In Defense Of Traveling Parents

Child Free Flights, Traveling Parents, Traveling Children

Just Like Rambo, We're Your Worst Nightmare...

This space is meant for sharing advice and information, and motivating parents of babies, toddlers, and young children to travel with their families. I don’t post about politics, and the only opinion that I share here is the one that everyone should travel with their kids and then I try to explain how to do it with the least amount of stress possible.

But today I got stressed out.

My lower back is in spasm and I’ve already exceeded the recommended daily dosage of extra strength Ibuprofen. And? I’m flying solo with both kids next week. My daughter is a champ on travel days, but she is just-turned-5. My son is a big and boisterous and busy 20-month-old, who has done really well on our flights thus far.

Thus far.

I’m as prepared a traveling parent as there ever was. I’m infinitely mocked for my over-the-top baby packing list and carry-on packing list. But my children are children, and truthfully? I’m tired of being judged before either of my kids utter a peep.

Over the past few months there has been no shortage of articles and blog posts about flying with children, and promoting the idea of child-free flights, or the notion of family sections on planes.  There have been articles in The New York Times, USA Today, my friend Emma Waverman at MSN.ca wrote about it, and recently I was interviewed by CBC’s The National for a piece that aired New Year’s Eve. I avoid reading comments on those articles, because typically they’re nasty and mean-spirited and inspired my initial fear of flying with a toddler in the first place. But it was the affable Matt of Landlopers who got me a little riled up today by his post titled “Traveling With Terrible Children“.

As a non-parent, Matt expects all traveling parents to be “brand ambassadors” for parents traveling with children. I find this unfair. Matt’s description of family sections on planes first piqued my ire:

A hot topic in the past year has been whether or not airlines should institute so called child only zones. Just as with the seemingly impossible smoking areas of flights long gone, parents traveling with children of a certain age would be forced to sit with their own kind in what would become a veritable nursery school at 32,000 feet.

I think substituting any ethnicity or sexual orientation for “parents traveling with children of a certain age” would deem the quote offensive. If you substituted with “overweight people”, you might find yourself taken to task by director Kevin Smith.

I built Have Baby Will Travel because traveling with a baby is stressful, and meeting a young child’s needs while you’re at cruising altitude can often be a challenge. The traveling parents and grandparents that Matt describes sound like unpleasant fellow passengers. But so was a woman on our most recent flight. And that guy who took his shoes off the flight before that. And then there was the time that a mom thought that manicures were an appropriate in-flight activity for two toddler girls.

And so on. And so on.

The list of complaints against past, present and future fellow passengers is endless; but lumping everyone together according to their gender, ethnicity, religion, weight, sexual orientation, marital or parental status is offensive.

I don’t mean to pick on Matt. A few weeks back I (rightfully) had my hand slapped by the lovely Christine at Almost Fearless for labeling judgmental parents as “sancti-mommies” and “smug daddies” in a piece I wrote for Nomadic Matt called “Can You Travel With A Baby?”  But I’m tired of parents and children being the new acceptable group to judge and complain about. *You* will criticize me for the amount of luggage I have, yet be the first to gripe if I don’t have anything to entertain my kids with. *You* will be pissed if my son screams and writhes to be free, yet shoot me the stink eye if I walk him up and down the aisle. I can’t win.

I loved Faiqa Khan’s post at Aiming Low about ignoring the people around you and just focusing on surviving the flight. Maybe if more air travelers worried about their own behaviour, we’d all have a more peaceful co-existence in that cramped, metal tube.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming!

***Edited to add:
Matt has edited his post to change some of the language that I took offense to, including the quote that I used here.

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44 Responses to In Defense Of Traveling Parents

  1. Nicole at 23:38 #

    I recently flew for the first time with our then-18 month old. The thing I was most nervous about? Being seated near unsympathetic passengers. Fortunately, we sat next to a kind grandfather on our way out (who was better at entertaining my son than I was!), and a fellow mom on our way home.

    In other words, we did great. Lesson learned. I hope fellow parents won’t let “others” scare them away from traveling with their kids.

  2. Carol at 00:59 #

    What a thing to read before you go one your own flight with your little ones, huh? I can’t deal.

    Great post! And good luck on your flight!! Heading over to Khan’s post on Aiming Low, and agree with Nicole, feel free to fly parents and little ones!

  3. Corinne at 07:32 #

    Thanks Carol!

    And, way to go Nicole – keep traveling!

  4. Kristy at 08:00 #

    We have been traveling internationally with our kids since they were newborns, never easy, sometimes downright hard, but let’s face it you have as much right to fly as Kevin Smith, or the drunken lout in business class that spills “Tabasco” sauce on his crotch, no wait… I say you have more rights. Keep it up and good luck next week.

  5. CanCan at 08:04 #

    You articulate my experiences as a traveling mom so perfectly. I feel for whatever reason the US has become a culture of child haters. I have been an expat is Asia for 9 years and visit the states every year. The minute we transfer from International to domestic, the sneers, huffs, and eye rolls begin. Yes, I procreated. Yes, my children are on “your” plane or in “your” restaurant. But the jerk-face looks happen before we even sit down. I can’t wait for kid-hating to go out of style.

  6. Kelly at 08:17 #

    I hear you. On our last flight a guy took one look at our 15mo and asked to move on a full flight. I was annoyed but I really believe that kiddos are people too and deserve fair and respectful treatment. It’s my job to act that way regardless of the asshole sitting next to me. To hell with them.

  7. Corinne at 09:02 #

    @Kristy & @Kelly – it baffles me that people behave as though children aren’t people.

    @CanCan – has it gotten worse, or do we as parents just notice it more?

  8. karengreeners at 10:11 #

    Fantastic. I read the original article, and while not as harsh as some, still made me cringe.
    I’ve been travelling (flying) with my kids since before the first was 6 months old. I also take them to restaurants. 90 % of the time, they behave ideally. 10% of the time, they act like rangy kids. I remove them from a restaurant when they get that way – what does one suggest I do on a plane?
    And when they get that way, it is usually because they have just endured hours in a line, in a gate, without a bed, without a play space, strapped in a stroller, a seat, a backpack, and even at that point, I am amazed that their patience has held out that long. Mine usually doesn’t.
    Our society is selfish and intolerant. That doesn’t just apply to parents.

  9. kittenpie at 10:16 #

    We just traveled over the holidays – I was terrified. Honestly, on the way back, they did really well, despite a four-hour delay and being dragged out of bed at 5 am. It was me who was stressed and grouchy! It’s not fun, but we did manage with LOTS of stuff packed, much of which we didn’t even get around to needing.

    In my pre-child life, I have been on the receiving end of nonstop kicks to my seat by a small child and yes, it is annoying, but still, you have to realize they are children and that airplanes are what amounts to public transit for longer travel, so it’s not going to be perfect. People are spoiled.

  10. Corinne at 16:03 #

    @Karen & @Kitten – People have this weird expectation that flying is pleasant and it’s children that wreck it. Flying is unpleasant under the best of circumstances.

    But if I wrote something called “Flying With Judgmental A-Holes” I’d just get shot down as a defensive, over-reacting, entitled parent, who shouldn’t be taking their kids out of the house anyway.

  11. Tonya Staab at 20:14 #

    My 4yr old twins have been traveling since they were in my belly. They have flown from California to Melbourne (Australia) 3 times and have a few domestic flights under their belts too. As somebody else mentioned in the comments the thing that bothers me more than anything is the looks from other passengers when they see you have children with you. My children are excellent flyers. They really are. They don’t scream, fight or whine. After flights they have been praised by many passengers and at times as people have been debarking have commented they didn’t realize their were children behind them. Now I say this knowing full-well that the tides could quite easily turn in a few days as I fly from Melbourne, back to California alone with 3 kids and we have to leave for the airport at 2am and have 2 layovers.

    I only wish they were so good when I took them to the mall or food shopping ….

  12. Corinne at 22:19 #

    Ha!
    My daughter is much better behaved on a plane than quite possibly anywhere else!

  13. Corinne at 22:19 #

    ps. – good luck on your flight, Tonya.

  14. I love traveling with my kids. I hate flying with them.

    I hate flying with them because, as Karen said, if your children are having an “off” day, there aren’t that many options when the plane is up in the air. There are a lot of times that my kids just don’t want to be on that plane, but we drag them on anyway. They don’t want to go home from their vacation. They didn’t want to be dragged out of bed at 4am to leave for the airport. They didn’t want to be kept up hours after their bedtime for a cross-Atlantic flight, only to have to sit on the tarmac for 1.5 hours when all I desperately want is to be up in the air, have the stupid useless 11pm meals served and removed, so that I can FINALLY get my now over-wired and over-tired children to sleep.

    Personally, I would love a *special* section on the airplane. I would love a section where the flight attendants don’t come through four times before finally leaving you alone on the flight. I would like a section where flight attendants and passengers don’t bump the arm of whoever is in the aisle seat each time they walk past. I would love a section where the person in front of me doesn’t put their seat back. I would love a section where the person behind us doesn’t lean on our seat when getting up to go to the bathroom. I would love a section where no one guffaws at the movie. I could go on…All these things that other passengers and staff do make it more difficult for me and my children on the flight.

    I know what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to parenting and disciplining my children. I also know when none of that is going to work and when I just have to push through and hope I come out the other side alive. If you are on a flight with that like me (or anyone like me), I hope you brought your noise canceling headphones with you. I’ve heard it is a worthwhile investment.

  15. lisa b at 20:45 #

    Hope you have a great fight!
    We have been very, very lucky with our kids and traveling companions. Generally I get on and offer any grouchy looking people a chance to ask the stewardess to move them and offer to buy them a drink.

    I have become adept at ignoring jackasses on planes.
    Our three year old cried on and off for almost an hour minutes on a flight to London in May – there were a few looks but it helped that she was behind me and my husband was dealing with her!

    On our latest trip to florida there were some VERY grumpy people. I think that has cured me of any guilt. Seriously if you are on a daytime flight to Orlando, you had better expect kids.

  16. Corinne at 00:30 #

    Thanks Annie – you’re always so succinct.

    Thanks Lisa – ironically, we are flying to Orlando!

  17. Channa at 10:31 #

    I don’t understand your objection to children-only sections on planes. I think that would be wonderful – I would not have to worry about judgmental people, and I wouldn’t have to feel bad about my kids moving around and making noises. And I don’t see how it’s in any way similar to racial discrimination; if you prefer, they could call it a “silent section” and a “talking section” or something like that. I actually was once on a charter flight in which all the families with children were seated together, and it was probably the most relaxing flight experience I’ve had!

    • Corinne at 15:05 #

      @way to go denay!

      @Channa – I’m not so much against family-only sections on airplanes, as I am Matt’s tone and choice of words…

  18. denay at 12:44 #

    hey! my 5 mo has already been on 4 trips, 11 planes! i get lots of looks and have had to defend it even tho it went amazingly well, i think it’s easier the younger they are… we shall see on our next trip. it would be easier for sure if we win the giveaway! ;-)

  19. Corinne at 15:02 #

    @denay – way to go!

    @Channa – I’m not so much against family-only sections on airplanes, as I was Matt’s tone and choice of words.

  20. I have been flying with my children since they were hatched. I wrote a whole bunch of stuff and then erased it because I decided that all I really wanted to say is “You hit this point out of the ballpark.”

  21. Maria H at 20:31 #

    I find it ridiculous because it is so self centered. I have three kids that I will admit are generally really quiet on planes so we have not had many issues. Our luck aside, I think there are lots of adult, childfree behaviors that I find annoying and I don’t see anyone trying to segregate things that bother. I find people loudly talking annoying, I find people that think they can push their way into my space because “i’m small and they are not” annoying, I find people that eat smelly food and chew with their mouth open annoying….I could go on. I find all these things worse than stressed out children because these are full grown adults than should have more self control and awareness that they are in public in a shared space. Children are treated as second class in this society and I think its a sad reflection of our priorities….

  22. Corinne at 23:44 #

    Thank you, @Carol. @Maria, you are right on the money.

  23. Andrea at 22:22 #

    I totally agree with you Maria H. That’s what bothers me about it too. Children are a part of life, people (even those without kids of their own, or who have forgotten what it’s like to have little ones) need to get over it.

    Besides, I still think there would be judgmental people IN the family-only section, sadly…

    (As an aside, we travelled a couple times with our oldest, and he did great, except on one leg of a flight when he was 18 mos, where among other delays, we sat in the plane on the runway for 3 hours with no food/water service (we ran out of snacks) — we got dirty looks because he was (understandably) crying, and then when I nursed him to calm him down, that got me looks too. Can’t win.)

    • Marc Hart at 07:33 #

      I understand why you got dirty looks. Parents should travel with extra snacks, and if you need to breast feed, be as conservative as possible or go to the bathroom. Unlike mothers, most people find public breastfeeding off-putting (only if the mother is just throwing her breast out for the world to see – with a blanket over it, it’s fine).

  24. Marc Hart at 07:31 #

    I sympathize with you, and understand your dilemma as a parent traveling with a small child. From the age of 6 months, my parents had us kids flying for up to 18 hours, from the US to Africa. I have to say though, that from their accounts, we were pretty well behaved. They gave us toys, we slept, and we snacked.

    Now, on to my point – kids are known for making flights miserable. Everyone thinks this when they see a kid. You have to understand that while you have the freedom to procreate, you get the good and the bad that come with having children (this includes the disappointment of fellow travelers and people in restaurants). If people are annoyed with baby sounds, they should bring ear plugs, but there is no excuse for a child kicking someone’s seat. It is a public space, so sound cannot be helped, but it is up to the parent to make sure that their child is not making the person in front them miserable by incessant kicking.

    Children are amazing, and sweet, and so on and so forth, but on flights, the first thing that I think, and inevitably experience is high pitched screams, kicking, food being spilled, and weird smells. While I understand that you want the sympathy and understanding from fellow travelers, you have to understand that we are also exhausted, and having to face a flight of hours on end with that kind of disturbance is pretty off-putting.

    • Corinne at 17:34 #

      Hi Marc,

      Might I suggest you simply not look when a child is nursing? Or perhaps you can enjoy your meal in the bathroom or put a blanket over your head while you’re eating so the mother can breastfeed in peace…

      Nobody here is looking for sympathy, and if you find seeing children while you’re traveling off-putting, might I suggest a private plane?

  25. Jenn Miller at 17:53 #

    AMEN! I’ve traveled forever with newborns through teens (now) and we’re in our fourth year of full time, open ended world travel and if there is ONE THING that we all need to pack, parents or not, it’s a healthy helping of GRACE for everyone else’s issues. And an extra scoop for kids and their AWESOME and BRAVE parents on airplanes or elsewhere.

  26. Ash at 22:27 #

    My hat goes off to you and to all the parents who do their best to manage a long flight while taking care of their children.

    I think what the writer Matt was refering to was the overly lax parent. For every parent that does their best to maintain their child despite the fact that, well, flights are just plain awful, there are those parents that seem to have the attitude that they shouldn’t have to take responsibility for their child’s behaviour. They love their child and see their child for the wonderful person that they are, but then they have to remember that the world doesn’t love their child, nor should they have to, and that a kicker is annoying no matter how cute the parent thinks they are.

    In regards to the child-section, I think it’s a wonderful idea. Rather than thinking of it as segregation based on parental status, we should embrace the concept as a child-friendly zone. There would be less stress on both sides. Parents wouldn’t have to be unfairly judged before their child says a peep and if their child is a kicker, the passenger in front of them would be more sympathetic. Think about it, we wouldn’t have to worry about the folks who would complain about us, it’s almost like they’re the ones being separated!

    • Corinne at 09:13 #

      I don’t think anyone thinks a seat kicker is cute – parent or no. That’s not the point. See: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/corinne-mcdermott/when-a-kid-is-kicking-you_b_905317.html

      If airlines want to market themselves as being welcoming to families, and start to offer special amenities to those traveling with small children, of course that would be appreciated. That’s not what’s happening here.

      • Ash at 22:58 #

        From a business standpoint, I can see the airlines view, for international flights (from continent to continent) where customers are paying almost three times as much for comfort. These customers are looking for comfort and as pleasant as a flight as possible and are willing to fork over the extra dollars. I know, so is the parent with the child, which is extra revenue, but let’s face it: babies cry sometimes and well–it’s annoying. No you can’t control when a baby cries, but you can prevent the situation from happening and bothering all the other passengers so that they fly your airline again, as opposed to pleasing that one passenger and their potentially-screaming child. It’s like when you want to go to a nice restaraunt. You sit down for a nice dinner with a loved one or friends or clients and it’s ruined by some screaming child/baby/toddler in the next seat. I know there are those that would say, “get over it”, but I would like to say right back to them, “you get over it”. There are kid-friendly restaraunts, like Olive Garden, Chuck E. Cheese, Pizza Hut. I’m not saying parents should be banned from fancy restaraunts, but maybe should leave the kids at home with a babysitter or go to a kid friendly restaraunt. Why should all restaraunts be required to have a kid’s menu? Just like there are nice restaraunts, Malaysia Airlines is a nice five-star airline, it’s up there with Singapore Airlines. They’re trying to run a business that caters to clients who may be extremely picky but can afford to do so, in first class. Having a baby isn’t forbidden on the entire airlines.

  27. Ash at 23:26 #

    Also, it looks like other airlines are getting a similar idea.

    http://www.ryanair.com/en/news/child-free-flights-from-october-

    • Corinne at 13:06 #

      Ash, you will never convince me that discrimination against any person for their age is ok. Would you also say this about senior citizens? They, too, can sometimes be annoying. I will remind you that children are PEOPLE, and that noise-cancelling headphones are readily available.

      Have fun on RyanAir. I also suggest Spirit Airlines for your possible child-free flying needs: http://havebabywilltravel.com/2010/04/07/carry-on-traveling-families/

  28. Andrea at 13:58 #

    I will never buy into the reasoning of ‘people pay x amount for a blank experience’. No, you pay to get from point A to point B. And if you pay for business class you are paying for bigger seats, better food and more attentive service, not a quiet flight. Until they make cabins that are soundproof that can not be a reason to keep kids or babies out, as the baby flying in the first row of Coach can still be heard in business. Or should we limit where on the flights babies can sit completely, as in only the last 2 rows of the whole plane?

    As someone who travels all the time with my kids, and, gasp, in business class on overseas flights, I am offended that people automatically look at me with disgust when I board the plane. My kids don’t kick, they don’t yell, they don’t snore, they don’t do any of the things that I so often hear adults complaining about on flights. And if they are having an off day – and let’s face it, all humans have off days – I do what I can to quiet them down. I don’t need a stranger giving me nasty looks, it is my child, let me handle it. I pay as much money as you to be there, so I have every right to be on that plane as well.

    I have said it once and I will say it again, if you don’t like flying with kids/babies/toddlers, save your money. Invest in a private plane. Until then buy a nice pair of Bose headphones and realize that kids will always be traveling on flights. We have families overseas and I will be damned if my kids can’t see them because some jerk doesn’t want to share airspace with someone under the age of 12, or to see me breastfeeding.

    • Ash at 09:17 #

      I will say this. Thank you for a good debate, I got to look at it from a different side and learned some new things. I guess the only thing left is to respectfully agree to disagree. Best of luck in your cause! ~Ash

  29. Jennifer at 14:01 #

    Thank you thank you thank you for this article! You expressed my feelings about this latest phenomenon exactly!

  30. Corinne at 14:08 #

    Thanks, guys! Andrea, love the points you’ve raised! Will remember for future (ugh) debates ;)

    • Ash at 09:18 #

      Sorry I meant to post that message here.

      I will say this. Thank you for a good debate, I got to look at it from a different side and learned some new things. I guess the only thing left is to respectfully agree to disagree. Best of luck in your cause! ~Ash

  31. Bea at 23:42 #

    I’m not a parent, but I do think travelling parents deserve a break. I’ll take a fussing baby and stressed parents – even a 10 year old kicking my seat – over the sleazebag who thinks any solo female passenger is fair game.

    • Corinne at 08:20 #

      Exactly. Thank you, Bea!

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