Ban babies on board?

Ban babies on board. Stop kids from flying altogether or at least create a special children’s section on planes.

That’s what a growing number of frequent travelers want to do. Passengers like Linda Rolle, an executive administrative associate, parent and grandparent from Denton, Texas.

“I’ve have had some horrible experiences,” she says. “Once, a 2-year-old finished his bottle and heaved it over his head and it landed on my head. Large bump, large headache, no blood. Also, no apology from mommy – only giggles and ‘isn’t he cute’.”

On another flight, a toddler in the seat in front of her “kept standing up and leaning over the seat to see what was going on. I did not mind this until he drooled into my lap,” she remembers.

Children are ubiquitous on flights these days. Nearly one-half of U.S. adults recently polled by the Travel Industry Association of America said they included kids on a trip during the past five years. The most dramatic rise in juvenile passengers came from corporate travelers. In 1997, 24.4 million business trips included a child, compared with 7.4 million business trips a decade earlier. That’s an increase of 230 percent.

Any surprise, then, that the number of complaints about kids is on the rise? Not to Jerry Clavner, a sociology and anthropology professor from Cleveland.

“Traveling on a domestic airline with children on board is like traveling with a Chihuahua with diarrhea,” he says. “Kids are hyperactive and they can’t control themselves. The plane is an unnatural environment, and you’re going to get bizarre behavior. I mean, why would you think children can sit on a flight for more than two hours, when their average attention span is 14 minutes, which is the space between commercials?”

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Clavner says airlines and parents are “inflicting pain on people who are in a rush to get somewhere” and it needs to stop. “I have never inflicted my children on anyone else on an airplane,” he adds. “If we cannot get there by car comfortably with a child, why would I want to go anyway?”

D.J. Cotton, a former flight attendant for Pan Am who now lives in Los Gatos, Calif., knows the children won’t go away. But she has a few ideas about how to deal with them. Sedate infants before the flight, for starters.

“The baby sleeps, the flight crew and passengers arrive relaxed,” she says. If that fails, she adds, airlines should offer “optional parachutes for planes with screaming babies.”

Gregory Gulley-Purcell, a marketing coordinator for a specialty insurance company in Bellevue, Wash., suggests a less radical approach. “If the airlines created a separate compartment, akin to the first-class one, it could be used to accommodate families and adults traveling with children,” he says.

“I don’t think all kids are troublemakers, but the fact does remain that they have a lot more energy than should be contained in the over-crowded, constricted airline cabins of today.”

And how about the crewmembers? Adana Adams, who works for a medical research company in Urbana, Ill., and is the mother of three grown children, thinks the problem isn’t the kids or even the parents, but the flight attendants. She says crewmembers don’t enforce the seatbelt rules consistently, letting children run around the cabin to their hearts’ content.

When she complained about one kid’s behavior on a recent flight, she was told her predicament was her “tough luck.” Is it the flight attendants, the kids, the parents or just the stress of sitting in a pressurized cabin? I don’t know who, or what, is to blame.

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One thing I’m sure of: I’m not one to talk. I was an enfant terrible back in 1969, when I took my very first flight from New York to Munich at age 1. I screamed, ranted, kicked, whined and fussed. Not unlike what I do today, except louder. I don’t feel like I have the right to criticize a couple of rowdy kids.

Among the most level-headed solutions, I think, is Stevanne Auerbach’s. The director of the Institute For Childhood Resources in San Francisco says it’s up to the adults to fly prepared. “You need appropriate games, puppets and activities to keep kids occupied,” she told me.

Put differently, it’s not a bad idea to pack a sock puppet on your next trip. Who knows, it may shut the kid next to you up.

Note: Five years after this article first appeared, Adams, who works for a hospital in a medical research department, contacted this site to request her name be deleted from the story. She said her quote was inaccurate.

“My complaint was that I had requested a window seat so that my elbow that was in a cast would not be bumped and when I got on the plane, a couple with a toddler had boarded early and taken my window seat and refused to move,” she wrote. “The four hours from San Diego was spent with a wild toddler bumping my broken elbow the entire time and flight attendants who refused to do anything about it.”

This site is happy to correct the record but does not, as a matter of practice, delete sources from articles.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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