On kids on planes

Probably not the debate that you thought the title might suggest. I think I did that back in 2009 in the subtly entitled post ‘Why Does Our Society Hate Children?‘.

No, this has nothing to do with whether kids should be allowed to aurally terrorise innocent passengers travel on flights, but rather keeping them safe while they are up there.

There’s an interesting article here from the Washington Post about how best to keep babies safe on flights. The basic problem is that in episodes of turbulence or in the event of a crash, parents’ loving arms simply aren’t strong enough to hold onto their child:

Your arms aren’t capable of holding your in-lap child securely, especially during unexpected turbulence, which is the number one cause of pediatric injuries on an airplane.


And in the event of a crash, the supplementary belt seems to be there more for show than for actual function:

During dynamic testing, the forward flailing of the adult and the child resulted in severe body impacts against the forward seat.

Beautifully put. The use of the word “flailing” is particularly descriptive. Given the proximity of the forward seat in most economy flights, I’d guess that the flailing in question would be pretty brief.

So if we’re going to keep babies safe on planes, we need to find another way. And that other way is: by making them having their own seat.
Yep. The safest place for a small child is in its own seat.
So problem solved, right? No, not at all. In fact, additional problem created.

Because having to pay for an extra seat will persuade/force some families to choose a different mode of transport. Probably not for long haul stuff, but certainly for shorter journeys. And that alternative is often car, and car is much more dangerous than plane.

In fact, a 2003 study showed that “if as few as 5 to 10 percent of travelers hit the road instead of flying, the number of infant deaths caused by car accidents would probably exceed the number of fatalities averted by requiring child restraints on planes”.

At the end of the day, there doesn’t seem to be consensus about any foolproof way forward. Although there does seem to be some sort of unwritten agreement about using strikingly descriptive language when referring to potentially unfortunate scenarios for small children while they are on board a plane.
Like when putting your baby in a harness/carrier against your chest:

Hoffman warns that the carrier is not foolproof, especially during severe turbulence. “The child can slip out of it because of all of that force. A plane that falls 4,000 feet in seconds — that’s like being shot out of a cannon.”


Why does our society hate children?

Try flying with a small child and retain your love of humanity.

Incoming from The Guru:

Perhaps of interest?

Oh yes.

I have to admit that I laughed out loud as I read James C Kaufman’s take on the recent Southwest Airlines throws mother and child off plane because child is too noisy story. Especially when I found out that it was because the 2-year-old in question was drowning out the the safety announcements with shouts of “Go Plane! Go!”.
I think we’ve all felt that way as they run through yet another sodding demonstration of how to put a sodding life-jacket on.

Kaufman seems to have exactly the same approach to parenting as me:

I believe in rules and good behavior in public. I don’t like ruining people’s days (at least via my child), and we don’t take our son to nice restaurants, movies, or live theatre when he’s clearly not ready for it. But there are some situations where it is necessary to take a child into the public eye. One that’s on my mind right now (because we’re traveling quite soon) is plane rides. I have seen the most egregious behavior here – from adults.

Before I was a parent, I wasn’t a parent. And those days aren’t so far gone. So yes, I understand that unruly kids can be a pain.
What I don’t think I understood before I was a parent was that sometimes kids have to be a bit unruly. And what better time for them to be unruly than on a plane?

Think about it. You’ve been cooped up in a car for an hour (or however long) to get to the airport. You’ve stood in 13 different queues – check-in, security, customs, etc etc.
And then you sit – seatbelted in – doing precisely sod-all for another hour once you’re actually on the plane before a really scary take off and 11½ hours (I’m doing Cape Town – London here) of having to sit in your seat and not go anywhere – oh, and then a really scary landing as well.
All in all a wholly unpleasant experience. I’d certainly scream and cry.
I still do, from time to time.

The thing that non-parents forget to take into account is that they were once kids too. And they almost certainly  behaved in exactly the same way, be it on a plane, in a shop or in public anywhere.
Because that’s what kids do, from time to time. It’s part of what being a kid is about.
Of course, parents have to react to this – especially in public. One can’t be seen to be simply ignoring the fuss that one’s child is making. Goblin – in her charmingly titled post Just Gag It points this out:

Parents should be fined when their child is throwing a tantrum in a public place and they pleasantly continue to drink their coffee saying, “Oh he’ll calm down in a second. I will ignore him until he behaves properly. Until then, we will ruin your experience”.

Of course, it should be noted that trying to deal with your child throwing a tantrum in a public place (or even in a private place) very rarely yields instant results. Or at least any beneficial ones. But it’s the fact that you are at least trying to do something about the noise which is enough for most people. Most people.

Things to remember:
1. It’s not pleasant for me [the parent] either.
2. I’m doing my best to stop the noise for everyone’s (incidentally, including my daughter’s) sakes.
3. We’re at 37,000 feet. Where would you like me to go so I’m not disturbing anyone? (Actually, don’t answer that)
4. It’s 10 minutes out of your life. It may seem like longer, but it’s not. 10 minutes. Deal with it.

I would argue that most of the anger that is directed the way of parents and their children on aeroplanes is there because other travellers have given themselves a false level of expectancy. I would also be disappointed if, when traveling economy, I was expecting free champagne, caviar, ample leg room and a nice massage with a happy ending from Denise the Stewardess.

Dream on, sunshine. Ain’t going to happen.

And likewise with kids on flights – as I pointed out earlier – you have basically put them through every situation that they hate. What do you expect?

Kaufman again:

Several folks on this and other sites pointed out how much money they would pay for a child-free flight. You know what? I’d pay just as much for a child-friendly flight – where reasonably behaved kids can fly without fear of glares from miserable old ladies, put-off hipsters, and misanthropic businessmen.

Correct again, Professor K.
I have already suggested this idea to influential people in the parenting business. Like Mrs 6000.

This doesn’t mean that kids shouldn’t be allowed to fly. All it takes is a bit of understanding from all parties involved. From the children – as much as they can understand; from the parents – who must do everything to make the experience as uneventful as possible for all concerned; but most of all from the other people on the plane, who – when one looks at it properly – often end up behaving like… well… children.

P.S. Southwest Airlines apologised to the mother and her son that were kicked off the flight.