Diaper-Changing on Airplane Seats: Just Plain Gross

These + floor = Peace. For now.

These + floor = Peace. For now.

I’m the first person to admit the way most airlines treat families these days is atrocious. I’d also be among the first parents to start chanting obscenities at said airlines for denying us basic necessities such as changing tables in the lavatories of commercial flights. Heck, some people have called me a “tiger father” for my in-your-face perspective on the subject.

That said, let me get one thing very clear: Changing diapers full of urine and fecal matter on surfaces where other humans have to sit is just plain wrong.

Perhaps this explains why I’ve had such a hard time digesting a recent essay on The Daily Beast by author Philip Shishkin. I *want* to love the piece. In it, Shiskin recounts a horrific series of events on a flight with his baby daughter from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco. (The Twitter version: Father’s outrage over airline’s chronic inability to treat family travelers w/respect ends with flight crew calling the cops. Seriously.)

That the pilot called the po-po on this guy is atrocious. The fact that a flight attendant told the guy to change his kid on the floor is awful (I know; I’ve been there and done that). Heck, I even second Shiskin’s outrage over airlines discontinuing early boarding for families.

But to muster an ounce of sympathy for a guy who brazenly admits to changing his kid on the flight attendant jump seats—then gets all indignant about it? I just can’t.

Why do fellow parents think it’s OK to change dirty diapers in plane seats anyway? It’s not OK for grownups to drop trou to conduct No. 1 or 2 in the middle of the airplane cabin, so why would we think it’s OK to change our kids there?

Put yourself in other people’s shoes. If, in mid-change, your neighbor’s half-naked kid went all Old Faithful on you, don’t you think you’d be—wait for it—pissed? If you were a solo traveler, traveling for business in your best suit, wouldn’t you poo-poo a seat smeared with poop?

On a more basic level, if you were in the middle of a six-hour flight, how would you feel about unintentionally getting up close and personal with (or within smelling distance of) diarrhea?

The bottom line: Seats are for sitting in; bathrooms are for tending to excrement.

As sad as it is that some airlines no longer provide changing tables in on-board lavatories, changing dirty diapers where other people sit should never be an alternative.

If the author of this piece had followed the rules (i.e., changed his kid on the floor) and quietly aired his grievances through appropriate channels, I’m guessing he wouldn’t have had his little run-in with the law.

(He probably also would have gotten some travel vouchers, FWIW.)

Sure, we family travelers want to change the way airlines treat us when we fly, but to accomplish this, we must operate within the confines of the current system—no matter how ridiculous those confines might be. Listen to flight attendants. Respect fellow passengers whenever possible. And please, y’all, don’t be a Shishkin.

5 replies
  1. Andrea, Passports And Pushchairs
    Andrea, Passports And Pushchairs says:

    While instinctually I agree that seats are not for changing diapers on in this case it was a wet diaper, not one filled with poop, it was in the back of the plane, in an empty row, and he had no alternative. I wouldn’t lay my child down on the floor by the bathrooms in a dirty plane. Another alternative would be to shut the toilet lid and do it on there, although that seems just as gross. Regardless it was over the top for them to call the police on this man, 100%,

  2. Matt Villano
    Matt Villano says:

    Andrea: The best-case scenario would be for all planes to install changing tables. That said, parents (myself included) should NOT think it’s OK to change any dirty diaper on seats; that truly is gross. When we travel, we bring a “disposable” blanket to set down on the floor when we’re forced to change the baby there. Again, it’s not optimal. But it enables us to play by the rules, which is what family travelers need to do if we’re ever going to garner enough of a voice (or an ear) to enact change.

  3. Beatrice
    Beatrice says:

    I will NEVER, EVER change my baby’s diaper on a floor in a public place. That is disgusting. End of story.

    If the plane doesn’t provide a place in the lavatory to change a diaper, I will do it on the seat. I will cover the seat in a blanket and with a large changing pad, but there’s no way in HELL my daughter is going to be put on the FILTHY floor of a plane.

    • Matt Villano
      Matt Villano says:

      It certainly *is* disgusting, Beatrice. But even with a blanket and a large changing pad, it’s also gross to do it on the seats! The real answer is in airlines become more family-friendly. Please keep reading!


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