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. Here’s the thing – we have 2 kids who are fantastic travelers. We just got back from our 3 year olds 12th trip overseas, and our 8 month olds 2nd. They travel so well, they are quiet, they sleep, we have people say they didn’t even know we were on the plane. But, and this is a big but, kids are just like adults, and can have a bad day. They can feel sick, they can be tired, they can just be off, and every family with good travelers is just one trip away from a not so good trip.

    We have family overseas. We have no choice but to take long, overnight flights to see them. We also truly enjoy traveling and want to expose our kids to that. We have flown overseas flights with them in first. We have flown in premium economy, and, as our family grows, we have flown in Coach.

    We get nasty looks when we come on board with them. We get the side eye when we walk on the plane with the max number of carry on bags, but guess what? If we don’t have them we won’t have all the ‘stuff’ needed to keep them quiet.

    I agree parents should be respectful. They should do their best to keep their kids happy. But other passengers should remember that at the end of the day no one hates traveling with kids more than parents. Trust me. And we have just as much right to be on that flight – on any flight – as anyone else.

  2. Just flew LHR-SFO in BA F with a couple that brought their baby. It wailed, crawled around the cabin, etc. Agree with you the problem is the parents, not the kids. My kid was in the same cabin, 16 now, and has flown C and F all over the world – and was never allowed to misbehave.

  3. My kids were always well behvaed when they flew. I’d like to think it’s because they were the children of frequent flyers! Who knows. As your kids get older, you’re much more inclined to smile at the parents of a crying baby. As for the kids that’s kicking your seatback, well, that child gets one of those ‘looks’ from me.
    As I get older, I’m a little less tolerant of problem children.

    One day, married readers of this blog that don’t have children (yet?) will eventually get it. Read… they’ll be more tolerant since they’ve walked the walk. That group of the flying public is fun to watch.
    I often wonder if they’re the ones that don’t ‘get it’, as opposed to the parents with the out of control kids.

    It’s not my intention to troll this subject.
    Just my 2 cents.

  4. Parents with children are just like people with dogs. They think the whole world revolves around them and they have the “right” to do whatever they want. And they think their little ones are always so cute and well behaved.

  5. Looking forward to hearing from the parents who actually admit that their children misbehave/cry on planes etc…. 😉

  6. I have a kid. My wife and I have twice decided in the last year to drive 12 hours to Florida versus flying because even though my daughter is generally well behaved we don’t want to risk a bad flight for everyone.

    Of course sometimes flying might be our only option, but in that case Gary is 100% right that at a bare minimum parents should be attentive and apologetic for bad behavior.

  7. My kids are now too old to be much of a problem to anyone (although I have a 10 year old who I often still have to remind not to put her feet on the seatback in front of her). So I see both sides of this issue. I’ve never seen a situation as bizarre (and how else could you describe it?) where a kid wonders up to FC and starts playing with a pax electronics. I think I’d have little tolerance for this unless, I guess, if the owner of the electronics seemed to be enjoying the visit.

    As far as screaming babies go, I want to see heroic effort. I want that parent doing EVERYTHING they can to quiet the baby. I’ve carted lots of babies around in my young parent days, and I think I found SOMETHING that worked to quiet the kid at least 95% of the time. So what annoys me — and is really socially unacceptable — if if the parents just throw up their hands and do nothing when the kid is screaming for 15 minutes. I will note that there are some babies who scream for 5 minutes and then fall sound asleep; if your kid does that, 5 minutes of screaming is fine; 25 minutes is not.

  8. We did not travel with our daughter when she was an infant because it would have been bad. Preparation is key, but if you fly w kids a lot you will still have a bad flight sometimes. Just refer the bad flying parents/kiddos to me and I’ll give them a few pointers. Ha ha. 😉

  9. @Carl is full of it and pisses me off. Parents who give a damn (and there are many of us) feel WORSE than anyone else that their kids are a disturbance and do everything we can to have them settle down. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. We’re sorry, and we say so.

    I’m sick of people who dislike children on planes on general principle, as @Carl seems to and even @Gary alludes to. Dogs, drunks, and DYKWIA’s are just as often a problem as most kids, but where’s the outrage there?

    I’m also a bit tired of the discussion of “rights” on a plane. You have the right to get from Point A to Point B safely. That’s about it. The rest is luck of the draw (and the point of finding better airlines). You could get upgraded to FC and drink champagne the whole way or get seated in last row next to a broken lavatory between a drunk and someone who hasn’t bathed since the Nixon administration. Deal with it.

    Oh, and may I suggest some headphones?

  10. @Alex believe me I was using a good set of noise cancelling headphones! I have no issue with kids on a plane. I ahve a huge issue with poor parenting and parents who basically ignore their kids during their tantrums.

  11. Just this week I flew from NRT-LAX in C and a child, who I assume was under 2 since he didnt have his own seat, wailed almost the entire way. And I mean wailed. Could not sleep or even daydream for that matter. When you pay extra for a premium cabin seat, should you not be entitled to a peaceful flight?

  12. I have no problem with complaints against parents who ignore their kids and I am with you on that point. However comparing kids to dogs etc just shows how shallow you are. Quite often on these blogs, FT and MP posters give the benefit of doubt to a overworked tired gate agent or FA who misbehaves. Somehow when it comes to a kid and their parents that reasoning seems to disappear. Parents should make a reasonable effort to take care of their kids needs and no question about that. But requesting nothing short of heroic efforts and travelling in car is beyond reason on your part. In the scenario you described above, the mother did not make an effort to take care of their kids and she deserves the blame. But at the same time pointing one scenario and generalizing against all kids and parents does not meet your standards.

  13. @Gary @Mike Reed If someone else’s kid put their hands on my personal property, I’d have no problems physically grabbing it back and telling them to keep their hands off my stuff.

  14. “I want to acknowledge up front that parents have a right to fly.”

    How magnanimous of you Gary! 🙂

    We got some looks flying in F back and forth SYD / SFO on UA with my two kids. My kids are older (low teen and pre-teen), so I think the looks were more of the nature of “What are you doing here?”

    Take a look at NYC Banker’s Hawaii trip report on FT – it’s on the first page of TR’s now. His strategy (which is a good one for kids of a certain age): Electronics!

  15. @Carl and other whiners should find private jets to travel on. Comparing kids to dogs… we don’t need your attitude in decent society, go back to your private ivory tower.

  16. I used to go crazy with crying kids around me on a plane, it drove me nuts. Now with 2 young kids I’m tuned out, even on business trips crying kids are sweet melody to my ears :).

  17. Actually, they have no “right” to be on the flight. I would love to see an airline take a stronger stance on wailing kids. That airline would earn my money and probably a lot of other people’s. And I would bet that families are not high-value customers to airlines anyway.

  18. I find one big help when travelling with our two girls is to reserve seats two-behind-two. This allows:

    1. The kids to sit behind us so that any disturbance to the seat in front of them affects us.

    2. The girls can sit together when together when appropriate and to be separated when necessary.

    3. Allows both kids to have window seats for takeoff and landing if desired.

    Recently we were travelling on two reservations of 3 and 1 seats (separate awards) in the two-behind-two configuration. We were paged to the desk before boarding. The agents, seeing the reservation for 3 divided between two rows had moved us together. I thanked them but asked them to put us back the way we had been.

    Our kids are generally well behaved, but kids are kids and I find it pays to go the extra mile to plan for all contingencies.

    I generally find that those people who are offended that parents believe their children are the center of the world are mostly bothered by the competition.

  19. Second electronics. We always load up an iPhone with hours of cartoons when traveling with our 3 year old. You wouldn’t even know she’s on the plane. We’ve been all over the world using that technique. Relax the tv time requirements while on a plane and you’ll do yourself and fellow passengers a huge favor.

  20. @JA Blame the airlines. Here’s the problem, I’m trying to book award seats on AA and a lot of times the only available seats are not Milesavers in coach, but business class seats. I would gladly take the coach seats and save the miles, but AA will not release the inventory at a lower level.

  21. I reflected quite a bit on the crying kids airplane situation on a recent flight to Costa Rica with a stopover in Miami. I wrote about the experience here in a post called “Parent Better, Please”: In a nutshell, kids on the first leg of the plane cried and yelled and parents did nothing about it. Kids on the next leg of the journey were prepared by their parents for each step of trip. They would say, your ears are going to feel pressure now, we need to get your candy now because we won’t be able to get it during take-off, etc.. The kids on the second flight were a joy because they knew what to expect and what behavioral expectations were.

  22. 99% of your complaints should be alleviated by noise-cancelling headphones + i-pod/pad/whatever. Of course, don’t let the three year old touch said device! 🙂

  23. Agree with Gary 100% and generally I have always had a good experience when I end up on a flight near a parent with a baby. The reason my experiences were good is that the parents came prepared, gave their child their undivided attention, brought a bunch of toys/stuff for their children, etc.

    I only had a bad experience once with a kid behind me constantly kicking my chair, pulling my hair when he put his hand on the top of my seat from behind, constantly jumping up and down, crawling under the seats, etc. When I finally had it, I looked over and found the answer to the problem. Both parents were fast asleep and their child was bored out of his mind. It was a peak day time flight too, LAX-JFK on Thursday morning.

    As long as the parent(s) put in their best effort to keep their child occupied, I am perfectly fine with that even if the child has a bad day.

  24. “Take a baby that is likely to cry only on those trips that are absolutely necessary”

    This seems to imply that a family traveling to a *gasp* destination has less of a right to be on the plane than someone going on a mileage run.

    One thing I’ve learned since becoming a parent is that people are doing the best they can more often than I used to give them credit for.

  25. Have to tell you I have generally enjoyed many of your previous posts. This one wasn’t one of them.

  26. @Lark my point about ‘acknowledging’ that parents can be on plains was not meant as a generous gesture, but to be clear about the intent of my post! I’m not making a ‘babies shouldn’t be in first class’ post. I wanted that to be explicit.

  27. I admit, I expected at least SOME reaction to the ‘everybody but Billy Crystal has to go through the nude-o-scope” part of the past! 🙂

  28. @Jo +5 – funny that “absolutely necessary” includes mileage runs.

    I just put on a set of headphones, that way you don’t have to hear babies or talk to the person next to you unless you want to.

  29. @EM…Maybe you should start an airline called “No Families Allowed.” However, not sure how long you that airline would be around or if the gov’t would even grant it a license to fly. Last time I checked a common carrier (airline) in the US is not allowed to refuse service based upon a passenger’s age. So you are wrong…they do have a “right” to travel. I doubt you have studied the travel industry based upon your comments. VFR’s (visiting friends and relatives) constitute the major proportion of worldwide tourism and therefore generate significant income for the airline industry. While you take your $200 mileage runs and run into a screaming kid now and then, I will continue take my family to visit grandma when the kids are out school and the airlines charge the highest premium. I know for certain that my family’s business is much more highly regarded than a “mileage runner” by the airlines. BTW, my 4 and 6 yr are AA Lifetime Plts and I am a 10 million miler. My 4 and 6 yr have always paid an “adult” rate for a seat (never a discount) even when they were infants. So..may I suggest you get off your high horse and the next time you hear some noise…you may realize that that noise maker probably paid more than you.

  30. There are times when nothing will solve a tantrum. Most parents recognize when they’re in that terrible situation. You’ve tried being nice, offering food, movies, iphone games, threatening to cancel Christmas, but sometimes nothing will break the screaming meltdown. In these instances there isn’t much to do except bear down and ride it out. It is like bunkering down and trying to wait for the tornado to pass. Before I was a parent I used to think parents had total control over their kids or else they were bad parents, and I’d get annoyed like Gary that they weren’t able to shut down the tornado. Now, I know better and realize crying kids are sometimes like an act of nature — no matter how badly you want someone to “just take care of it” it cannot always be done

  31. As the father of two pre-school girls, I don’t have a problem with kids on planes, even in C or F, as long as the parents are making a reasonable effort to ensure they are not disturbing other passengers. Preparation is as simple as having books, snacks, electronics, a favorite item or two available, and accident-avoidance items (diapers, wipes, extra change of clothes, etc.). And parents must also pay attention to their kid instead of tuning out to watch a movie. Our girls have made many trips domestically and overseas in their short lives, pretty much without incident.

    I will say that some airlines are better than others when it comes to traveling with kids. On Air France, our 18 m.o. was given a little AF teddy bear by the friendly FA before takeoff (no she was not misbehaving and it made a nice little unexpected souvenir). Also, on some Delta flights, we’ve been given fruit from 1st or extra snacks.

    Pet peeves? 1) Airlines that gate-check your stroller but then refuse to give it back to you at the gate when you arrive (i.e. they send it to baggage claim). Then it’s like, “Gee thanks, I brought all this stuff on board to keep my kid quiet and now I have to hand-carry it and the kid all the way to baggage claim.”

    2) Airlines flying old equipment where has no diaper-changing table in any of the lavatories. On a Delta flight I had to change my daughter’s diaper in a lavatory with 2 blankets draped over the toilet – not fun or the most sanitary!

    3) Airlines that park the plane somewhere other than a jetway, making you deplane using stairs, boarding a bus, and having some exposure to the elements. That’s a general peeve of mine but it is even worse when you’re traveling with your family.

  32. It’s the parents’ job to keep their kids under control. For my first TATL as an infant (very long trip back in those days) my mother actually drugged me — we found diary references after her death. Not advocating anything that extreme, but a pediatrician might have suggestions. Heck, there have to be tons of ideas on the internet if the parents only take the trouble to prepare.

    In fact, why don’t the airlines provide pre-departure tips for families? They know when minors are flying from the info provided with each ticket purchase. It certainly wouldn’t cost them much to send out an e-mail with tips for young travelers.

    Flying is tough enough on everyone without having to deal with bad behavior.

  33. @Gary: The problem with apologizing is that you’re opening yourself to interaction with folks like a couple of the “alternatively socialized” folks who’ve posted in this thread. Attitudes like that are all too common. Most of the time, of course, they’re people whose behavior is very different when sitting in their mother’s basement posting on the internet and actually out in public. But not always.

  34. @Matthew:

    “The kids on the second flight were a joy because they knew what to expect and what behavioral expectations were.”

    I’m always amazed — not just (or particularly) on airplanes — at how poor a job many parents do of explaining to their children what’s going on around them and of giving them an honest, rather than expedient, answers to their questions.

    Many kids are probably on that airplane with no hint whatsoever about the how long the flight is going to be, whether they’re changing planes, etc. It’s hard to remember that kids don’t simply know this stuff. I want my kids to be knowledgeable and prepared and ideally to participate in figuring out what supplies they need to keep them busy for that amount of time.

  35. While it can be annoying, its easily to ignore if you get better headphones or IEMs. Personally I can’t even hear a wailing child right next to me when wearing mine (WestOne UM2)

  36. I have the same experience too! My first MR with AA is filled with kids. They were on all of my flights and cried all day long. Luckily I have my noise cancelling headphones:D

  37. Funny that you write this today. A couple of friends of mine were headed home from South America earlier today and ended up in an airport lounge with Billy Crystal. He must be doing a lot of traveling.

  38. AUTISM: there are 1 of 150 kids diagnose with any level of autism and the numbers are growing.

    Autism can be shown thru different things: non-explain tantrums, odd behaviours, parents indifference. In the end, is a matter of understanding that no person wants to bother the other.

    I travel with my (now) 6 year old son with Autism everywhere; I see more people trying to help than others; I also started using the IPAD and Ipod and he loves it; but 16 hr flight SIN-LAX can be a challenge.

    I think the parents do the best of they can, although some of them don’t know the nature of the odd behaviour.

    AUTISM is the key and the first thing to ask before jumping into conclusions… please don’t PRE JUDGE before asking HOW I CAN HELP YOU?

  39. @ Carl and whoever agrees with Carl.

    Please do not over-generalize, and lump the 90% of the good parents with the perhaps 10% not so good out there.

    For every parent who did not control their tantrummy kid on the plane or anywhere else in public, there are many more of us who take great efforts in disciplining our kids, and making sure they behave.

    Just because you have one or two bad experiences doesn’t make us all bad and self-righteous.

    Topics like these are sensitive… There are many parents out there, so please be sensitive in your comments.

  40. Like in your example of the kid and the iPad, these kids aren’t only a problem on airplanes. Kids in general these days, I’ve noticed, seem like their parents don’t do much parenting at all. I don’t know if parents have grown more lazy or just no longer have the time, but it has gotten ridiculous lately. If I had behaved like some of these kids 25 years ago when I was growing up, my parents just wouldn’t tolerate it for eve a second.

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