STFU Parents: Flying With Kids On Social Media
A couple of weeks ago, everyone was talking about the toddler who got kicked off a Jet Blue flight. The media wasn’t reporting this story because it’s a new phenomenon. If anything, toddlers getting kicked off of planes is old hat. I can think of at least two or three other nearly-identical stories in recent months, but that’s beside the point. The point is, everyone loves a good (or rather, awful) airline story. This is because, for better or worse, most of us use air travel as an end to a means. No one likes flying that much; it’s just the best, and incidentally most expensive, way to get from here to there. And for the most part, I think people are generally quite tolerant of what airlines and the TSA expect from travelers. I’ve never seen anyone get into a fist fight about cargo space before, nor have I succumbed to turning around and telling a kid to plug some damn headphones into his handheld device, which is nothing short of a miracle. For the most part, people are courteous, sincere and indifferent during air travel, and that works just fine.
When an adult gets kicked off a plane, the media doesn’t usually pick up the story. Unless it’s Alec Baldwin or Gerard Depardieu, what’s the point? Some people like to drink too much, or in Naomi Campbell‘s case, spit on people. But when a baby or toddler, and subsequently, his or her family, get booted from a plane, the media jumps on the story faster than a TSA agent tosses out a 4 oz. bottle of shampoo. Even though the airline is almost always in the “right,” people argue that its policies are wrong. “How is a squirmy three-year-old going to put a plane’s worth of people’s safety in jeopardy?” the people ask. “And besides, the mother said she was holding her down!” This common airline argument can go back and forth for ages. People who hate kids (or simply hate flying with them) are afforded the opportunity to shout about banning kids from planes altogether. “Why does a one-year-old need to be on a plane anyway?!” they assert loudly, sometimes in unison on the STFU, Parents Facebook page. A few will recall that Malaysia Airlines banned infants from first class. Some parents will admit that they’d love it if planes had “family flights” and “no-kid flights” and would happily pay extra for the option. In short, everyone who’s ever flown has an opinion, because those people all know what flying is like (i.e. it sucks unless you’re in a private jet).
The Jet Blue situation, which was handled according to standard procedure, made me think about all the ways people talk about this subject on social media. It’s the kind of topic that you might not bring up at a dinner party, but will fervently debate on Facebook. As such, people usually express their opinions far more openly and aggressively than they would in person. It’s an interesting dynamic, considering how little passengers communicate while they’re traveling, and I think people on both sides of the argument have valid points.
Here are some submissions I’ve received that reveal some of those finer points:
1. Everyone Has an Opinion
Reading through a submission like this, it’s easy to see why some people will argue that there’s a parent / non-parent divide. Since this is Facebook, we shouldn’t assume that all of these people know each other or are friends, which further proves that social media is a great – if dangerous – place to have such candid discourse. Not that Facebook debates are a competition with winners and losers, but I’d have to say that the parent who told everyone to SHUT THE F**K UP isn’t exactly making a strong case for parents in the Great Airline Debate. Especially since the person complaining about the screaming child vented calmly with no real bias against children. Sometimes, you just gotta complain about that kid who won’t stop throwing a tantrum or making noise to get attention, and I think that’s OK. After all, flying is damn pricey. It can irritate even the most zen people with or without a crying baby in tow.
2. The Children Are Our Future
Katie sounds quite reasonable in her status update, but Heather and Eva sound like angry, bitter parents who assume the worst in people. The truth is, just because a person isn’s thrilled with the crying baby seated next to them on a plane doesn’t mean that person hates children, or even hates crying children. Much like kids are entitled to having bad days, so are adults. And some adults, while tolerant of unruly children on planes, just aren’t in the mood to deal with another passenger’s tantrum. Like I said above, I’ve never seen a person complain to a parent to “shut their baby up.” I’ve only seen adults grind their teeth and slip on a pair of headphones to try to drown out the sound. Whether or not they complain about the annoying child after the plane lands is entirely their business, and again, does not necessarily mean they “hate” children or feel that children shouldn’t have the right to fly.
3. Unnecessary Looks and Unwanted Advice
“If you don’t want to be around kids…stay home!” seems like a rather childish reply to an already-imperfect situation. Yes, it sucks that people cast sideways glances when they see a baby boarding a plane, but it’s probably just because they’ve experienced terrible flights with tiny passengers before. They’re predisposed to cringe inside when they see a baby coming down the aisle, and perhaps that feeling wanders to their face a little. So what? It happens. When people look askance, it’s often for a reason, and if that reason is they’re being disturbed by a screaming baby on a flight, then I think that’s justified. I would expect the same looks if I was talking loudly on my cell phone or listening to music without headphones.
Giving unwanted advice is a separate issue. I’m firmly in the, “You don’t tell me what to do, and I won’t tell you what to do,” camp, so I can understand someone feeling embarrassed or angry after receiving unsolicited parenting advice from a stranger. However, Karen never explains who gave any unwanted advice, and instead points out her knee-jerk reaction to a nearby parent. Something tells me the “unwanted advice” was actually “a silent look,” and Karen should re-think her aggression.
4. Parents Who Laugh Off Their Screaming Babies
That extremist anti-kid attitude expressed by non-parents is due in part to stuff like this. Don’t take pictures of your wailing child and laugh about it on Facebook. Yes, it’s amusing to YOU and your friends that your child hated flying and had a cry, but to everyone else it feels like a slap in the face. It reinforces the assumption air travelers have about parents with loud children — that if a parent isn’t bothered by her child, she’s not going to try to stop his tantrum.
Remember, parents: Everyone hates flying, and it’s not a contest to see who’s got it the roughest. Flying with kids is difficult, to be sure, but it is a choice that parents make, so complaining doesn’t garner much sympathy. Complain about security, or about how expensive the water at the airport is, but try not to single yourselves out as “victims” because it comes across as snide and condescending. In order to make the experience as pleasant as possible, it’s important to take a “We’re all in this together!” attitude rather than a “Woe Is Mom” attitude. Without the support of your fellow passengers, it’s just you and your kid versus the airline, and we all know how that scenario can play out.