Attitude at Altitude

Oh man. Did anyone see today’s New York Times Travel section? Michelle Higgins wrote a front page feature, Are We There Yet?, which promises “expert tips on how to manage the madness” of air travel with children. Somehow the article manages to be less instructive than the Ice Cube movie of the same name.

Did you know, for example, that seven years ago Malaysia Airlines “banned children under the age of 2 from traveling in first-class”? Times readers may wanna rethink that family vacation to Kuala Lumpur.

Or this nugget: families flying to Florida should consider a layover in Halifax. Why? Because Canadian charter Air Transat promises “[a]ll children traveling from Canada to Florida receive an activity book featuring the airline’s mascot, AirNest [sic].” While supplies last.

The article opens with Mr. & Mrs. Lin of Jersey City, and their nightmare flight to Hawaii with 18 month-old twins in tow. What airborne calamity was inflicted upon the Lins? A Continental flight attendant refused them milk, after their own supply ran out. Higgins never questions the judgement of parents who book their babies on an elective twelve-hour flight. Nor does she explain how the Lins hoped to enjoy a beach vacation with twin babies. She does offer this expert tip: “To ensure that your family has what it needs, take it yourself.” Got that?

Higgins waxes nostalgic about the days when families boarded first and were automatically given the front bulkhead seats; junior fliers were given wings and tours of the cockpit; and stewardesses helpfully provided diapers and baby food. Yes, and you didn’t have to pump your own gas, doctors made house calls, and teenagers would eagerly shovel your driveway for a dollar. Time to move on-dot-org.

The problem, it seems, is that air travel has lost all graciousness. In an effort to score the cheapest tickets, we passengers have removed the airlines’ capacity to offer amenities. Higgins even acknowledges that the only way to reclaim a semblance of comfort is to pay for it. But she resents having to do so, instead insisting that families somehow deserve better than their child-free passengers.

My guess is that Higgins has an ax to grind. She’s probably had some dispiriting spats with airline employees, which will henceforth end with explicit threats to publish their names and misdeeds in the New!… York!… TIMES!

My advice to Ms. Higgins, the Lins, and anyone flying with babies:

1. Airline personnel instinctively punish insistent assholes, while rewarding the patient and polite. So instead of demanding sterling service from undervalued employees, treat them with the reverence you normally reserve for surgeons. It’s counterintuitive – and admittedly absurd – but you need these people as allies.

2. Lots of new (and seasoned) parents seem to believe society should be grateful for their having procreated. Instead, look remorseful for inflicting your spawn upon other travelers. Smile sheepishly. Apologize affably every time your baby so much as coos in someone’s direction. This will ingratiate you to your fellow passengers, who will in turn reward you with their tolerance and helpfulness.

3. Every flight is full of passengers who either a) love children and relish the chance to make faces at them, or b) wish kids could be stored in the baggage hold. Enlist the former through fleeting access. Remember that decreasing supply increases demand. If people sense your eagerness to turn the flight cabin into captive daycare, they will grant their attentions to more deserving kids. For the latter, disarm the haters by preempting their disdain. Offer them your iPod when your baby cries. Disparage your kid with a line like, “She was actually much worse at the Holocaust Museum.” Helpfully inquire of a stewardess whether they stock chloroform in the rear galley.

4. Bring plenty of distractions for your baby. Pacifiers. Books. New toys. Favorite toys (the kind without batteries, please.) Hand puppets. iPads loaded with apps. iPads loaded with porn. Whatever it takes.

People always say that babies are little miracles. They are not. Miracles happen like, once every hundred and forty years. Babies happen every four or five seconds. Flying, on the other hand, is truly a miracle. How else to describe travel to other continents that can be measured in hours? What is truly bizarre is that the commonplace (i.e. babies) are thought miraculous, and the miraculous (flight) is now commonplace.

Air travel is frequently sane. But fly often enough, and some flights will invariably suck ass. Plan for the worst, hope for the best. And save that Hawaiian vacation for when the twins can appreciate it. Meanwhile, feel free to mourn the bygone era of airborne civility.

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    […] published just such a guide in the Travel section. And while I hate to pick on Michelle Higgins again, she lists a measly three apps for ages 1-4. This age range is so overly broad, she may as well be […]

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