So this past week has seen a number of unpleasant developments for families who need to fly with children. Last week, I read that many airlines are taking away the “perk” of early boarding for families with young children. If someone would like to get on early, it’ll cost. Of course. Everything costs an extra fee now when flying. Sure, you might be able to fly for $400, but then you pay $50 for checking a bag both ways, $10 for snacks, and now about $10 per person for early boarding.
Today, it’s about WHERE you sit. If you want to sit in a middle seat, fine. But if you want an aisle or window seat, you’ll be paying dearly for that privilege, $25 or more. If you’re flying alone and don’t mind sitting in the middle, great. But if you’re flying as a family of even just three, one of you can sit in the middle, but then the other two will be paying $25 extra per person, just so you can all sit in a row together. Holy cow, man!
I used to love flying. I still kind of do. Just driving up to the airport gives me a thrill of anticipation as I think about getting on an airplane and speeding into the sky and then landing somewhere completely different an hour or a few later. It’s like magic. I love being up in the air and looking down on the clouds and the varied landscapes I see below. Amazing. But over the years, a variety of things have chipped away at the thrill I get from the whole experience. One acronym says much: TSA. Yes, I know it’s important. Yes. But standing in the lines and taking off the shoes and moving things around in my bags so they’ll meet all the guidelines (which change a little every time I fly, it seems) and now having my body scanned … it just saps a lot of the fun out of the flying experience. Then there’s just the stress involved in making sure you’re there on time and you jump through all the hoops in time for the flight. Ick. Add to that the stress of trying to find a flight that gets you where you want to go without connecting in two completely wacky places, adding in all kinds of extra time, and then getting it for a reasonable price … argh. If they even existed anymore, I could probably be a travel agent. I’ve had to research and set up flights for my mom because it’s too complex for her to do herself anymore, what with where we live, how far we are from major airports, and the distance between us. It’s just not simple or straightforward, at least if you don’t want to pay $800 for a flight. If you want to just pay an arm rather than a leg as well, it takes some serious Web wrangling.
And flying with kids… that’s its own special kind of hell. I’ve done it quite a bit over the years. In 19 years of marriage, and 16 years of having children, we’ve always lived across the country from one side of the family or the other, so we have to fly to visit some grandparent. And honestly, it’s just not practical to drive 2500 miles. It’s primarily about the time involved; my husband can’t really take the two or three weeks off it would require to make that kind of a round trip. And driving in a car for THAT LONG with two or three or four kids? I can’t think of many things I’d rather do less. Not to say that we haven’t done a big car trip a few times, regionally, for a total of about a week and 3000 miles, but I wouldn’t really want to go across country and back, totaling 5000 miles. Eeeeek!
So we’ve done a lot of flying with our children. I’ve done it sometimes with my husband, sometimes without. Either way isn’t easy. We actually have been blessed with kids who are pretty good travelers, and every time we’ve flown we’ve been complimented by other people on flights on how well our girls behaved. But they never knew about the time that one pooped in her panties (far past the age of diapers or pullups) and she had to wear one of the youngest’s diapers instead of a fresh pair of underwear, wrapped around by her baby blanket because her pants were wet and messy too, or how I once pleaded with a flight attendant to just let my six-year-old get up for a minute to go pee, even though there was a little turbulence. The attendant told me she would clean up the mess if my daughter ended up losing it. Right. Where would she find new clothes for her during the flight? Luckily, my daughter courageously held her water. (And don’t talk to me about safety. I do understand. It doesn’t make the situation any less stressful or frustrating.)
The airlines are trying to stay above water (ha!) financially; I get that. I suppose that yes, they can make much better money from business travelers, whose companies can just pay up for whatever the airlines require. Everything would be calmer in the skies without any crying children who are tired, stuck in a seat, or experiencing painfully popping ears. But there really aren’t any other options for traveling long distances, and at least once every few years, a family far away from grandparents or other relatives or friends will want to visit them. It’s simply bullying for the airline companies to keep adding in new reasons for families not to fly. Because there aren’t really other options for traveling distances, the airlines have an obligation of sorts to provide that option for people other than just the lucrative business travelers. To nickel-and-dime us to death to prevent us from flying is just mean and a form of monopolizing.
Until there are other viable options (high-speed rail, wizard-style apparating, Star-Trek-style transporting), airlines are going to have to figure out a way to fairly and kindly transport families across large distances, without ticking us off before we even get to the gate.