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Wah, Wah . . . Get Off!

John Deiner

What is it about kids and air travel that makes the blood run cold? Oh, I know. It's when you're stuck on a flight with a screaming child. Most kids are great on flights, but when they're not, it can be unpleasant. Still, it surprised me to hear that AirTran took the unusual move of booting an entire family from a flight out of Florida on Jan. 14 when their precocious 3-year-old was acting, uh, all precocious before takeoff.

According to an Associated Press story, the family was heading home to Boston from Fort Myers, Fla, when the child refused to take her seat. She was removed because "she was climbing under the seat and hitting the parents and wouldn't get in her seat" during boarding, an AirTran spokeswoman told the AP. The family was reimbursed for their tickets and given three round-trip tickets to anywhere the airline flies.

According to the story, "The father said his family would never fly AirTran again." Hmmm. Maybe I'll become an AirTran frequent flier . . .

By John Deiner |  January 24, 2007; 5:00 PM ET  | Category:  Airline Industry , John Deiner
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While I'm no fan of AirTran, I most certainly am no fan of an uncontrollable child. Good for them for taking action. Saw the parents and child on TV after the incident - that kid needs some kind of help. Maybe that Nanny chick could help them out.

Posted by: air traveler | January 24, 2007 5:21 PM

I saw the video clip as well, and they were so amazed that they were told to get off the plane...as if they should be allowed to let their clearly undisciplined child to disturb everyone's flight? This is a constant issue in the public sphere. I realize that children are not always perfect angels, but allowing children to be disruptive in airports, airplanes, restaurants, movie theaters, etc. is not appropriate. If your child can't behave, leave them at home!

Posted by: anon | January 24, 2007 5:47 PM

Conflicted here. Having traveled with three of my own, I know that even the best behaved child is still ... well, a child. And if said child is tired/scared/sick (esp. mixed with the sinus pressure of climbing / descending) ... you can't always stop the tears. Other parents usually smile and sympathize. The childless (or forgetful), however, can be pretty childish themselves.

This isn't bad behavior, of course, but not everyone makes the distinction. So ... what you have parents do? Check our kids as luggage? (Don't get me wrong, some days that sounds attractive - provided other people have the courtesty to check their cigarette odor, extra-large "carry ons," excess body fat, etc.)

Posted by: David | January 24, 2007 5:52 PM

I think these people were treated appropriately. If the child was disruptive and the parents were not controlling the situation, then my sympathy is limited. Indeed, if an unruly adult were removed from a flight, we would not be having this debate.

Good for Air Tran.

Posted by: JS | January 24, 2007 5:54 PM

I have experienced plane rides where I felt battered by the screaming and fit throwing of children, including my own! It is perfectly reasonable to ask parents and uncontrollable children to get off of a plane. What is not reasonable is that people think that they can inflict their ill behaved children on others without their consent or permission.

Posted by: Judith | January 24, 2007 6:25 PM

I agree with what AirTran did. If the kid was just screaming, then they should have been allowed to stay; a screaming kid is just a fact of life. But the fact is, she wouldn't sit in her seat. If an adult refused to sit and held up the departure for 15 minutes, he/she would of course been forced off the plane. I realize adults and kids are different, but it comes down to the fact that it was a safety issue, not a nuisance issue. 15 minutes of opportunity to get her to calm down was plenty. A whole planeful of people should not have to risk missing connections for one child.

Posted by: Kate | January 24, 2007 6:35 PM

If you can't get physical control over your 3-year-old kid in 15 minutes, you're in for a rough 15 years.

So is the kid.

Posted by: Jeff | January 24, 2007 7:17 PM

I think Jeff @ 7:17 summed it up nicely.

A true emotional meltdown rarely lasts more than five minutes or so. This was boundary-pushing behaviour - the "I don't like this and I'm not going to shut up until you give me my way" behaviour. If you can't get your 3 year old child into a seat and strapped in with the seat belt, you're just indulging in that behaviour.

Be the parent. I bet this couple would have been happy to tell everyone that their daughter had been injured during takeoff because they didn't ensure she was properly strapped in, too. It's a no win for AirTran...

Posted by: Chasmosaur | January 24, 2007 7:40 PM

As tempting as it is to blame a family with a screaming toddler, let's not be too hasty.

Perhaps we should consider AirTran's possible role in this... more and more airlines have eliminated pre-boarding for passengers with young children. I don't know if this is the case for AirTran, but based on the proportion of major airlines that have eliminated this simple courtesy, I wouldn't be surprised if AirTran fell into this category as well.

With just a few extra minutes to settle in, away from the insanity associated with squeezing 100 people through a tiny aisle, the child/family may not have had such a difficult time.

For those of you claiming that "good" parents can easily get control of their children in 15 minutes, you either have amnesia or don't have children. Plenty of children are inconsolable for the entire ascent (certainly >15 minutes), or during their ride home in the car.

Having said that, I can see why people applaud the action of AirTran... a screaming child is definitely irritating. However, given how incredibly unpleasant and uncomfortable the airlines have made air travel in general, I am reluctant to applaud the behavior of any airline.

Posted by: Devil's Advocate | January 24, 2007 8:02 PM

The issue is not that the child was screaming - the issue is that the child would not sit in her seat, but was on the seat, etc., so the plane could not take off until she did so - which did not happen after 15 minutes. It was an unsafe situation, simply "annoying" situation.

AND for their troubles, these people got a free flight home AND another round trip ticket for each of them - and they are upset. Give me a break.

Posted by: Betty | January 24, 2007 8:28 PM

"The family was reimbursed for their tickets and given three round-trip tickets to anywhere the airline flies."

How about a one-way trip to nowhere?

Posted by: Jack | January 24, 2007 8:53 PM

Hey Devil's, I have kids, I understand a kid's rant, fine with me but if a parent is not able or doesn't want to put stop at it (because of all this "be your children's friend" baloney, instead of being a parent first and instill in your kids a sense of respect and some discipline), then is not hard to figure out why so many children are spoiled beyond control.

Posted by: Jack | January 24, 2007 8:58 PM

This is so hard. In 2000 I flew with a family of weirdos (everyone was religious, but Mom appeared to be on drugs/high) who disrupted our flight completely. I am not sure I'll ever forget how unpleasant those children were. Yet my son, out of the blue, went bananas at pick-up today pretty much because he didn't take a nap. I'm talking lying on the floor screaming like a two year old for well past 5 minutes. Only when we get home does he tell me he has a headache.

I have a cousin who was a bad kid, a real problem for all concerned, who without a shred of irony complains about his neighbor's kids. I mean, he's the guy who stole a bike at age 9, you know? No memory of what HE was like, just a false belief that parents can cure everything.

Posted by: Bethesdan | January 24, 2007 9:37 PM

Good for AirTran, indeed. This is why I take trains.

Posted by: Dakota Pants | January 24, 2007 10:02 PM

Wow! I am going to give Air Tran as much of my business as possible now!

Posted by: Judy | January 24, 2007 11:12 PM

I have two children (now 16 and 18), so I know whereof I speak. When my children were small, they knew in no uncertain terms that misbehavior in public places would not be tolerated. At home they could throw tantrums or whatever they wanted -- they would be sent to their rooms until the tantrum was over. But in a public place where there is no escape, there was zero tolerance.

The real issue here is one of safety: Federal Air Regulations (14CFR Part 121, I believe) prohibit a commercial airliner from leaving the gate until all passengers are seated with their seat belts fastened. If these people couldn't bring their little darling under control in 15 minutes, too bad for them. It's unfortunate that AirTran felt it necessary to assuage their hurt feelings by refunding their money and offering them free tickets to anywhere.

Posted by: singflysmith | January 25, 2007 11:55 AM

AirTran just earned my lifetime devotion as a potential customer. I may make my next vacation plans solely based on going somewhere AirTran flies! I am SO SICK TO DEATH of people and their kids on airlines; there is no longer the smallest chance of going anywhere, at any time of the day or year, where you won't be forced to listen to the screaming of multiple toddlers on every leg of your journey. Why don't you people stay home, or drive? I'm sorry - I know how politically incorrect it is in American culture to say these things, but enough is enough. I'll start feeling some obligation to be courteous about people's kids when parents start spending even one minute considering their obligation to the rest of us. My WWII-era parents feel the same, too, so you can't chalk my vitriol up to being childless (by choice).

Bravo AirTran!!

Posted by: Sarah Merlin | January 25, 2007 12:33 PM

The father mentioned that his daughter had just had surgery on her ear, and that's why she was so jumpy- she wasn't feeling well. Why on earth would you take your child on a plane when she's recently had ear surgery? Add the lack of control in this situation and you've got a case of bad parenting.

I firmly agree with AirTran in this situation; wish more airlines would take these measures.

Posted by: surlychick | January 25, 2007 12:49 PM

Bravo to AirTran. I am so sick and tired of people putting their inconvenience above everyone else's. I saw the parents interviewed - they admitted that she was screaming at the top of her lungs, they admitted that they couldn't get her into her seat. Yet they still felt they were wronged because their trip was delayed by 24 hours, and was free? What???? What about the inconvenience to the other 112 people on board if the flight had been further delayed while they "soothed" thier screaming, acting out brat? The self-centeredness of this couple is just mind blowing.

Posted by: Maryesq | January 25, 2007 2:38 PM

From all reports, it does appear the family was able to leave the plane when asked. Thus, the parents *were* able to get the child under control when they needed to, i.e. they didn't hold up the plane an additional 15 minutes b/c darling child refused to get off the plane.

I agree with Air Tran - a plane full of passengers had already been delayed 15 minutes because of the unwillingness of the parents to strap the child in.

Posted by: Anon | January 25, 2007 2:43 PM

Oh, this story just makes my blood boil. Where does this couple get such a sense of entitlement that they feel they have the right to hold up 112 people indefinitely? Flying is a PRIVILEGE not a right. If a child won't comply with safety regulations she loses that privilege. The parents came across as clueless idiots in their interview. Sheesh.

Posted by: Ellen | January 25, 2007 3:28 PM

Look, bad behavior is bad behavior. I'm against it, my kids don't get away with it, and what these folks did was wrong. They deserved what they got.

That established, a lot of folks here, like an earlier commenter said, don't seem to be able to distinguish between tirades like this childs and normal, occasional crying jags / toddler behavior.

Furthermore, they don't seem to be able to even consider that one child's "poor parenting" is another child's one-time-in-a-hundred fit (they happen, ask any parent).

Lot of frothing anger here from folks who got all riled up by being 15 minutes late. Last time I flew, the airline had us 5 HOURS late. Five hours, spent sitting in an airport, makes a lot of adults jittering and upset. Just imagine how it made my kids feel.

No, really, just imagine. I'm not making excuses, just asking for a little empathy.

("Why not drive?" Heck, why don't you? Last time I checked, the airlines make more money off of my family of five than your party of one. Might explain why the family got travel vouchers ...)

Posted by: Devil's Dadvocate | January 25, 2007 3:39 PM

That screaming kid you bad mouth will be paying for your social security one day, lest I influence him and convince him to rebel and eliminate social security altogther. Seems to me the people who complain most about kids don't have any of their own and don't intend to. They just plan to live us the backs of the rest of us who are having the children they refuse to be bothered with.

Posted by: lurker37 | January 25, 2007 3:56 PM

As a mother of two now-grown sons, I can remember the stress of flying across country with young children. I am very tolerent and sympathetic when children cry because they have not adjusted to altitude pressure on thier ear drums. Most of the time they are able to settle down fairly happily.

This was a case where problems developed before the flight even got off the ground.

Never should travellers be forced to listen to public tantrums that delay their flights, not from children or other adults. Some situations are just not the best environments for children. For many people, travel is a neccesity of an already stressful business day. If you're not sure your child can behave correctly in the adult world, don't put them in that situation. Removing that child, and of course her parents, was the best solution for everyone.

I applaud AirTran. I wish more restaurants and other venues would take these measures. Perhaps then, parents would learn that children can't go everywhere all the time.

By the way, when I see families with children who are behaving well in public places, I take time to compliment them,, parents and children alike.

Posted by: Marty | January 25, 2007 4:09 PM

"I'll start feeling some obligation to be courteous about people's kids when parents start spending even one minute considering their obligation to the rest of us."
No kidding. My parents traveled with us extensively through Europe and we HAD TO behave. No ifs, ands or buts. Yes, kids cry, etc. but all too often I see parents letting their kids walk all over them instead of laying down the law. Childhood is NOT a democracy--as soon as parents get this through their skulls, the better off we'll be. Otherwise, I fear what will happen when this generation begins to have kids.

Posted by: dorami32 | January 25, 2007 4:33 PM

I have 3 children. One of the toughest things about being a parent is realizing that while you can take your kids just about everywhere, maybe you shouldn't. I agree with AirTran's actions. Had this ever happened to me, I would have been so embarassed, I would have slunk off that place - forget giving interviews!

Posted by: Ruth | January 25, 2007 5:57 PM

I have three kids, too. And while they'd know better than to act in such a manner, if they did ... I'd hardly slink off, unless it was to spank someone. Tickets cost too much, plans are too hard to make, simply to walk away.

Of course you can't take kids anywhere. But you CAN take 'em on any plane. To argue otherwise is ridiculous.

Posted by: Michael | January 25, 2007 6:25 PM

To Lurker37:

No, I don't expect your foul-mouthed, tattooed, pierced, still-living-at-home-at-30 kids to pay for my Social Security; I expect the federal government to give the hundreds of thousands of dollars I've paid into the system back to me. Now, whether the federal government chooses to take money from your loser kids' McDonalds' wages to pay for that isn't really my concern. Bottom line, it's the feds who expect your kids to pay for my Social Security, not me. If you want to teach them to rebel against the federal government on that account, then maybe you ought to be building a compound in Montana.

Posted by: WoW | January 26, 2007 11:34 AM

I have a 3 and 4 year old. They know if they act crazy on a plane or even think about acting crazy, the duct tape comes out. No one told these people to have a kid. It is their responsibility to control their child plain and simple. Air Tran wins my vote on this one.

Posted by: Tired of it | January 26, 2007 12:28 PM

I've been on both sides of this issue and am reluctant to issue any hard-and-fast edicts.
What I can say with perfect confidence is that John Diener should check the definition of "precocious" - one thing the child in question isn't...

Posted by: Janie | January 27, 2007 10:44 AM

Touche, Janie.

Posted by: mfsaint | January 28, 2007 8:57 PM

To WoW

I'd be more than happy to pay you the few thousand (certainly not hundreds of thousands, not even close) dollars you've paid into Social Security if you'll agree not to take a penny more. Because, as I'm quite sure you don't know, the average retiree gets paid back all of their Social Security contributions within the first 3-5 years after retirement.

On the screaming child issue, I've flown many, many times when there have been lots of kids on the plane, but not one screaming child. Show a little tolerance and empathy on the occasions someone does have a screaming child to deal with, and you might find that you're not such an unpleasant a**hole as normal.

By the way, I applaud AirTran, what they did was the right thing to do, except for rewarding the family with free tickets.

Posted by: Michael Ponder | January 29, 2007 11:29 AM

I have not read much about this incident so I don't know if the father has said how recently the child had ear surgery.
I do know that the combination of recovering from ear surgery (my son had lots) and flying on an airplane could cause ear pain. If the child flew down after the surgery and then was put inside a plane for the return trip, the child could be anticipating that the pain that happened during the earlier flight to happen again this time and been reacting to that fear of pain. This pain can be excrutiating.
Still, my children (now grown) knew better to behave thusly and I knew better than to take my son up too soon after ear surgery.

Posted by: Historian | January 29, 2007 11:59 AM

I therefore agree that the parents should be removed from the plane. I hope that that is the only punishment that they have; they could have created a flying-phobic.

Posted by: Historian | January 29, 2007 12:02 PM

You don't inconvenience 112 other passengers to accommodate 1 - doesn't matter whether the person is an adult or a child. One delayed flight can have a ripple effect through an airline's entire schedule, causing even more delays. If they won't hold a flight for someone when they know that person is already checked in and waiting on an outrageously long TSA checkpoint line, then why on earth should they have held the flight for an undertermined period of time to get this unruly child settled into her seat? Congrats to Air Tran - wish I could fly them more often!!

Posted by: Used to Be a Kid... | January 29, 2007 3:39 PM

Just wanted to clarify a few things:
1.) Dad alluded to an ear procedure a few month's old. Kid's heal fast.
Dad is a paramedic. Presumably he would have known that his child was suffering pain from alleged surgery ON THE TRIP DOWN. This was the return flight. Therefore, alleged surgery was not a factor. Besides, if that WERE true, shouldn't they have been rushing off the plane to take her to the Emergency Room?
2.) Parents had much longer than 15 minutes to strap in child - 15 minutes was how long the flight was delayed (by this family) PAST the boarding, settle down, pre-flight safety talk, etc. time. Getting a clearer picture of the time involved? Not 15 minutes - well over 40... at the absolute minimum.
3.) Neither parent suffered from broken arms, backs or any debilitating condition that prevented them from simply picking up the child and putting her in her seat. Yet both refused to do so.
4.) Finally, parents DO know when their child is approaching meltdown. I was NEVER surprised by my children's behavior. Children are trained to exercise self-control, just as they are toilet trained. They DEVELOP into sane beings, they don't start out that way. They can be sweet and wonderful, but they absolutely will not stay that way if they aren't led onto the right path. Lots of love, lots of patience and keeping them on home ground until they know the rules. Then you venture out and let them gradually expand the practice field. THAT'S the job of a parent. Those parents failed their child. Luckily, children are resilient, so they can try again. Unfortunately, they appeared to be of the entitled breed who believe a parent's job is to stand back and watch their child founder, while offering excuses and spreading blame.

Posted by: Mom of 6 | January 31, 2007 1:48 PM

As as much younger father, my wife and I flew from Australia to Europe twice with our children, both times with one or other of them pre-school age. I have subsequently flown extensively domestically and internationally.
My experience is that fellow travelers tolerate a broad range of behaviour, provided that it is not misbehaviour. This is true of whether the person misbehaving is an adult or child.
Second, there is a clear expectation that parents will STOP misbehaviour, and if they don't, that the cabin crew should step in. For example, no-one expects that parents can completely stop a child from crying on ascent or descent, but they do expect the parent to have taken reasonable steps to help the child balance ear pressure so that it is not in pain. They do expect parents to act quickly where a child is disruptive or not following the reasonable directions of the cabin staff.
I applaud the airline for taking this step. It is a pity that they offered the family the opportunity to disrupt another flight!

Posted by: Doug | February 1, 2007 3:32 PM

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