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Travel Musings 3 – Flight 218 and the Children of the Corn

Scott on August 16, 2007 at 8:46 am

Traveling with children can be hard. I know this because I have traveled with children many times over the years. They can get fussy, cranky, squirmy, cantankerous and ornery. I don’t begrudge them any of those things because when they are young, they don’t really “get it.” They don’t understand cramped spaces, cabin pressure, lots of strangers and the acoustical properties of screams and shrieks within a small/confined space.

But while I do extend a great measure of grace to young children who are traveling, I do expect a fair measure of good judgment by the parents of these children, good judgment that, alas, seems to be lacking in some parents who travel with their children

Case in point Flight 218.

On our flight to Los Angeles from Puerto Vallarta my family sat in front of a family with two young children, approximately 2 and 4 years old. I don’t know the names of the parents, but I do know the names of the children: Dillon (the older) and Chloe (the younger). I know their names because of the frequent use their parents made of them during the flight. They told Dillon to be quiet. They told Chloe to hush up. They threatened Dillon with taking away his toys. They threatened Chloe with an early naptime. They asked Dillon why he was being such a bad boy. They told Chloe that she needed to be a good girl and stop acting like a bad girl. This went on and on and on. The parents tried to distract them, threaten them, pacify them and shush them, all to no avail. Dillon and Chloe were unhappy and upset and irritated and they spent most of the flight letting everyone know it.

As I said, I don’t begrudge them their unhappiness. But their parents on the other hand should have been spanked, and I do mean SPANKED with their pants down around their ankles as they received instruction by the teaching end of a large, wooden paddle. It isn’t that they didn’t try, but it is how/what they tried that was so ridiculous. It was like these people were complete rookies without a day of experience or they were so permissive in their parenting styles that the fact that their children weren’t complying left them with no recourse.

The mother had an interesting method of dealing with the whole thing she withdrew into herself, put on headphones, and listened to music and watched the in-flight movie. She did a great job of pretending that she couldn’t hear the desperate cries of her children. This would have been an amazing feat because I am pretty sure that the pilot in the cockpit could hear Dillon and Chloe, even behind the reinforced cockpit door!

The father’s method of dealing with the children was just as ineffective but in a totally opposite way. While the mother withdrew into her own private Idaho, he tried to entertain the children in the most bizarre ways possible. He hid Chloe’s pacifier and then told her it was gone, lost for good. Chloe would scream in horror. Rather than end the “fun,” her father would say, “Chloe, if you don’t stop it Daddy will just have to bite off your ear.” At this point he would smile to indicate that he was joking but Chloe never seemed to get the joke. She would squeal in terror and yell “NO!” in her shrill, 2 year old voice. She was doubly upset, first because of the missing pacifier and then because of the prospect of loosing an ear. Eventually the father would let her in on the “joke,” return her pacifier and assure her that he wasn’t going to bite off her ear. And then 10-15 minutes later he would go through a similar routine this time threatening to eat her nose, steal her eye, etc. Chloe never seemed to find amusement in her father only horror. The father did nearly the same to Dillon. “Dillon, why don’t you sit down? If I had my nail gun here with me, I would just nail you to the chair so you couldn’t move the rest of the flight.” (smile and a giggle from Dad a whine and tears from Dillon). And this went on and on and on.

The only time these children became quiet was in the last 40 minutes of the flight when “Shrek 3″ was winding down on the video screens. They obviously enjoyed this movie, which made me to wonder why the dad didn’t offer them the headphones until the movie was beginning to wrap up. With their voices silenced, the airplane hushed in peace and harmony. Butterflies appeared out of nowhere to flutter about our heads. A lion and a lamb lay down next to each other in 1st Class. It was fantastic.

Until we landed. We had to wait 30 minutes before we deplaned, which lead Dillon and Chloe to become antsy and agitated all over again. After 30 minutes on the tarmac with Dillon and Chloe, everyone was at their breaking point. I was beginning to think that the flight crew was getting ready to break out the funny little cocktail bottles just to try and take the edge off when the pilot announced we could deplane. Freedom. Relief. Wrong.

The Homeland Security/Customs system was having problems that day, so we had to walk for about ¼ of a mile to an alternate immigration room that was running one computer to check us all back into the country. Chloe didn’t like this room at all and Dillon whined like a champion. After 45 minutes in this line I truly believe that some adults in the line were contemplating the option of doing physical/bodily harm to these two kids. Meanwhile, the mom was now listening to her iPod while the dad began talking on his phone to whoever would listen to him. At one point I watched as Chloe lay down on the floor of this large room to rest, right down on the floor cheek-to-tile. I’m not a huge germophobe, but that really freaked me out. Airports are not the cleanest of places, so the fact that she was resting her bare face on the tile floor where thousands of people had walked that day was a tad disgusting but it got worse when she picked up a straw from the floor and began to play with it and even chew on it. Mom watched and smiled. Dad watched and kept talking to his important phone-person. I nearly vomited. Luckily Chloe became bored with the straw and dropped it on the ground, leaving it to be played with by the next neglected, ignored little girl whose mother is intentionally oblivious and whose father has stolen her pacifier and threatened to bite off her ear.

I don’t usually like to make myself feel better about something by making comparisons to others, but to be honest that day I couldn’t help myself. As we finally got up to the front of the line and handed over our passports to the customs agent, Chloe and Dillon devolved into full-fit mode. Dillon was whining at a fevered pitch and Chloe was shrieking like a the woman in the shower in “Psycho.” I was tempted to offer the customs official a bribe to let us through faster, just to escape the chaotic din and the wailing and gnashing of teeth of the others still trapped in line around these children. It was at this time that I looked at my wife and whispered, “After being around that, I don’t think I will be able to complain about the behavior of our children again at least for several days.” She smiled at me. Chloe screamed. I smiled back at her. Dillon whined. The customs agent gave me back the passports for our family and we grabbed our children and nearly sprinted out of the area, leaving behind Chloe, Dillon, their parents and the rest of the poor, damned souls who were left in line with them.

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