The XX Factor

Fly the Child-Free Skies

Has there ever been a less attractive moment to be a parent of small children? We’re roundly scolded for everything from taking up too much sidewalk space with our gargantuan strollers to allowing our spawn to occupy and contaminate previously adult venues. We lavish too much attention and protection on our young, hovering madly, yet we’re not actually properly caring from them, because we’re too occupied with the smartphones in our hands. We’re the current favored target for regular doses of condescension and ire, and finally, someone has come up with a survey suggesting that in one circumstance, at least, we be put in our place: the back of the plane.

Oh, wait, that has some particularly unfortunate cultural connotations, doesn’t it? Well, perhaps not the back of the plane. But more than half of fliers polled by fare-comparison Web site SkyScanner favor confining parents flying with children to a “family section,” and with the front of the plane inconveniently located near first class, the rear section makes an awfully good place to tuck the potentially undesirable. Sure, not every baby cries, and not every 4-year-old will spend the entire flight kicking the back of the seat in front of him while throwing Skittles and hitting his hapless mother, but you know, he might. Far better to put him and his whole family back where there’s no risk of offending the polite, well-behaved adult flying public.

Is it even necessary to present a sincere argument against this, or would sarcasm suffice? It’s certainly possible, although probably without the sound-proof plexiglass divider many commenters on USA Today called for (those child-free seats would have to be pretty pricey to allow for the risk of not filling up the family seats, and then what do you do if you have a few tots too many on the manifest? Can’t afford to keep them off the plane). It would probably just amount to a legitimizing (and monetizing) of what my experience suggests is a de facto practice of putting families at the back of the plane anyway. But requiring people who have kids to sit only among others with kids on the assumption that they aren’t fit flying companions for anyone else isn’t good business. Families fly, and they fly often. Penalizing those with decently behaved children is short-sighted and would create an atmosphere in which children are actually encouraged to set aside any public standards of behavior.

There’s also an air of intolerance about this entire debate, which arises periodically after some egregious child-related airline incident (this time it was the bizarre lawsuit involving the woman who sued Quantas after a toddler screamed in her ear). It’s really little more than another excuse to rant about parents who are unable to control their children and the disgraceful state of our collective behavior in public spaces today. Flying with fellow members of the great unwashed takes away our sense of having our own little fiefdoms of climate-controlled personal space and forces us to accommodate one another in ways that we’ve grown wary of: Witness the myriad complaints commenters on the USA Today page have managed to work into this issue. Kids are bad enough, but oh, the fat, the chatty, the rude, the smelly, why should any of us have to put up with such things? Perhaps the airlines recognize that once you begin excluding the ill-mannered, there won’t be anyone left to fly.