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Tantrum cuts trip short

The Boston Globe covered an interesting story. Apparently, AirTran booted a family after their 3-year old threw a temper tantrum and refused to sit in her seat before the flight took off. The parents asked if the child could sit in a lap, but the flight attendants wouldn’t allow it. Instead, they removed them from the plane.

I can actually see this from both sides — sort of. I have an almost-3-year-old who has occasionally been known to pitch massive temper tantrums at disadvantageous times. My husband read the story and said, “I think we’re lucky that wasn’t us.”  But, if a child is totally out of control, is it fair to hold up a whole plane full of people? In this situation, though, the child’s mother said the flight attendants really didn’t give them an opportunity to soothe their daughter.

According to the article, AirTran did compensate the family for the whole situation, which seems to be an admission of wrongdoing. If an airline is going to accommodate families, they need to train their flight crews to handle the challenges of traveling toddlers. It is really annoying to listen to a child screaming for hours during a flight. You’re in close quarters and there isn’t much you can do to get away from the sound. But having been on both sides of the situation, I can say with absolute certainty that it is exponentially worse to be the parent, mortified, sweaty, cramped and exhausted from trying to comfort an inconsolable and irrational toddler.

As an aside, from personal experience, I know that takeoff and landing are the hardest parts of a flight, especially because the DVD player needs to be off. So if you’re traveling with a tantrum-prone toddler, I’d recommend having something special in your carry-on bag that you can pull out once the plane leaves the gate. A couple of packages of stickers, some finger puppets, a book, it doesn’t really matter, especially if you have it gift wrapped. Everyone loves unwrapping a present.


  1. This is not a matter of training flight crews. It is a matter of training parents and children. Unfortunately the latter can be difficult in an unknown environment. The transportation department ranks airlines by several criteria, one of which is on-time departure. The flight crew has no way of knowing how long it will take to calm a child. If they are already at departure time there is not time to calm the child. Only children under age 2 are permitted to sit on a parents lap for taxi, takeoff and landing. It is not up to the flight crew to allow the child to sit on the parents lap. This is a federal regulation. If you are traveling with children establish expectations in advance. Let the child know what to expect and what you expect of them. As for compensation being an admission of wrong doing. I don’t believe this is so. I think it was the right thing to allow the other passengers to depart on time. But I don’t think the airline was uncompassionate about the plight of the family and felt they deserved something. I think airtran should be commended for being as fair as they could to both sides.

  2. In an ideal world, I wouldn’t ever have to travel with my children on an airplane when they are between the ages of 6 months and 4 years old. Unfortunately, my life, my schedule, and my commitments make it necessary.

    The reality is traveling with kids on airplanes is a dreadful experience. You spend days organizing yourself and your kids, you cram into the car or taxi with suitcases, strollers, carseats, booster seats, snack and toys In many cases, you race off to the airport where you have to patiently wait on line after line. Go through security and pray that you are not marked for the extra search. Then you get to wait with your kids in the terminal. If you’re lucky, your flight is on time – if you’re not lucky – you’re in trouble.

    And what is the ultimate reward for all this work? A 2, 5, 7, 11 hour flight where you have to entertain your kid and pray that he or she doesn’t make the slightest peep to marginally disturb your fellow passenger.

    Kori, while I hear your points, I just don’t think it’s realistic to “establish expectations in advance” when you’re dealing with an infant, or worse, a tired and irrational toddler.

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