Do Airlines Hate Kids?
We’ve all been there. A kid on the plane is throwing a tantrum and the parent seems unable to calm him or her down. It’s annoying, no doubt, but few of us would actually insist that the family be removed from the plane.
But that’s exactly what happened earlier this month on a flight from San Francisco to Vancouver. Except it wasn’t other passengers who demanded that the screaming toddler be removed from the plane … it was the airline.
On May 27, Canadian musician Sarah Blackwood was kicked off the United Airlines flight after her 23-month-old son started throwing a tantrum as the plane was taxiing. The singer, who is also seven months pregnant, was eventually able to calm down the toddler, but by that time, the plane had returned to the gate and the airline asked her to get off.
Sarah Blackwood took to Twitter after United Airlines removed her from a flight because her son was crying. (Photo: Twitter)
SkyWest Airlines, which operated the United flight, said Blackwood was asked to leave the plane because she had failed to secure her child for takeoff.
This might sound extreme, but it’s just the latest in a string of high-profile incidents involving airlines and children.
On May 11, Donna Beegle and her family were removed from a plane because the airline feared that her autistic daughter was going to have a meltdown. Beegle had previously mentioned to the flight attendant that her daughter Juliette might “scratch in frustration” if she didn’t eat soon and asked the airline employee to provide a warm meal. The flight attendant provided the meal but also alerted officials, who decided to land the plane and have the family removed by police officers.
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A woman was removed from a plane when she refused to stop breastfeeding her baby. (Photo: Corbis)
In March, a woman in Australia was allegedly removed from a Virgin Australia flight for breastfeeding her 10-month-old son. And in February, a mother and her 5-month-old son were removed from a Frontier Airlines flight because she would not take him out of the infant carrier strapped to her body.
George Hobica from Airfare Watchdog has been covering the airline industry for years and says that the tension between airlines and children is a recent phenomenon. “Flight attendants are under more stress, cabin crews are less tolerant of misbehavior, and some parents are less willing to check misbehavior,“ he told Yahoo Travel. “Add in crowded planes, delays, and increases in autism and ADD, and it’s kind of like a perfect storm.”
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It’s no secret that traveling with small children can be a stressful and draining experience. But when you look at certain airline policies, it’s hard not to notice that some of them seem to hit families especially hard.
For example, baggage fees are something that every flier has to budget for, but for a family of four, it can add hundreds of dollars onto the price tag of flying.
More kids = more luggage fees. (Photo: Thinkstock)
And then there’s the impossible task of seat selection when booking a trip.
“There are so few seats available that getting four seats together without paying extra is almost unheard of,” says Joe Brancatelli from JoeSentMe.com. “Families will likely have to pay a seat charge to sit together … an airline is not a friendly place for families.”
For a while it seemed like airlines were making an effort, with many allowing families with small children to preboard. But in 2012, United did away with the policy, saying that it would help “to simplify the boarding process and to reduce the overall number of boarding groups.”
American, Delta, and US Airways all followed suit and ended preboarding for people with children. Southwest Airlines does not assign seats in advance but will allow families with children under 5 to board right after those who paid an early boarding fee.
Kids will be kids, even on an airplane. (Photo: Corbis)
Hobica regards seating as the main issue that makes airlines anti-kid. However, he does offer up a solution for getting seats together. “When you book a fare online, there is usually a drop-down menu where you can put the age of the child,” he says. “You won’t get a discount, but they will attempt to sit you together.”
As a whole, the airline industry is starting to recover after a couple of rough years economically. And today, many airlines are improving their in-flight entertainment packages and meal options. Still, when it comes to children, they lag far behind other businesses in the hospitality industry.
“Resorts and hotels have club programs for kids, and children’s menus, but airlines have none of this,” says Joe Brancatelli. “They are making improvements, but children definitely aren’t the priority.”
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