Ever been stuck on a plane near a screaming child? Ever wanted to give that child (or their parents) a piece of your exhausted, legroom-deprived mind? Ever wished airlines could create child-free seating sections, or even entire adults-only flights? You’re not alone. Apparently, demand for such flights has increased lately, and the NYT posits that if some enterprising airline were to capitalize on that demand, we could soon see the birth of children-free seating sections or even a children-free airline.
An article in the weekend Times assesses the demand for and likelihood of child-free seating and flights. The article focuses more on the apparently childless people who are bothered by the screaming kids than on the parents who are probably bothered by the dirty looks being thrown at them by annoyed fellow passengers. There’s a quote from a man who started a Facebook group in support of child-free flights, in which he tells a story about bad parents who don’t make an effort to keep their kids quiet. There’s also some discussion of how difficult it would be to implement such a program, as child-free sections would necessitate the separation of families and child-friendly flights would likely be scheduled at inconvenient times, essentially punishing parents for traveling with children.
But I could not agree more with blogger Madame Noire, who is also quoted in the article. She writes, “do childless passengers really think it’s all gravy when parents can’t calm down their screaming child? It’s just as stressful for the parent as it is for the child and the other passengers, but it’s a fact: kids cry.”
There is a distinct tinge of guilt to the dread that I feel when I board a plane and see I’ve been placed in the infant section. Which happens almost every time I fly between the west coast of the US and the east coast of Australia. It’s a fourteen hour flight, and it’s incredibly unpleasant, even without a small child screaming next to you or behind you (or both). So when I arrive at my seat and look around to see infants or toddlers seated near me, I’m not exactly thrilled. Kids are loud and don’t know how to behave on planes, and they kick your seat and they scream through the night and why didn’t I pack more Valium?
Then I think about my father, who can no longer bear the sight of the book Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy, because on one memorable transpacific flight, when my sister was a toddler, he read it aloud to her over and over and over again to keep her fussing and crying. I think about the seemingly endless supply of coloring books, magnetic board games, books, Walkmans, tapes and batteries that my parents used to pack in my carry-on luggage when we would fly from Sydney to New York. And I feel guilty for my inner grumbling about being seated near children and their parents. Because that blogger is right: kids cry on airplanes, and it’s no easier for their parents than it is for the other passengers. Despite the fact that my parents stocked us to the gills with things to do, and read Hairy Maclary over twenty times, we still cried. Kids cry on airplanes, and get restless, and move around and need to be distracted from the fact that fourteen hours is a bloody long time.
Childless adults are exactly the same, with the exception of the crying. But airplanes are set up for childless adults, with movies, alcohol, magazines, shopping and other things to keep them distracted and to stop them from getting restless. So we could keep on parent-shaming and ostracizing people who dare to travel with their children. We could keep complaining about the fact that a three-year-old hasn’t yet been socialized not to loudly express her discomfort, fear or desire to get the hell out of this confined odd-smelling space. Or we could think of ways to accommodate parents with kids and help them to share space in a way that is more comfortable for everyone involved. Either that, or put noise-canceling headphones in every seat pocket and sleeping pills on every tray table.