Kids On Planes: Nightmare Or Not?
I’m not sure if that sound is me tapping on the keyboard, or the crack of the very thin ice that I’m walking on while writing this post. Ha, ha.
Anything to do with how children are treated, how much they are controlled and how much adults should accommodate them as part of everyday life is always going to be controversial. We’ve all heard the horror stories about parents changing their baby’s dirty nappy in restaurants or letting their toddler run wild in inappropriate places.
Personally we hadn’t experienced anyone who just seemed to be fundamentally anti-children and in my naive bubble I didn’t really think they existed; they were kind of like Bigfoot- heard of and whispered about but as yet had not come stomping, hairy and smelly, through my territory.
Until our flight from Bali to Singapore, three weeks ago.
Our kids are 7, 6 and 3. In the last year alone they racked up on average a flight every month (including two 14 hour flights). They know the drill: board the plane, get straight into your seats so as not to block the aisle and let Mum and Dad deal with the bags. Any screens they want to watch have to have headphones so as not to disturb other people, shouting or screaming isn’t allowed and don’t even think about kicking the seat in front. Knock yourself out on the screens (not literally) and let us know in good time if you need the bathroom or need to puke (too much excitement/ sweets, it happens). Simples.
As parents we’ve been very aware that it is up to us to make it as easy as possible for our kids to follow these rules, so we make sure that the kids have had their needs met as much as is humanly possible before we board. They have a huge run-around at the airport (there’s usually a quiet corner on the top floor or a playground), a good meal and some fun things to do on the aeroplane to look forward to (check out our favourite kids’ toys for aeroplanes here).
We keep everything light and enjoyable, and if we experience delays or setbacks we don’t stress about it, as kids pick up on it and it makes them more tense. It also models to them that if things don’t go their way, breezing through it cheerfully and managing disappointment well is a good option.
It’s because our kids generally know how to behave on planes that we were so taken aback by the behaviour of one woman on our Air Asia flight from Bali to Singapore, en route home. We boarded the plane as usual and were quickly in our seats, as we had boarded from the back and were in the back row (less chance of dying in a crash, just fyi. The only perk of not being in First Class).
A young woman wearing a surgical mask (it’s a thing) stood in the row in front of us, looking stressed. It turned out that her seat was on the aisle, next to Eira and myself (Patrick and the other girls were in the row opposite). I wondered if she was nervous about flying, or upset about the elderly-ish man who had boarded after clearly having too much to drink and who was having a dispute with one of the cabin crew.
Turns out, more than plunging at speed from 30,000 feet and being incinerated, or witnessing hostile drunk behaviour, her concern was that she would have to sit near a child.
She eventually took her seat next to me, gave us a dirty look and a huge sigh and called the flight attendant to ask to be moved. We’ve never had this before- I generally like to assume most people are kind and reasonable, and that everyone else assumes the same- and I found it pretty disappointing.
I thought that maybe I’d taken it the wrong way, until she sat down and started texting her friend about having to sit near kids on the plane. Wowser. When the flight attendant came to tell her she could move, I couldn’t help myself. She’d been desperately trying to avoid eye contact with me and I caught her eye as she grabbed her bag.
“You really don’t like kids, huh?”
She looked a bit sheepish.
“Oh, no- it’s ok.”
(Lady, I wasn’t apologising). I smiled at her and raised my eyebrows, the question hanging in the air.
“Well, um- you can use this space.” She gestured to her seat and got up.
Patrick gave me the look- the don’t-get-your-knickers-in-a-twist look, while I sat open-mouthed.
My initial reaction was one of outrage. There’s nothing nice about someone thinking badly of your children, even more so when it is totally unwarranted. I sat in disbelief for a few minutes before starting to feel sorry for her.
I felt sorry that she had such pre-conceived ideas about kids, or that she’d had such terrible experiences around families that she didn’t want to be near them. I felt sorry that she either didn’t have the compassion, or couldn’t be bothered to use it, to be a bit more subtle about why she was moving. I felt sorry that she had chosen to fear something instead of be curious about it, and that she had judged us before even getting to know us.
Of course, she may have been really looking forward to a quiet three hour flight- goodness knows I would- but her behaviour said more than this. Maybe she had super bad anxiety. Who knows.
I pondered on the whole thing, and wondered whether it would be a good idea to have ‘families only’ sections on aeroplanes. Every so often the idea will be floated in the media, but for various reasons it never gets off the ground (pun intended).
One airline has started a “kids only” cabin for first class passengers- this is more of a premium service for parents who want some peace / kids who want some fun and independence during the flight. It includes a teddy bear menu, activity packs and entertainment from the cabin crew. For older kids (I reckon 7+) I think this is a fantastic idea; it is essentially a kids’ club at 30,000 feet. When Esmae and Eira saw the advert for the kids’ cabin they both said they would love to go, and I said that next time we have a spare several thousand pounds, we’d think about it. (Guess we’ll be sticking with our plasticine and Pringles).
But what about cabins specifically for families with young children, all together? Part of me likes the idea- it would probably help parents feel better to be seated around people who understand how hard flying with little ones can be (a baby on our 14 hour flight cried pretty much the whole time, despite her parents’ best efforts). It might also be good as kids can make friends to pass the time; Elfie and another toddler who we were sat near on our last flight had a grand time playing in the aisle with a couple of toy cars, and it really helped to have something else other than her travel toys and screens to distract her.
On the other hand, there’s a whole world of reasons that I wouldn’t want to sit in a family section, even as a Mum of three. Our kids know how to behave on planes; others don’t. Flying with kids is a challenge; flying with kids who are getting their seat kicked or kept awake by a sound-wall of crying infants, or being seated near passive or aggressive parents would be a next-level challenge. Spreading families throughout the plane like any adult passengers kind of makes sense.
Perhaps an ‘adults only’ cabin on a plane would be one vague solution for people who really can’t face sitting near kids? As much as I think this is a bit wrapping-in-cotton-wool (kids are part of society and equal to adults so to avoid them completely is creating an artificial bubble), if people wanted to pay to sit in a cabin without children, it’s no skin off my nose. In fact I’d be happier knowing that the people most likely to take issue with kids were in another cabin. The logistics of sound-proofing etc I have no idea about, but that’s why I’m a writer and not in engineering.
There must be many reasons why this hasn’t been done, including it not being commercially viable to section off a whole piece of plane for adults. In my mind First Class is pretty much an adults only environment simply due to the cost; I don’t know anyone personally who has taken little ones in the Proper Posh cabin.
(I did, however, know someone for whom First Class was so part of normal life that he slept, while champagne and exquisite china-plated meals were being served around him, for the entire flight from the UK to the USA. I could not get my head around a situation where I would spend £4000 on a flight and then not spend the whole time playing with all the electronic bibbety-bobs, wearing the silky PJs and massaging various lotions and potions from the amenity kit into my face. That’s in between trying everything on the menu – that “call the cabin crew” button would be lit up like a Christmas tree.)
Annnyway, what are your thoughts on family-only or adults-only cabins? Would you pay extra to use either?