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Turbulent Tykes Torture Other Travelers

A Commentary By Froma Harrop

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The now storied Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle to Miami has opened debate on unruly children in crowded airplanes. It seems a 3-year-old, having had his iPad removed in preparation for takeoff, threw a tantrum. Sitting with his father, Mark Yanchuk, little Daniel would not be calmed and refused to properly wear a seat belt. His mother, grandmother and a 1-year-old sibling had escaped to first class.

The flight attendants tried to work with the child, but after the plane pushed back from the gate, he lay down with the seat belt across his neck. The captain was notified, and the craft returned to the gate. The boy and father were told to get off the jet. The rest of the family, though allowed to stay on, deplaned as well.

Alaska Airlines offered the Yanchuks another flight later in the day, and when they said no, returned the airfare. The father vowed not to fly on Alaska Airlines again. If other families with young kids follow their lead, then frankly, Alaska Airlines is what I want to fly.

What is the solution if you want family-friendly policies but dread being trapped for six hours in a metal tube with a frenzied toddler? Some airlines are working on family seating areas, where the chaos would be confined. There's talk of child-free flights.

The most prized passengers are business travelers, and to assure the long flight from London to Kuala Lumpur remains restful for these customers, Malaysia Airlines has created a kid-free upper-level deck. By the way, the Alaska Airlines flight was a red-eye, a night ride on which many passengers had undoubtedly planned to catch a few winks.

I recently splurged on a very expensive Amtrak Acela ticket for a trip from Washington to New York. I paid the astounding $200 for the following reason, other than scheduling: I like traveling with businesspeople. They tend to be clean and courteous, unlike many students, who also sleep late. I knew the Acela warriors would be reading newspapers or reports and working on their laptops. And I had planned to do the same.

There is an unspoken solidarity on such trains. We recognize that we've all had or are about to have a tiring day of work. We are time pressed, meaning that we need to get things done during travel. And so we are extra kind to one another.

Anyhow, the hum of worker bees stalled when the train stopped at Philadelphia and on came a mother carrying a baby. "Oh, no," you could hear the thought bubbles coming out of the passengers' heads. "There goes a perfectly peaceful start of the day." (I wonder how the Alaska Airlines' first-class passengers responded when Daniel's mother joined them with a 1-year-old.)

As it turned out, the baby didn't emit a peep during the entire train trip. Furthermore, the disruptive force was a business guy honking all his company's secrets into his cellphone.

So there you have it. Sometimes the children are the best-behaved passengers. Sometimes the most skilled parents can't pacify a little kid in full meltdown mode -- a statement I only half believe, since one rarely sees little Europeans sprawled on the floor, kicking and screaming.

I have no brilliant insights on what to do about squalling children in tight spaces. The airlines seem to be doing all they can to manage the situation. If they decide to separate families with little kids from the others, that's more than fine with me. There seem to be fewer child-unfriendly hours for finding quiet. Even the red-eye is no longer safe.

COPYRIGHT 2012 THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL CO.

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