Home Air Travel Five Ways Airlines Can Help Make Happier Travelers of Us All

Five Ways Airlines Can Help Make Happier Travelers of Us All

by Shelly Rivoli

First there was the breastfeeding mom who was removed from a flight for refusing to “cover up” when a flight attendant insisted she use a blanket. Then came the autistic toddler who couldn’t stay in his seat. Now a noisy 2-year-old gets removed from a Southwest flight before it even leaves the runway (but only after the flight crew fueled his fervor with juice—the icing on the cake).

It seems like each year we have a new media blitz that pits flying parents against the airlines—along with every traveler onboard without kids. Why can’t we all just get along?

I humbly admit that it’s not always easy traveling with (or near) babies and toddlers, but let’s at least acknowledge that it’s not always a picnic traveling with the other folks who may be onboard either.

I have to wonder how a woman discreetly breastfeeding at her window seat is more offensive to fellow passengers than the passenger who continues to pass noxious gas throughout the entire flight? How a baby who cries during the descent is more annoying than the passenger who boasts at a high decibel since boarding how he got rich selling water filters “…and you can too!” And don’t get me started on the neighboring “lap cat” who peed on my mother-in-law’s JetBlue seat.

I’ve offered plenty of tips to help parents flying with babies and toddlers. But today I’m offering tips I believe will help everyone fly more happily—crew, kids, parents, and other passengers alike. And I hope somebody’s paying attention.

Five Ways Airlines Can Help Make Happier Travelers of Us All:

  1. Include milk and sugar-free beverage options in the onboard drink service. Nothing fuels toddler angst like sugary fruit juice and a safety belt. Milk, with its protein, can be especially helpful for traveling tots, but is not currently an option on many (if not most) flights.
  2. Establish a family seating zone, preferably at the front of the aircraft, where travelers with babies and young children may be seated together and will have ease of boarding with car seats without having to lug them the length of the aircraft (especially after other passengers have boarded and are likely to be in the way and/or get bumped). Not only will the family zone ensure fellow passenger sensitivity to issues such as breastfeeding and ear pain, and the presence of a lap child on the row, but they can also share toys. (!)
  3. Designate at least one “Family Certified Flight Attendant” (FCFA) on the aircraft to serve this group of passengers. He or she needn’t be a certified nanny (e.g. Gulf Air’s celebrated Sky Nannies), but will hopefully have some experience with young children and sensitivity to the needs of parents. Best of all, they will accept the FCFA posts knowing they’ll be working with child passengers.
  4. Allow family pre-boarding before all of the business- and first-class passengers (and Silver and Gold mileage members…) are seated on the aircraft. More importantly, give the option of having only one parent to pre-board with the car seat (CRS) and without the child, to help get the car seat in place before other passengers are likely to get bumped by it. Everyone will appreciate that the CRS is ready to receive the child passenger as soon as he boards the aircraft.
  5. Provide helpful baby and toddler items for rent or sale in flight. Many parents would gladly rent a CARES flight harness for their toddler and avoid bringing the car seat onboard, and the airline could profit from this. Not to mention how many travelers with lap babies would be delighted to rent a FlyeBaby infant hammock or Baby B’Air Flight safety vest to use during their flights. Add a few toddler snacks and baby food to the in-flight meal options and everybody’s happy.

Am I suggesting the airlines and flight crew bend over backwards to accommodate travelers with small children? Not in the least—though I will say that I am very appreciative of every flight attendant who has gone above and beyond what was required to help us fly better—they do exist and are gems. And I hope they will be first in line when they start hiring for the new FCFA posts.

Would you support these suggestions? Got a few of your own? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. And if you’ll be traveling with toddlers or young children in the near future, check out the “My Busy Kit” giveaway that just kicked off to help banish boredom—not kids—from flights.

Safe journey,

Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning guide Travels with Baby

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Daniela December 1, 2009 - 4:05 pm

brilliant. how can i help?

– max's mom

kolasteph November 19, 2009 - 8:25 am

I think Southwest made it much more difficult for families by limiting pre-boarding. I mean, do they really want a toddler to sit in a different seat than the parents? It doesn't make sense. So then it takes longer to board. Good idea to have a family seating area, or at least letting the families board before everyone else. It would make boarding go so much faster.

SelimaCat November 9, 2009 - 6:43 pm

These are wonderful suggestions–I'd love to see you place it as an op-ed in a national paper. Thoughtful and kind.

I'd also like to strongly recommend Icelandair for families with young children. We recently took four flights with them and greatly appreciated the sensitivity they showed my 3yo daughter. On each leg of the trip, they made sure she had (free) headphones to watch the individual TV embedded in the seat in front of her; they fed her a full meal (free) as soon as food/beverage service started, even ahead of first-class passengers; and they checked on her several times during the flight.

Mara from Motherofalltrips November 5, 2009 - 2:36 am

These are all commonsense suggestions. I think half of the reason kids act up on planes is that they sense the stress of the adults they are with. If everyone could calm down and look out for their needs, how much happier we would all be!

Sweet Pea Baby Rentals November 4, 2009 - 3:53 pm

Excellent ideas Shelly. It's not too much to ask and I hope they are heard. It'd be so easy to implement a family seating area on board.

To have CARES available on board would be a huge safety advantage to the airlines, you'd think. I don't know the statistics, but I'd guess that the majority of passengers traveling with children under 40lbs (the recommended weight to use the airplane lap belt alone) do not bring any type of specialized restraint, car seat or otherwise.

Shelly Rivoli November 4, 2009 - 3:52 pm

Actually, I think having the family seating zone at the back of the aircraft would be fine as long as families are allowed to board before the rest of the rows (and aisles, and overhead bins) are filled. Since the back portion of the aircraft is usually the last section of seats to be assigned, there is sometimes greater flexibility and a bonus seat or two that may go to a lucky lap child. There is generally less traffic to disrupt sleeping babies, and the hum of engines is loudest–also helpful for some babies. 😉 Where passengers once expressed a preference to be seated in (or away from) the "smoking section" of the airplane… welcome to the family zone.

Sarah V. November 4, 2009 - 3:06 pm

I love the second idea on your list! I don't even care if it's at the front of the plane, as long as it's a place for families to sit together and not have to worry about getting angry looks from fellow passengers.

I was upset about the recent news of the toddler on the Southwest flight. Flying with young children can be challenging enough…now I have to worry about getting kicked off the flight!

John November 4, 2009 - 3:00 pm

1. I totally agree with you, it isn't really hard to put milk in the options available on flights.
2. Yes, but if they do it will most undoubtably be in the back. That is where society wants children on a plane.
3. It would be nice, but the airlines are never going to pay for it.
4. Never going to happen. Too many people feel they are "entitled" with their money, but the truth is flying these days is only one step above going Greyhound.
5. I don't see why they can't do this, the intial cost might be a lot, but they could definately phase it in, and like you said they would make money.

Gulf Air November 4, 2009 - 8:06 am

Great tips and we appreciate your mentioning us and our sky nannies 🙂
– From the Gulf Air Team

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