Not Snakes on a Plane



Patrick is a mid-40 year old geek with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master's degree in Information Systems. Nothing he says here has anything to do with the official position of his employer or any other institution.

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47 Responses

  1. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    Here’s a possible free market way of thinking about the question that’s also slightly more realistic:  Consider what’s seen and what’s unseen.

    As a parent of a recent-baby-turned-toddler, I have entirely avoided air travel with my daughter for the first two years of her life.  Out of consideration for everyone else.

    Perhaps everyone else can buy me some cocktails.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      I didn’t quite make entirely.  Close, though.  Luckily, my kids weren’t screamers, so the crying was of short duration.

      And in my particular case, everybody nearby was sympathetic because it was obvious we weren’t doing “nothing”.

      It always surprises me to hear, “Why don’t they just drive?”  Shoot, we drove to Albuquerque with infants in the car, rather than fly.  Because flying with a child is a pain in the pontookas.

      I think people are too quick to assume that parents regard flying as an entitlement.  Which is mildly hilarious to me because it says all sorts of things about what they regard as an entitlement.

      But hey, that’s just me.Report

  2. Avatar Plinko says:

    On a flight with a crying infant, the most upset person is almost surely the infant. Perhaps the sum total of others disturbance is greater, but I doubt it.

    Given age and familial status are often considered protected classes and airlines are a heavily regulated industry in the U.S., I am not sure how a major airline could legally exclude persons from buying airline tickets for small children. I could see a charter flight operator being able to refuse to fly children.

    We’ve flown twice (so four flights) with our daughter during her first two years. We lucked out and she was quite happy every time – no way I am going to put her in the car for 16 hours so she can visit her grandparents, not to mention that driving long distances is significantly less safe than flying.Report

  3. Avatar Will Truman says:

    I actually joined the Twitter conversation and got some replies from McArdle. Other than a couple sports-related retweets, it’s the closest I’ve come to a brush with Twitter fame.

    Anyway, McArdle said (as Plinko did above) that she doesn’t think airlines can’t discriminate against babies. If true, that should change. However, I don’t think there would be many baby-free flights out there for the same reason that there aren’t smoke free cruiseships. It creates passenger allocation problems.

    Screaming babies are a pain, but since I support people making babies, I think it’s something I can endure.Report

  4. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    I’m quick to the dagger eyes, sometimes quicker than is either just or fair. While I might see the parent doing actual parenting when a child cries, the sound is still unpleasant. Which is something I work at being more patient about.

    In an ideal world, I could be persuaded to pay extra money for a baby-free flight. But as a practical matter when I shop for air travel I am quite price-sensitive, so I would also probably be willing to take a “discount” of enough money that an infant-populated flight would be my choice.

    So, at the end of the day, the airlines are doing it more or less right — it’s a tough enough business for them to stay competitive as it is, and there is probably not enough demand for “baby-free” flights to make up for the loss of position as offering the most competitive available airfare. I get crying babies on my flights because I’m willing to put up with them, the same way I’m willing to put up with commercials on my radio and TV programming.Report

  5. Avatar Ian M. says:

    One could extend this to any type of thing or person you don’t like. The snoring passenger, the smelly passenger, the chatty passenger. I would want “stink, snore and blab” free flights before baby free flights.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Ian M. says:

      I am just thankful that the airlines do not seem amenable to people talking on the cell phone on flights.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Ian M. says:

      I for one hate having the line entering and leaving the plane help up by the elderly and people in wheelchairs.  They should really very to stay home unless there is an extreme need.

      Also: unattractive people.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        People actually brought that up. She said that five extra minutes in line is not the same as two hours on a plane with a screaming baby. She’s probably right on that score.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Will Truman says:

          Why doesn’t she just spring the $100 for a set of those Bose airplane headphones?Report

          • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            My noise-cancelling headphones don’t handle inconsistent noise as well. Handles the hum of the plane beautifully, or something like a lawnmower, but not chatter so well.

            It’s name brand, but not Bose. Are Bose’s really that good? Maybe I should just put down the money.Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Will Truman says:

              Noise cancellation headphones, on the whole, are designed for ambient nose.  It’s not the volume of it, it’s the persistence.

              I have the Bose ones (linked for the review below, but here too).  They work fine for drowning out kid noise on a flight, or in the car, or just when you’re trying to concentrate on something on the laptop and you don’t want to listen to that guy next to you chatting to his seatmate.

              Probably wouldn’t help entirely if they were screaming directly in your ear, but the can headphones are great.

              Don’t crank the volume like you did back when you listened to hair metal or you’ll be deaf before you hit 50, though.Report

  6. Avatar David Ryan says:

    Anyone who flies often enough to think this is a problem in their life is doing it wrong. Also having to turn off your iPad or whatever.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to David Ryan says:

      Yeah. Well. The iPad thing does piss me off.

      I think McArdle has to travel a lot for her job.

      I fly a lot because I live 2,000 miles from family. But I can deal with the screaming babies.

      Just let me keep my gadgets on.Report

      • Avatar David Ryan in reply to Will Truman says:

        If screaming babies are so terrorizing, the free market answer would seem to be that:

        Ms. McArdle find a job that pays her enough to fly charter, or better yet, have her own jet

        Ms. McArdle find a job that does not require so much (any) flying. Boat-building perhaps? Or perhaps crewing on a Summer daysailing charter. I have observed that attractive women make excellent tips in such operations. It wouldn’t surprise me if they make more that editors at The Atlantic.Report

  7. Avatar Jaybird says:

    As the snoring guy on any given flight, I’d just like to point out to all y’all that you don’t notice stuff like that when you’re asleep.


  8. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

    To the best of my knowledge, there are no legal barriers to airlines offering child-free flights.  Economic ones, certainly.Report

    • Oooh, that’s a good find. Where were you on Twitter the other day?

      I can’t say I am surprised that the market isn’t there for it. As I would have said if I had written my post on the subject. It’s commonly argued that a cruiseline would make a mint with smoke-free cruises. The cruiselines tried and it failed miserably. It turns out to be one of those things people would vaguely prefer, but would not pay an extra dime or inconvenience themselves for. Also, for something where you want every cabin/seat full, and where the *exact* time of the flight matters for making connections, accommodation is hard. McArdle actually noted some of these dynamics herself in her post about American Airlines.Report

    • I have to add, this makes me want to bang my head against a wall:

      The idea even has some precedence in Congress: In 2007, Rep. Heath Shuler, a Democratic congressman from North Carolina, introduced legislation that would force airlines to create a family-only section on planes. His motivation, however, was protecting young eyes from the sometimes-violent films shown on commercial flights. (The bill gained some media attention, but has yet to come to the floor for a vote.)


  9. Avatar Cloud says:

    Hi. I followed the linkback over from Blue Milk, and I have to say it is refreshing to see a bunch of guys discussing this. Usually, the ire in public is aimed more at the mothers of the crying babies and I’ve never come across a post by a father taking that nonsense to task. So thanks for speaking up.

    I have two kids, and I’ve flown a bit with them- although never without their father along and the longest flight was 5 hours. They are remarkably well-behaved on airplanes, which is pure, unadulterated luck. I take no credit for that, and don’t deserve the praise we get sometimes at the end of a flight.

    So I have never been the recipient of the dagger eyes (yet- I’m sure my day will come). But whenever I come across someone like McArdle complaining about crying babies, I wonder why they stop with the babies. Lots of people are annoying on airplanes. Before I had kids, I traveled a lot for work- I was a contractor/consultant for five years and at one point I was flying cross-country once or twice a month. In all that time, I can’t remember a time when a baby made my flight miserable, although I’m sure there were times when one cried on an airplane I was on.

    I do remember one really miserable flight. It was the one in which I was stuck in the middle seat between two people who worked together. They proceeded to have a conversation over me for the entire flight from DC to San Diego. That is more than 5 hours. I offered repeatedly to switch seats with one of them, but they always declined. The plane was completely full, so I was trapped. They didn’t even shut up when I told them that I worked for a competitor- they just started speaking in an inane code. I was almost homicidal by the time I got off that plane.

    As Blue Milk said- sometimes, you will be inconvenienced by others when you fly. It is a remarkably close-minded person who thinks that the only annoying people on planes are under the age of 5.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Cloud says:

      I once flew from Los Angeles to Baltimore in less than a full seat, because the guy next to me was three hunnerd pounds if he was an ounce.  When you’re 6’1″ this is no picnic, it took two days to work all the kinks out of my back.

      The guy tried, but he took up a seat and a quarter on either side and there was really nothing he could do about it.

      It sucked, and I’d prefer never to have to go through it again, but I think that giving overweight people the stink eye because airlines make coach seats too small is an awful lot like this.  If anything, I cut parents more slack because you can’t buy a soundproof pod for a plane, but you *could* conceivably buy two seats as an adult.  I don’t expect them to do that, either.

      I don’t expect homeless people who haven’t showered not to take the bus.  I don’t expect people with wheelchairs to avoid the train.  We’re all just people, man, trying to work our way around the commons without pissing everyone off.

      I grant that some people don’t put forth the effort.  I expect, though, that much of this is very much in the eye of the beholder.Report

  10. Avatar Alex Knapp says:

    You can get a pack of earplugs (I use them when I go shooting) for like 2 bucks at Wal-Mart. They also work great on planes.Report

  11. Avatar Montanareddog says:

    Megan McArdle getting snitty about kids crying on planes makes me want to book a flight with her and to stick a pin in the thigh of  every baby onboardReport

  12. Avatar Michelle says:

    It’s not the crying infants on planes that really disturb me (although they do annoy my husband) but the kids who kick the seat in front of them as well as the parents who allow them to. Also, the person in front of you who feels compelled to recline his or her seat all the way back. Or the one who feels the need to talk to you when you clearly show no interest in a conversation. When you cram that many people into a small, inescapable space, there’s likely to be someone there who’ll irritate the bejeezus out of you.

    Frankly, between the security checks, the ever diminishing space in coach, and the frequent surliness of fellow passengers, whenever I have to fly I go into the experience expecting it to suck.  Thus, I’m always pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t.

    McArdle has always struck me as something of a whiny bitch, which is one of the reasons I stopped reading her blog. I bet it’s annoying to have to fly next to her.Report

    • Avatar Aaron in reply to Michelle says:

      The problems with seats reclining into your lap is the fault of the airlines, for putting seats too close together but not reducing the amount to which the seats recline.

      Of course kids should fly – they’re the only people who can be comfortable in a typical airline seat. 😉Report

  13. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    After an atrocious flight back from France with two toddlers screaming behind us and kicking our seats while ‘blasting’ us with their toy ray guns (worst of all, it was Parisian parents, so it’s not like you can one-up them with dagger eyes)  and a lady next to me whose baby had to sleep on my dining tray, my wife and I had the discussion about how much more we might be willing to pay for a baby-free flight. We agreed that we’d go as high as 100 bucks more per ticket. It seems to me that an airline would do okay with something like that. At least, one of them ought to give it a go and see how it sells.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Rufus F. says:

      Maybe they can have baby-free sections, the way they used to have smoking and non-smoking sections.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Burt Likko says:

        From what I understand, baby wafts all over the plane.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Burt Likko says:

        I suspect this wouldn’t appease.

        The more I think about this, the more the “people in wheelchairs boarding the plane bug me, so...” analogy doesn’t quite hold up.  I think the more precise analogy for what McArdle is expressing with the whole “people with small children should avoid flying except in cases of extreme need” thing is people who don’t have children I hear complaining that they have to help fund public schools, or that they want the parks to eliminate playground structures because the kids are noisy and they prefer quiet, or moms shouldn’t bring their kids with them to places like Nordstrom because it bugs them.

        I understand where these people are coming from, and I get that it isn’t “fair” that the world is generally set up to accommodate people with kids vs. people that would prefer not to deal with them at all.  But fair or not, we’ve decided as a society to err favoring the “continued generations” vision – and I don’t see that reversing pretty much ever.Report

        • Avatar Cloud in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          Dude, the world is NOT set up to accommodate people with kids. Case in point: daylight savings. When we fall back and people without kids talk about how much they enjoyed their extra hour of sleep, I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or come play loud music outside their house at 5 a.m. Another case in point: the tiny parking spaces that make it impossible for me to open my car door wide enough to get a child out of a car seat (and I have a small car, not hummer). I could go on. The fact of the matter is that the world is inconvenient for everyone in some way. We could all use an empathy check on this front.

          And people who don’t like to pay for schools should do the math and figure out that school is cheaper than prison. They should also revisit how their retirement benefits are going to be funded (yes, even their 401ks- stock prices need profits, which need workers), and think about who is going to be caring for them and keeping their society functioning when they are in their dotage (hint: not another 90 year old, in most cases).

          Seriously. Societies that don’t have kids die. I don’t care if someone doesn’t want kids. I don’t care if someone wants to try to avoid being around kids. But in my book, the work of doing that is on them, not me. I’ll front up for the work of raising decent kids, trying not to put them in situations where they are likely to meltdown and disrupt other people’s days (e.g., we don’t book flights that screw up naptime or meal schedules), and trying to teach them to behave appropriately. That seems like enough to me.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Cloud says:

            Dude, the world is NOT set up to accommodate people with kids

            Depends where you go, but there’s a lot of truth to this.  McDonalds is totally set up to accommodate kids.  But try a four hour layover at an airport with kids if you want to descend to new depths of misery…Nintendo DS suddenly becomes a necessity, not a luxury.Report

  14. Avatar Tim Kowal says:

    As a hyper-conscientious new parent, taking our four-month-old daughter anywhere is a nerve wracking experience.  My wife and I were both the type of people to groan at poor parents of screaming babies in public places.  “Just stay home until you can civilize them,” I always muttered to myself.  And I probably would were it not for my poor, stir-crazy wife who is clawing at the walls at the end of the week, having had no respite from our little taskmaster.  She’s generally pretty good at restaurants, but when she does get fussy, I’ve found that walking around with her calms her.  I’ll eat a cold dinner if it means keeping my kid from ruining a well-earned night out for my fellow diners.

    That said, I’m terrified at the prospect of taking her on a plane.  As long as I’m free to use my trick of walking around with her to keep her quiet, I’m ok.  If they keep the seatbelt light on most of the flight like they’ve done the last couple times I’ve flown, I’d be mortified if she starts fussing inconsolably.

    On the other hand, give us breeders a break.  You’ll thank those screaming babies when they’re paying your social security and medicare.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Tim Kowal says:

      You’ll thank those screaming babies when they’re paying your social security and medicare.

      Screw that, let’s just allow anyone over the age of 18 to immigrate.  Then we get social security taxpayers without the nuisance of kids.Report

  15. As I mentioned in passing over at my own place, I just had to fly with my own toddler son.  We went home for the holiday because doing so was a pleasure for my parents, and my mother has had health problems this year, so we decided to make the trip.  Perhaps it didn’t meet Ms. McArdle’s definition of need (and I’m trying to avoid saying mean things about Megan McArdle these days), but we felt it was reason enough to chance travel.  Allow me to assure all and sundry, however, that given my druthers I would NOT have flown with my toddler son, because I (like Tim above) find traveling with him nerve-wracking.

    Why?  Because, as almost any parent can tell you, a child sometimes gets upset for reasons completely beyond parents’ control.  Blessedly, he managed to avoid screaming for almost the entire flight both ways, and behaved pretty well.  But I knew that, should he get uncomfortable enough or frustrated enough with being restrained, there would be damn near nothing I could do about it.  I downloaded an entire season of “Blue’s Clues” onto our iPad, but he ended up bored with it.  We packed snacks, we packed books, and I oogled at just about everything I could looking out the window.  Again, blessedly it worked well enough, but there was no guarantee that it would.

    And finally, I used to be the schmoe who thought that screaming kids were somehow something the parents could prevent if only they hadn’t failed in some way.  I know much, much better now.  The best-informed, best-intentioned parents are often stymied by their children, and it serves no purpose to be anything other than generous and sympathetic.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Russell Saunders says:

      ” I used to be the schmoe who thought that screaming kids were somehow something the parents could prevent if only they hadn’t failed in some way.  I know much, much better now.”

      This is my own position, as well, based on vicarious experience with my sister’s daughter.  Sometimes the kid’s just gonna scream.  (And, for that matter, sometimes the kid’s just gonna <i>fart</i>, and by damn if she wasn’t a forceful little thing.  I lost count of the number of times she let go with a Force-Ten Pantsbuster right against my hand.  Thanks, kid, glad you care.)

      That said:  I find that I am, somewhat paradoxically, both more and less tolerant these days.  More, because I get that sometimes the kid is screamy.  But less, because I also see my sister be willing to pull the pin and just leave–leave the grocery store, leave the church, leave the movie theater, leave the family gathering.  That the kid sometimes just screams doesn’t mean that everyone else in the world has to Deal With It.Report