Kids on Planes: a Holiday?
By Catherine Eade
I can't think of a worse start to an anticipated holiday than sitting in front of a whining, bratty kid on a plane who kicks my seat for three hours and stores chewing gum in my hair.
‘A crying baby at 30,000ft can bring out the sociopath in anyone,’ I heard someone comment the other day, and I had to agree.
So I'm not surprised that an increasing number of airlines and travel agents are providing 'child-free' flights and resorts.
Malaysia Airlines recently announced children will be banned from its luxury first-class cabins. Ryanair is introducing child-free flights from October and other airlines including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have also said they would consider the possibility.
Even 'family-friendly' Thomson is now offering couples-only holidays for those that can't stand the thought of rubbing shoulders with small people. Thomson claims 79 per cent of adults it surveyed said holidays were ruined by other people’s children, while more than a third said ‘hell is other people’s children on holiday’.
The 'child-free and loving it' movement has been gathering pace for many years, and firm subscribers to it welcome the fact that travel companies are finally taking the issue seriously.
But what worries me, looking at various blogs and internet campaigns about child-free travel, is that children (and parents) are being demonised by those without children. It’s a bit like the relationship between cyclists and pedestrians. The gap between ‘them’ and ‘us’ is widening and it often veers into vitriolic territory.
A typical exchange I noticed recently on Facebook was:
'Just returned from a South Caribbean vacation and it was screaming kids during all 4 legs of the flight. It was awful.'
'Ugh. And I'm sure those screaming kids TOTALLY appreciated being in the South Caribbean. Stupid parents.'
I too have wondered why some parents bring very young children on long-haul flights, while others are perfectly happy to holiday at home until their children are old enough to behave well in public.
I have every sympathy for childless travellers who have to put up with full-nappied, sticky-fingered, word-repeating toddlers, but this is down to the parents, not the kids.
Parents could certainly do more to make life easier for other travellers. A tad more awareness from parents about misbehaving urchins would go a long way.
But the fact is, children have just as much right to go on holiday as anyone else.
Should children be excluded from airplanes is similar to asking, should there be body odour-free zones? A ban on people who eat fast food? Separate cabins for lager louts or men who wear socks with sandals?
Can you see where we're headed?
There is nothing wrong with wanting a peaceful flight and a tranquil holiday. I have removed myself from many a train carriage filled with noisy youngsters when I want some quiet time – and I am a parent myself.
But at the risk of sounding like Neil from The Young Ones (‘Why can’t we all just love each other, man?’) I think the child-free posse should lighten up a bit and show some tolerance for their fellow travellers.
By all means seek out child-free flights and holidays so that none of the future generation can spoil things for you, but please, stop complaining about parents who choose to take their children on holiday.
Remember, you were a child yourself once.
Tips for Entertaining Kids on Planes
There are many interactive learning toys on the market today that work well for a child sitting on a plane. These are toys such as the LeapPad Learning System. If your child is old enough to enjoy such devices, consider them as an option but be careful about bringing items that take up too much space in your carry-on.
Do not count on your children getting video entertainment from movies shown by your airline. Yes, many flights do have movies available. However, flights that have one movie rarely show a movie that is appropriate for children 4 years old or younger. Long flights that have many movie channels available for personal selection may have 1 appropriate movie if any…and it may only be shown at certain times, which may not coincide with times when you get in a jam and could really use the relief of a video babysitter. Small portable DVD players are becoming affordable for many families to own. If you bring your own DVD player and children’s DVDs then you will have full control over content and timing of video entertainment for your child. A nice alternative might be to play DVDs on your laptop if you are traveling on business and carrying a laptop that has a DVD drive. If you have direct tv movie channels you can record movies and play them on your laptop with the right equipment.
As suggested above, purchase new toys, books, art supplies, coloring books, or other items. Such items can become excellent rewards for good behavior and tools for redirecting behavior if your child gets bored during the trip. They make much better rewards than sweets, which sometimes work to control behavior in the short term but work against you in the longer term since sugar can have a powerfully negative effect on child behavior.
Just be sure that you ration your entertainment resources throughout the journey. If you pull everything out of your bag of tricks right after takeoff, you will have given up valuable tools for controlling behavior and keeping your child busy. Instead, bring out new items gradually throughout the flight and even think about ways to use new toys, books, activities or games as rewards for good behavior. You and everyone around you will be better off overall if you can maintain the momentum of spending your time and energy focusing on using positive tactics to achieve positive results.
Take time to play some games with your child. Interacting with your child in a fun way can provide them with the close parental attention that children sometimes desperately desire. Every parent knows that if a child wants attention he or she is going to find a way to get it one way or another. Help make it a positive experience by taking charge of meeting that need. For babies, play peek-a-boo, tickle toes, bellybuttons, ribs. Give high-5’s, provide sensory stimulation by lifting and lowering your baby in the air. Play whatever little games get you cute smiles from your baby. When a child gets older, play games like “I Spy With My Little Eye” or “I’m Thinking of Something…” to engage the imagination of your child. Think about this strategy and the games you will play in advance so you will be prepared to kick a game into gear when you sense the need to redirect behavior in a positive way.
You may have hit the jackpot if there is another family seated next to you with small children around the same age as yours. If you are so lucky then you will have the opportunity to make friends and leverage your newfound relationship to make everyone’s flight go smoother. The opportunity to share toys and books with the other family is a big plus. This can increase the amount of resources that you have at your disposal to keep your child occupied and behaving. You also have the benefit of letting the children interact and play together. As a bonus each family can provide the other with support by watching after all the children if a parent sleeps or must go to the bathroom.
Airline Provided Activity Kits
Some airlines have the foresight to offer small children activity kits on long flights. These kits commonly contain art supplies and some small games or toys. A flight attendant may provide you with an activity kit for your child shortly after flight. If your airline provides such kits, you will have a few more activities for your child and you will have the comfort of knowing that you are using an airline that recognizes the extra challenges that you face as a parent with children on the plane. You may later find that the flight attendants make an extra effort to help you out. Their help could include kind little gestures like coming by and striking up a conversation with a 1 year old if he or she begins to get bored or cries. Intuitive flight attendants can sometimes do a lot to help parents during those times when just a small amount of support can make a huge impact.
Larger plans offer lots of aisle space for toddlers to walk around and look at the plane and other passengers. This is a popular sport for small kids on big planes. It is common for them to want to walk around and look at everything. If a child is behaving well and flirting with the other passengers as he or she walks with you in the aisles, you will likely see the child get many smiles and pats from other passengers. If your child takes special interest in a passenger and starts to baby talk to the passenger or engages the other passenger in play, it is a good idea to ask the passenger if your child is a bother. Not all people like to play with kids. However, most seem to enjoy the few minutes of distraction that playing with a happy toddler can bring.