You know what they say: never fly with kids or animals. Well, maybe the original quote was about working in show business but something similar applies to long-haul air travel. Now before you run for cover from a long diatribe about flying with my pet shitzu, it’s not about that. It’s not even a post about advice on plane travel with kids. Even after 10 years of many a long haul flight with two children, I still have no idea how to do it without tears, over-tiredness, sugar rushes, too much alcohol (me not the kids) throwing-up (the kids not me), and managing not to take it too personally when I get disapproving looks from other passengers when the girls start behaving like Veruca Salt.
There are plenty of travel posts out there offering tips on how to do travel with kids well, from asking for non-allergic food for your baby on your plane journey to planning your plane tickets so you are all sitting together including the baby! Mental note: investigate options of not sitting next to my four year old. We’d all be better off if she wriggled next to someone else for the 15hrs from San Francisco to Singapore.
I find the best way to approach air travel with or without kids these days especially on any American airlines – United Airlines in particular – is to quietly and eventually get on the plane and say absolutely nothing to anyone unless explicitly spoken to. Try asking a United Airlines flight attendant for special food catering to your child’s allergy, for example, and it’s possible they might ask you to leave the plane for being guilty of unreasonable requests. I present the following as evidence:
A guy on a recent SFO-Singapore flight asked what I thought was a reasonable enough request for a copy of ‘The Straits Times’ (the main Singaporean Newspaper) and was told (barked at) by the flight attendant he already had a newspaper and she couldn’t give him another one. And then she asked him to be quiet as she had other passengers to deal with. One newspaper only! For quiet passengers!
On another flight I was finishing a glass of wine when the flight attendant was coming around asking for any rubbish. I wanted to finish my wine, I had paid for it – it wasn’t Singapore Airlines after all with their free flow of alcohol, and so I didn’t hand over my unfinished glass to the rubbish collector (and I was sticking by my own advice of “say nothing” just in case I ended up on the floor with my hands handcuffed behind my back) So she said “I won’t be coming around again to collect it”. Drink faster and don’t litter!
On my last flight, I overheard a particularly severe flight attendant admonishing a nearby passenger for some unknown jibe with the following: “I know exactly how to do my job and can do my job faster than you.” Well, I would hope so.
On the same flight I had wondered to the back seeking refreshment and after politely enquiring “Could I help myself to one of these bottles of water?” and receiving an affirmative, proceeded to take two, only to be challenged: “Why are you taking two is there someone else you are giving it to?”
I am not questioning the need to keep unruly passengers in line but it seems like the definition of “unruly” is now “anyone with an economy ticket,” and the admonishing is being taken to new levels. It’s like when the attendant looks at you expecting a decision on your meal choice when you don’t know what the options are, often resulting in their shouting over the cabin with an impatient ultimatum to decide before they move on. Should you have determined what the food choice is by the smell?
Maybe I am just put out because plane travel is not what it was when people actually dressed up to travel and it was glamourous. I now dress like I am about to embark on an extended and intensive fitness workout with a bout of endurance thrown in and with the two kids it actually is.
My least favourite moment traveling with United Airlines is reserved for before the flight has even started, when they call you to board and then they tell you to line up in rows numbered 1 to 5. I always end up in row number 5 and am last to board – not necessarily a bad thing on a long flight except if you have carry on luggage and nowhere to put it as the space up above is all gone. But the first time I was standing in row 5 I started wondering as I was waiting, have they introduced steerage now on their planes? And is there extra training for the airline staff in making you feel like it. Will I be standing up for the flight or maybe out back with the luggage? Wrangling kids does not even get you preferential treatment unless your child is under two. You may have a screaming four year old hanging out of your arms, there will be no preferential treatment in
steerage economy. America is a democracy after all and we are all treated equally. Or so they tell us.