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Should There Be Kid-Free Planes?

Dear Airline Executives, Pilots, Gate Agents, Flight Attendants and Childless Passengers,

There have been stories up the wazoo lately about Gremlin-like children ostensibly being fed espresso and shot up with Hershey’s bars and then unleashed unto the friendly skies. The reaction has been SHOCK! and OUTRAGE! What's this? Tiny people who can barely speak not doing exactly what adults expect them to for hundreds and hundreds of consecutive minutes? The horror!

I get it: You don’t want to sit next my kids, both of whom are under the age of 4, on your next flight. Well, guess what? I don’t want to sit next to them, either. But the fact that some people actually think there should be entire flights free of kids because of a few midair temper tantrums is absurd. Take Ruth Davis Konigsberg's piece this week in Time (“Should Some Planes be Kid-Free?”). It’s an absurd idea, because the fact is that the kids are hardly the problem.

This dawned on me recently when I was preparing to board a flight. Our reservation was turned upside down, due to no fault of our own. I subsequently learned I’d have to pay extra to move up to nothing-special seats near the front of the plane just so I could sit next to my 3-year-old. I informed the icy cold lady at the airline counter that this was fine with me.

“Someone else can have her for the flight,” I let her know quite earnestly. “I’m good.”

She looked at me sideways.

“No, really,” I said. “When I confirmed my reservations and printed out my boarding passes and checked in, we were sitting together. Because you screwed something up, I’m not going to pay extra for the privilege of having to play DVD operator, book reader, short order cook, song singer and butt wiper for the next several hours.”

And just like that, they managed to find us seats together that didn’t cost me any more money.

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Are kids second-class citizens? Am I paying a lower fare for my kids? The answer is no. To both. On some planes they don’t even have changing tables for babies in their bathrooms, but they still make me pay full fare when I fly with my kids, one of whom is still in diapers. How would you feel if there were no bathroom for you on an airplane?

I’m sorry, do my kids’ occasional whines or cries bother you? Well, guess what? The onions in your sandwich (or the greasy stench of the fast food you picked up at the gate) are bothering me. Same goes for your chubby arms and thighs that extend over the imaginary line to my seat. How about your obnoxious snoring or when you have one too many $6 mixed drinks and start rambling on in my direction with foul breath? Or your constant need to get up to go to the bathroom, or how you fall asleep just before I need to get up and you take f-o-r-e-v-e-r to unbuckle your seatbelt and untangle your earbuds before I can make my escape to the aisle? Annoying.

My kids don’t require special services on flights. There’s not much a flight attendant can do for them; I’m the one playing the part of the one-man-band on the frequent four-hour flights we take between our home in Colorado and my parents’ in New York. The movies on the planes are never geared toward the littlest fliers. The food offered isn’t fit for a picky preschooler. Have I mentioned we’re still paying full fare for our kids?

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How about taking the money airlines earn from the kids’ tickets and training the flight crew on how to better deal with the youngest passengers? Would a little empathy maybe work better than impatience, indifferent stares and the adult equivalent of temper tantrums?

Here are a few suggestions on how you can do your best to ensure my kids (and, by extension the crew and childless passengers) have a good flying experience:

  • Keep letting families pre-board for free. The more time we have to get settled and the less we’re rushing and bumping into people, the better off we’ll all be. Trust me.
  • Don’t charge us to sit together. That’s really ludicrous. But if you do, guess what? I’m already paying for our seats, and I’m not bluffing when I say, Go ahead. Seat two total strangers next to my preschooler. Oh, and please be sure to let me know how that works out. I’m always up for a good laugh.
  • Be nice. Your haughty attitude, whether you’re a flight attendant or row mate, does nothing to further the attempts at calming down my children, who are tired from having to wake up early for our flight and are tired again at having to sit on a plane for hours. They are children, not robots. You have bad days, and so do my kids.
  • Don’t act so entitled; we’re all paying roughly the same coach fare. Plus? You were a kid once, too. And last time I checked with your mother, you weren’t an angel 100 percent of the time, particularly when everyone most wanted you to be. In fact, you still aren’t.

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What would happen if I stopped flying with my kids and drove everywhere instead? Besides me voluntarily checking myself into a mental institution, I would guess that a lot more planes would have way fewer people on them. If that's the case, and we were shut out of some flights so they could be kid-free, wouldn’t the airlines have to charge more to make up for our absence?

If child-averse passengers are willing to pay more just to fly without my kids, then I have an alternative idea: Spend that extra money to fly private instead. After all, it’ll be a lot less stressful for me to fly with my kids if you aren’t on the plane.

Or does that sound kind of unfair and unkind to you?

Love,

Meredith

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