Chicken soup for the frequent flyer’s soul

Some of you might have read about how flight attendants at AirTran kicked a 3-year-old screaming brat and her parents off a plane, after the brat had already delayed takeoff for 15 minutes by refusing to get in her seat, and the parents had demonstrated their total unwillingness to control her. The parents went to the media expecting sympathy; instead, AirTran was immediately deluged with messages of support and people vowing to fly them from then on. Unfortunately, the airline then squandered a PR bonanza by apologizing profusely to the parents and refunding their tickets. In my opinion, there was no need to kick anyone off the plane: the child and parents should’ve been promptly moved to the luggage compartment, then whipped and beaten upon arrival.

31 Responses to “Chicken soup for the frequent flyer’s soul”

  1. John Sidles Says:

    God has heard you, Scott. And because she has a keen sense of humor, she has arranged for you to marry this year, and become a proud father of cute but colicky triplets in 2008! :)

  2. Stupid Fundy Says:

    In a better time, the whole plane would have expected those parents to give the brat a well-deserved spanking, and make her sit down and shut up. The culture will no longer allow proper discipline (CA wants to outlaw spankings until age 3, which is surely too late to get started on discipline!), so it is not surprising these parents acted as if they didn’t have the authority to control their own child.

    Should-be-unnecessary-caveat: the poster understands there is a line (and not even a fine line, but a clear and distinct line) between properly-administered corporal discipline, and physical abuse, and in no way condones the latter.

  3. Matt Says:

    I applaud the actions of this airline. In fact, they did the right thing at the time and also took appropriate lawsuit avoidance action.

    Personally, I can cope with screaming babies and very young kids because they really have no understanding of what they are doing. The kids that really annoy me are those in the roughly 4-6 year old age group who have not yet learnt that they can speak at a variety of volumes appropriate to different circumstances, i.e. not just at the top of their voice the whole time. This is especially annoying when they are repeatedly asking their Dad why the person sitting next to them is trying to sleep at the top of their voice for over an hour. Parents, please note that soft speech is something that YOU can teach your kids before you put them on an airplane. In fact, I propose that kids should have to pass a speech volume test before they are allowed to fly.

    Actually, it’s not even just kids who are annoying on flights. People with bladder control problems who haven’t learnt that they should sit in an aisle seat and don’t seem to be able to control the position of their elbows when in line for the bathroom, hence repeatedly elbowing the aisle sitters in the face, are a pain. Also, how about those people who haven’t worked out that they could choose their seat well in advance and so they request a seat swap from your favoured location to the dreaded middle seat on the grounds of some disease or impediment that they have?

    Come to think of it, it’s not just kids and pensioners, but practically everyone else on the flight who is annoying in one way or another. They should all get kicked off in my opinion, except me and maybe the pretty girl who is never sat next to me.

  4. Barbara Terhal Says:

    O, Scott, you are lucky you were not on the airplane with my family when 1-year old Nadia decided to throw up over David and herself. It happened on a packed transatlantic flight one hour before landing and the cabin may still be smelling. Or perhaps you would like to fly with us in the future as an extra pairs of hands?

  5. Matt Says:

    Oh yeah, one more thing. At what point did it become acceptable to recline your chair without politely asking the person sitting behind you whether it would be OK beforehand (or at the very least warning them)? I definitely recall a time when this common courtesy was the accepted practice, but these days it seems that people regard reclining as a right. Errant recliners should definitely be kicked off as well (preferably in mid-air).

  6. Scott Says:

    Personally, I can cope with screaming babies and very young kids because they really have no understanding of what they are doing.

    Huh — you’re more tolerant than I am. My view is that, if you’re going to bring something on a plane that has a large chance of screaming uncontrollably (a kid, an animal, a deranged person…), it’s your responsibility to muffle or sedate it first. I don’t actually care what the source of the screaming is.

  7. Scott Says:

    Errant recliners should definitely be kicked off as well (preferably in mid-air).

    Yeah, I agree. My rule is that I only recline my seat after the person in front of me does. Then the person in back of me can respond by reclining her seat, and so on like a row of dominoes. Admittedly, the plane would need to be torus-shaped for justice to be truly served.

  8. Ian Durham Says:

    First, aren’t we all scientists? None of us was there so how do we really know what happened? Without firsthand evidence I remain neutral in this particular case.

    Second, I have two kids (4 and 6) that I’ve taken on planes numerous times including trans-Atlantic flights. Mine are usually well-behaved (probably because they travel a lot). But what about the family that doesn’t travel a lot (for whatever reason, perhaps legit) and has a child with mild autism or AD/HD (and don’t get me started on that)? And they have no choice but to fly somewhere for a family engagement? Or perhaps it’s the first time they’ve had enough money for a vacation in long, long time and they just want to get away?

    I don’t know what happened in this case. Personally, I would just strap my kid into the seat as he/she was kicking and screaming. By the time the flight gets going they’re likely to calm down. But I’d much rather deal with a loud child than a belligerent drunk anyday.

  9. RubeRad Says:

    Here’s the solution to the problem of the inconsiderate recliner…

  10. Ian Durham Says:

    RubeRad: good luck getting that on a plane these days. Looks a little too much like a mini-stun gun or taser. I guarantee some genius TSA employee will become suspicious and confiscate them from soneone.

  11. Scott Says:

    None of us was there so how do we really know what happened? Without firsthand evidence I remain neutral in this particular case.

    Obviously I can only go by the many newspaper articles. I also wasn’t present for the Apollo landings, the Scopes trial, or the Battle of Britain, but that doesn’t prevent me from having opinions about them. That’s the cool thing about belonging to a linguistic species.

  12. Matt Says:

    Ian said, “But what about the family that doesn’t travel a lot (for whatever reason, perhaps legit) and has a child with mild autism or AD/HD (and don’t get me started on that)? And they have no choice but to fly somewhere for a family engagement? Or perhaps it’s the first time they’ve had enough money for a vacation in long, long time and they just want to get away?”

    I guess I should simply argue that academics should be able to travel business class because it puts me in no mood to do any math when I eventually arrive at my destination. If it were just a matter of having to put up with it once a year when you go on vacation then I’m sure we’d all agree that it wouldn’t be such a problem. Honestly, there’s almost no other career where you’re expected to put up with it.

  13. wolfgang Says:

    > academics should be able to travel business class
    Right. The next thing you know somebody wants us to pay them real salaries …

  14. smm Says:

    …and so on like a row of dominoes. Admittedly, the plane would need to be torus-shaped for justice to be truly served.

    hi-larious!

  15. Scott Says:

    hi-larious!

    Yeah, well, my goal in life has always been to unify the fields of topology, aerodynamics, ergonomics, and ethics.

  16. Chinmaya Sheth Says:

    I would just make the plane a little longer.

  17. milkshake Says:

    That would teach them and definitely prevent them from disrupting other flights in the fututre – especialy if the luggage compartment is not pressurised…

    I think a more humane variant would be to put the brat into a pet carrier cage and then forget it on the tarmac.

  18. Aggie Says:

    I would love to see children-free sections on aeroplanes – and on all long-distance transport for that matter (I was surrounded by 7 hyperactive kids on the tilt train last month – not a happy 4 hours) . In Japan they have “quiet” sections on trains where one isn’t allowed to use mobile phones etc. Why not apply the same principle to noisy children?

  19. Greg Kuperberg Says:

    Unlike the moon landings, this one is to some extent a he-said, she-said story. (Or rather, airline said, parents said.) The parents did manage to make the airline sound unreasonable in their version of it. But also unlike the moon landings, the truth of the specific incident doesn’t really matter. The airline’s version of events is realistic regardless of what actually happened. The parents’ version is also reasonably realistic.

    If the issue is families who hold up a plane because they can’t get their kids into the seat, then of course that isn’t reasonable. The airline has to draw the line at some point to get the plane off the ground.

    If the issue is flight attendants who are rude to the passengers, then of course that isn’t reasonable either. Although I agree that the flight attendants deserve some slack, for one reason because there are passengers who are far more rude than any flight attendant.

    If the issue is loud children on airplanes in general, then I agree that it’s unpleasant, I agree that parents have a big responsibility here and that some of them are derelict, and I would not mind a toddler-free section of the airplane. However, I’m not going to agree that parents deserve no slack and no sympathy regardless of the details. It’s a fact of life that children can be unpredictable. Demanding otherwise is like demanding that epileptics can’t have seizures. It is always much easier to blame parents than to be a parent.

  20. Robin Blume-Kohout Says:

    Hmmm. I have to agree with Matt that I generally approve of the airline’s actions — (a) keep other passengers happy by booting the family, and (b) ceteris paribus, be as nice as possible to the family (apologize, refund, give free tickets, etc).

    However, I’m intrigued by this seat-reclining discussion. I was under the impression that the right to recline one’s seat is essentially protected — that it trumps the right-to-not-be-reclined-on. This is not from any particular theory of justice, merely from observations of people around me (I’ve never been asked “May I recline?”, nor have I been told “Please don’t recline,”), and from the fact that the airlines give people the opportunity to recline their seats. Also, I’ve never found it particularly problematic to be reclined upon — and I _know_ I have longer legs than either Scott or Matt.

    However, I do have a pet peeve, which is people who sit with their knees bent 90 degrees, so that their feet are right in front of their seat. See, I like to stretch my legs waaaaayyyyy out in front, which usually means my toes poke through a couple of inches into what is technically the space of the person in front of me. This is not a problem unless they happen to have their feet occupying that space… which is just silly, as they ought to have their legs stretched out, too.

  21. Aggie Says:

    Let me go one further. I think there should be children-free sections of the *city*. Like in Barbarella, where all children are banished from the city — when they become “of age” they are caught in a net by a hairy hunter who brings them back to join the rest of society :p

  22. ben toner Says:

    Just get some good sound-isolating headphones (the ones like earplugs with small holes in them), a blindfold, some swimmer’s nose-clips if you spot Barbara’s kids on the flight, and if necessary put the blanket over your head.

  23. Ian Durham Says:

    Man, I hope you people get married and have loads of kids. Then let’s see what you think.

    And being cranky and curmudgeonly only exacerbates the problem since it only makes people on the receiving end of your crankiness cranky themselves which then makes you more cranky, etc. etc. And, hmmmm, weren’t you all children at some point too? If we put loud children in cages can we put obnoxious adults in cages too?

  24. Jud Says:

    Going Ben one further, I suppose one could have *oneself* sedated and packed into the luggage section in a suitably oversized pet carrier. Depending on the pharmaceuticals used for sedation/revival, I might even volunteer….

  25. Greg Kuperberg Says:

    I’m intrigued by this seat-reclining discussion.

    I have been willing to shrug off reclining seats as annoying but unavoidable, just like loud children. Or rather, I had been, until I recently flew United with their new seat arrangements. I am 5’7″ (171 cm) and I don’t expect to run out of room on a plane flight, but United proved me wrong. It was difficult to use my medium-sized laptop even when the flight began; when the seat in front of me reclined, it became impossible. I then had barely enough room to write with pen and paper. But again, I don’t blame the guy in front of me for reclining his seat, I blame United.

    Actually, I see that there is a lot of funny business these days in the airline industry having to do with both narrow seats and closely spaced rows of seats. United is not the only sneaky airline. Somehow United gave me a particularly bad combination on one of their Boeing 737s. If nothing else, if an airline feels compelled to pack us in like sardines, it should at least reduce the amount that the seats can recline.

  26. Scott Says:

    Greg: For years I adopted “DEATH BEFORE UNITED” as my travel motto. Everything about them is the worst. And while circumstances eventually forced me to retire that motto (i.e. to be a hypocrite), the spirit definitely lives on.

  27. Mom Says:

    Scott,
    You are not a hypocrite on this issue, at least!

    I can vouch for your good-flying behavior as a toddler. You were too busy looking out the window, checking the maps to see where you were headed, or drawing /writing and completing your “magic number boxes” to get into trouble. In those days, the cockpit door was sometimes open and I remember one time the pilots inviting you in to look at the controls (you were about 5).
    Now, if you want to talk about long car rides when you and your brother were killing each other in the back seat, that’s another story….

  28. Scott Says:

    Yeah, I remember getting invited to the cockpit. That was pretty awesome.

  29. Andris Says:

    This has degenerated into a debate on children. That’s unfair, because 90% of my bad flying experiences have been caused by adults. The worst example was two unruly guys in the seats behind me on New York-Helsinki flight that got drunk on alcohol that they brought in from duty-free store (in addition to one served on the plane). I still remember that, even though it was 8 years ago. The milder examples include Scott talking wayy too loud with his neighbour three seats in front of me, when I was trying to sleep on an early morning flight.

  30. RubeRad Says:

    academics should be able to travel business class… Honestly, there’s almost no other career where you’re expected to put up with it.

    Where did you get the impression that business travel happens in “business” class? I have never traveled better than coach for business (except for when I got bumped to first because of an overbooked flight), nor do I personally know any colleagues that are high enough on the food chain for the company to pay for better than coach travel.

    This has degenerated into a debate on children. That’s unfair, because 90% of my bad flying experiences have been caused by adults.

    Just yesterday I was reading this amusing article about flying with the “Bride of Borat”…

  31. Debbie Leung Says:

    The airplane situation is such a zero-sum game :(

    30% of the time, one is lucky enough not to run into a conflict, and 10% of the time, one is lucky to share the space with others who are considerate. 60% of the time, I wish there’s some protection I can seek, and occasionally, I seek revenge.

    I will not gain much sympathy writing the following but I will write anyways. (The fact I cannot fall asleep on airplanes makes the problem much worst for me.)

    (1) There should be a section of seats that’s not reclining (like the non-smoking section in the old days). I don’t recline my seat, and I want to be treated equally.

    (2) There should be a flexible-sized family section.

    (3) There should be partitions one can pull from the “ceiling” down to the arm-rest to partition the upper-space from all sides in case of need. I once shocked a good friend/colleague saying that, but I am not joking. I may be picky to notice being elbowed constantly by the next passenger, or kicked/stepped on periodically by the cute toddler “seating” next, or kicked at the back, or “beaten” by blankets and garments (nearly to my face) of the sweet dreamer seating next. Many other times, during turbulence, a full cup/bottle/can of something would be sitting freely 3 inches from my computer. In a few case, the kid behind would pull the hair of people seating in the front for fun.

    Sigh …