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The Reel Deal: You, Your Kids and In-Flight Movies

John Deiner

In case you missed it, there was an interesting piece in last Sunday's New York Times business section on in-flight movies. In a nutshell, photographer Jesse Kalisher is fed up with the flicks, contending that more violent scenes are creeping into overhead movie screens on airplanes.

"I wouldn't think twice about this stuff if I weren't a parent," he told the Times. "But I am a parent, responsible for the safety of my kids, and I am not going to sit here and do nothing."

It's good stuff. Now two North Carolina congressman have introduced the Family Friendly Flights Act, which would set aside seats that don't have a view of an overhead screen for families with kids under 13. Kalisher told the Times that on a recent flight on Continental, his 2- and 4-year-olds were watching a violent scene from an edited R-rated movie (a Continental official said it was a mistake to show the film at all).

Note that his complaints don't extend to those portable monitors on seatbacks that more and more airlines are using these days, including JetBlue. But even that can be sort of dicey: The story pointed out that "United 93," about the doomed 9/11 jet that crashed in Pennsylvania, was among the choices that Virgin Atlantic gave its passengers on its personal monitors.

I can see Kalisher's point: Even if you withhold the earphones from your kids, watching a flick is almost unavoidable. I've watched countless movies on airplanes without hearing a lick of dialogue, because I don't feel like paying more money for the headsets or the movie didn't appeal. (Why do we have to pay extra for watching a crappy movie on an overhead screen anyway?) And I'm betting there are plenty of adults who don't care to see anything violent a few feet over their heads as well.

That said, I can't recall actually witnessing blood and gore on an airplane before -- as long as you don't count ugly run-ins among passengers and flight attendants. On my last flight, USA 3000 showed "Waitress," which I watched because I'd kept my earphones from a previous flight (now, now...we were told to keep them). Loved the movie, but it featured scene after scene of someone baking pies; since it was a no-meal flight and I was hungry, the whole thing was sort of cruel.

What do you think of Kalisher's campaign? Good idea or Congress wasting paper again? And how often do you actually watch those movies anyway?

By John Deiner |  October 12, 2007; 6:55 AM ET  | Category:  Airline Industry , John Deiner
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Not a movie but a TV show that cuased me some stress. My five year old poked me and asked what is wrong with that person as she was pointing at the overhead screen. Well, it was a dead body from the show CSI. I spent the remainder of the flight admonishing my daughter to look down. The flight attendent told me it was late at night so they were showing this. Since, we had no intention of being on this flight (we had been involuntarily rerouted through LaGaurdia on our way to O'Hare) I was irritated. I later searched the aitlines website and saw nothing about the hours in which certain shows would be played.

Posted by: Amy | October 12, 2007 7:30 AM

Are these people for real, so if you are rerouted and the flight is late, the airlines should make sure to check the flights that will be shown. People get a live, you will be surprised what little John knows and is capable of doing. In-flight entertainment will not change him.

Posted by: ScoaJam | October 12, 2007 7:46 AM

Another reason to leave the kids at home.
Why should my viewing habits be censured to for a bunch rug rats? Just give the kids a sedative and knock them out. Or let them watch the movie! Bet the congress persons from NC home school! No censorship on flights ever. More porn though!

Posted by: Anonymous | October 12, 2007 7:46 AM

That should be "films"

Posted by: SocaJam | October 12, 2007 7:47 AM

I recently flew cross-couuntry with my toddler. The movie, at 8 am, was the Sandra Bullock thriller Premonition. It was overhead so we weren't listening, but I thought that was a poor choice by United.

There are definitely movies that adults enjoy that kids can like too (hey, why not go back a few decades and get some good oldies - Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, etc). I've also had a few friends (without kids) admit that they watched an animated movie in flight because they wanted to see it but probably wouldn't have rented it.

Posted by: md | October 12, 2007 8:43 AM

"United 93" would be pretty bad, but at least it was one of several choices available on a personal monitor. I was on a flight in the mid-'90s that featured -- on the overhead screens -- "Terminal Velocity." I can't tell you much about the plot, as I skipped the headphones (I knew it was a stinker, starring Charlie Sheen when his career was nowhere), but it begins with a skydiver plummeting to her death when her parachute fails. Great film for children and nervous flyers alike.

Posted by: jane | October 12, 2007 10:19 AM

Holy cow. United 93 on a plane??? That sounds like a terrible, terrible idea. I thought airlines had the good sense not to show movies with airplane problems. I guess I was wrong.

Posted by: h3 | October 12, 2007 10:23 AM

No to the "Family Friendly Flight Act", but yes to more careful editing and thought put into the content on the overhead screens.

Mostly because *I* don't particularly want to see stuff like CSI or things exploding when I fly. (Not a white-knuckler or hyperventilating kind of flyer, but I once flew on a *very* bad flight, which removed my blase attitude to flying forever. I'm *not* in the mood to see dead bodies and explosions of any kind at 30,000 feet - I'm sure those with a legitimate fear of flying would agree.)

And I don't think we need family-only or family-friendly flights or special seats for people traveling with children. Enough already! You do what you can, but life is not filtered and it is what happens when you make plans. You are on shared, public transportation, and having children - or even being a child - is hardly a unique state.

Kids see stuff you don't want them to see all the time. But if you're that concerned, you could always buy one of those portable DVD players and a supply of batteries, thereby lowering the odds your kids are going to look up on the public screens. (On a recent road trip, my brother and his wife reported that my niece and nephew watched "High School Musical" three times in a row and never even looked out the window...)

Not to mention - the movie schedule is usually online for most airlines these days - you can figure out ahead of time what's going to be on the screen and make preparations accordingly.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | October 12, 2007 10:25 AM

By all means let's restrict everyone's entertainment to the lowest common denominator. And, let's not only do this through market forces (i.e., choosing one airline over another based on its entertainment choices), but let's make a FEDERAL LAW on the subject. Yippee!! Let's legislate everything!

Posted by: M Street | October 12, 2007 10:49 AM

are you kidding me? watching movies is the only thing that shuts crying babies up on long flights!

They can do whatever they want with the overhead movies -- However, every parent should be required to bring a portable dvd player for their kids during the flight. I have seen these devices work miracles - quieting even the most terrifying screams.

Posted by: what?? | October 12, 2007 11:26 AM

Well, if the kids are funnelled into one section of the plane, at least I know which section to avoid. I'd take violent movies over crying kids any day.

M Street makes a really good point, though. An airline could make money by simply implementing this policy on their own by making some flights family friendly or some sections no-movie, or whatever. I would also be gravitated to it because I know the odds are good that the other flights or other sections would have fewer kids. Let the market forces do their thing.

Posted by: DC Cubefarm | October 12, 2007 11:39 AM

Sure, let's make everything revolve around your five year old! What's next - I can't watch CSI in my home just in case your kid walks by my window and looks in? In fact, why don't we just pull it off the air and just show Sesame St 24/7?

Posted by: Me | October 12, 2007 12:07 PM

Not sure I agree with the proposed legislative solution, but I'm glad this is an issue people are talking about. This country glorifies violence in a really unhealthy way.

Posted by: Andy | October 12, 2007 3:43 PM


I agree completely. Let's let the airlines dictate what I can wear and now, what I can and cannot view.

Posted by: Sallie Mae | October 12, 2007 4:08 PM

Don't "most" families have portable DVD players or laptops they can play their own stuff on anyway? Though I agree that United 93 is a little creepy for a plane.

The only flights I've ever been on that showed a movie were in 1990 to England and back and 2001 to England and back. I remember ONE film -- Pretty Woman (obviously the 1990 flight). I was 16 at the time and I probably wouldn't have seen (been allowed to see) the film otherwise!

Posted by: WDC 21113 | October 12, 2007 4:52 PM

Movies have been shown on flights for 50 years. There used to be one screen for the whole section and everybody watched. I don't think they restricted themselves to G rated nature documentaries. I'm not sure when we got so sensitive to the needs of three year olds. I would would recommend that parents check ahead if they are concerned with the what movie their kids might watch and if they don't think it's appropriate, don't fly. Maybe flying should only be for adults. If your kids are abnormally sensitive, don't take them into an adult situation.

Posted by: Folger | October 12, 2007 7:31 PM

Give me a break. I don't want to live in 'kid-friendly' land. If you don't want your kids to watch the inflight movie (which should be geared to adults, being that they are the majority of travelers) then YOU bring something for YOUR children to do. DVD, book, coloring book, quiet game, etc. If you can't hack it...shut up and drive like my parents did until I was in high school.

Posted by: M- a flight crew member by the way | October 14, 2007 1:23 PM

I hope they will never play 'snakes on the plane'.

Posted by: R2 | October 15, 2007 9:59 AM

My husband and I also choose to avoid watching gratuitously violent, sexually explicit and foul-mouthed entertainment. To date, I've never been on a flight that showed a communal movie with those elements and I'm glad for it. I would be really annoyed to look up and see blood and gore on the screen even if I hadn't paid to see it. But I accept that since every "critically acclaimed" movie this fall seems to be R-rated, the elements we avoid must be what everyone wants. Majority rules, for better or for worse.

Posted by: Flying adult | October 15, 2007 10:13 AM

Frankly, any adult who can't entertain him/herself for the duration of a flight has a pretty weak claim on adulthood. I say limit the video entertainment to things that are OK for children to watch. They are the ones who everyone seems to want to keep calm and quiet.

Posted by: cotopaxi | October 15, 2007 1:34 PM

No, I don't think tons of blood and/or nudity belong on the flip-down screens that are visible to everyone on the aircraft. But, family-only zones will never happen, because they would be such a huge logistical nightmare for the airlines. What happens when all of the "family" seats are sold out on the non-stop flight that the young family of five prefers? Or, conversely, when the only seat remaining on the flight the short-tempered man needs to take is smack in the middle of the "family" section? Besides, despite what some people think, purchasing a ticket -never- guarantees you a specific seat (or sometimes any seat on your flight at all, thanks to overbooking!).

Posted by: boston liz | October 15, 2007 3:57 PM

I'm bothered by the vitriol and indignation coming from people who are claiming to be adults. What adult would get in such a lather because they were on a plane for a few hours with a family friendly movie? Definitely a selfish one who only cares about him or herself and damn everyone else. Oh yeah, let THOSE silly people be the ones telling the airlines what to do. And they further compound it by insisting that families buy DVDs. Good idea - adults, buy a DVD if you really want to watch the R rated movie. Then grow up.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 17, 2007 1:33 PM

Agree that we shouldn't show violence and nudity, but lately the films are too babyish for a 10 year old. Mostly what I see on airplanes are cartoons with talking animals and films derrived from comic books. Must we restrict ourselves to Over the Hedge, Madagascar and Free Willy because all movies must be geared towards toddlers?

Posted by: Folger | October 17, 2007 2:59 PM

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