Terrorist Toddlers and Other Threats to Freedom

Friday, July 13, 2007

Paul Westerberg - Waitress in the Sky

As a mother who has flown the unfriendly skies, I feel Kate Penland's pain.

An Atlanta woman wants an apology from Continental's Express Jet Airlines for kicking her and her toddler off of the plane -- all because, she said, a flight attendant wanted the woman's son to stop talking.

. . .

"She leaned over the gentleman beside me and, ah, said, 'OK, it's not funny anymore, you need to shut your baby up.' And, you know, my first reaction was she had to be kidding. So, I asked her, you know, 'Are you kidding?' And she said, no, she was tired, she'd been stranded at the airport all day, and she did not want to hear it."

Penland said she replied that Garren would probably be asleep by the time the plane lifted off.

"I said, 'Well, he's been here at the airport for 11 hours, stuck in a stroller, you know, you should be lucky he's not screaming his head off.' And she said, 'Well, it's called Baby Benedryl.' [She made] just a little, you know, drinking motion, and I thought she's got to be kidding me. And I told her, 'I'm not going to drug my baby so that you'll have a pleasant flight.'"

Dissatisfied with Penland's unwillingness to dope up her kid, the flight attendant apparently told the captain she'd been threatened and had the plane turned around and Penland and her talkative 20-month-old removed.

Anyone who has ever flown on a plane with their kids knows it's hard; harder these days than ever. Endless check-in procedures, long lines, and grumpy, underpaid security people nitpicking your personal belongings and taking away your toiletries. Kids don't have the self-control to affect the disdainful but patient expressions of adults. Many of them lose their shit. My own daughter was very good, if impatient, during our last plane trip. That is, until some over-zealous security guard took her most precious stuffed animals away to inspect them. (You never know what might be hidden in a well-chewed and thread-bare stuffed kitty-cat.) Then the woman had the temerity to glare at me like I was a bad parent when my, then, three-year-old had a melt-down.

Traveling with a small child teaches you a very important lesson: A lot of people hate kids.

Bring on the child haters, the airline critics, the lazy parenting theorists! If you think this story sounds like an urban legend designed to foment sippy-cup culture wars, I don't blame you. I too would have found it difficult to swallow had I not experienced a similar treatment on an airline just last month. The details are tedious -- they involve me tapping the flight attendant on the shoulder trying to pass along some trash, him informing me he didn't appreciate "being touched," and me asking why he was being so rude. He then snarled at me: "Your children are totally out of control! If you'd just discipline them, you'd be much better off."

Granted, my kids often give an unfortunate impression given that they both look two years older than they are, but definitely act their age. In public situations, I've been known to whisper, hiss, threaten, cover a screaming mouth, and take away beloved privileges until I'm literally dripping with sweat. But this wasn't one of those occassions. When the flight attendant -- a young man who I assumed had no children -- told me off, both children were sitting absolutely silent, enraptured by a Hello Kitty DVD. Perhaps something had happened while I was in the bathroom and they were with my husband, I'll never know. After the event, I had 20 more hours of traveling to soul-search. Perhaps my children are monsters and I would never really be able to see it. Maybe in the wake of 9/11, flying and the jobs of flight attendants had become too stressful and high anxiety for them to be able to deal with squirmy passengers with squeaky voices or anything out of the ordinary. (Do a search for "kicked off airplane" and you get all sorts of stories about American flights dumping passengers for virtually nothing: a coughing fit, a political T-shirt, for a father asking if a pilot is sober.)

Once we switched flights to Lufthansa and a number of smiling, toy-bearing German flight attendants charmed the socks off my kids, I couldn't help thinking that it wasn't air travel but an American cultural divide about the place of children in society. The recent story about a woman who was kicked off a Delta flight for not covering her toddler's head with a blanket while breast-feeding offers more evidence of some weird attitudes toward children. The experience of Kate Penland vindicates this hunch...


Anonymous said...

Just sounds like a power trip thing.


Anonymous said...

So you have some Cherokee among your ancestors then? (referring to the MLW conversation with anonymouswomanwhatever). Seems odd how many people in the blogosphere do claim some indian ancestry. I am a purebred Englishman going back 6-8 generations in all directions as far as I can tell.

It's hard to tell... but my impression is that mostly it's Eastern tribes that people have ancestry from if they can say "I'm part X"

Don't think I've ever heard you say anything about this topic. if this is stepping on your toes do feel free to delete this entry.


Curmudgette said...

Yes, and I've noticed that. There are lot of Native American bloods around and about the blogosphere. But, no, I'm not inclined to get into the issue of my lineage, in this forum, any more than any of the more personal data of my life.

Anonymous said...

jeebus h. ... one of the worst flights i ever had was a packed jumbo direct flight from seattle to boston ... i had a 7-year-old sitting next to me, very loudly and with large gestures, playing rock-paper-scissors with her mother, sitting on the other side of her. when i asked that they please stop, the mother was quite unpleasant and, fortunately or unfortunately, switched places with the kid. luckily for all of us the game was not resumed. as annoying as it could have been, it would never have occurred to me to try to have them booted from the plane.