unfriendly Skies?

  • Liz says:

    Thank you! I had a couple of thoughts when I read the initial article about this whole thing, many of which you echoed.

    1) The article made the grand assumption that the only people who are sometimes annoyed by children’s behavior on planes are the child-free. Something tells me the dad trying to prep for a job interview on the flight or the career mom trying get a little work done on the plane don’t want their seats kicked anymore than the 25-year-old child-free partier with the hangover. Like you mentioned, some child-free adults like kids and don’t mind spending time with them at all.

    2) The author of the article went directly to being offended when, as you pointed out, this is actually a good thing for them in many ways. As you said, they know that they person sitting next to them is at least okay enough with sitting near kids that they don’t want to pay for an upgrade. Secondly, this may even give them a greater chance of sitting near other parents and kids that understand. Who knows – maybe the kids sitting near each other can play together and lower the parents’ stress even more.

    3) There is a slippery slope the other way too. If this is so discriminatory, then should we start getting rid of other places designed for loud kids? Like the quiet rooms in the backs of many churchs? How about eliminating the quiet aspect of the library? Will parents still be offended as their kids age to the point that we won’t be able to have quiet dorms? These suggestions might sounds just as extreme as some of the slippery slope thoughts on the other side, but that’s the point. It’s extreme.

    At the end of the day, for many people having children is a choice just like it’s a choice for many not to have children. The choices of one shouldn’t infringe upon those of the other.

    As for actions to add to your list of airplane ettiquette, I do have one more. Don’t scream or cry, unless the plane’s going down or the flight attendent just jacked you in the elbow with the beverage cart. Inside voices, please.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      That’s such a good point about the reverse slippery slope! I’m so glad fast food places have playlands and the library has a kids section because things would be a bit chaotic without them. Why is this any different? Maybe if they install a ball pit in the Kids section of the plane, that might please everyone.

      • I agree that slippery slope arguments are fairly worthless. This is because, on either side of an issue, you can take it to an extreme, and make it ridiculous. So if we stop the airline allowing people to pay EXTRA to sit in a quiet zone, what next? They\’re not allowed to charge more for business class? Or first class? Everyone has to sit in the same place regardless of their desires or ability to pay?

        I think it\’s a brilliant idea, and something I have wanted for years.

        It\’s not discriminatory any more than first class is discriminatory towards people who are unable to pay for it.

        • Maybe Lady
          Maybe Lady says:

          If anything, I would hope that the extra revenue generated by these premium seats would help keep DOWN the ticket costs for everyone else. But maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

  • Megan says:

    Please, for the love of all things holy, talk to your doctor about medicines you can give your child to help them relax and sleep on the plane. An 8-hour flight is long enough- a screaming child added to that mix who yells at the top of their lungs for 6 of those hours makes the flight go on forever.
    Also, if you KNOW you have a child who gets motion-sick, GIVE THEM THE MOTION-SICKNESS PILLS EARLY. I have seen so many parents who neglect to give the child the pill before the flight, only to try and shove it down their throats when they are already turning green and starting to make that *hork* noise. Again, an 8-hour flight turns into the flight from hell when the whole plane smells like barf directly after liftoff.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Wow, I’ve never seen someone actually use the airplane barf bag, you must have awful luck when flying! But you’re right, that smell is unbearable.

  • Elizabeth says:

    I like the parents who give their kids candy to keep them calm. Instead of a calm child we get a wild little beastie wielding a sticky lollipop and it’s just a matter of time before that thing goes in someone’s hair!!! Aren’t they cute?! If candy is a must, can you at least lace it with Benadryl… or Valium? Hand them out to everyone! Happy flight for all!

  • LJ Rich says:

    I would have a rather unpopular opinion because I actually don\’t have much compassion for people on planes with children…..and I\’m the mother of 3. This is why, hear me out.

    They chose this road. The parenthood road. On that road are circumstances that are not suited for small children. Flying would be one of them. They should know this. My first ever flight in my life was when I was 19 years old. My parents didn\’t take us on flights anywhere. If there was a trip they needed to go on, we got left with family. And, if it was a family trip, it was planned months in advance and was set up as a \”drive only\” trip. There are no circumstances I can think of where a small child would need to be on a plane except dire circumstances where intercontinental travel is necessary. That\’s it. And by dire, I don\’t mean pleasure.

    If that\’s the circumstances they are in, then I do have compassion for them because it\’s a very tough thing to handle.

    My kids were never on airplanes until they were over 13 and we have traveled quite a bit. I would have sooner jammed a crab fork into my eye sockets than take my kids on a plane before that age. I certainly don\’t have the patience to worry about how they\’re going to sit still for 5 hours and I sure as hell wouldn\’t expect the rest of the passengers on a plane to have the patience to suffer through it.

    There just aren\’t a lot of real circumstances where small children and airplanes are appropriate. They can be avoided, and should be. If they choose not to avoid them, then I have little compassion and sympathy. Many people these days are trying to make the world treat their children as little tiny adults and afford them all the situations of such. They aren\’t little tiny adults and there are things that they just shouldn\’t be doing.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Maybe the reason we treat them like tiny little adults is because places like Baby Gap make their clothes look like tiny adult clothing. I blame the retailers! In all seriousness though, I think the thing that baffles me the most is – how can anyone AFFORD to fly with children? I’m grumpy enough about the cost of flying me and my husband home for Christmas, I can’t imagine forking over the cash for four or five tickets.

  • Marie says:

    Ok people, this is really a first world problem here, especially for parents. Lets not get our panties in a bunch over premium-priced seats on Malaysia Airlines. I’m more concerned about teacher furlough days and paying $50 for a suitcase on United.

    I read her essay and I can identify with her point. She’s defensive, and all parents, especially parents who try really hard to keep their kids from being monsters, grow weary of being reminded where their place is – “in the back of the bus.” It’s a crude analogy, I admit, but it’s true. This is a grow-up world and our kids are just living in it: lovely to be seen when they are cute and quiet, everyone’s worst nightmare when they are having a bad day. Obnoxious people take up far too much space on our planet, but it is kids who are the easy target. “Please stay in the [back of church], [corner of the restaurant], etc., away from me, over there, where you won’t invade my space.” It’s just another form of NIMBY-ism.

    When I flew prior to having children, I loathed people who brought their stupid little dogs on a flight, people who took up my armrest, pushed in front of me in line, kicked my seat, etc. After flying with my kids? These things just do not bother me. Really, just let it go. We are not entitled to enjoy a spa-experience throughout our day. We are people, things suck sometimes. Get over it.

    But more importantly, what exactly is that picture in your entry? A cat in a spacesuit? I’ve been trying to figure it out. I’m stymied.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Oh, it is the aforementioned kitty litter robot! Sorry that was not clear, as it is obviously of tantamount importance that people be exposed to this amazing product!!! :)

  • I think it is 100% fine to have a childfree section of the plane. I think the issue is having entirely child-free flights–people are worried that they won\’t be able to get the flights they want because those flights have been designated \”child free.\” Another interesting topic of discussion is child free restaurants. Some people think they are fabulous, and other people are upset that they are being outright banned from dining in certain places with their children. I personally see both sides, but I hope that this isn\’t something that becomes widespread. Personally, I am totally fine with my kids and I being limited to Applebees–if I\’m going to spend the money to go out to a fancy restaurant, I\’m the LAST person who wants my kids around!

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      I think many Moms probably feel the same way you do with regards to the restaurant issue – why spend all that money on a fancy restaurant only to have to worry about making sure the kids behave because it’s a fancy restaurant? I actually don’t see too many of them in nice restaurants in California. Wait a second…I don’t go to nice restaurants…

  • Emily says:

    I think there should be a childfree section on planes, in restaurants, etc. I don’t have kids, and don’t enjoy putting up with other people’s children. I echo LJ Rich’s comments of 9/6/2012. As the oldest of four, we took family car trips, but never flew anywhere until we were in high school. My parents took brother #1 and me out to dinner (at Red Lobster) after we reached ten years old, so that we could practice our table manners. As the younger kids hit age ten, more of us would go out to dinner together. There were no trips to the county fair with toddlers and strollers as my parents thought it was much too expensive. We did go camping, hiking, fishing, and took trips to the library for storytime. We never went to sleepaway camp, but did daycamp with the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. Most family trips involved National Parks, Museums, and picnicing; we didn’t go to an amusement park until the youngest was twelve, and we packed our lunch and drinks. I feel like my parents did it right. When we weren’t old enough to know how to behave in public we weren’t IN PUBLIC. Both my parents worked, my dad as a factory manager and my mom as an attorney, and even after they divorced the same united front of parenting continued. I know how much work, money, and effort goes into raising kids. As I said before, I’m the oldest of four, so I remember most of what my parents went through raising us. No, thank you.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Wow, your parents were pretty disciplined in how they exposed you guys to the public! My parents were pretty similar I think, and maybe that’s why I don’t see the Childfree section of the plane thing as a huge deal – I see it as something that might have inspired them to fly with us more.

  • Scott says:

    Most parents don’t sincerely want an end to all forms of age discrimination. Easily offended parents are the first to cry foul if there seems to be discrimination that works against them, but they fully accept discrimination when it HELPS them. I suspect very few parents would be willing to give up on all the forms of discrimination that work in their favor – lower admissions prices for children, children’s menus, kids-eat-free deals, parental leave, etc.

    I\’d think some parents would welcome the childfree sections, because then by default all other sections would technically be child-friendly. If anyone complains about your kid’s behavior, you can just tell them, “if you don’t like it, you should have chosen the childfree section.”

    I wonder what others think about another recent controversial airline policy involving children. Virgin Atlantic and other airlines will not sit an unaccompanied minor next to a male passenger. So, ladies, guess what – you may have a kid seated next to you just because you’re female. Delightful what the airlines think about gender differences, no?

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      All very, very good points. I doubt very much they’d want to give up all those privileges just to have the right to sit amongst the Childfree on every flight. And I would never complain about lower admission prices for kids or kids-eat-free deals because those are business decisions made by people who know these things will bring them more business. In the same way that Malaysia Airlines knows they can make more money off the Childfree because they’re willing to pay for peace and quiet.

  • Scott says:

    P.S. Hit the gym and bulk up those toothpicks, so you don’t bonk the rest of us on the head…. : – )

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