When you travel, a lot funny things happen on airplanes. We are all crammed together and you get a chance to see the dynamics of other families minus their ‘indoor voices’ and in public manners. Airlines are so annoying now and air travel has been so stripped of its former glamour (I remember in the 50’s my mother bought an outfit for the plane.) that people are not on their best behaviour. All the indignities of taking your shoes and belts off and your belongings rifled through, and the snaking lineups, slowly strip away the defenses you usually keep reserve for public decorum known as civilized behaviour.
Last week I returned from Mexico and a tourist would not force her screaming two year old to wear her seat belt for takeoff. The flight attendant tried to get her to comply, then the pilot came out, then a big wig from the airport came aboard and told her she was holding up the plane and for safety reasons the belt had to be done up for takeoff. We were now into our second hour on the tarmac. I found it interesting that no one on the plane yelled at the woman or even addressed her. They only glared at her. People grumbled to each other but not to her. Finally she had to de-board with her now sleeping child and the ground crew had to find her luggage and get it out of the plane. Literally dozens of people missed their connecting flights in Houston. We had to run for ours. The whole episode was not the least bit amusing, but only another example of how parenting has totally gone to hell in a hand basket. When that toddler grows up along with her cohort, the book Lord of the Flies, will look like a utopia.
Three weeks later I had another incident on a plane, which was far more amusing and in many ways was the opposite of the first incident. The first incident was where the child controlled the mother to an absurd degree and this latter incident was again an interesting incident of child-parent control. A woman with her two teenage children was in front of me in line at the counter where I was checking in. She wanted to get three seats together for herself, her seventeen-year-old son, who was visiting Harvard, as she told the flight employee, and her thirteen-year-old daughter. The clerk said there was a hefty fee to change seats at this late date since she already had hers assigned on line. The mother gladly paid the fee so everyone could sit together. The daughter said nothing and was wired and up to all kinds of gadgets and the son said, “It is an hour and a half flight, don’t pay to get seats together. We can sit on our own.” The mother insisted they sit together. The son who was a head taller than his mother and clearly shaved and was clearly desperate to fly the coup in the fall, said again, “I don’t care what you say, I am keeping my original seat.”
She said “Just do this for me.”
He said, “No.” and the daughter couldn’t hear a thing and she was swaying to the music she was listening to as she texted on her phone.
We all boarded for Toronto and the woman said we couldn’t leave because her son wasn’t in his seat. They called his name. There was no response. Finally he was located in the back of the plane and was told to sit in the seat his mother had paid for. He refused. Again, just like in Mexico, we sat on the runway.
They flight attendant talked to the mother and then went to the back of the plane and talked to the son as he sat slouching in his seat and sulking. Then the pilot came out and talked to the mother and again she said son was visiting Harvard. The hearty Midwestern pilot, who clearly prided himself on having man to man chats, talked to the son who told him to “butt out and fly the plane” since that was his job.
Then the called someone from the airport. This time he didn’t look as official as the Mexican airport boss. He came on board wearing an orange glow-in-the-dark vest, heard the whole story, including the Harvard bit for the third time, and then he said in a heavy southy accent to the stewardess, ‘Move this puppy off the tarmac. We got backup. The plane isn’t full. Both seats are empty and I don’t give a shit where this kid sits as long as he wears his seatbelt." Then he turned to the mother and said, “What do you want him to wear a diaper for Christ’s sake?” Then he hollered from the front of the plane to the back, where the boy was seated, “See ya next year in Boston when you’re on your own,” waved and got off the plane. We all took flight.