Friday, February 4, 2011

Traveling without kids: child-free flights?

The Economist ran a story about this survey recently. The first line at the second link basically sums up what it's all about:
Business travellers have called for an over 18 service on airlines after three quarters admitted children drive them crazy when they’re travelling in first class.
As a parent who has done a fair bit of airplane travel with kids in coach, my first thought when reading this was: there are families with kids in first class? And it's so common that it drives business travelers crazy enough to ask for the removal of all children from flights? Really? But I guess if I'd paid the ridiculous sums charged for first class travel, I might be easily annoyed too.

There are definitely lots of things that can be annoying on a long flight, and kids would not be number one on my list. Should there be flights banning obese people who take up more space than their assigned seat, smelly people, obnoxious people, loud adults, ladies wearing too much perfume, guys who drink too much beer, loud snorers and so on, as well as kids? 

The problem
It's not always easy for children on flights, especially long flights. Those of us who do travel with kids usually come prepared, and do our best to distract and entertain them with activities, snacks, and whatever else we can come up with.

However, there are times when even the best-behaved kids and the best parents can come up short. Especially when kids are tired all bets are off, and let's face it: long flights make everyone tired! No parent can guarantee that their child will be 100% well-behaved 100% of the time if they're traveling for 20 hours without proper sleep.

The solution?
I think most parents feel a lot of stress while flying, not just because they're worried about their kids, but because they're worried about how other adults will react to their kids' behavior. And if you have a tantrum- or whining-prone child, it adds to that stress.

Maybe the best solution is not to ban children from certain flights, but to offer family-only flights with more services and facilities aimed at families and kids. A play area? Toys? Kids' books on board instead of newspapers? A clown walking down the aisles for entertainment? Bigger diaper change tables? I don't think it will happen, but I am saying to me, that would be a less offensive way of dealing with the issue.

On most flights I've been on, the airline seems to try to seat families with children together in one part of the plane. This can be nice not just for adult travelers without kids, but also for families because they're sharing an area with people who are in the same boat (or plane in this case)

The kindness (and patience) of strangers
Long flights require a lot of empathy and patience from everyone towards everyone else on board, and some kindness to strangers will make things a lot easier, whether those strangers snore too loud, smell of too much perfume, or are kids that have a hard time settling down.

Obviously everyone on board should do their best not to annoy others, and parents must control their  children, but some understanding and compassion from fellow passengers shouldn't be too much to ask. (Or maybe it is, at least in first class!)

As an addendum to the article on child-free flights, The Economist posted this letter from a 6 year old that they received in response to a story about banning children from flights that was published in 1998.

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