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.

Real talk about air travel with kids

My seatmate was cute, but also a handful

My seatmate was cute, but also a handful

Let’s face it: Even for those of us who consider ourselves “experts,” flying with kids is no easy task. I’m not saying you should go and give other passengers goody bags as a way to pre-emptively apologize for your kids being kids (like this NY Times author did this week). I’m just saying that sometimes, as parents, we just need to admit that the majority of the “getting there” part of family travel simply sucks.

I was reminded of this fact on three different occasions yesterday as we returned from Hawaii.

No. 1: Navigating the TSA checkpoint.

When we arrived at the airport to catch our flights, it was hot. REALLY hot. Like, so hot that those prone to sweating (ahem, moi) were sweating like Patrick Ewing hooping it up at Madison Square Garden in the heyday of the Knicks. And that was just when I was standing still.

On the TSA line, the sweat situation got worse. The kids left me with their bags. I was nominated to breakdown the stroller. Then I had to worry about my own stuff.

By the time I got through the scanner, someone asked me if I had just come in from a run.

No. 2: Reacting to the inevitable spills.

Little R, our middle child, is notorious for spilling at least one beverage at every meal. Not surprisingly, her habits don’t change on an airplane. This means that at some point on every flight, the child will spill something. It’s up to Powerwoman and me to minimize the impact of that spill on R and everyone else.

Normally we just bring a change of clothes and administer that change once R has soaked herself. But on this particular flight, when R’s spill soaked her own pants AND the backups—we had to get creative.

The solution this time: Wrapping our wet child in dry sweatshirts.

Yes, this means she was half-naked on a plane. Yes, it meant that the sweatshirt got pretty wet as well. But by the time we landed her primary pants were mostly dry. (My carry-on was another story.)

No. 3: Managing potty breaks on the plane.

Baby G got top priority at 35,000 feet, hanging with me in the only lavatory with a changing table while I handled her business. But when the two of us returned to the seats, BOTH other girls had to go, kicking off an out-and-back parade of Villanos from rows 19 and 20 to the aft lavs.

Don’t get me wrong; everybody went. But getting them back and forth was an effort, and getting them into the lavatory and reminding them to a) Not let their shorts touch the scuzzy floor, b) Not to fiddle with the flush button, and c) Not to freak out about the suction-sink definitely tested some patience.

It also necessitated a Dewar’s from the in-flight booze cart, FWIW.

The bottom line: Though some say the wonder of a trip is “in the journey,” when the journey involves air travel, it’s OK to be realistic about how unpleasant the experience can be.

Remember that the next time you’re traveling with your kids, or when you see a passenger who is.

Jim Gaffigan on traveling with five kids

The challenges of traveling with multiple children are real. Powerwoman and I are reminded of this whenever we leave the house these days with L and R and (now) G in tow. But, really, we’ve got nothing on Jim Gaffigan.

The Gaffigans meet Rapunzel (from "The Jim Gaffigan Show" website).

The Gaffigans meet Rapunzel (from Gaffigan himself).

Yes, THAT Jim Gaffigan. The comedian. The guy who played my favorite role on the television show, “My Boys,” back in the day. The guy who made millions on the “Hot Pockets” skit.

You see, Gaffigan has five kids. And apparently, as we call can watch on his new reality show, “The Jim Gaffigan Show,” he and his wife take them on the road when Gaffigan is touring. Ostensibly to promote the show, Gaffigan opened up to Kelly DiNardo in a recent Q&A for The New York Times about the rigors and realities of traveling with a handful of offspring. If you read nothing else about family travel today, you should read this piece.

Why did I love the story? For starters, it’s funny, just like Gaffigan. Example: “Traveling with 3- and 4-year-old boys is like transferring serial killers from a prison. You have to be constantly aware.”

The piece also offers some really useful tips. Like the part where Gaffigan says he makes his older kids write a single-page diary entry about every city they visit. (I’m *totally* trying that with L.) Or the part where the comedian admits that his kids—like all kids—struggle on international flights.

But my absolute favorite snip from the piece is where Gaffigan defends international family travel. His perspective: “There’s this perception that with international travel it’s not worth it because [kids] don’t get it. I think they do. And I think they see their parents behave differently in different cultures. My kids are pretty good travelers. I think they’re more sturdy because of it, more resilient.”

All told, the piece will take you five minutes to read. Check it out.

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