By February 16, 2009

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Over three years ago, I wrote a post about screaming children on airplanes. I used to take the redeye back from California as part of my job, and my current work found me taking the redeye once more. It turns out I’m not the only one pissed off by misbehaving babies on flights: Anthony Layser wrote a painfully descriptive article on tips on being trapped with evil children on airplanes.

But what happens when a parent tries to discipline their child on board a plane? I found out while waiting for my flight to depart from Los Angeles.

A uniformed police officer approached the gate desk and began talking to the attendant. I was sitting directly behind the gate, comfortably nestled in between the desk and the airport walls, like a little box. “Has the woman gotten off the plane yet?” he asked.

“No,” she replied.

“Okay, just keep everyone on the plane until my backup arrives, and then we’ll bring her out. We’ll talk to her right behind the gate.”

The officer came around the corner and asked me to move. The gate was totally empty, so I did. I kept working on my Sudoku puzzle, waiting for some wild-haired woman to be led out with her wrists zip-tied. After about ten minutes, out she came, flanked by two officers.

She looked totally normal and composed, and her young daughter (maybe six to eight years old?) was by her side. The officers sat her down, and started asking her questions about beating her child on the plane. The lady explained that she did not beat her child on the plane. Her daughter was jumping up and down on the seat and then started to run up and down the aisle during the flight. She said she grabbed the child by the arm and told her “I’m going to spank your butt.” Apparently this made people on the flight nervous, and someone notified the police.

The officers proceeded to ask the woman questions: employment history, arrest record, prior child abuse investigations, marital status, whereabouts of key family members, and any substance abuse. The gate began to fill with people.

Meanwhile, her daughter started running around in circles and screaming. The woman asked her nicely to stop, and the girl yelled “NO I DON’T WANNA!” and started jumping up and down. “Please stop,” she pleaded, and I got really nervous. She was already in trouble for disciplining her kid on the plane, and her kid was acting out in front of men who could put her in jail.

The original officer left twice to verify her story. By the end, three other officers and six firefighters were standing around her. It took them ninety minutes to question her. The woman missed her connecting flight, and all eleven of them walked out of the gate together. I have no idea what happened to her, but at no point did the officers indicate she had done anything wrong or that they were going to arrest her.

Did the woman over-react on the plane? Maybe. Did the woman tell the whole story to the officers? Maybe. The officer never indicated that she had lied about anything during the questioning, but who knows. No one else on the plane was interviewed; maybe the woman smashed her kid in the face with a wire hanger, or maybe she just grabbed her arm and threatened her with an ass whipping.

Regardless, the message was clear: you can’t physically discipline your kids on a plane, or even threaten to do so. I didn’t act up in public because I didn’t want my parents to kick my ass. I was never advised to correct my behavior above a whisper — a repeat request would be made by a spanking or a discussion with a belt.

The woman at the gate was caught between two awful choices: allow her child to run wild or face arrest. Talking to the little she-beast had no effect; even one of the officers said “she’s a handful!” and laughed. Easy to laugh when the kid isn’t yours, isn’t it?

I would hate to be a parent these days. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

I boarded my flight from LAX to NYC-JFK and wouldn’t you know what was sitting across from me:

http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/5532-2/IMAG0088.jpg

That’s right, another little kid. He screamed and cried for the first forty-five minutes of the flight, but apparently the chloroform kicked in and he fell asleep.

Small favors.

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9 Comments on "Damned if you do, damned if you don’t."

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  1. Tommy says:

    In my experience 90% of the time when a kid is acting like that it is because the parent allows it. This time it was in an enclosed space and the parent felt some sort of obligation to calm her monster down but I would wager that discipline isn’t the norm in her house. You’ve seen my kids (well one of them) and while he does act up a bit, I can’t recall ever telling him more than once to settle down in public. I have a hard time having any kind of sympathy for parents of out of control children when they could have nipped this in the bud early on with some creative discipline (iron maiden, the rack, etc.).

  2. drfaulken says:

    Thanks for posting. My perspective is obviously skewed since I don’t have children, so I appreciate your input. I could definitely see how the mother wasn’t used to putting the kibosh on bad behavior and panicked.

  3. Ed says:

    Ah, the sight of a small child in a plane, kind of like the sight of the knife over the shower curtain. Sure, maybe it is innocent, but damn if you won’t feel nervous.

    I at least have my action plan for when a group of small children are seated next to me in a restaraunt down. Just get up, and quietly move away to the other side of the place, letting the wait-staff know that I have moved. Has worked great the last few times.

  4. Shane says:

    I used to fly to/from Orlando once a month when I had the long distance relationship thing going on. Since Orlando is the mecca of lil kid amusement parks, it was a lock to have atleast one child nearby that would go absolutely insane on one leg of the trip. Tommy definitely nailed it on the head, it really all comes down to good parenting.

    My worst experience by far is a trip from Orlando to Richmond in January. I was already bracing for a shift from 70 degrees to a snowy 30 degrees w/ my arrival, but I was not prepared for the 19 year old mom that ignored her daughter the entire flight to hit on anything w/ a penis.

  5. Shane says:

    The mom with the annoying daughter hooked up w/ a pretty sketchy looking guy that sat a few rows behind me.

    My ex in Orlando definitely was though 😉

  6. Spectre says:

    What happened to the days when you could spank your kids? Now we can’t even raise our voice to a child without social services getting involved.

    I was spanked with a child, with the a belt, switch, paddle or a wodden spoon, and looking back to those times I know I deserved it, and not once do I feel that I was abused or the punishment taken too far.

    It’s like you said, “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”.

  7. Erin Clare says:

    You know my solution that works…I always bring playboy or playgirl on board. Suddenly, the child’s parent(s) start reining them in. Doesn’t solve the fact that they open their mouths. 🙂

  8. thejiggse says:

    Before I had kids I used to get so pissed off when children would scream on a plane or in a restaurant. Part of discipling kids is a learning process for both the parents and the kids. You have to discipline your kids at home in order to get them to behave in public. But, when you first expose them to new experiences there is a certain amount of angst that can occur for both parent and child.

    Having worked through some of that with my kids I now have a different viewpoint about screaming kids in public. It doesn’t bother me in the least–in fact, I find it highly entertaining because it is not my children misbehaving. Additionally, it now alarms my kids to see others acting that way, and I can reinforce it with, “I hope the sky marshall doesn’t come and shoot them,” or “I hope they don’t throw those kids off the plane in mid-air,…”