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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I'm Volunteering My Toddlers for the "No Fly List."

Babies on airplanes get a bad wrap.  We're all guilty of it.  We see a parent board an aircraft with an infant in arms and our anxiety levels immediately creep up.  Let's face it, flying itself can be uncomfortable and down-right panic-inducing for some people; add in an inconsolable crying baby in a confined space with no escape, and things can get quite unnerving or annoying, depending on your personal temperament. Or so, this is the perception people generally have when they think of a baby on an airplane.  I'm here to tell you friends, it's not the babies to fear or dread on an airplane;  It's the toddlers.  You know, the little people that have just recently discovered their own mobility on two feet.  Who constantly want to exert their independence but have limited communication skills.  (A toddler + limited entertainment options)  x  2 or more hours = a dreadful flight experience for all. 

I used to be concerned when I saw a baby come aboard any airplane I was on.  However, I've had quite a few flying experiences this year that proved my concerns to be completely misguided.   In my limited experience with children, babies cry when they are uncomfortable in some way.  And when they cry on an airplane, it really isn't that loud.  Their noises are easily masked by headphones.   For the most part, they can be consoled through feeding and eventually they fall asleep.  To me, a crying baby elicits sympathy for the parent.  On the other hand, a wild toddler garners contempt for bad parenting.  

My travels this year have taught me that having a toddler within ten rows of your seat will make your flight most miserable.  This is what I have learned about toddlers on airplanes:
  • They don't like to sit still.
  • They don't understand what the fasten seat belt sign means, nor do they care.
  • They don't respond well to forced restraint.
  • They scream much louder than babies and they seem to like to do it for fun.
  • They are much stronger than they appear, which is evidenced by the amount of force they use to jostle the seats around them either through full body banging or kicking. 
So, it's highly disruptive and annoying to have a crazy acting toddler on your airplane, but the frustration of the entire situation is exponentially compounded when said toddler is accompanied by a seemingly aloof parent.  One of my flights included a child that was completely calm and quiet until the Captain made us prematurely stow away all electronics due to turbulent air with more than hour to go in flight.   Once this child's DVD player was shut down, he was immediately in need of an exorcism.  He screamed and screeched for no apparent reason while seizing and banging his entire body around his seat, which unfortunately for me, was directly in front of mine.  I've never been at risk of being hit or knocked by the movement of the seat in front of me before.  In fact, it never occurred to me that it was a risk to be concerned about at all.  And mind you, no electronics.  No music to drown him out.  No peace for reading.  Just mounting irritation as the mother whispered in a hushed and much-too-calm voice, "No, Sam. That's not nice." All the while, he manages to throw some punches her way in between his seizing and screeching.  

It reminded me of my flight to Salt Lake City earlier this year and I watched another toddler continuously kick the back of my friend's seat with no attempt by the parent to stop or correct the behavior.  I think I would have rather been back on the Salt Lake City flight.  Despite the annoyance of getting your seat kicked, it was a much calmer scene.  

Handling toddlers is difficult, I get it.  I'm sure those parents felt all eyes on them and everyone within ear shot judging every parental move they did or did not make.  I guess the best you could do is to make an earnest effort to at least distract or entertain your child, or hold them in a way that keeps them from kicking the seat in front of them. Just do something that lets the people around you know you're doing everything you can to try and make it better. 

I can't imagine that the presence of my toddler-aged child is so completely necessary anywhere in the world that it would require them to board an aircraft.  I also would like to avoid the judgement of fellow passengers that my parenting efforts aren't enough to quell the disruption of a tantrum-tossing child.  Therefore, when it comes to travel, I will make other arrangements, be it driving, leaving my toddler at home with a family member or friend, or staying behind myself.  

From the time my child is walking until about age four, I will keep them on the ground until their behavior can be more easily controlled.  When I have kids, I will volunteer my toddlers for the "No Fly List."