AirTran gives family a time-out

BlogHer Original Post

It's all over the blogosphere today: Elly Kulesza, all of three years old, threw a tantrum on the AirTran plane she and her parents were to take home to the Boston area on January 14th. The plane could not take off while the toddler flailed first in the aisle and then her mother's lap, and the family was kicked off the plane.

Unlike the Delta/Freedom Airlines breastfeeding skirmish from last Fall, this story is not nearly so well-suited to demonizing the airlines.

The Worcester Telegram's Dianne Williamson managed to inject just a little levity into the wave of reaction with this tidbit:

The incident has sparked varied responses from those who heard the story. While many people — mostly parents — sympathize with the Kuleszas, others are less inclined. For example, when I related the tale to an unnamed colleague and asked if he had ever heard of an airline bouncing a child from a flight he said, "No, but I’m all for it. Couldn’t they have checked her with the baggage?"

This colleague, as it happens, has no kids.

I loved this, because it made me laugh, particularly after reading ten blog posts in a row that basically boiled down to "Damn hippie parents who don't know how to discipline their bratty children! Good riddance! Go AirTran!" Those posts made me cringe.

As a parent, I've known the embarrassment of a child who just won't behave. I also know that the world is not going to revolve around my kids' whims. I've read a few different versions of the Kulesza family's ordeal, now (one claims that Elly was frightened, and needing comfort; another says that the airline had already given the parents fifteen minutes to get her behavior under control, although I interpreted the "the flight was already 15 minutes late" to mean the plan was late for other reasons), and I'm not sure I really know what happened.

But I tend to agree with Mac of Pesky'Apostrophe when she opines:

The Kulesza parents say they weren't given any time to get their daughter under control. Well...how much time do you normally have between board a plane and take off? On average, I'd say 15-20 minutes, right? And their flight was delayed by 15 minutes. While I realize some kids are a real handful, especially if they're tired, just how long should it take to force your kid to sit still? I mean, this isn't your home or even your car. This is a planeful of other people, not to mention the rest of the air traffic you're holding up behind you. I think AirTran absolutely did the right thing - it's not like the kid was expected to be silent, just seated. No one else gets an exemption, so why should some random kid get special treatment?

What would I have the parents do? Well...plan better. Surely you know your kid well enough by the time they're three years old to know what works to get their attention, deflect their attention, and get focused on something positive.

You know, sometimes kids cry and scream. Sometimes you're the poor schmuck on the plane fielding death glares from everyone else because you simply cannot get your baby to stop crying. But I finally figured out what bothers me most about this story: I believe the Kuleszas might not have been able to get their daughter to stop crying, but that shouldn't have anything to do with whether or not she was in her seat, per FAA regulations.

The Worcester Telegram piece includes this line, which is where I stopped feeling that the Kuleszas had been unfairly called out:

They got off the plane, while their luggage and car seat flew on to Boston.

They checked the car seat? If they'd brought it on the plane with them---which is the safest option for a toddler, anyway---they could've buckled Elly in and that would've been the end of it. Maybe she would've screamed, maybe the other passengers would've been annoyed, but they would've flown home as planned.

Instead, they were delayed a day, had their tickets refunded (even after being flown home), and are busy telling the media how wronged they were.

And in the process, they're making responsible parents look bad by association.

BlogHer Contributing Editor Mir also blogs at Woulda Coulda Shoulda and Want Not, and when she says "sit down and buckle up," the correct response is "Yes Ma'am."

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