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Empathy for Children, not Penalties, on Planes

By Mihiri Udabage - 18th September 2013

From news.com.au this week came the headline:  Noisy Kids? You Should Pay Extra on Planes – an opinion piece by Claudia Connell.  She rejects one airline’s new offer that she can pay extra to travel in a quiet zone free from under-12s.

Instead, Ms Connell suggests that families with noisy children should pay the higher penalty, not people like her "just wanting a quiet journey". Ms Connell writes that she is “not a person who hates kids”, has “nieces, nephews and godchildren that I adore”, and has “made peace” with the fact that she won’t have her own children.  She’s just not fond of crying kids on planes. 

Ms Connell reminds readers that she feels sympathy for a mother struggling with a bawling baby, but refuses to “accept that it’s now [her] lot to have [her] quality of life diminished by having other people’s families forced on [her]". Her ticket price should not include “13 hours of hell”, she asserts.

Let me tell you about a memorable plane journey I had as a child of about eight or nine years of age.

In those days, my mother would travel with my brother and I to Sri Lanka, and my father would join us later for a shorter holiday.  On one particularly turbulent journey when the plane heaved and lurched for what seemed like ages, we kids threw up, spilt dinner on our good clothes – back then you got dressed up for a plane trip – and were genuinely scared. We must have been crying too because I can still picture the elderly man next to me handing me his white handkerchief.

Not only did I get his handkerchief, but soon afterwards I got the chocolate bar that he “didn’t want anyway” from his meal tray. We stopped crying. The plane stopped lurching. My mother stopped panicking. And I never forgot him.

His actions were the difference between a sympathetic response and an empathetic one. He could have  given my mother a sorry look then turned away, or averted his eyes and turned up the volume on his headset. He could have complained and added to my mother’s distress. But he didn’t. He understood what we were feeling and in his actions, let us know that he cared. He engaged with us and he turned that situation around for us.  He did that.

If he could do it, couldn’t we all?

Couldn’t we all be that person who turns a bad situation around for a parent or a child in distress? Be it on plane, at a restaurant, or any of the public places that we share? I hope Claudia will one day realise that the opportunity is there for her too. She may not ever have her own children who will remember her kindness to them, but she can still be a part of a family, like ours, who think of her fondly, even 30 years later.

That gentleman who gave me his handkerchief and his chocolate would have passed on now; he was old (to an 8 year-old) even then. That stranger – for a long time my mother remembered his name, but she doesn’t now – did something kind for us, the bawling kids that Claudia resents so much, that made a difference not just in that moment, but in my lifetime.

He taught me that it doesn’t take much to reach out to someone in distress; that bad things will pass; and that a small act of kindness can endure.

I'm glad there were no child-free zones on planes back then. Because then I would never have had the gift of meeting him.

Noisy Kids? You Should Pay Extra on Planes by Claudia Connell

Image from freedigitalphotos.net

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