Friday, July 8, 2011

The Grape will keep his wings (and leg room)

Sometimes it pays to complain.

I forwarded last month's post Meatheads: Please Let the Grape Vacation in Peace to the manager of the Fairmont Hotel in Southampton, and received a very nice letter in return. He apologized for the uncouth behavior of the State Farm entourage and enclosed vouchers for four free nights at the hotel, saying that he was confident our former high opinion of the establishment would be restored.

Indeed. The Grape will fly to Bermuda once more.

Which brings me to a different kind of complaint. Last week Malaysian Airlines (not a carrier I have ever had occasion to patronize) announced it would ban children under two years of age from its first class cabins. They're a private company; they can do what they want, and frankly if they want to make first class a quiet cabin on long haul flights, I see merit in that idea. Amtrak does it. Why not the airlines? Though I doubt that many newly minted two-year-olds will be much quieter than their 23-month-old counterparts. Children of all ages remain welcome in business class on Malaysian Airlines.

The news set off a lively discussion in The New York Times and other publications that deal with parenting issues. I had no idea people had such strong feelings about where kids belong on planes.

Several commenters said kids don't belong in business class, for the same reason they don't belong in nice restaurants.


Dining out in style,as opposed to eating in a family friendly restaurant, is a choice. I know of no city in the developed world that boasts ONLY five star restaurants. I would NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS take the Grape to any of the city's finest eateries, because I feel his presence, even with his halo affixed firmly to his head, detracts from other diners' experiences. R. and I take him to loud, busy, casual non-chain restaurants, but we always eat at the blue-hair and high-chair hour. By which I mean, we are gone by seven.

Flying is different.

Flying on a commercial airline is like using any other kind of public transportation. You pay your fare and they take you from A to B.

If you don't want to see and hear children, loud snorers, verbose religious fanatics, drunken boors, or other members of the unwashed public, then here's what you do: You get your own plane.

I've sat near screaming kids and it was no fun. I've also sat next to people who think the plane is their own personal keg party, a man who tried to convince me for six hours that the world was only five thousand years old (even though my nose was in a book the whole time) and a man my father's age who apparently suffered from a deviated septum and violent intestinal trouble.

Trust me, I don't want the Grape to scream all the way across the ocean either. So I fly him overnight whenever possible, in the hopes that the white noise of the plane, his normal biorhythm and a generous dose of Benadryl will konk him right out. When he's awake I carry him and/or follow him up and down the aisles so he doesn't get fussy and restless. And I'm fully prepared to spring for new toys and exempt him from our no television rule if things look like they could turn desperate.

Frankly, as long as I have the requisite miles and/or willingness to spring for business class when traveling with the Grape, I am going to do so. Why? More space to maneuver. Better service. Cleaner facilities in airports. Priority handling of crucial luggage such as the stroller. Flight attendants in long haul business class have been very welcoming of the Grape, and ground crews on flights with two business class cabins (such as British Airways) do their best to keep one cabin kid-free.

I can understand that.

But I also understand that it pays for major carriers to cater to families with kids. On our last trans-atlantic flight, there were seven small children (including the Grape) in the business cabin. I talked to two of the moms as we passed in the aisle. Consensus: worth every penny.

1 comment:

  1. I am not a frequent flyer (my own phobia) but have had many discussions since becoming a mother that airlines should offer "family only" flights and what a killing they could make on having a kid friendly plane on all the items they could charge for. And, every passenger would know exactly what they were getting (being on a plane with children) so wouldn't everyone have a better experience.

    If I ran the world...