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Screaming kids and airplanes: Mayday! Mayday!

Parents don't have a right to get on a jet with unruly children. In fact, they're stealing from the rest of us.

November 24, 2009|By Amy Alkon

Alittle late in making those Thanksgiving flight plans? Wondering how you could possibly afford your ticket -- that is, without putting a kidney up for sale on Craigslist? Good news! You can get a free flight home on Southwest plus a $300 travel voucher. Just do what I plan to -- get on a Southwest flight in the next few days, and when it's taking off, shout over and over, "Go, plane, go!" and "I want Daddy! I want Daddy!"

Pamela Root got the free flight and the voucher, plus an apology from Southwest, after her 2-year-old kept screaming those things at the top of his little lungs as their San Jose-bound flight was about to take off. In fact, little Adam reportedly screamed so loudly that the safety announcements couldn't be heard and the pilot turned the plane back to the gate in Amarillo, Texas, where the two were booted off.

Root was appalled when a flight attendant told her something to the effect of "We just can't tolerate that [screaming] for two hours," reported the San Jose Mercury News. Root insisted Adam would be "fine once we take off" -- which, in my book, means either "He'll be fine" or "It would be a serious pain in the butt to be stuck in Amarillo another day."

Unbelievably, Root demanded the apology she eventually got from the airline (shame, shame, Southwest) and hit it up for the cost of diapers and the portable crib she says she had to buy for the overnight stay. Even more unbelievably, there's still no word of any apology from Root to the other passengers.

There is a notion, reflected in numerous blog comments about the incident, that other passengers should "just deal" and "give a kid a break." This notion is wrong. Parents like Root and others who selfishly force the rest of us to pay the cost of their choices in life aren't just bothering us; they're stealing from us. Most people don't see it this way, because what they're stealing isn't a thing we can grab on to, like a wallet. They're stealing our attention, our time and our peace of mind.

More and more, we're all victims of these many small muggings every day. Our perp doesn't wear a ski mask or carry a gun; he wears Dockers and shouts into his iPhone in the line behind us at Starbucks, streaming his dull life into our brains, never considering for a moment whether our attention belongs to him. These little acts of social thuggery are inconsequential in and of themselves, but they add up -- wearing away at our patience and good nature and making our daily lives feel like one big wrestling smackdown.

Southwest sent the right message in yanking Root and her screaming boy off the plane. Unfortunately, it lacked the corporate courage to stand its ground, probably fearing a public relations nightmare from the Mommy Mafia. Yet, almost every day, I encounter parents who need to get the same message Root initially did. Trust me -- should I long to hear screaming children, I'll zip right past my favorite coffeehouse and go read my morning paper at Chuck E. Cheese.

I know, I know -- because I am not a parent I cannot possibly understand how hard it is to keep a child from acting out. Actually, that probably has more to do with the way I was raised -- by parents I describe as loving fascists. As a child, I was convinced that I could flap my arms and fly, but the idea that I could ever be loud in a public place that wasn't a playground simply did not exist for me.

I hear claims that some children are prone to tantrums no matter how exquisitely they are parented. If this describes your child, there's a solution, and it isn't plopping him in a crowded metal tube with hundreds of people who can't escape his screams except by throwing themselves to their deaths at 30,000 feet.

Granted, there sometimes are extenuating circumstances, reasons parents and their little hell-raiser simply must take a plane. Well, actually, there are two: dire family emergency (Granny's actually dying, not just dying to see the little tyke) and the need for a lifesaving operation for the wee screamer. In all other cases, if there's any chance a child is still in the feral stage, pop Granny on a flight or gas up the old minivan. It really does come down to this: Your right to bring your screaming child on a plane ends where the rest of our ears begin.

Amy Alkon's book "I See Rude People: One Woman's Battle to Beat Some Manners into Impolite Society" will be published this week.

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