Kelly-Rose Bradford, a writer and mom to a 12-year-old, made lots of people angry last week when she appeared on a UK talk show to suggest there should be both childless flights and child-free areas on airplanes. Bradford isn't the first person to suggest airlines create a seating hierarchy that essentially places families with children in steerage. It's Bradford's bold assertion that parents who take their children on flights are selfish that struck a chord with many people on both sides of the argument.
She said, "I think there's an element of selfishness from parents who insist on not changing their lifestyle once they have their children, because there are some things that just aren't practical."
While child-free adults or parents of older kids, like Bradford, who have blocked out those early infant and toddler years might say parents who fly with their children are indulging their own agendas, those of us in the trenches know better.
Flying with kids means knowingly subjecting yourself to potential side-eye from fellow passengers and that the chance of eating your complimentary bag of pretzels all by yourself is zero. And if you think airplane bathrooms are tiny and smelly, try changing a diaper in one. Parents don't get to enjoy an adult beverage from the drink cart and settle back with a book and a blanket until it's time to land. We're lucky if we can get a sip of soda without having the contents of the cup dumped into our laps by someone who's demanding more juice. The only time you can pause to take a breath as a parent on a flight is if, by some miracle, your child falls asleep, and even then there's the fear that the person sitting closest to the window will need to get up to pee, the passenger in front of you will slam the overhead compartment closed, or the pilot will choose that moment as the time to announce to everyone the amazing things you can see outside the left side of the plane (and of course you and your now-awake baby happen to be seated on the right).
Parents fly with their children for the same reason anyone else willingly boards a giant metal tube with the hope that it stays airborne — because flying is a necessary evil. There are a million reasons why a parent would take a child on a flight: to visit relatives, to make a cross-country move or, yes, even to take a vacation. But even if parents do dare to take their children on a holiday, it's still a far cry from selfish. With the entire family piled into one hotel room, it's not like Mom and Dad are having that much fun couples' time together.
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Even though flying with children can be difficult, it's our responsibility as parents to try and prevent our children from making a flight less enjoyable for others. Bringing entertaining toys and snacks, providing pacifiers or lollipops to help relieve ear pain from changes in cabin pressure and having a plastic bag on hand to avoid making the tiny bathroom even more unpleasant for everyone can go a long way toward showing courtesy for your fellow passengers. But the civility needs to go both ways. Sometimes a baby or child can't be consoled, and making a mom or dad feel worse about the situation isn't helpful. It's just making a tough situation even more stressful.
The bottom line is that flying is one of the few situations where the destination matters so much more than the journey. We should all try to have a bit more patience and understanding for our fellow passengers, regardless of their age, and try to hang in there together until we hear the magical sound of the landing gear coming down.
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