Who gets more respect: Bums or traveling families?

by Matt Villano

Who gets more respect: Bums or traveling families?

The latest air travel horror story, courtesy of a friend and one-time editor at the Huffington Post, has convinced me that panhandlers receive more respect than parents flying with young kids.

I’m still fuming over (friend and one-time editor) Lisa Belkin’s recent family travel piece for the Huffington Post.

The story details and documents how Belkin and a traveling companion (Farah Miller, the managing editor of HuffPo Parents), recently were harassed and discriminated against by a Miami International Airport gate agent. Judging from the way a gate agent insisted a diaper bag counted as a personal item (which, FYI, it never does), one can deduce that the lightening rod for this prejudice was the child with whom the women were traveling.

I’ll spare you the rest of the details; you can read ‘em for yourself. But in the context of a spate of family air travel horror stories (including this one from last month), this latest debacle has convinced me that panhandlers receive more respect than parents flying with young kids.

Think about it. Assuming you’re not one of those jerks who likes to yell things like, “Get a job,” in most cases when you encounter a panhandler, you a) hand them a sandwich or some change, b) ignore them, or c) walk to the other side of the street.

Now consider the experiences you have when you travel by plane with your kids. Most fellow air travelers a) glare at you, b) aggressively jockey to get in front of you so your kids won’t slow them down, or c) treat you with venom that harkens back to the days when racial segregation was alive, well and legal.

Sure, every now and again you encounter another parent who sympathizes with your plight (or, like, a nun). For the most part, however, air travel has devolved into a downright hostile environment for families.

How do we make things better? How can we change peoples’ minds? What must we do to render stories like Belkin’s the exception instead of the norm?

For starters, communication is a key. Belkin Tweeted an initial complaint to the airline (in this case, American) within minutes of the incident, then followed-up again after completing her trip. Though the airline’s response seemed a bit like lip service, the only way we parents are ever going to get gate agents to change their behavior is if we force their employers to take a stand.

Increasing self-awareness might improve the situation, too. There’s no question that a small number of delinquents have turned society on the rest of us traveling families. While we can’t make these idiots less dumb, we can go out of our way to blaze new perspectives by demonstrating to other passengers that some of us traveling families actually reprimand our kids when they act like wild animals, change diapers in bathrooms (instead of seatback tray tables), and so on.

Finally, keep cool. Trust me, for a former New Yorker, this can be challenging. But even I have learned that cursing at haters (whether they’re gate agents, random passengers or newspaper editors) won’t get me anywhere. “Kill them with kindness” is a good approach. What’s more, seeing as how you’re traveling with your kids, being nice sets a good example, too.

What are your thoughts on this subject? How do you think we can change the overwhelming public perception of families that travel by air? Please share your insights in the comments field below.