There’s been a clip going around the internet that shows a comedian on the Conan O’Brien show commenting on how spoiled most people have become. He cites as an example the impatience we routinely display when flying: we complain about the food, the small seats, the lengthy security measures—everything. What we fail to take into account (at least according to him) is how utterly amazing it is that we are flying at all. Yes, you have to take your shoes off in the terminal. Yes, they serve you thimblefuls of water, after confiscating your 2 liter bottle of Fiji. And yes, it never fails that the person in the window seat always has the smallest bladder. But come one—despite all of that, you still end up getting to sit in a chair that whisks you through the sky at 500 miles an hour, shaving not days, but weeks off of the time it would have taken you to make the same trip just one hundred and fifty years ago. It is, any way you look at it, pretty amazing.
I was thinking about that comedian when I saw a news piece the other week about a woman and her two-year-old son who had been kicked off of an airplane in Texas because her son was making too much noise. It wasn’t so much the callousness and unprofessionalism on the part of the airline that made me think of the comedian’s bit (although that was rather spectacularly awful customer service on their part), but rather the response I read in the comments section at the end of the article. By a margin of nearly ten to one, people were applauding the airline’s decision.
Not only applauding it, but saying the airline didn’t go far enough. The one comment that really struck me was the person who said that the pilots should have waited until they were in the air—and then thrown the child and his mother off at 30,000 feet.
After reading that particular piece of venom, I couldn’t help but think about the first time I travelled outside of this country with one of my children, and noticed that people in other countries had very different reactions to seeing someone travel with a child.
They smiled. A lot.
In a way I wished I had never seen that, because I think it might make it easier for me in this country—if I had never found out what a mature, rational response to the presence of a child was, I might do a better job accepting the resentment and hostility that is the unwelcome accessory that every traveling parent carries with them.
If I sound bitter, it is because I am. Throw the child out at 30,000 feet? I remember a case a few years back of a businessman who got so drunk on a flight that he jumped up on the drink cart, pulled down his pants, and did his best imitation of a soft-serve ice cream dispenser, and nobody advocated throwing him out at 30,000 feet.
Instead, they made excuses for him. “Oh, well: he was under a lot of stress.”
You want to talk about stress? Try flying with eustachian tubes the size of coffee stirrers, a bladder the size of a tangerine, and people who glare at you if you so much as breathe. Try being pulled out of your daily routine, whisked to a different time zone, and put to bed in a room and a house you’ve never seen before. All without being able to understand why.
And people wonder why children are sometimes less than perfect angels when they fly.
Pearl Buck once wrote that the true test of a country is how it treats its weakest members. Of course, she wrote that seventy-five years ago; today it would have to carry the addendum on planes.