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Chris VanDijk

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Flying With Children Should Not Be Such An Ordeal

Posted: 09/14/2012 5:09 pm

Ah, flying. Going to the airport and seeing the flight attendants in their pill box hats and the pilots with their air of nonchalant cool.

For some reason, this is still the image we have in our heads. An image completely divorced from reality.

This is one of the reasons shows like Pan Am are such a failure. The hazy days of jetting across the country are no longer fun. I write this from my cramped seat, arms pushing against my fellow passenger. We paid a couple hundred dollars each for the privilege of sitting on top of each other and breathing the fecund, recycled air of body odors and halitosis. We are tossed a cup of carbonated corn syrup and some crispy cookies as an amends.

The idea of service in the air has gone the way of the pillbox hats and, thankfully, smoking on the flight. I have faith that the attendants on our flight have the knowledge and skills to save our lives should something happen; It's basic people skills I find lacking.

Now, I get it, I worked in hotels for several years -- people suck. I was a desk agent at a high-end hotel in Times Square and the sense of entitlement people feel when coming to your establishment is unbelievable. The stories would blow your mind. However, as passengers on our short Delta flight from New York to St. Louis, all we want is to keep a toddler calm. We don't want a meal, we don't want anything fancy. Just to keep our toddler calm.

Yes. I'm also seated across the aisle from my wife and child, a precocious boy of 2 1/2. He's a total wiggle worm. From tarmac to take-off, he has been great. But now we are mid-flight and the fasten seat belt sign is on and he refuses to be strapped in.

Do you blame him? Would you want to be forcibly strapped in?

It's enough that you're dealing with a child who is now throwing a full throttled, screaming tantrum, you are also dealing with an attendant who has singled you out for not having the child strapped down.

Not helpful.

I get up and try to help my wife calm our little Turtle, sliding in next to her, as we go through the process, step by step.

The attendant will have none of it.

"Ma'am," she says, looking past me, "I'm afraid he'll have to return to his seat, there are only two oxygen masks over these seats."

"I am right here! I'm not damned invisible!" I want to scream, but don't. I find it's best, being slightly brown and swarthy, not to yell on an airplane.

Child resumes screaming.

She points to the oxygen mask compartments.

"Are you planning on crashing?" I want to ask.

Again, best if I don't. Besides, If I need an oxygen mask, trust me, there will be no problem getting an oxygen mask on myself and my child.

We are currently in a tin can with wings and a young person is screaming so loudly that the engines can barely be heard. Turbulence is not the foremost issue in the minds of a single passenger. And she's quoting regulations about oxygen masks?

I had a discussion with Dr. Harvey Karp a couple months ago where he told me he had reached out to the airlines about teaching flight attendants how to calm and soothe children. Flying is stressful and, if you know anything about Dr. Karp, his techniques could certainly make traveling easier on children, but also fellow travelers.

Not one single airline returned his calls.

For as much as we pay to travel, for all the additional hidden costs -- remember when paying for your luggage to accompany you on your journey was temporary? -- the industry has made the experience of flying more and more sterile; human interaction is a recitation of rules and regulations and we are not passengers, guests or even customers. We are the biological hosts of credit card numbers.

And it is not the fault of the attendants.

After we secretly slipped out of our seat belts for five minutes to coax our son into a calm slumber and I was securely in my seat, the second attendant came over and he lowered my wife's arm rest. It was a small thing, but an act of grace and kindness.

They want to make our experience better, they're simply not given the tools.

If airlines were really concerned with safety on flights, they'd have ten CARES harnesses on every plane for kids from 22-44 pounds. They would offer the option of renting a baby seat for infants, a minor expense parents would gladly pay. If the airlines were really serious about making the experience of flying not only bearable, but a choice we make instead of a necessity because we have no other options, they'd have every attendant watch The Happiest Toddler on the Block.

Anyone flying with a toddler (or on a plane with a toddler) will thank them.

 

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