Advice · Strangers

Flying (child edition)

I’ll be flying with my infant for the first time in a few weeks. Do people not realize how incredibly stressful it is to try to bring an infant anywhere, let alone on a cross country flight? It will take us hours of preparation and planning to try to make sure we have everything we could even possibly need, then we have to lug a car seat and stroller, feed him in public, and his entire routine will be off so good luck to us.

Flying with an infant can be beyond stressful and on top of all that now people talk about how we should buy, assemble, carry, and distribute goodie bags to adults because our child will likely cry at some point? Hell no. Children are part of our society, as are elderly, and people that may need extra help due to differing physical abilities. They don’t owe anything to the general public. Does that mean you should let your toddler kick the chair in front of them? No, of course not, but if the parent is honestly making every effort to manage the child then that’s the best they can do. Maybe try some empathy, sympathetic smiles. You know what won’t help though? Being clearly frustrated with the parent.

I guess my question is can you tell people how to not be a jerk while taking public transportation?

[Note: I edited this a bit for length. For the sake of space, I’m going to limit this post to air travel specifically.]

My guess is that some parents read this question and started hi-fiving their partner, or shouting hallelujah because someone just read their mind, then typed it up and put it on the internet. And me diving into this might be a big mistake. But let’s carry on anyway!

I think in the past few years society has gone in a few different directions with the kids on a plane debate.

Outwardly Rude 1 (childfree version): These are the people who either have never had kids or who no longer have small kids and who bitch endlessly about children on planes, as though they are the only potentially frustrating part of travel.* They mean mug parents, or make especially loud comments like “oh great” as soon as a mother carrying a car seat enters the boarding area. If the child is in their row or the row near them, expect a whole lot of sighs and “jokes” throughout the boarding process at least.

Overly Accommodating: As a response to Outwardly Rude 1 we see the parents who at first glance seem like the coolest, most accommodating folks ever. These are the folks who make those goodie bags that, while sort of thoughtful, seem to imply that their child is a burden to the world, and we all deserve a cookie for simply existing in the same space as them.

Fuck that. I mean, if that’s how someone wants to spend their time and money, I suppose go for it (and who am I to turn down a perfectly good bit of chocolate), but I don’t think this is helping the situation overall. Plus it creates, as mentioned in the question, some fucking bizarre expectations of what it means to be a member of society.

Outwardly Rude 2 (parent version): These are the parents who believe that children (specifically, their children) are all that matter ever, and anyone who isn’t happily willing to adjust their whole lives to accommodate a child they don’t know is a vile human. (These are the same parents who think that bringing a toddler to a fancy restaurant at 9PM on Valentine’s Day is totally acceptable and everyone there should feel honored to witness the vocal stylings of an overtired two-year-old.)

Everyone else: I think somewhere in the middle are the rest of us, who recognize that there are a lot of things that can make flying unpleasant, and yes, sometimes that includes screaming babies. But it also — and frankly more often — includes the guy who removes his sneakers immediately, subjecting the whole cabin to a day’s worth of foot funk.

Or the man who puts his seat back immediately, regardless of the carnage he leaves in his wake.

Or the guy who thinks flight attendants are servants, and not the people who will help save our lives should this all go horribly wrong.

Everyone Else includes those who are able to manage complex thinking on this topic, allowing for people to be frustrated and annoyed while also recognizing that this is life and people are often doing the best that they can.

With that in mind, here is some advice for people who get worked up when a kid is on your flight: just deal with it.

I know, I know. It can be frustrating to see a kid screaming and a parent possibly not doing anything about it (which, admit it, is super rare – usually the parent looks stressed the fuck out and ready to do anything short of jump out of the plane to make it all stop). The thing is, as adults we sometimes project onto children self-control levels that we wish they had but that they don’t actually possess, because we want things the way we want them, and children, unpredictable as they are, mess with that.

But think about it. Like, really think about it. How much do you like being stuck in a tin can with nothing to do, no control over when you can even get up or get down? And across how many years and flights have you developed ways to cope with this? And do you still sort of want to cry a little when the seatbelt sign goes on and you have to pee? Think about all of that from the perspective of a tiny human who didn’t even pick this trip to go on. It sucks.

The person who wrote in is correct: kids are a part of our society, and they don’t stop being part just because they might not act the way we hope they will in a confined space. Your job as a non-jerk adult is to hold your tongue (and face) as much as possible, smile at the parents as you would any other person on the flight, and, if in their row, and things are getting rough, offer to help out for a minute if it seems appropriate. You know, just like you’d open a door for a person following you out of a store, or you’d watch someone’s seat while they ran to the restroom in a movie theater. Be a decent fucking person, regardless of the venue.

With all of that said, however, I did want to mention that adults traveling without children are also part of our society, and some of those who are flying and who parents perceive are giving them a dirty look or not helping out might just be going through some of their own shit. Just as they may not realize the Herculean task it is to simply travel with a baby, you may not realize that they are on this flight because they are coming home from a funeral, or haven’t slept for days because they are in the midst of a divorce, or they have a deep fear of flying, and a crying child is reminding them that they, too, would prefer to be wailing but society doesn’t allow that.

The thing is, everyone has a story, something going on. Some (many?) of them might act like jerks because they are jerks. They are entitled assholes who think that because they chose not to reproduce, they are owed a child-free life as they navigate all areas of society. But others are just humans, doing what they can to make it through what might be a rough time. Someone’s rough time doesn’t necessarily get to trump another’s just because one involves a child. We’re all part of society, and we have to figure out how to work together — or at least non-confrontationally coexist — in frustrating situations.


*Personally, the fact that I have to let a TSA agent get to second base with me simply so I can go visit my sister is beyond obnoxious and much more of a violation than a colicky baby on her first flight.

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