Toddler Kicked Off Alaska Airlines Flight – How to Avoid This

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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:


Planning and Preparing for a Successful Trip

Toddler Packing List

The Airport:

Navigating the Airport

How to Wait in Line with a Toddler Without Murdering Anyone

The Flight:

Babies on a Plane: Part 1

Babies on a Plane: Part 2

Traveling with a Lap Child (Planning)

Traveling Alone with a Lap Child (Review)

Little C’s Traveling Friends:

Traveling with a Four-Year-Old

Traveling Internationally with a One-Year-Old

Traveling with Twin Toddlers

Traveling with a 23 Month Old Little C

 Traveling with a Six Month Old

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?

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  1. I’d agree with Rich. If you’re kid is capable of a tantrum worthy of being kicked off an airplane for, you need to go to parenting school. In there worst moments I can’t ever have imagined this with either of mine

  2. Sorry folks but this post made me laugh and brought back memories. My 18 year old son, Daniel, is graduating from high school this weekend and is an awesome, well mannered young man–Now. He is my middle child. I wouldn’t have dreamed of taking him on a plane when he three. He was a handful for the first few years of his life before we were able to “break him in”. Of course, we didn’t have ipads when he was three, but he had games. I can only imagine taking away his electronic devices. LOL! Sometimes the most hard headed children will become the greatest leaders.

  3. @ Rich and Phil Nonsense! ANY 3 year old can through a tantrum and refuse to put seatbelt on. Some kids are just more shay and not doing it often and some are more outgoing (wild). I know a family where first 7 (!) kids were very shay and the 8th one was able to outdo all 7 in front of him. This is how he was born! So, the parents before the 8th kid was born used to say its a parenting issue as well 🙂

  4. David, So beating the kid solves the problem? And if by beating him you make him more hysterical, how did you help? I can only hope you arent a parent. Seems like an uniformed answer by you.

  5. The major thing is to REHEARSE and reinforce verbally.

    Telegraph multiple times:

    “Remember, during takeoff and landing we have to put away tablet! And sit quietly in our seat with lapbelt on!”

    Many meltdowns are the result of “surprise” sprung on the toddler by parents who havent telegraphed enough times CLEARLY what is going to happen.

    That said, I’ve had my 3-year old go through a flight without napping and be cranky. And precisely the moment when he wants to go in Mom’s lap for a snuggle is when the “seatbelts” sign comes on for turbulence as we are nearing landing anyhow, and he’s got to sit in his own seat. We strapped him in over his crying. He wailed for the next 40 minutes until landing. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do except wait it out.

  6. And yes, to reinforce what you said, the FIRST rule of travelling with a toddler is no devices out UNTIL you are in the air. No exceptions, the first time you give in, you’re doomed. I turn off my phone at the same time and show the little fellow, so it’s clear we are all playing by the same rules. 3-4 year olds know about fairness.

  7. corporal punishment by a parent is not against the law in any state (except maybe California, they are the nations leader in stupid laws). sometimes, expecially at that age, it is nessesary to gain control and get a child to respect his parent’s wishes. Parents who allow children to scream and cry and throw fits whenever they like are not in control, and if you can’t control your kids they should not be allowed to go into certain public situations, including a plane trip. Resteraunts and movie theaters are also a place where spoiled kids act up to intentionally embarass their naive non spanking parents. A quick visit to the bathroom and an attitude adjustment would get juniors attention and modify his behavior. this was acceptable parenting for most of us growing up, we learned to respect our parents and their rules and kids in our day didnt bring guns to school and go on shooting sprees.

  8. Boy I’m feeling wordy tonight….

    More coping tips:

    Coloring books or just books are always acceptable, rely on those for takeoff/landing. Also lollipops which the sucking action helps a little with ears and is a bribe/treat.

    Disposable ear plugs and HOOU to hand out to people nearby, just in case. Rarely needed, but doesn’t hurt.

    To finish my story earlier…. after howling for 40 minutes he perked up on landing and said brightly “papa we’re at the airport YAY!” and clapped. Everyone immediately around us started clapping too. On the one hand, very embarassed. On the other, there’s only so much you can do sometimes, and to be blunt I’m never seeing those people again so my shame is shallow and short-lived.

  9. Yes, “electronic crack.” And it’s not just iPads and toddlers, it’s anyone with any electronic entertainment device. Kids can learn to behave without an iPad to distract them, but if you teach them that that’s what they need to be entertained, then they will come to expect it.

  10. When we got our puppy, we knew we wanted to travel with him. After he got old enough and matured a little, we started to get him and us ready. We bought his Sherpa bag, designed for dogs to fly, and we took him on trips in the car. At first, he wasn’t into the program-we coaxed him into the Sherpa bag, then put him, in the bag, in the back of our car and drove around for a half hour (think Chuck Berry’s “No Particular Place to Go”). He would scratch the side of his bag like crazy, trying to get out. After about 20 minutes, he’d get tired and just lie down. And when we’d stop and let him out, it was always at a place we thought he’d like-a park, a lake, somewhere with an interesting walk.

    After a lot of trial runs,, we thought he was ready to fly. We went from Denver to the East Coast and he was under the seat in front of us (we never put him in checked baggage.). He was a little unsettled but Mom leaned over and let him smell her hand on takeoff so he knew we were there and that things seemed somewhat normal.

    Eventualy he flew enough to figure out the routine. We started to take international trips, usually to France. We would always fly to the East Coast and spend the night there to give him a break. Then we would walk him around all day to tire him out for our overnight TATL flight. Our little pal would stay up thru take off, then curl up and go to sleep. He knew that when we stopped at the gate and that final bell rang, that was it and he’s let out one sharp “Bark!”, as if to say “I’m still here-don’t forget me.” Twice after overnight TATL flights when that happened, another passnger nearby asked if he had been on the flight the whole way, surprised since they had not noticed him before that point. I wanted to say “No, he jumped on over Iceland” but instead we just said “Yes, he really likes to go with us”.

    As the song goes, dragons live forever. We said goodbye to him 3 years ago, but not before he made 15 round trips over tha Atlantic. It was always a drag to get those health certificates and finagle the airlines to be sure they realky had his reservation in the system. Now I wish I could just book and take just one more flight with him.

    So folks who want to travel with little ones, whatever their species, I know you can do it. Just plan ahead, put your head where there head is and figure out and address the issues not only thru your eyes but thru theirs too.. If you don’t it for granted but really work it, I can almost guaranty they will love it and so will you.

  11. Was this kids last name “Baldwin”? Lol, I’ve seen “electronic crack”, delay and frustrate many flight schedules. I’ve seen grown men go Toe to Toe with flight attendants over down powering of electronic equipment during safety briefings. But I’ve only heard of two people being tossed off the plane for this behavior: Alec, and Daniel! I wonder which one threw the biggest fit?

  12. Just yesterday, my wife and I were on a flight from LIH to LAX. The people behind us had a 16 month old baby and a 3 year old. The 16 month old screamed most of the flight. The Dad did NOTHING to help quiet the kid.They had no toys or anything to occupy the child. Wish they had been taken off the flight.

  13. I agree that the 3yr old’s behavior is a parenting issue. As a parent, it’s your responsibility to keep your kid in check. I know what it’s like traveling with a little child. I remember taking my daughter at a month old at the time SEA-HKG and seeing the guys face that was sitting next to us when we showed up at the seat. Luckily the airplane noise soothe her throughout the entire 14 hr flight. So when I travel now and see kids going unruly, I pin it on the parents.

  14. re: “mom, grandmother, and a one-year-old child were seated in first class”

    Somewhat OT but what the hell is wrong with people putting babies in first class?!? Our last trip to the Carribean we had screaming babies in the first class cabin both ways. Ugh…

    re: “I hope it does not prevent them from traveling with their kiddos in the future”

    One can only hope. 😀

  15. It’s so interesting that so many people are quick to judge the parents. As a parent who travels with my kids all the time, often internationally (and, gasp, sometimes in first class) you learn quickly that you do whatever it takes to make your child happy so everyone else on the plane doesn’t jump all over you for daring to bring a child on a plane. Perhaps the dad didn’t realize his son would freak out like that over the ipad. Perhaps the son was having a bad day – which, face it, everyone has from time to time and can not be predicted.

    I hate the assumption that parents shouldn’t fly with kids. Some of us have families overseas. Some of us enjoy traveling. Some of us want to show our kids the World, even if it means putting up with judgmental looks and snide comments. How will our kids ever learn to be good travelers without the actual experience of traveling?

    My son took his first flight at 8 weeks, so did my daughter. He took his first international flight at 12 weeks, my daughter was older at 7 months. They have both done it many times, and my husband and I do everything in our power to not only make their flight a good one but to make our fellow passengers flight a good one too.

    This family didn’t fight what happened. They didn’t even take them up on a flight the next day. Let’s cut them a little slack.

  16. forget the stress the family suffered. how about the people who were seated around
    this mess

    at least in a restaurant you can change your seat- tough on a full plane.

  17. Parenting fail.

    Don’t be afraid to discipline you kids, folks. Law Enforcement do not want to deal with your lack thereof…

  18. We actually do split up when flying. I take the kids on one side and the momma sits across the aisle. This is on Southwest which always has the 3+3 configuration. This works for us because the kids listen to me better, and we take up and entire row so I we don’t have to deal with other passengers.

    The CARES is great becuase… well, it’s great… but in this type of extreme situation you can give some slack by allowing them not to wear the CARES as long as they wear the belt. I’ve only had to do this once and it’s obviously not ideal, but when strapped into a plane it’s sometimes necessary to make concessions for the benefit of the passengers around you.

  19. There was one time we flew on virgin america cross country with our 4 kids ages 7,5,3 and 1. Our 7 year old threw up midflight out of nowhere. She never gets sick on flights/ Of course she didnt make it to the rest room or the barf bag so it was all over the floor. I was sure everyone around us was going to complain and have our plane diverted to have us kicked off because of the smell. The flight attendant came by and was really accomodating. She had the odor eater powder and pretty much got on her hands and knees to scrub everything off the floor to get the smell out. You are not going to get a flight attendant liket hat every time. There were passengers who were looking at us, but what could we do. One of the things we always do now is pack a towel. Nothing big or just something you dont mind throwing out. Just something to catch “stuff” or to pick up “stuff” much easier. Also, we pack 2 sets of changing clothes for the kids for times like this. What we learned from this flight is we as parents didnt have clothes to change to. My wife’s shirt was filled with vomit. She had to take it off in the bathroom, put it in a plastic shopping bag and wear her jacket the rest of the flight. Imagine if she didnt have her jacket? So always have a second set of clothes for your kids and possibly for yourself.

    Another incident that happened recently is that our 2 year old started gettting very sensitive to movements within the car when we go over bumps and down hills. So on our last flight we were worried how she would react. Sure enough she would start yelling “Whooaaa!!!” and “Noooo!!!” when we would take off or hit turbulence. People started looking at us and I felt if this kept up we would be definitely thrown off the flight. Theres really no sure fire way to solve this problem, but it is important having a parent seated next to the child to help calm the child down. Seating seperately never makes sense. My wife is really good at that and she talked her down everytime she would get nervous, while I tended to the other three kids. There was occasional “whoooa’s” and “nooo’s” mid flight, but most passengers have their headphones on and didnt notice. This is where travelling on the last flight helps. Our baby just slept off her worries. Travelling with kids a team effort. If you are single parents with multiple kids, it makes it harder, so more kudos to you. But, try to find a flight companion to help with travelling.

    Travelling with children is very difficult, but it shouldnt be avoided. Everyone has a right to travel and travelling with family is the best experience. The good memories outweight the bad. Yes, parents should play a proactive role in parenting a child on a flight. But, it’s harder than it looks when you are looking at this from the outside. Have compassion when you see a parent having trouble with their kids. We are all trying to get to a destination together. You dont have to have kids to run into trouble when travelling. Wouldnt you want some compassion if something happened to you?

    So, after having 4 kids of our own you could say we have had our share of experiences during domestically/internationally travel and travelling with one child or four. These are tips we found helpful for the new parents and the old school ones:

    – I think the most important aspect of travelling with children is schedule. Getting an early morning flight rather than a midday flight (nap time) or night flight makes a big different. When we had our first children we alway took the latest flight out. We would keep the baby up as much as possible until the flight and made sure they did a whole days activity before boarding that flight. Even walking around the terminal helps drain those batteries. When there is multiple children travelling its harder to choose your schedule because you try and get the cheapest flight available or redeem awards when available. But, we generally, do the same thing. Try to avoid the early morning flights and try to keep them active all the way until the flight.

    – Stickers are a huge disctraction. Getting a small notebook and a load of stickers even entertains my 8 year old and is a life saver when it comes to takeoff and landings. They dont need electricity or a tray table.

    – If there is PTV onboard I always buy my own head phones that fit my child. Using the airlines headphones never work and always creates problems when you try to “fix” it for them during the flight. It always leads to frustration with the child. Save yourself the hassle and buy headphones that fit your child. Also, most PTV’s are hard to view from a child height sitting down. Think of innovation ways to create a “booster” seat. The neck pillows always give a nice boost to small children.

    – We always let our children pack their own bag for entertainment. When you make it exciting for them, it makes it extra special for them on the plane to open their bag when it’s time.

  20. Thanks for the link Amy. Just bought that for my sons.

    As to the article, I agree with Mommy Points. If this kid had been in a car seat he wouldn’t have had this problem.

  21. @Jedi: that is a good point about bringing clothes for the parents also. Do you have any recommendations for headphones? We like to watch videos on the plane, but volume is an issue. I see Sony has a decent option, but for “8 and up” and we have twin 2 year olds.

  22. The toddler’s actions are indefensible. It stems from lazy parenting and boils down to one simple question. Why was the toddler allowed to become addicted to the iPad in the first place?

  23. Half a benedryl will solve most child flying problems. Children routinely take lots of other meds that are far more toxic & acidic. I’m dumbfounded that every parent does not this trick. (I’m *always* the guy seated next to the loudest baby on board.)

  24. These are the ones I use for my little ones.

    They may seem huge and bulky for anyone under 8, but they work perfect for two reasons

    1) SIZE: they are height adjustable. I use these for my 2 year old and she doesnt complain she has it on. It looks weird because they are bulky headphones, but if anything its cute. I get stares from passengers and some saying “cool headphones,” but they dont bother my kids at all. They like the attention. The ear pads click up and down to adjust the headsize, versus the band adjusting. Band adjusters always snag my kids hair or always collapse after awhile if my kids play around with them. The ear cups cover the whole ear with a soft padding and has padding on top of the head band to not add too much pressure on top or side of the heads. Plus, they have an extra long chord.

    2) PRICE: these are entry level headpones, so the price doesnt break the bank at $20. I got these for $10 during a newegg promo code. They are cheap but the quality is pretty good that I use them when we are not travelling.

  25. @Frank Falat benedryl is counter reactive on some children. All my kids actually dont fall asleep but become hyperactive because of it. I asked my doctor about it and he said some kids react to it differently. Plus, I dont recommend giving meds to kids to help them sleep rather than using it for it’s real intention which is allergies. That’s like taking Nyquill as a sleep aid or taking painkillers to help you “relax.” It’s a form of drug abuse.

  26. @Evan Same reason adults are addicted. If you dont introduce it, then you won’t get addicted. It’s really a parenting fail when you use electronics to pacify a child on a plane when you know it’s resticted at certain times. But, it’s become the norm so much in our culture, that no one thinks twice about it. I have fallen victim to popping in a DVD to pacify my child at home. People think it’s the same situation when on a plane. It’s not. It’s a whole different ballgame.

  27. Seeing alot of those iPads with the young kiddos as I zip around the globe, but most pronounced in the US. Nonelectronic books, toys and such are far better, but kiddo nuclear meltdowns still occur.

    Jet Blue recently tossed another kiddo off the plane for tantrum issues, but no mention of an iPad in that case.

  28. This should be linked from the top of your page! Your tips for how you travel with your two-year-old is very similar to how we just traveled with my almost-three-year-old. “No, you can’t use the iPad because we’re not flying high yet. We have to get above the clouds.” Kids understand rules and are naturally curious, so they’ll love your explanations about flying.

  29. @jedijood
    That’s interesting to hear that does not have the same effect on everyone. However, that is what they use in some hospitals before going to a benzo (on adults). Sorry to inform you that’s not drug abuse either.

  30. It is absurd to suggest all children should be drugged up to fly. Many kids get more wound up with Benadryl – would you want that happening next to you?

    Unless any one that has posted here was actually on that flight you have no place to assume it was lazy parenting or that the dad sat there twiddling his thumbs. The assumptions and generalizations in these comments are atrocious.

  31. I’ve been traveling today so apologize for not weighing in on this debate earlier, but I do want to add that children really are all very different and that doesn’t always mean the parents inherently did something wrong. Of course, I’m not saying the parents didn’t do anything wrong – I have no idea. I do know that some people do react differently to Benadryl, and I do know that spanking works for some kids and not others. My background is in child welfare and I could go on and on about physical discipline vs punishment vs abuse….but I’ll leave that for another day. 😉

    Love all the discussion though!

  32. Re. headsets for children…if you have a chance to fly Virgin America, order the kiddie meal, it comes with a set of dolphin headsets/earpieces that work well for my three-year-old…cute and portable.

    I fly several times a year with my two kiddos, both under ten, and I have to say that electronics on planes are ALWAYS a bad idea…let the kiddos play with the ipad or phone on the ground, but make sure they know that once boarding starts, the electronics go off and stay off. We’ve been consistent about this rule and the three-year-old has been quiet in lounges, and we’ve had no issues on planes. On our last flight, we witnessed a mini-meltdown when another kiddo had his ipad taken away, but luckily the parents were able to calm him down.

  33. I’m fairly appalled at all the comments immediately jumping to bad parenting. They either don’t have kids or don’t remember what it was like with little ones. First we really don’t know what other techniques they tried to calm the kid down though if s/he was in a full on meltdown that’s one of the most difficult points. Being prepared with a lot of toys and bribes is essential. Also I don’t understand the aversion to kids on a plane – everyone has a right to fly, even if they redeem miles for First or Business. Id mych rather sit around kids than a loudmouth business person that blocks the aisle and yammers on his phone about the $2M deal he just closed. Second a spanking will only make them more mad and should only be reserved for times when they will greatly injure themselves like running out in traffic. Saving the electronics for >10k feet is a great idea.

  34. if you’re looking for great headphones for little kids on the plane, definitely check these out i bought them two years ago and haven’t regretted it since. they’re made for little heads, so they fit my 4 year old and 2 year old perfectly, and they could adjust much bigger. they also come with a volume limiter, which means you never have to worry about them turning the volume too high and hurting their ears. at $25 it’s not cheap, but well worth it in the long run.

  35. +1 Andrea and JeffISU Agree that we really don’t know the full story, and in any case, it’s not possible to *always* prevent a tantrum in a young child. A child’s individual personality often has as much impact on the potential for a tantrum as parenting or external circumstances. That said, given the “electronic crack” issues I don’t regret being one of the <1%: a non-TV household 🙂

    I think we can all agree on the common sense ways to prepare your child and family for a flight (Benadryl not being one of them) and on proactively helping a child remain rested, comfortable, and happy during a flight, but there are occasionally going to be times when, despite everything, a child acts up. Is that really so different than being stuck in front of a very tall passenger whose knees knock your seat, next to a group of very loud passengers who talk non-stop the entire flight, or having a fellow passenger accidentally spill their drink all over you?

  36. Lots of “I know nothing about children or parenting, so therefore I must be an expert on other people’s children” comments on this post.
    My own children have never had a meltdown on a plane. We prepare them well for what’s going to happen, pay attention to them when they need it, and arrange to separate them when necessary (by flying two-behind-two instead of all in the same row).
    Keeping children informed and engaged is important in all aspects of life, not just flying. I’m always amazed, for instance, when parents don’t give their kids a serious and honest answer to a question like “how much farther?” The tip about not distracting children with anything that will need to be put away at takeoff (and preparing children for the different phases of a flight) is a good one. When the kids were too young to read themselves my wife would read to them during taxi and takeoff. Also, we always have sucking candies to ease the pressure change problem and that’s always a big treat.
    I do agree that the electric babysitter has made families more reliant on the catatonia-inducing effects of electronic entertainment. My kids have been raised without a television in the house and they seem (to their doting Dad, anyway) much more able to handle stretches without passive entertainment without melting down.
    But children are different from each other and there will be a certain number of them (more often but not always boys) who just cannot sit still. If your child is really that difficult, I don’t have an answer to how to handle it (hitting or drugging the kids is not likely to help) other than to avoid unnecessary travel. I have in-laws who don’t like to make the two hour Phila to NYC drive because it’s “too far” with their kids (although, oddly, when I have their kids in my car, even for fairly long trips, we seem to have a pretty good time).

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