Mileage Running Really IS a Different Sort of Travel: Celebrities at the Checkpoint and Kids on a Plane

I’ve long been jealous of the strange flying experiences that seem to seek out Lucky. Very little strange seems to happen to me in my travels, and I finally had a bit of contrast this weekend to reflect on why that is.

  • I fly mostly at peak business travel times. The planes are filled largely with very frequent flyers, business travelers who know the drill.

  • I avoid flying at peak holiday times, the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving or the Sunday after for instance, “Amateur Day” as it were. (At least domestically.. I’ll go away on major holidays but usually flying long haul.)

  • When I go somewhere for the weekend, I’m flying to interesting places when all of the interesting people are leaving those interesting places.

Mileage running, or arranging travel without the constraints of a full time job, allows for seeking out off peak times with the lowest fares or low demand times for confirming upgrades. Those are the sorts of flights with infrequent flyers and the most price sensitive flyers, and I also suspect they’re the flights that offer the most antics.

As part of my question for American Executive Platinum status while at the same time getting myself more than half way towards re-qualifying for the status all during the month of January — thanks to Double Elite Qualifying Miles and the Oneworld Mega DO — I did two roundtrips to the West Coast this weekend. And finally got a little bit of interesting passenger action.

Flying out on Friday there was little out of the ordinary. Loving American’s inflight wireless internet, something I didn’t have on Star Alliance carriers in the U.S. generally. Although I miss the consistent seat power, especially with my underpowered laptop that I recently wrote about figuring out a replacement for. I’ve even gotten consistent pre-departure beverages which is a real departure from my earlier American flights. So far, so good.

Heading back East on Saturday morning I was followed through the security checkpoint by Billy Crystal and his slick looking handler. Everyone was being sent through the nude-o-scope (I opted out). Everyone, that is, except Billy Crystal. He was sent just through the x-ray machinemetal detector. It does pay to be special in LA — even at the TSA checkpoint — something Britney Spears learned years ago.

Next stop was American’s Admiral’s Club which had a line to get in about a dozen people deep. Billy Crystal came in behind me, noted that he wasn’t getting much special assistance, and his handler explained that American does offer Concierge Key status but that he didn’t know how to obtain it. Literally no seats open in the club.

Over the weekend I made an In ‘N Out run with Tommy Danielsen who happened to also be at the Sheraton Gateway LAX (the best true airport hotel there, though the nearby Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey is of course a better property, the Sheraton shares a shuttle with the Radisson next door, has comfortable and clean rooms and free bottled water, internet seems to be free for Golds as well as Platinums and there’s a Starbucks in the lobby that sadly always seems to open about 5 or 10 minutes past the designated 5:30am start time).

Where the werewolves and other such creatures seem to come out is on Saturday flights, and I rarely take Saturday flights. On the first leg there were three kids in the cabin, the oldest couldn’t have been more than three. One cried quite a bit, the other two yelled and shrieked on occasion.

I wasn’t ready to re-start the “babies on a plane” discussion, though, until the next flight where a family with two kids in First didn’t do much to keep the kids quiet and they cried, wailed, and screamed for the entire five and a half hours. On an evening flight, though at least it wasn’t a redeye.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit, and I believe that the key is courtesy. I want to acknowledge up front that parents have a right to fly. And that I have no issue or qualms with kids per se, it’s only screaming kids and their parents who don’t seem to prepare for the trip or do much to relieve the tensions of the situation.

And I am also explicitly not making the case that babies shouldn’t be permitted up front. Because screaming babies in coach are just as much of a problem for coach passengers, and screaming babies at the front of coach are just as much of a problem for first class passengers as well.

I do, however, think some principles ought to apply:

  • Take a baby that is likely to cry only on those trips that are absolutely necessary
  • When considering what trips to take, go for shorter ones rather than longer ones
  • Consider driving on those shorter trips instead of flying
  • Avoid those flights where other passengers are most likely to be trying to sleep, it may be more convenient for a parent to take a kid on the flight where they think the kid will be tired and sleep but the cost of guessing wrong is huge for everyone else. A tired kid who won’t sleep is even worse..

Sometimes flying, and flying long distances, will be unavoidable with kids. For those times preparation is key. And so is inflight courtesy, I’ve seen too many parents on planes simply seem to decide that there’s nothing they can do and aren’t going to bother tending to their child.

The parents need to do whatever they can to quiet the screaming child. It’s all well and good to say that (1) they have as much right to fly as anyone else, and (2) there’s not a lot they can do when the small child cries but at the same time it’s worth remembering that the one individual’s ‘right’ is impinging on everyone else’s rights on the plane, and therefore extraordinary efforts need to be taken to minimize the disturbance for others, keeping kids calm and quiet for the benefit of everyone else. And if that fails, at least consider apologizing to seatmates and neighbors. Being nice will go a long way toward reducing tensions of the situation.

Perhaps I’m just spoiled because midweek flights between 7 and 9 am or 5 and 7 pm just don’t usually seem to have that many kids. Especially like the one who came into the first class cabin from coach and walked into my row to start playing with the iPad of the person sitting next me! Literally a child who had had no previous contact with anyone up front just walked up, walked into the row and started touching the iPad screen. They decided the moving that was playing wasn’t for them, they started looking for games, found Angry Birds, and started playing. Eventually the mother came up, just sort of stood there, asked the perhaps three year old to stop but they wouldn’t. They just kept playing. The mother didn’t engage or apologize. When a flight attendant told them that they needed to leave the first class cabin, the mother went back to her seat and got her iPhone to draw the kid away (“Look! Shiny things!”). That worked. For a little while…. because the kid came back and did it again. No apology forthcoming from the mother at all.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @Ken:
    I’m 1000% in agreement. Parents today have a multitude of excusses but no apologies. Out of control kids with no control parents.

  2. To all the Haters (I’m looking at you @Carl),

    A few weeks ago (Holidays), my wife and I were one of those parents with a fussy child. ORD – SJC 4 hour flight. Our 10 month old had flown 2 times previous and was great on those trips. Unfortunately, at 10 months he just became mobile and hates being in one spot. He was fussy about sitting on our laps. We literally tried and planned for everything.

    We had plenty of toys. We even brought new ones to hold his interest longer. These worked for about 5 minutes. We had a bottle of formula. We had “puffs”. We had baby food in a squeeze bag. The food quieted him for as long as he was eating it. He just wanted to be up and about. So we let him stand on our lap and that was fine for a while. But he wanted to be stable and on his own. He doesn’t talk or understand much, so there is no reasoning with him. We have to do our best to distract him and we were doing. our. best. Also, I should note that our 10 month old doesn’t focus on screens yet. We had a tablet along to entertain, but he was more interested in biting it than watching it.

    He wasn’t full out screaming (thank goodness), but he was whining loudly. We were acutely aware of those passengers around us that were annoyed by his whimpers (especially me since I read these types of post a fair amount). We apologized to those around us as best we could. The gentleman next to us in the 3rd seat was very nice and understanding. The mother with two children next to her in front of us kept giving us the stink eye. I couldn’t believe it. Had she honestly never been in our position?!

    What were we to do? Not let our son spend his first Christmas with Grandma and Grandpa in California? Or since children are being compared to dogs, should we have kenneled him? It seems that some readers here are so out of touch that they would honestly think this a viable option. Driving is out of the question as it takes to long. The family coming to us would have been a different hassle and didn’t make sense financially.

    Luckily after about 2 hours the beverage service ended and we were finally able to take him in the aisle. He almost instantly fell asleep in my wife’s arms.

    The point is that we had tickets to travel and were trying as hard as possible to calm the child, but we just couldn’t… and I’m sorry. All the posts about the parents being the most annoyed are true. We are doing the most work trying to get the child settled and want it to end more badly than anyone else.

  3. @Andrea, there’s plenty of people with no kids that bring on max carry on bags, bags they can’t even lift into the luggage bin, etc…don’t worry I give them the side eye too 😉

    I actually just recently blogged at my site that airlines should charge for these large carry-ons to incentivize people not to carry on these large bags and drag down the boarding process.

  4. First off, I would like to point out that NONE OF YOU has a “right to fly”. The term “right” applies to big important things like free speech and representative government. You don’t NEED to go visit Grandma in Boca the same way you need free association.

    Travelling by plane, whether to a business meeting or to Disneyland, is a privilege. Abuse it and it can be taken away, simple as that. I think people who are willing to pay for “business class” are entitled to an environment conducive to working. That includes no ruckus from fellow passengers, be they children, drunks, or DYKWIAs. Anyone violating that principle should be tossed off the plane (preferably at 35,000 feet). By the same token, well-behaved children are entitled to sit in whichever class they’re ticketed in (although employees and their family members riding up front while elites sit in the back does piss me off!)

    Secondly, I agree with Denise that we shouldn’t judge all parents by the bottom 10%. A lot of parents I’ve met while travelling try extremely hard to keep their kids in line, and I don’t envy them the task. At the same time, it’s the job of the full 100% to mind their children at all times. You had ’em, you watch ’em. What ever happened to personal responsibility for one’s actions?

    Oh, and autism/Asperger’s/ADHD is not an excuse for misbehaviour. Many of these things are over- or self-diagnosed. If your child really can’t behave on a plane, either don’t bring them or sedate them. Anyone with a legitimate illness will have a doctor willing to give them a prescription. Trust me, I know.

    Tom86 made probably the best point yet, although it was overlooked by many:

    “I used to go crazy with crying kids around me on a plane… Now with 2 young kids I’m tuned out”.

    Research had shown that this is EXACTLY what happens. Parents become acclimatized to the noise of children and automatically tune it out. This is a well-established phenomenon in cognitive neuroscience.

    Those of you who wonder how some of these parents can ignore their child’s noise or behaviour need to understand that on a conscious level the parents truly do not perceive the input. Similarly, parents need to actively remember that what is background noise to them can be extremely irritating to those who haven’t developed a filter. Think back to your early days as a parent when every noise the baby made used to catch your attention and compare it to the present.

    As for dogs, give me a screaming baby any day! No one needs to travel with their pet period, and they certainly don’t need to have a dog in the cabin. This reminds me of a recent flight where a woman tried to pre-board with the elderly and infirm because she had her purse dog with her. I suspect that, as with children, dog people also become acclimatized to all the annoying things their pets do.

    Of course, research has also shown that parents who have tuned out can tune back in instantly in response to their child’s cry of pain or fear, even when fast asleep. Might I thus suggest (with tongue firmly in cheek) a scientifically-proven technique for getting a neglectful parent/dog owner’s attention, one that involves the back of my hand….

  5. @Arcanum,

    Freedom of contract may not be a constitutional right at the level of freedom of speech, but the right to freely contract remains a cornerstone of free-market political and economic systems. By right, anyone–business travelers, parents, and children alike–may enter into a contract of carriage (and travel under that contract).

    As a matter of courtesy, of course, I agree that parents should be mindful of fellow travelers and try to keep children under control. (The same courtesy ought be extended to parents by fellow travelers.)

    That said, there’s nothing that entitles a traveler to “an environment conducive to working” in business class or otherwise. Conversely, the passengers who seem to offend you are contractually entitled to bring their children (or pets, as the case may be!) with them on planes.

    (In addition–just for the record–I don’t have children and have never brought any kids with me on a plane, so I’d hope to have an objective viewpoint.)

  6. I travel 125k+ a yr with American every year for the last ten or so years. When it it time to vacation with the family and I bring my two yr old on a flight with me and I get upgraded with them then I have just as much a right to be up there as any other passenger. Does she cry a bit or get antsy, sure,what toddler doesnt but I do my best to control it and move on. Do I hold her up and let her scream her brains out and carry her all over the plane drooling on people and basically trying to stir up as many passengers as possible, no. They are kids just like we all were at one time so you deal with it. Your are talking about three hours of your life, not three decades. Proof of this.
    A couple months ago myself, our two yr old daughter and my six month pregnant wife did a lax/hnl trip for a week. Two passengers on our return flight were on standby and got on the flight in first class no less where we were sitting. (Dont get me started on this) My daughter was a little restless for about 25 minutes or so at the start of the flight. She cried a bit and we did our best to quite her down. For the next four and half hours she slept , like a baby (pun intended) No problem right? The couple who were on STANDBY and got two free upgraded first class seats made a point to come up to me at the end of the flight and tell me we should keep our daughter off planes and not travel with her! ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!! Needless to say I was more than upset and gave them a piece of my very creative (insulted) mind. I give this airline in the tens of thousands of dollars a year in business. Who has more of a right to be there, me or the standby couple who scored a free upgrade and fly once a year?

  7. @Gary: did you talk to Billy Crystal? Perhaps you could’ve told him about your blog so he can try for CK. 😉

    @Carl: I don’t think my dog has the right to everything, but I don’t think any person have the right to everything either, including dictating how others live their lives. And I do think my dog behaves way better than most kids…so your analogy is a bit off there.

    @Peter: did you fly at night or during your baby’s regular bedtime? Some parents, like you, are aware and trying. But what stand out most is when parents just don’t do anything, and allow their babies/kids to behave badly without any intervention. I’ve had kids kicking nonstop even after I spoke to the parents…that’s what sticks to your mind.

    @Dan M.: um…didn’t you also get upgraded? Is your 10+K dollars in business your own money or company’s? I’ve not heard of AA upgrading non-elites, on a flight to/from Hawaii no less, AND on a standby too?? Sounds odd. How do you know that the couple did not spend more with AA? Too many assumptions on your end.

    When your baby was bothering the other passengers did you apologize? Like Gary said, it’s not about “right” but COURTESY. Sure the other couple didn’t behave courteously, and should’ve kept their mouths shut, but it was in reaction to your baby. If the couple really flies only once a year then their vacation sure did not have a good ending.

  8. Kids are alive, they’re people. Therefore they should get their own seat and the parents should pay for that seat. They weigh less so a reduced fare seems fair.

    I’m a proponent for all kids having their own seat. It would reduce crying and give much needed space to those unfortunate to sit near a screaming child. Kids on the lap are dangerous, block emergency egress and are downright uncomfortable for everyone involved.

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