Parenting at 30,000 Feet: United Airlines Passenger Lets Child Draw on Tray Table, Nobody Cleans It

If you’re going to let your kids draw on tray tables, erasable markers only please? And… erase the drawings before you leave?

A United Airlines passenger flying to Saint Martin on Thursday pulled down their tray table to find children’s drawings in orange, green, black and blue.

This wasn’t the only – or even biggest – problem they had with their flight. They note rude flight attendants and that “a fight broke out.” The only thing they had to say about their tray is that “no one bothered to clean” it. But it shouldn’t have even been dirtied like that in the first place. Who draws pictures on their seat back tray, instead of using paper?

Five years ago a mother helped their child draw on the back of the tray table in front of them. At the time I thought at least they could’ve used erasable markers? It seems to me that the principle here is that if you damage someone else’s property, you owe them compensation. If there’s no damage at all – and some erasable drawing tools genuinely won’t leave anything behind anymore, technological advances are amazing – while others can leave marks even when dubbed erasable. Just think of what happens to white boards and chalk boards over time, or at least used to.

I’d be worried about leaving marks, but as long as the passenger leaves their seat in as good condition as they found it then I think that is ok. After all plenty of passengers leave their seats in pretty rough shape without drawing on them at all.

However you cannot assume that someone else will clean up after you. Between domestic flights on U.S. airlines, with planes not on the ground for long, probably nobody will. The longer it stays, the more likely it is to stay for good.

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. “Who draws pictures on their seat back tray, instead of using paper?”

    Well….one time, I was the kid that took some of my mom’s red lipstick and drew a Santa Claus boot on the rug at the foot of my bed. I proceeded to hide it with a runner rug. Eventually, my (very accurate) drawing was discovered by my mother. To this day I recall the very brief conversation:

    Mom: “Aaway, come up stairs.”
    Me: “Okaaay”
    – Once upstairs, I discovered my mom standing in my bedroom. She had picked up the runner rug in order to add it to the wash.
    Mom: “Aaway, isn’t that a Santa Claus boot?
    Me: “Yeah”
    Mom: (with a belt – whomp, whomp, whomp, whomp)

    Merry Christmas / Happy holidays!

  2. I remember…not too long ago.. when airline marketing folk drew up brand specific coloring books or at least provided blank paper in the pax service kit. Apparently it added 2 lbs of weight and became cost prohibitive.

  3. When I fly with my grandchildren I always have color books , crayons, blank paper, and books to read in my carry on. Also, A few snacks and gum. Only had one who tried to draw on the armrest….one good pop on his hand put a stop to that nonsense.

  4. All in all, I say control your kids. An airplane isn’t McDonald’s playground. And it’s disgusting how parents just let their kids draw on the tray tables, as well as trash their sections where they’re sitting. I always say, how would these non-discipline parents feel if I went to their office at work and trashed their office or wrote all over their workspace? As a flight attendant this is our office, and it’s not our job to clean up after your kids. You chose to have them, that’s your job. Be amazed at some of these families out there who travel and don’t give a damn about leaving a mess for the next passenger who sits in that seat or row.

  5. Clearly the tray table cannot be “cleaned.” The ink won’t come off and the tray table will have to be replaced. Not the flight attendants fault. Not United’s fault. This will be a much larger maintenance issue replacing parts.

    So many passengers are like animals and their uncivilized children shouldn’t be on an aircraft at all. Polite society unfortunately tolerates stupidity.

  6. “Each new generation born is in effect an invasion of civilization by little barbarians, who must be civilized before it is too late.”

    Thomas Sowell

  7. Bill them a cleaning fee. Just like Uber does. And if it’s not cleanable, bill them for an item replacement just like a hotel would.

  8. Some parents are the most enabling, clueless, and have no idea how to teach their children respect for other people or their property!

  9. there’s no shame in the world today. Most parents let there kids do what ever they want without correcting them.. We even have folks we know that there 3-4yr olds decide where they want to go out and eat….. Parents need to be Parents and not let kids control there world..

  10. I had a tenant who let her children draw with crayons all over the walls. I think she might be that passenger.

  11. I caught a kid drawing on one of the tray tables only once in 35 years (and one jumping on one once). It stopped promptly when my flight attendant voice said, “That is not yours to draw on. Stop that!”
    I think the mother understood too. What was she gonna do? Write me up?

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