As you might have seen in the news, this week a three-year-old boy was kicked off of a Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle to Miami. The family’s ultimate destination was the Virgin Islands for a family getaway. They never made it. Obviously I wasn’t on this flight, so everything I know is from various news articles, but my understanding is that the mom, grandmother, and a one-year-old child were seated in first class and the dad and three-year-old were seated in economy. There was no incident with the three family members in the forward cabin. The three-year-old, Daniel, was playing with an iPad during boarding and apparently was fine until it was time to turn electronic gadgets off in preparation for take-off.
When the “electronic crack” was taken away (yes, that is the iPad’s official name), the toddler went a bit crazy. From what I have read, it sounds like he had a full-on temper tantrum at a really bad time. No matter how “good” a toddler is, they do seem to throw some impressive fits from time to time. However, even though you can never totally prevent a three-year-old from self-combusting, there are some things you can do to help lessen the chances of a meltdown that is so epic you get booted off a flight.
My first suggestion is to really prepare your kiddo for the flight. Little C can tell you exactly where our next flight is going, when is is, what she is going to do on the airplane, what she is going to do when she lands, etc. and she is just 2 1/2. The more kids are excited about flying and understand the process, the better chance they have of being great travelers.
Second, sit together. This does not sound like a case of a family being involuntarily split-up. They likely opted to divide themselves in this manner, and I have to give big props to the dad to agreeing to have the womenfolk sit up front with the baby. However, with an infant and a toddler that may not have been the best plan, especially since the dad is quoted as saying he couldn’t calm his son down as well as his wife could. Monday morning quarterbacking always makes decisions seem easier than they are at the time, but I do believe it is best for families to sit together whenever possible if the children are that young. Teenagers and even pre-teens are a different issue, but with toddlers and infants, the more folks you can have in one location to help out the better.
The next problem I see is that I do not really recommend using electronic gadgets to entertain your little ones while the plane is boarding and still on the ground for this exact reason – you have to take them away for a while. I would start with crayons, looking out the window, reading books, eating snacks, playing with toys, etc. Basically anything other than an electronic device. One of my “traveling with a toddler rules” is to stay with an activity as long as possible while flying, and if you know you are going to have to interrupt the activity very shortly after beginning it is probably not the best choice. The one exception to my electronics suggestion is when I am on a flight that has DirecTV. Since we don’t have to turn that off for departure it can be a good option, but it will switch off from cartoons for announcements and the safety video, so just be ready for that.
Another issue was a three-year-old not having some type of restraint. Had he been secured in a car seat and/or CARES harness, he couldn’t have possibly been squirming out of his seat belt in the manner described in this article. Of course, if a a three-year-old is determined to escape a restraint, they probably can, but at least it wouldn’t have been as simple as just sliding out of the seat belt and laying down. Plus, he would be much safer flying with a restraint than with the seat belt that was made for a larger person. From what I understand it was his refusal to stay in his seat belt that actually got them booted off the flight (as opposed to the tantrum itself) since it was a safety issue.
Finally, I don’t know if this was an issue for this family or not, but try to make sure your kids aren’t “over tired” for the flight. It is tempting to try to ensure that babies and toddlers will be tired during the flight and thus will sleep, but I encourage parents to not intentionally skip a nap time or something similar to try to get the kiddo to sleep on the plane. The chances of that working as designed with most children is pretty low. It is way more likely they will just be over tired but awake and fussy. If the flight happens to fall during a regular sleeping time then great, but having a regularly rested kiddo on a flight is a much better than a cranky and sleep deprived little monster.
The family was presented the option to take the same flight the next day, but declined. They are reportedly getting a refund for the flight. I have no doubt that this was an incredibly stressful situation for the family, but I hope it does not prevent them from traveling with their kiddos in the future. Three adults to two children really should have been enough support if the details were worked just a little differently next time. If they wanted to take a beach vacation with their family, then I hope they try again. There really are some things you can do to make sure that the trip has a very high likelihood of success.
If you want more info about traveling successfully with little ones, here is some from previous posts:
Traveling with a Lap Child (Planning)
Traveling Alone with a Lap Child (Review)
Little C’s Traveling Friends:
Have you had any moments traveling with a infant or toddler where you were worried you might be kicked off of the flight? What do you do if/when your toddler has an epic melt-down on the plane?