We fly more miles than the average couple, so our luck was bound to run out. It did, recently, on an American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Charlotte.
I know that manners are rapidly disappearing. I follow Passenger Shaming on Instagram, a site created by a former flight attendant. I’ve seen how gross and rude travelers can be these days. So if you think that jetting across the country is somehow glamorous and fun, let me put that notion to rest for you.
I’ll admit that I wasn’t in a good mood that day. Tym and I had recovered from a nasty norovirus while vising our son and family in California. We’d been up at sunup and headed home for three hours already. I’d just paid $15 for a soggy tuna sandwich, a bag of chips and a bottle of water at LAX.
The oversold flight meant there was no room left in the overhead bins, so I had the pleasure of cramming my laptop computer, medicine and breakables into my large purse and gate checking my carry-on duffle bag.
To top it off, I was in the last boarding group along with a couple and their two unruly girls. As we were preparing to board the plane, these kids were rolling on the floor, literally punching one another. As their parents fumbled with their bags, the kids ran ahead screaming. I silently pitied whoever had to sit next to this family.
I followed them into the front galley, past the first class seats, through the main cabin and on to row 24. There they were, one row behind us.
Tym was already settled into his aisle seat. He’d been assigned to an earlier boarding group.
“Get ready,” I told him. “You have no idea what you’re in for.”
He shrugged that off until he felt the kids kicking his seatback. By takeoff, he didn’t look happy.
“What age are they?” I overheard a woman ask the mother.
“Three and six.”
“Oh, how fun!” the woman said.
I rolled my eyes.
“Mom, I ‘m scared. We’re going to take off. I hate it when we take off,” the older girl yelled.
“Madison, we gave you your anxiety medicine. We did, didn’t we?” Mom asked the dad.
Dad, dressed in sweats and a hoodie, wasn’t sure. They were dealing with different time zones. Maybe he hadn’t given her the medication at the right time.
The screaming and yelling continued nonstop for the next five hours—parents yelling between one another, the kids poking and hitting one another, the parents yelling back at them. The kids wanted this or that, or a toy, “A T-O-Y. No not that one, a new one.”
To add to their misery, the girls’ cellphones weren’t charged.
“Sorry Baby, can’t do that. You’ll have to wait until we land,” their mother replied, all the while swiping her own phone.
“I want my cellphone,” the older girl whined.
“It needs charging, sweetie,” Mom said.
“But I want it now!”
“I’m hungry,” the other one wailed.
Dad, exasperated, became testy with the flight attendant for not having the food-for-purchase they wanted, blaming the wife for not having ordered the correct lunch on-line.
The parents got into a heated argument. They had aisle seats—the Dad next to the girls who occupied the middle and window seats.
When the yelling grew especially loud, I turned around to give them the stink eye. The kids proceeded to talk back to their parents and be the bratty selves they’d learned to be.
“Mom, McKenzie is hitting me.”
“Make her stop.”
“Madison, leave your sister alone, baby.”
“But she’s bothering me.”
“McKenzie, honey. Won’t you be nice to your sister? Please and thank you.”
“She’s still bothering me.”
“Madison, sweetie, you’re beautiful but put a lid on it.”
Any sensible parent would have separated the girls, but Dad didn’t want to take charge, so he let things accelerate to screaming. Mom had no interest in intervening. She had seated herself safely across the aisle, close enough to bark orders but far enough to leave the heavy lifting to her hapless husband.
Tym said the mother never stopped looking at the phone during the entire flight, but I know that’s not exactly true. She put it away three times to take the kids to the bathroom—the only times that the cabin was silent during the five-hour flight.
Flight attendants made their way past the melee, but never once bothered to comment. The lady next to me was saying how “sad” it all was. I wasn’t sure if she was sad for the kids or sad for everyone else whose flight had been ruined by this obnoxious drama.
Finally, 90 minutes out of Charlotte. A man behind the parents spoke up about asking the parents to quiet their kids.
The dad turned around and proceeded to hurl curses at the man, telling him to mind his own business Then the kids resumed yelling.
In hindsight I could have summoned a flight attendant. Yes, I could have done that, but I didn’t. If this hostile father had been confronted by anyone in authority he would have likely started swinging. Things could have easily escalated. The captain could have diverted the flight to Birmingham. All 175 people would have been inconvenienced. Instead of five hours, this hellish flight could have lasted seven or more, waiting for authorities to come on board and handcuff the dad.
We might have made the news, but fellow passengers would have no doubt given me the stink eye, blamed me for causing trouble. If I’d keep quiet and let this family provide all the drama, we could all get to Charlotte on time.
What did happen was the captain came on the PA and asked everyone to prepare for landing. And then Madison announced, “I think I’m gonna throw up.”
“From now on, fly first class,’ one friend suggested later.
But she doesn’t realize that I follow Passenger Shaming. I already know that rudeness and bad parenting aren’t confined to the main cabin.