walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Flying with children

After posting about our recent trip, it occurred to me to ask myself, Self, is anyone _else_ blogging about traveling with their kids that doesn't involve finding the absolutely lowest fare and fewest fees possible? Because I don't need to read any more horror stories like that; that was what my childhood involved (also: train travel from Seattle to LA, on a train that had a climate control issue. The heat was stuck _on_ while we were in California. In the summer). Turns out, googling "business first children" finds a whole lot of people who pointed into business or first and then complained about a crying child or children. Not _precisely_ what I was looking for!

There are some sites that provide charts for most family friendly airlines (jetBlue and Virgin America tend to do well in these comparisons. I guess that explains why we always fly jetBlue domestically!). I had not realized that kids-board-first as a policy had pretty much gone away. This article from 2011 at NYT reminded me of a horrifying incident that first sent me to SouthWest and then to jetBlue.


"Last February, US Airways placed Ms. Black and her two children, ages 5 and 2, in the center seats of three different rows in different parts of the plane for a five-hour flight to Tucson — an experience Ms. Black chronicled in a series on her blog, ChildWild. After a flight attendant insisted that the family take their assigned seats — which caused the children to cry, since they were separated from their mother and sitting between strangers — Ms. Black ultimately managed to commandeer seats for the three of them together, but only after the entire plane had boarded."

I only had one child, an infant in a carrier for whom I had _bought a seat_ when this happened to us. I forget which legacy carrier we had picked to fly east to show off T. to R.'s family (we were living in Seattle at the time, so this would have been 2005 or 2006), but even tho we had pre-picked a row, they changed aircraft, bounced all the seats and we all had center seats in different rows. So a _baby_ in a _carrier_ for whom we had bought a seat was located many rows away from either of us. Flight crew unsympathetic, but we eventually convinced some passengers to move around, probably because they didn't want to be responsible for the infant. I swore up and down I wouldn't fly that carrier or any other legacy carrier (once I realized they all had the same policies) again, and other than flying Delta overseas twice (in the post-fee era, and we always pay for upgrades to make sure this can't ever happen again), instead opting for Southwest to get gang boarding. I figured if we didn't enter a flight that had originated elsewhere, and I bought the ticket far enough in advance to guarantee an early boarding group, that would be safe. We liked Southwest, but started flying jetBlue despite the assigned seating, once I was clear that their policies on rearranging things wouldn't generate the same problem. We have had only one seating problem with them, and it was a ludicrously complex last minute weather related thing in February and they worked insanely hard to fix it so I'm not complaining.

There is an airline that has a child-free (no one 12 and under) section, but it is only on some very long distance flights (Malaysia Air and maybe one other carrier in the same region). There are also airlines which actively market to families -- I've seen at least one carrier serving Australia that had a row of three seats that you could make up as a combo bed that would let one adult (pictured always as a mom) and two kids lie flat. Looked cool, but not on any flights I wanted to take.

This BI listicle covers the Air New Zealand cuddle class seats, which may be the current version of what I remember from some years back:


Lately, I've become a lot more aware of policies that identify something unfortunate, then "solve" that "problem" by trying to make it "go away". These policies can create temporary relief, but often the long term consequences are far worse than just tolerating the unfortunate situation. It's almost always better to try to understand why the unfortunate thing is happening, and then move it to some place where That's Now a Good Thing, or provide whatever is being demanded by the unfortunate, or whatever. Banning children from airplanes is a particularly bizarre thing to ask for, and most people who have suffered through crying children on airplanes understand that it is a bizarre thing to ask for and so they don't. Part of the bizarreness is wrapped up in what should be obvious: a family that can afford to pay (in dollars) for all its members is more important to the bottom line than an individual (who, in a lot of the conspicuous complaints on line, didn't even pay for the seat he was using, at least not with dollars). Further, the family that flies is a family that is producing a future generation of fliers, that will be important to the airlines (apostrophize at will) future existence and profitability. Pissing them off gratuitously is probably a bad idea, especially since adults with young children tend to establish new brand loyalties that then stick for decades and have a good chance of being passed on to the kiddos at least until they hit quarterlife.

"Cuddle Class", Malaysia Airs family cabin on the same flights that ban 12 and under from one section of the plane (why is the family cabin never mentioned? It has extra bathrooms) are both efforts to market to families: rather than "banning" the problem away, it tries to find a way to help everyone be more comfortable. Call it innovation. Call it customer service. I don't care what you call it. But it's sure a lot more appealing that banning kids from airplanes or even "just" business/first.


This is a design idea only:


This is also interesting: "On-board kids’ club – bringing Thomson and First Choice child care expertise to the skies with a fully trained member of the crew to help parents keep the kids entertained with arts, crafts and quizzes that relate to the destination." If the crew is stuck dealing with kids anyway, train them and charge extra to passengers with kids to pay for it -- or figure the benefit is to all, and roll it into everyone's ticket price.

The family cabin, especially if placed at the rear of the aircraft, could be a real winner, by allowing engine noise to cover the racket coming out of the booth. A lot of babies sleep better near the back also. And a long, long ways from business/first up front, while providing a big premium experience.

ETAYA: This separating of parents from kids thing just doesn't seem to go away. It's weird.


And it has been an issue for a long time (I encountered it before 2008, when this forum got into it: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/travel-children/903921-airline-regulation-children-seating.html. Discussion interesting, because the risk is apparently that adults won't exit the aircraft during an evacuation drill without their kid and will disrupt the flow, so they must be near their kid. Kids apparently tend to do okay, altho I cannot believe that is universal and my kids both have dx) -- I had even pre-booked three seats together, which the airline then broke up when they switched aircraft. I should also add, T. was in a carrier, which meant that he _had_ to be in a window seat in order to comply with FAA regs on carriers on airplanes. Yet the airline -- knowing the situation -- had assigned him a center seat.

I will end with a chuckle -- the Boris Johnson story is hilarious, as an FA attempted to move him away _from his own children_ as part of their No Men Next To Unaccompanied Minors policy.

Tags: politics
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