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.

2 replies
  1. Robin
    Robin says:

    I completely agree, I was extremely disheartened to see the results.  I’ve lived the guilty by association stigma and remember one particularly bad flight. 

    I was flying with my overstimulated 13 month old on an evening cross country flight.  He could just not fall asleep.  I had the passengers in front of me telling me to make my son stop crying, I tried to take him to the back, but the flight attendants told me I could not stand there (I’ve never ever heard that before or since), and I tried walking the aisle and was yelled at by a passenger when my son’s foot accidentally hit her computer (he was in an ergo carrier at the time) even after I apologized.  The worst had to be once I finally got him to sleep in arms, the flight attendant rushing through the aisle elbowed him so hard on the head he woke up screaming and rubbing his head.  Then the flight attendant proceeded to give me dirty looks like the rest of the passengers around me. 

    A few kind soles, when we finally landed and my son had finally fallen asleep, helped us gather and carry our stuff so we wouldn’t have to wake him.  But more importantly they assured me that this happens and we did the best we could restoring my faith in humanity and myself. 

    Traveling internationally, especially recently to Argentina a child loving culture, has shown me how insensitive people in the US can be to parents, children and families in general.  We need a cultural mind shift, but with domestic airlines leading the fight against families, its an uphill battle. 


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