Friday, August 27, 2010

Children on Airplanes

According to a recent poll, which I understand was not scientific but is nonetheless telling, almost 60% of passengers would prefer that children be segregated from other airline passengers.  Turns out that it's the presence of children, not flight delays or baggage fees, that flyers find most annoying.

As a dad, I understand that parents do a lot to try and comfort or control their children.  I also understand, though, that part of being a parent is an almost-immediate shift in one's ability to tolerate noise.  Within hours of our daughter being born, my wife and I were dealing calmly with a screaming infant, doing what we could to soothe her while our levels of frustration stayed conspicuously in check.

As a frequent flyer, I can attest that this level of frustration can spike rapidly in a plane, especially -- and some will take issue with me drawing this distinction, but I will anyway -- when there's a crying baby or annoying youngster in First Class.

Some will ask, why is First Class special?  I could smirk and accuse the questioners of being socialists, I suppose.  How else can one understand the annoyance passengers express when people who pay ten times what they've paid for tickets are entitled to better amenities?  It's amusing to me that in a nation where questioning the merits of free markets and deregulation is decried as treason, Americans nonetheless rally to object to a $750 ticket coming with a $10 sandwich while a $100 ticket on the same flight doesn't offer a meal.

But I digress. 

Putting families in a special section of a plane is basically unworkable.  Blocking off the section with soundproofing would be a potential safety hazard in the event of an emergency, and in any event, airlines have no advance notice of how many parents are traveling with children under two years of age if these infants are traveling on their parents' laps.

But it really does make sense to have families sit at the back of the plane.  It would:
  • Put them closer to the lavatories;
  • Make it easier to get water from the galley; and
  • Give them a practical excuse for boarding first (something that otherwise makes no sense, since it just puts a huge number of people crowding the aisles in random places).
And it would really help improve everyone's trip for parents to not have to endure the endless angry glares of the people around them.  For many parents, that in itself would be a good trade-off.

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