What family travelers can learn from road warriors

Shut up!

If we’ve learned anything during a week when a man was assaulted for failing to give up his seat on an airplane, it’s this: As life-changing as travel can be, it often brings out the worst in people.

Family travelers have known this fact for years; in many cases, simply walking onto an airplane with a baby draws dirty looks, sighs, and “talking tos” from passengers who want to make sure our kids know how to behave at 35,000 feet.

Increasingly, however, this fact is becoming clearer to everybody else.

The tragedy, of course, is that for the most part, moms and dads who travel with kids are among the most empathetic of all passengers. Heck, even when we moms and dads aren’t traveling with our kids, we tend to be more aware of ourselves and the people around us and how everybody can live together most peacefully.

I’m experiencing this very fact as I type these words. I’m sitting in the Centurion Lounge at San Francisco International Airport, where I am surrounded by three “road warrior” business-traveler types who are literally screaming into their cell phone headsets.

To my left, a man is yelling so he’s heard during a conference call. To my right, a dude is talking to a colleague IRL, and they’re yelling about a client and how “stuck up” he or she is. Across the way, some dude is yelling at his voice recognition software to answer a ringing phone. ANSWER! ANSWER! ANSWER! He won’t stop. ANSWER! ANSWER!

Oh, there’s also the dude who’s actually traveling with his wife and child and is trying to conduct some sort of business call and keeps shushing his kid with the most disruptive and offensive shush you’ve ever heard in your life. (Why he doesn’t just politely ask his wife to entertain the child, who knows.)

Am I ranting? Perhaps. But it’s also painfully clear to me in this moment that even when my kids are acting up at the airport, they’re not nearly as loud or disruptive as these men (they’re all men, of course, aren’t they always?). Put differently, families and family travelers get a bum rap for being loud and obnoxious and annoying but the reality is that most of the time kids are no more loud and obnoxious and annoying than grownup fliers.

The takeaway, of course, is just to be aware. When you’re traveling with kids, be aware that kids will be kids, and sometimes it’s perfectly OK for them to laugh and exclaim and be excited about the fact that they’re going to fly like birds. When you’re traveling solo, be aware of others around you and adjust your own behavior accordingly.

I guess a secondary takeaway from all of this is always to travel with earplugs. You never know when you might need some outside help.

Just say no to goody bags for fellow passengers

Offending goody bag, circa 2014

Offending goody bag, circa 2014

The family travel world was buzzing this week with outrage over the suggestion that parents who fly with kids should bribe other passengers with goody bags for their patience.

This ridiculous assertion—which first surfaced back in 2014, mind you—was aired anew in an absurd New York Times story by (former editor) Damon Darlin, and was Tweeted and retweeted a zillion times by other family travel haters around the world. Then came the rebuttals, most convincingly from Heather Havrilesky in New York magazine.

At first I tried to downplay the whole thing, addressing it with a throwaway line in my previous post.

Now, however, as more and more of my friends and colleagues have asked for my opinion on the subject, I feel it warrants a degree of standalone treatment here. So let me make sure I don’t mince words.

THE NOTION OF FAMILY TRAVELERS GIVING GOODY BAGS AS OFFERINGS TO OTHER PASSENGERS IS COMPLETE LUNACY AND ABSOLUTE BULLSHIT.

In case my true feelings didn’t come through there, let me repeat: FUCK NO. NEVER.

To further explain my take on this issue, I’d like to pull some text from a column I wrote for Parenting magazine (about a similarly ridiculous issue) back in 2012:

“My pet peeve is this whole notion that we parents somehow bend the rules just by bringing babies into the airplane environment.

Here’s my take, plain and simple: If an airline is going to sell me a ticket and I obtain that ticket in the same fashion as other passengers obtain theirs, I am just entitled to bring aboard my baby as others are entitled to ‘carry-on’ potentially annoying stuff that Federal Aviation Administration regulations allow them.

Like a propensity for loud-talking. Or snoring. Or a knack for passing silent-but-deadly gas.”

You don’t see people who travel with these conditions giving out peace offerings to other passengers. Like halitosis-sufferers distributing nose plugs to help seat-mates avoid the rotten-onion breath. Or snorers doling out ear plugs so people don’t have to listen to them cutting wood for four hours over the red states in the middle of the country.

So why would anyone ever think goody bags to make up for potentially loud babies is OK?

Let’s be honest. Flying has become an exercise in patience. For everyone. Each flight has a lot of people, crammed into tiny metal tubes for long periods of time. Under these conditions, everything is magnified. But the sooner fellow passengers recognize that this reality applies to all of us, the better off we’ll be.

Put differently, if my wife and I fly with our baby and we don’t put forth maximum effort to soothe her when she cries, that’s our fault, not the baby’s, and fellow passengers are more than entitled to hate us accordingly. But if we’re trying like heck to get the baby to calm down and the baby simply won’t stop crying, that’s life. You don’t need to work for The New York Times to understand that sometimes babies are going to act like babies. Fellow passengers never will hear an apology—or get pre-emptive Tootsie Rolls—from this father for that.

Lessons from Maine: Don’t be an asshole family traveler

Good for you, Marcy's.

Good for you, Marcy’s.

By now you probably have read about the diner owner in Portland, Maine, who screamed at a mom and dad for not quieting their crying toddler while the family dined in her restaurant this past weekend. You might have read some high-level etiquette theory about who was right, who was wrong, and what might prompt someone to go berserk under these circumstances. Maybe you even read the mother’s response.

My take: Though the restaurant owner seems like a bit of a loose cannon, the parents in question also behaved badly, and as parents, we really shouldn’t be assholes when we are dining with our kids away from home.

You read that right, folks. I’m saying I support the rabid restaurateur.

Could the restaurant owner have been a bit less crass in her tirade? Of course. Am I cool with the fact that the restaurant owner directed some of her vituperation at the 21-month-old herself? Not at all. Generally speaking, however, I think the diner gal was totally right for going off on these negligent parents, and think the vacationing parents were totally in the wrong.

I mean, the facts almost speak for themselves. The child screamed incessantly FOR 40 MINUTES and the parents didn’t even try to take the kid outside. The owner gave the family to-go boxes and asked them to take off. It was at that point, with the kid still crying, the owner went Andrew Dice Clay.

(UPDATE: Some reports suggest the child cried for only FOUR minutes. To me, the duration of the episode is irrelevant; after about 30 seconds of crying the parents should have had the kid outside.)

What’s more, the mom said she didn’t want to take her child outside because it was raining.

Again, I don’t condone cursing at kids. But I certainly understand the restaurateur’s frustration. Reports indicate there were more than 70 other diners in the restaurant at that time. Crying babies are loud. Other patrons were getting annoyed. Somebody had to do something.

So what if it was raining. Didn’t the family have a rental car? If so, that would have been a great enclosed and confined space in which the child could have cried it out. If not, surely there were awnings or vestibules of nearby businesses that would have proved worthy shelters to shield the shrieking child from the rain.

In short, I believe, the parents completely failed in their responsibilities as traveling parents who had taken a baby out to eat.

These duties aren’t complicated. They involve three basic rules: 1) Pay attention to your kid, 2) Try to keep your kid happy, and 3) Remove your kid from the situation if the kid can’t deal. According to eyewitness reports, these parents failed in each and every one of these cases.

When dining out with kids—whether you’re vacationing or not—it’s up to us traveling parents to make good choices and take responsibility for our children’s behavior, no matter what the circumstances. In this case, on that fateful Saturday in Maine, IMHO these particular parents acted like assholes and got what they deserved. Let the story be a lesson to all of us. Don’t be like these parents on your travels. Ever.

Inattentive parents no longer most annoying air travelers

Being "inattentive," en route from SAN to STS.

Being “inattentive,” en route from SAN to STS.

Here’s something worth celebrating: “Inattentive Parents” no longer are the most annoying air travelers, at least according to the second-annual Airplane Etiquette Survey from Expedia (a client of mine).

The survey, released today, revealed that “Rear Seat Kickers” replaced slacker moms and dads in the top spot in the 2014 poll. For family travelers, this gives the haters one less thing to throw in our faces the next time we fly.

(Though you could make the argument that most of the rear-seat kickers are kids.)

It also means there’s a brand new reason to talk about airplane etiquette, especially as it pertains to families.

One of the most colorful parts of the discussion revolves around “Seat Back Guy,” that passenger who unapologetically and repeatedly reclines his seat on you. This is irritating for all passengers, but it is particularly irksome for family travelers (as we need all the space for the kids we can get). In short, one aggressive recliner can make even the shortest trips with kids miserable.

I’ll never forget the trip on which some dude tried to recline his seat back toward L. My older daughter, who was maybe 4 at the time, let the guy have it, yelling at him for “invading my personal space!” until the dude sat back up.

It might be one of the best family travel moments of my (short-lived) career.

Of course another engaging part of the discussion on airplane etiquette is an analysis of what constitutes “inattentiveness” among parents. When R threw a temper tantrum on the flight home from San Diego last weekend, was I being “inattentive” by not stopping her but letting her work it out? Or does “inattentive” describe the mom who is pounding nips of vodka while junior runs up and down the aisle?

The survey, which catalogued opinions from 1,000 Americans, didn’t specify on these subjects, but we only can imagine.

Anyway, if you’re interested in airplane etiquette—or you’ve thought about how you might be more considerate the next time you travel with your kids—give the study a read. Also, check out Expedia’s fun (and easy-to-navigate) infographic on the subject.

What kind of air traveler do you consider to be the most annoying passenger?

Hope for Family Travelers on Planes

Kate. Photo by Shanell Mouland.

Kate.

The Internet has been abuzz this week with praise for a tear-jerking essay from Shanell Mouland, the woman behind Go Team Kate.

The story was titled, “Dear ‘Daddy’ in Seat 16C,” and was published Jan. 9. In it, Mouland recounts an anecdote from a recent flight with her 3-year-old daughter, Kate, who has autism. Details of the story are irrelevant here (honestly, I encourage you to gather some tissues and read the piece yourself). The bottom line: The dude who sat next to Kate was just a really good human being.

Over the course of the multi-hour flight, the guy smiled at the child. He engaged her. He let her touch his computer. He even played turtles with her. And at no point did he make it seem as if Kate or Shanell were annoying him or invading his personal space. He was just a good guy.

I loved the story for a number of reasons.

First, as a parent, it’s uplifting to hear about a stranger going out of his way to be kind to someone else’s kid. Second, as a supporter of the autism community (I’ve done work for AbilityPath), it’s wonderful to read about someone treating a child on the Spectrum with the kind of patience and respect these children deserve.

Finally, as a blogger, I love the bigger picture. At a time when airlines get kudos for segregating family travelers and passengers seem to enjoy ganging up on those of us who travel with kids, this story was a welcome breath of fresh air, a feel-good example of the reality that there still are some people who fly the “friendly” skies.

The piece left me feeling hopeful that maybe, just maybe, the prevailing attitudes about family travelers on airplanes can soften and change.

We just need more people like the Daddy in 16C. And we need to hear more stories like his.

Lessons from a Travel Etiquette Survey

What's worse at 30,000 feet: These, or bad parenting?

What’s worse at 30,000 feet: These, or bad parenting?

It’s no secret that I think most airlines could improve the way they treat family travelers. Still, some of the findings of a recent study published by Expedia (in the interest of full disclosure, a client) and Northstar have me bummed out.

This data, part of the 2013 Airplane Travel Etiquette Study, indicates that “inattentive parents” are the most offensive airplane etiquette violators in the skies today. A whopping 41 percent of 1,001 survey respondents tabbed slothful parents for the top spot. (Other offenders in the Top 5: rear-seat kickers, smelly passengers, drunkards and chatty Cathies.)

Do I agree that inattentive parents are a scourge in the skies? I do. But I also know that not all traveling parents are inattentive. The fact that these parents annoy other travelers SO MUCH puts the rest of us moms and dads in a bad spot. It makes us guilty by association—just because we fly with kids.

There’s a bigger problem here, too—the notion that lousy parents are THE WORST of the etiquette offenders.

Under-supervised kids are annoying in any setting, don’t get me wrong. But are they more annoying than rude grown-ups? Or sloppy drunks? Or people who won’t shut the heck up? Or people who clip their toenails in mid-flight? Or armrest hogs?

It concerns me that people think not. And it has me thinking about ways to change public perception.

One obvious solution is to call for parents to stop failing as parents when they board a plane. Another solution: To get fellow passengers to be more understanding with those of us who travel with our kids. Perhaps some sort of public awareness program could help; material about “practicing patience,” or something like that. (Seriously, y’all, who’s with me here?)

Of course I think the biggest change can come from the airlines themselves.

If these companies actually would enact policies that benefit family travelers instead of policies that alienate us, maybe thinking would change. If airlines would add perks for family travelers instead of taking perks away (man, I miss pre-boarding), maybe people would realize we are just like they.

At the end of the day, observing proper etiquette comes down to obeying a simple code of behavior. The best place to change perception in relation to this behavior is at the top.

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