This week marked the official beginning of summer, which means that for the next two months, families will be traveling more than usual. The stress that comes with air travel will be felt much more by parents of small children than other passengers -- a little fact most parents won't hesitate to mention whenever a friend complains on social media about an incident on a cross-country flight. I can't count the number of times I've seen someone say, "Ugh, even my earbuds couldn't drown out the cries of the baby on my red eye," to be followed almost immediately by a comment from a parent who says something like, "Be grateful you could put in your earbuds and try to get some sleep, unlike the poor parent of that baby!" or, "Trust me, if you think it sucked for you, it sucked ten times as much for the baby's parents." And considering how determined most airlines are to screw over their customers by consisting fucking with the status quo -- smaller seats, smaller bathrooms, less room in overhead bins, more convoluted seating rules that separate kids from parents and/or cost as much as a tank of gas -- it's easy to see why parents feel entitled to gripe or feel slighted by fellow passengers. If everyone is grumpy, and you happen to be the one with the restless child(ren), the chances of having evil glances shot in your direction almost certainly quadruple.
I mostly blame airlines and the TSA for making this form of travel so unbearable and dehumanizing -- to the point that it can cause a real divide among passengers -- and the thing that irks me the most is that we're all supposed to be so flexible and accommodating. Customers shouldn't think about the fact that they spent $300 for a two-hour flight, have no leg room, and would rather eat raw hot dogs than get up to use the teeny, tiny, smelly lavatory, because we're living in the incredible age of air travel! We can use our laptops for $10.99 and access WiFi! Aren't we fortunate.
While I think most people tend to suck it up and get through flights without being miserable, all it takes is a single additional instance of frustration to shift the equilibrium. For parents, this often translates to "giving up" in some way in order to stay sane, usually to the detriment of other people. Kid won't stop crying? Fine, let him cry. Baby has a dirty diaper and the bathroom line is three people deep? Fine, just change her on the seat or on your lap. Things begin to deteriorate rather quickly, especially if a family is making a million connecting flights, and it's those split decisions that create the types of scenarios non-parents justifiably complain about (or at least roll their eyes at) when traveling. And no, handing out candy won't fix the problem (nor is it necessary -- seriously, it's cool, as a grown woman I don't need to be placated by treats and trinkets, y'all).
In other words, I prefer to believe that parents don't want to do the things that piss off their seatmates and plane neighbors, but when they do, they should accept some of the ire that gets tossed their way. Just because Delta doesn't accommodate for changing shitty diapers on the plane doesn't mean that everyone else should be forced to endure the stench when one is changed in the cabin. Parents aren't expected to be perfect, particularly when traveling with little kids, which everyone knows can be a nightmare, but they also shouldn't be surprised by those evil glances if they've reached the "giving up" stage. When you sacrifice others' sanity for your own, those people will take notice, and yes, they might even complain about it. Let's check out some social media examples written by folks who have had enough of certain air travel hijinks -- and lived to tell about it.
1. Kids Running Like They're In A Lavender Field
Can you really blame Delia for wanting to trip the shit out of the kid whose parents have let him run up and down the cabin aisle? There are times when even flight attendants can't (or won't) solve a kids-on-muthafuckin'-planes problem, and all you can do is fantasize about punting the child out the emergency exit door and into the ether. Parents: Don't let your kids run up and down the aisle -- ANY aisle. Movie theater aisles, grocery store aisles, adult store aisles... It kinda makes people wish you and your kid were never born.
2. Active Kids = Angry Passengers
Childfree plane zones are becoming a popular idea among both non-parents AND parents, and the scenario described above is a big part of the reason. Yes, it's helpful to wear kids out so they'll eventually fall asleep and stop asking questions or crying about juice pouches, but it's important to know when to do this. (In a swimming pool: Yes. In an aircraft cabin: No.) How is a kid ever going to learn how not to be an asshole on a plane if all a parent does is encourage him to work out his energy by climbing on seats and acting like the kid in "Problem Child"?
This just sounds bonkers to me. Parents who allow (or ignore) their kids' bad behavior can be moderately tolerated in everyday life, but in an airport, everything changes. It's like an alternate universe. The air is different in there. The food is weird. Bathrooms have scary flushing mechanisms. And the last thing anyone wants is to spend $4 on a stupid bottle of water after remembering to bring their OWN pillow to use on the flight, only to glance over and watch a child take ownership of both under his parent's "watchful eye." I can't even comment on Ellen's story about the guy who encouraged his kid to steal chocolate off a tray table -- partly because that sounds legitimately crazy, and partly for reasons outlined in the next example...(hint: Never, ever, EVER put food on an airplane tray table)
4. Bathroom Behavior: Airplane Etiquette Edition
Is anything worse than sitting next to someone who not only takes up more space on a plane than what's allotted, but also happily chooses to change a baby's dirty diaper and act as though no one else is in their presence? There are few things that shock people into quiet submission, and sharing space with a parent who obliviously peels off her baby's shit-caked diaper without flinching is one of them.
"It happens, life goes on. Deal" pretty much summarizes why so many people talk shit about parents on planes. It's not just parents' actions, it's their self-righteous "deal with it, asshole" attitude. It's the reason both M. and Eleanor have experienced someone changing a poop diaper within the same week. And it's wrong. I've even received emails from flight attendants who've described being handed dirty diapers, or watching a passenger place a dirty diaper on top of a tray table without a trace of self-awareness that other people actually use those tray tables, which don't always get wiped down between flights. Ew. I discussed this more in depth with Jolie Kerr on the 'Ask a Clean Person' podcast a couple of weeks ago, and I'm still thinking/cringing about it.
What compels someone to change her baby's dirty diaper in the main cabin, knowing that other parents made do with the tiny bathrooms? Why not ask a flight attendant if there's another location, maybe at the back of the plane, that would be more appropriate? And why, WHY, would anyone practicing "elimination communication" (i.e., a method of raising diaper-less kids and teaching them to signal when they have to use the bathroom) ever board a plane with a child in one hand, and a portable potty in the other?
WHY IS THIS KID USING HIS POTTY ON AN AIRPLANE SEAT?
If you "could not have done it on a full flight lol," then some small voice inside your head is screaming, "THIS AIN'T RIGHT."
No, the bathrooms aren't roomy. They wouldn't work out well for a pampered Kardashian, or even a humble Kate Middleton. But for the rest of us commoners, they actually do the job just fine. They're only a half-step above using a paper-less latrine in the middle of a forest, and they're essentially smelly torture chambers that make me queasy, but they're suitable for flight purposes. Don't tell me that it's normal for an 18-month-old kid to use a portable potty placed on a seat just after complaining about the lack of amenities in airplane bathrooms. If anyone deserves to accidentally get locked inside an airplane bathroom, it's Jen.
5. Mom's Gold Star: Real Talk
Finally, some comic relief -- and from a parent, no less. I wish I could gift Erin a lifetime supply of mini bottles of vodka for posting this status update, because she deserves it. I'd even throw in some Valium for good measure. Something tells me she has just the right attitude to garner sympathy from fellow travelers who appreciate parents like her more than she might realize. A sense of humor goes a long way, especially on a long flight. The more passengers respect each other's space on a plane, the less likely they are to talk trash on Facebook from 10,000 feet up in the air. So let's raise a mini bottle (or four) to summer -- and all of the travel adventures that await us in flight.