JetBlue and 71% of America, J’accuse!

Okay, I didn’t really think I would post about this, but it’s stuck in my craw.

JetBlue, not exactly known for the quality of its flight attendants (remember the guy who cursed out a passenger and then exited via the emergency slide?), recently kicked off a family of four whose toddler was, well, being a toddler.

Here’s a video interview from MSNBC

To sum up:  This family’s two-year-old had a 3-5 minute tantrum prior to take off.  The little girl wanted to sit on her mom’s lap, not in her seat with the belt (been there).  The parents, a pediatrician and a doctor, did their best to work with their over-tired, off-schedule toddler, and got her to comply.  They did this while being bothered by the flight attendants, who apparently did nothing more useful than ask to parents to “comply with FAA regulations.”

Once the child was calmed, seated, and buckled (in 3-5 minutes), the family was informed that the pilots had made a decision that for the “safety” of the flight, the family was being removed.  The plane was turned around, and, as that was the last flight of the day, the family of four (including a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old) was stuck until the next morning.

Now, I wasn’t there, so I can’t say that this is exactly what happened, or know if there was some other exacerbating interaction between the parents and flight crew, etc.

However, what I find more disturbing is that the majority of Americans might side with JetBlue on this issue.  In an online poll, 71% of respondents agreed with the airline’s decision.  Seventy-one percent.  I’ve also

seen plenty of tweets applauding JetBlue for removing the family.\

Hello?!?

As a parent who has flown many, many times with my children (including intercontinentally), I was dismayed and unsettled by JetBlue’s decision to boot the family.  Apparently, penguins aboard an aircraft are totally fine, but normal, tired children?  Not so much.  Maybe Delta is just more competent than JetBlue.  Your call.

While claiming that a 3-5 minute toddler tantrum is a safety risk is laughable, it is nerve-wracking to realize that the same thing could happen to my family.  Or yours.  It’s not the first time a family has been removed because of a child’s behavior.

Traveling with children is not easy.  They are out of routine, probably tired, forced to be confined for long periods of time in small, enclosed spaces.  There are delays.  There is security.  There are strange people, environments and experiences.  As parents, we are also tired, trying our best to keep our kids behaving as well as can be expected in an increasingly hostile environment (71%, people, 71%).

In addition, children cannot be controlled, nor can their behavior be predicted.  When a tantrum strikes, sometimes a parent just has to buckle down and wait it out.  To do this on an airplane is beyond stressful, and for it to only take 3-5 minutes is pretty quick, in my experience.

Yes, traveling is stressful and expensive.  I understand that people who do not have children, or do not want children, or do not like children, may not want to ever have to see a child or be in an enclosed space with one.  It may be inconvenient, but it’s not dangerous.

An opinion that I have heard, too many times, is that small children shouldn’t fly.  We should have our out-of-town family come to us.  We should drive.  If we have to fly, our children should be heavily sedated.  We should do anything but inconvenience the masses of Americans who do not want to fly with us and our tired children.

Please.

When did the rights of parents and families to travel become less important that the rights of  individuals?  When did a noisy child become so completely unbearable?  On my last trip, I had to listen to conversation and deal with behavior I found unpleasant.  I dealt with it.  It’s part of travel.  It’s part of life.

Is there a trend of increasing intolerance of small children on flights?  I don’t know.  It feels like it, but I’m not exactly an unbiased observer in this discussion.  Will I feel more nervous and defensive the next time we fly?  Yes, unfortunately, I probably will.

To take a look from the perspective of the airlines, we should take into account their need to comply with FAA requirements.  This includes having children 2 and older in their own seat, buckled, as well as for all passengers to be able to hear the pre-flight safety shpiel (hard to do if there is a howling child).

Where is the line between compassion and compliance?  How much time should a parent be given to calm their child?  How much leeway is understandable and how much genuinely unfair to the other passengers?  Should there be national regulations, so that parents are aware that if their child is not able to be calmed within a certain amount of time, they will be asked to leave the flight?  Should they be reimbursed for the considerable inconvenience?

What do you think?  Will this incident make you rethink traveling with small children?  If you are of the opinion that small children shouldn’t travel, do you have other suggestions? 

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38 thoughts on “JetBlue and 71% of America, J’accuse!

  1. I am rather astonished at the seeming hatred, yes hatred, people seem to have for children espeically concerning airline travel. It actually disturbs me. The common response is their children would have never acted like that or they would have… Okay, right. Only this generation of children become overtired, upset, out of sorts, and have a meltdown. Never happened until now.

    What this means for me is I don’t fly with the children. I tend to travel with them by myself and I am afraid something like this could happen in the normal course of events. I choose to drive as we have never flown internationally with the littles. The airlines lose out on thousands of dollars from us a year because of this as we tend to travel extensively. But the truth is they probably don’t care.

  2. Im with the family on this. I can’t believe that the family actually got kicked off the plane for that reason. I have two small children myself and would hope to never experience that type of treatment. With my first son, I had him in Germany and by the time he was almost three, we came back to the states. Well, of course the flight is about nine hours, and my son has autistic traits, and whinned pretty much the whole time. I can’t imagine being told I had to be removed from the plane. I understand that everyone wants to have a comfortable and peaceful flight, but parents shouldn’t be treated like that because of there child’s behavior. It’s sad to know that people are growing less patient.

  3. I agree it’s ridiculous. I think that part of the increasing anti-children sentiment in air travel may be traced back to the reduction in available flights causing everyone to be tightly packed into a plane with no spare seats or “wiggle” room. Usually airlines offer to let parents with young children board first. I think nowadays it might be better to board families last so that children don’t have to be strapped in for so long before the flight takes off. 30min – 1 hour of being in a confined space with barely enough room for your elbows and no visual stimulation (before the plane takes off) for the kiddos is asking a bit much in my opinion. Also, I wonder if airlines would consider blocking off parts of the plane as “family class”…. so that you are seated with other families and children are near other children. Maybe this is too much like segregation for many people to palate, but I think it might make for a better trip for everyone. What do you think?

  4. I’m feeling warm and fuzzy about the reception my husband and I will receive on Sunday when we fly from Baltimore to Cali. With a connection. And 3 kids (5, 3, and 6 months). Nothing can possibly go wrong, right? We’ve flown with the older two and they were reasonably well-behaved (although we did have a thrilling air sickness incident once). The baby is a total wild card. This is also the longest travel day we’ve attempted. We didn’t choose the destination; my FIL did and they are paying our way. I tried to choose flights that were least disruptive to the older kids’s sleep schedules, but everyone is going to be tired and cranky by the time we’ve been in transit 8 hours. A note on the “board last” idea: now that airlines charge for checked bags, carry-on storage space is full by the 2nd or 3rd boarding group (on American, anyway). The all-important carry-on contains outfits, snacks, diapers and entertainment, so it would be tough to gate check…

    • You’re absolutely right about the carry-on luggage, but hopefully that could be remedied with the advent of a family section?

    • Wow, hatzlacha rabah with your trip! I found that traveling when my children were pre-walking was easier in a way, as they had no desire to get up and go. I hope it’s the case with your baby!

  5. I remember literally walking across the Atlantic as my one year old howled. That was 35 years ago. I guess I’m lucky we weren’t given a parachute and told to jump.

  6. I love Yael’s idea about a family section. Where you could actually change your child on a normal changing table and not in a 2×2 bathroom while trying to keep your toddler from flushing items of his clothing down the crazy toilet. Toys, other kids, GREAT idea!

    • Southwest’s pre-boarding policy they no longer have created a makeshift family section at the front of the plane. It was nice to be surrounded by other families and not feeling like too much of an encroachment on other travelers. Traveling with kids is hard. I’d like to see airlines adopting a family section. It is a great solution!

    • I’m laughing at the image of your toddler’s clothes being sucked into the scary toilet. Of course, it would not be a funny-at-the-time experience. Obviously.

  7. I would also like to point out in the many flights I have taken, drunken passengers and not very nice people were always far more disruptive than any child on board.

  8. Very thoughtfully written post. I, too, like the idea of a family section. Back in the dark ages, there was a smoking section. I find this scenario (where a child can be booted off a plane with family) bonechilling, especially the part where America is behind it, too. It’s hard for me to believe that anyone with kids hasn’t experienced a similar situation. Most of us just had the good fortune not to be on that flight when it happened.

    • This is something I’ve thought about. That family has flown something like 14 times previously, and I’m sure this isn’t the first pre-flight tantrum they’ve managed. The conclusion I’ve come to is that the crew and/or pilots might have been negatively predisposed to children or something. Just the wrong environment for a tantrum, you know? Which makes it scary, because it’s capricious.

  9. That was an absurd reaction from Jet Blue. I can’t even begin to imagine the horror those parents felt, and then subsequently felt by the children involved. Man! I would never fly Jet Blue again after being treated like that. Flying has become such a pain in so many ways, here’s just one more to worry about.
    Thankfully, my kids have mostly grown out of the tantrum stage and love being on airplanes, but there were plenty of times when I felt awful about the disturbances they created on flights for other passengers. Once it was because of an ear infection, another was because I was flying alone with infant twins. But Jet Blue’s reaction was way over the top, and I think parents should boycott the airline, send them a message!

    • Thankfully, the children are still so small. Hopefully the event will gradually fade into the masses of memory.

      I look forward to the days of being out of the tantrum stage. We aren’t out of the woods yet!

  10. I agree 100%, but too often, I have met adults who are peeved at the crying of a child. I once shouted at a man that clearly he had never had a child nor BEEN a child or he would definitely be more forgiving of a little noise. We all have our chance, as little ones, to annoy the big people around us.
    My worst moment, probably in life, was flying back overnight, alone, from a vacation in Israel to my father’s funeral. My 1-year-old started wailing as we boarded the 1 am flight (he was already in bed in Jerusalem when my mother phoned to say my father died, so I scooped him up and basically ran to the airport), I had no toys or books or even a change of clothes for him, and he alternated crying and nursing the whole 12 hours,overnight, in the dark.
    The businessman beside me requested that I be moved… and they did move me, but then, after the flight attendants had rested, they gave me the whole back row where they sleep, privacy curtain and all. What a nightmare – imagine if they’d been trying to kick me off!!!

    • lol, i love the image of you telling the man off. I’m far too non-confrontational to do that. Unless I’m experiencing the correct percentages of fatigue and hormones, that is.

      So glad to hear that the flight attendants were compassionate to your situation!

  11. I agree with everything you said, Rivki. When a child is tantruming (and I’ve been there…oy!) there is nothing guaranteed you can do to quiet him/her. It’s a helpless feeling for the parent. We don’t like it any more than the 77% do. Plane travel is unpleasant in so many ways – this is just one more way. Everyone should just suck it up.

    Great post!

    • Children are such wild cards. It baffles me how the public seems to not understand this. It’s like a throwback to the seen-and-not-heard days, you know?

  12. I can’t say this situation surprises me. We are living in a very “me” world right now. Everything revolves around me. I want to have a quiet flight, I need my space, I, I, I….Even the idea of a Kindle – “I need to have all 100 of the latest novels at my finger tips!”.
    Patience is a virtue that is vary rarely seen these days, and as parents know, children require mountains of it.
    I’ve been very lucky that the longest flight I’ve ever had to fly with my baby was 5.5 hours, but he wasn’t in the mood to sleep. We did a lot of pacing the isles, and we tried our best to keep him calm. But like you said kids have their own ideas, and own personalities.
    I think all we can do as parents is be as prepared as possible (snacks, fun toys, drinks, video games), know we’re doing our best, and try to teach our kids patience so when they grow up, they will try and be as understanding as possible with their noisy fellow passenger’s kids. :)

    • Excellent points. Perhaps that because of all the impatience and immaturity with other passengers, we will all focus more on teaching our kids tolerance and patience. Ahhhh, wouldn’t that be lovely?

  13. Rivki, I had to come back to add this. I heard about it on NPR yesterday on the program “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me,” where it was touted with great humor. You can hire a nanny to fly with you. As the program advised; “and sit several rows away from your noisy child, pretending not to know them.” Ha! Here’s the website: http://www.nannyintheclouds.com/nannysearch.html (For those of you who don’t know me–yes, I’m being very sarcastic! I can’t believe someone is going to make a career from this.)

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  15. My father tells a story about putting me, at the age of 3, onto the airline counter and saying something to the effect of “this is my newly toilet-trained 3 year old. i’ll just leave her here until you get us on the plane.” He says it worked wonders to get things moving. Today, I think he would have been arrested. Sad….

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  17. Ugh. I never knew this stuff happened. I think the families should be heavily compensated for the disservice shown to them and the inconvenience they suffered. And, 3-5 minutes is pretty good.

    On the other hand, last time we flew, when Shlomo was about a month old (on the way back, he was two months old), the following incident happened:

    Across the aisle from us was a family with four kids, including a baby. The baby was fine, for the most part. But while everyone else on the flight was trying to sleep, the older kids made a ruckus. We had not been able to sleep prior to the flight, and EVERY TIME Shlomo fell asleep, one of their kids started screaming, jumping, talking loudly, having a temper tantrum, etc. We got no sleep at all, and neither did Shlomo. They woke him up EVERY TIME but one 1.5 hour nap. When we asked the parents to control their kids, they gave us a “you’ll understand when you get here” answer. They had not even TRIED to control their kids, not even once – how can they tell me such a thing?! I told them I would call a flight attendant – and they told their kids to be quiet or else. I tried to sleep while my husband took care of Shlomo. Two hours later, Shlomo finally fell asleep again – and they started making more noise. For ten and a half hours. And it was a night flight, for goodness sake.
    Now, that family should’ve been thrown off the plane.

    So, while I think Jetblue was wrong, and I am very pro-children, there are parents whose behavior and lack of control (or even caring) does warrant such moves. Sorry for the rant . . .

    • That sounds like a very harrowing experience. Sorry! I’m sure I would have been frustrated, too, but it’s hard to say difinitively that just because a parent isn’t outwardly doing anything that it means they don’t care. They could have been so mortified that they just shut down, you know? While I wasn’t there to witness the scene, I do want to throw some “dan l’chaf zchus” ideas out there about parents of unruly children on planes. It very well could be that the parents weren’t trying, but it could be that the children weren’t able to rest, were more worked up than usual, and therefore the parents didn’t have the tools to deal with the unruly behavior. Normally, for a tantrum, the chinuch courses I’ve taken recommend removing the child from the location of the tantrum, but that’s not possible on a plane. It could be their first trip and they didn’t plan for all the possible snafus. It could be that their connecting flight was delayed and they were stuck in the airport before this flight and ran out of their carefully planned activities and were at the end of their rope. Also, I know some parents do not discipline their children in public, as it is not effective for them.

      Usually my children behave relatively well in public, but I did have to leave Target just yesterday because my oldest pitched a fit and would not calm down. If I was on a place, I don’t know what I would have done.

      • Okay, you are right; I should have been more dan l’chaf zechus. Probably, what really irked me was that the parents didn’t even bother to apologize.

        And, you can remove your child from the scene, even on a plane – take them to the bathroom and deal with the tantrum there. Also, the parents only warned them twice, and the kids listened. So, I think if they had told their kids earlier on, this could have been avoided. (Yes, I know that that’s not dan l’chaf zechus, but the arrogance and nastiness of the parents (who yelled at us, by the way, for daring to ask them to control their kids – unfortunately, they were religious) is something I will never forget. I just pray I never see them again.)

        But, at least you care – and, I would assume, apologized if your child disturbed someone else. (Which, by the way, is an assumption I am making based on the fact that you seem to be concerned with your children’s behavior in public. But, of course, if I am wrong, feel free to correct me. ;))

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