A-holes on airplanes

My kids were much better behaved on our trip back and we had a much better flight with an extra set of hands (thanks to my husband who flew out just to fly us home). I should mention that the flight ended with my oldest projectile vomiting, which was not, as I assumed at the time, motion sickness, but was actually a horrible GI bug that he is still grappling with and that I am desperately hoping no one else in our home contracts. But that’s a story for another day, because first I’d like to talk about a-holes on airplanes.

I have flown a ton with my kids in the past 3.5 years. I have been fortunate to encounter nothing but gracious people, who have tolerated some tears, tantrums, and other infant/toddler behavior on our flights. The kids are actually great travelers, and I think this is part of the reason we have never encountered animosity on airplanes – they don’t scream/shriek the entire time, they are not rude, and obviously they are incredibly cute and win everyone over (biased mom here). Part of the reason we get a lot of sympathy is also that my husband and I always come equipped to entertain them, and we hustle the entire flight to keep them as calm as possible. We don’t let them run around willy-nilly, we are mindful of how their movements and noises affect surrounding passengers, and we try to have new/engaging/interesting items on hand to pique their interest.

However, we did meet our first disgruntled passenger on this week’s flight. We boarded the airplane first, and barely noticed an overweight, older gentleman board a few minutes later. He was seated two rows in front of us. Because we had boarded so early and the majority of seats were empty/passengers were still getting situated, I let my youngest sit on my oldest, start hugging, and begin to play as I set up our seats (safety harnesses, waters, books, wipes, etc). They were basically hugging and making noises. My youngest was saying things so that my oldest would copy him, and they were having a blast. Cue grumpy old man: “I’m sorry, but that is unacceptable behavior.”

I was taken aback – was this man talking to me? It sure looked like he was staring in my direction, but what could be unacceptable behavior? Well, never fear, he proceeded to explain: “It is unacceptable for you to let them hug and yell and cause a commotion for everyone.” First of all, the cabin wasn’t even 25% full. Second of all, who gets angry at playing toddlers who are literally just sitting in their seats!? We hadn’t even been on the airplane for five minutes! If this guy was already annoyed, he was definitely in for a treat during the 5+ hour haul.

I was honestly speechless. I was also slightly embarrassed (was I an oblivious parent? Had my kids actually been loud/obnoxious and not cute/endearing?) and wanted to stay calm for my kids. I was also worried that he would start cursing in front of the kids or become otherwise belligerent. And I didn’t think there was much point in arguing with someone who would yell at a pregnant lady traveling with 2 toddlers – what were the chances he would honestly empathize? Plus you see all of these viral videos these days of families getting kicked off flights for the smallest things, and I did not want any trouble on this flight. My husband, who was sitting across the aisle from us, had zero of these reservations.

He got into it with this man, telling him not to talk to me like that, asking if he had ever flown with children, and on and on. The grumpy old man yelled something back about common courtesy/being nice and I pretty much zoned out and tried to distract my kids, while simultaneously asking my husband to calm down. It was an ugly scene and I was not in the mood for confrontation.

I felt pretty crappy the rest of the flight. We worked as hard as we usually do to keep the kids calm, but it felt different – like we were somehow acquiescing to his demands. I was grateful that both of them napped and were generally in stellar moods. I also felt very grateful to have my husband there. I don’t know how the scene would have played out if I were solo, except that perhaps more passengers would have come to my immediate defense. A few gave us smiles of solidarity after it happened, told us the grumpy old man passenger was a jerk after the flight landed, and also commended us for having well-behaved kids. We were grateful to those people for their small acts of kindness. And a special thank you to the passengers across the aisle from us who handed me a barf bag when they saw my oldest vomiting and me searching frantically for something to contain it.

And if you find yourself on an airplane with parents who have young kids, try to have some empathy. I get it – you paid for your flight, you’re tired, you want to sleep/read/watch a movie/etc. But guess what? It’s not a private jet. Most (I can’t speak for all) parents are trying their best to keep their kids contained and respectful, but kids aren’t robots. These families have also paid money for their seats – in our case, we purchased four of them – and have the right to talk, walk around within reason when the seatbelt sign is off, and so on. And no matter how little you think you’re relaxing by the kids being in your mere presence, the parents are relaxing 100% less trying to entertain them. Moral of the story is: try not to be an a-hole on airplanes. After all, isn’t that what common courtesy is all about?

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