Traveling with babies and toddlers is unspeakably awful. Anyone who's ever done it knows this. Worst of all is air travel. Hurtling along in a metal tube surrounded by your screaming children and scornful onlookers is an experience that can leave you feeling too defeated to enjoy your destination. Now, Japan Airlines has introduced a feature on its website that lets passengers see where on the aircraft infants and toddlers will be sitting, meaning child-free fliers can pick seats as far away from children as possible.
This is horrible. Singling out babies on planes is pure parent-shaming. It reinforces that idea that it's acceptable to view kids — and their parents — as lesser citizens. Yes, I get that having children is our choice and that we parents need to pay the price. And I get that listening to screaming kids is deeply unpleasant. But imagine the backlash if a carrier announced a similar policy for passengers weighing over 200 pounds, or people with body odor. Or people who talk incessantly. There are hundreds of conditions, quirks, and lifestyle choices that could potentially make a person a less desirable seatmate, yet this airline has honed in on babies.
Given a choice between sitting next to someone's squalling infant and the gentleman who once sat behind me on a seven hour flight from Heathrow to JFK with his bare feet — which smelled like they'd be marinating in Roquefort — on my armrests, I'd take the screaming child any day. And while the poor passenger who ends up seated next to an infant may not have great time, you know who's having a worse time? The parent. And airlines shouldn't add to that burden by treating moms and dads as if they're plague carriers.
Passengers traveling without children need to cut out the judgment and contempt, too. Yes, I realize you booked your flight hoping for an easy ride filled with movies and tiny bottles of booze. But if you do end up elbow-to-elbow with a terrified new parent struggling to soothe their baby, try gently letting them know that whatever goes down in the next few hours, you're not judging them. Tell them you know how hard this is (even if you don't) or, better still — and especially if it's one parent with one or multiple kids — offer to help. Hold the baby while they eat or go to the bathroom.
I've flown with my averagely tantrum-prone kids countless times, from when they were only few weeks old, and I've experienced a lot more contempt and stupidity than kindness from my fellow fliers. One woman even suggested I drug my baby to stop him crying.
But I'll confess, I do understand what it's like to feel that you've been given the worst seat on the 747. I remember sitting on a red-eye I very much didn't want to be on in the first place. I was leaving my tiny children to spend a weekend with my mom, which sounds lovely apart from the fact that she was dying of cancer at the time. Relaxing into my middle seat with the aisle seat beside me free, I thanked the plane gods for this small mercy. Seconds later, a sweating man, who must have weighed 250 pounds, jammed himself into that chair. I'm horrified to admit it but I was furious, and I stayed that way for the first hour, wallowing in my plane rage so I didn't have to think about what was waiting for me in a London oncology ward.
Then, I accidentally spilled red wine on the guy's leg. He was so incredibly gracious about me ruining his pants that my resentment evaporated. We chatted for the next few hours and learned about each other's lives. The distraction was just what I needed, and when he apologized at the end of the flight for taking up so much space, I nearly sobbed on his shoulder I felt so ashamed.
So please, next time you're on a plane and sitting next to someone who's struggling with their load — kids or otherwise — pick kindness rather than scorn. Airlines, meanwhile, should set an example for kid-shamers by letting them know that having families of all ages onboard their aircraft is an absolute pleasure. And disgruntled passengers can escort themselves to the nearest emergency exit.
Want more essential commentary and analysis like this delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for The Week's "Today's best articles" newsletter here.