As a mom on the go who has probably taken upwards of 100 flights with babies as young as six weeks, including some on JetBlue, I had mixed feelings watching the airline’s Mother’s Day ad, FlyBabies.
The ad begins with actual mothers packing for two and talking candidly about the stresses of flying with children, most especially worries about their child’s cries upsetting other passengers. The ad then shifts to the airport, where passengers watch with muted disdain as they wait at the gate with the moms and babies, disdain which they carry onto the airplane as their fellow infant passengers wriggle, squirm, and scream.
But the tone of the ad shifts dramatically when a flight attendant announces that for every time a baby cries, passengers will get a 25 percent discount on their next JetBlue flight. By the end of the flight, passengers are laughing and applauding as every single passenger realizes they will get a free flight. As the USA TODAY headline on the ad put it, “Passengers on JetBlue flight cheered for crying babies.”
On the one hand, the ad is very realistic, both in the anxiety that parents feel when traveling with small children and the nasty attitude of so many travelers who feel entitled to travel commercially without any noise from the youngest members of the human family. A 2015 Expedia survey found that 53 percent of respondents said parents traveling with loud children annoyed them. Another study found that 40 percent of adults were irritated by the sounds of crying babies on airplanes. As the ad accurately depicts, plenty of people don’t have a problem showing that annoyance, often before a child even makes a peep.
But while raising awareness about the struggles of traveling with small children is a good thing, and encouraging kind behavior towards frazzled parents is praiseworthy, is bribing people to be human to moms really the way to go? And does reimbursing annoyed passengers actually just validate their complaint? I give JetBlue credit for trying, even in a one-time stunt to mark Mother’s Day, but there are three ways that airlines could help moms flying with children in a more concrete way on every flight:
- Allow parents with small children to pre-board.Boarding the plane early allows parents to get everyone settled and happy before the chaos begins, and can make all the difference in starting the trip off on the right foot. Moms can unpack snacks, queue up videos, and pull out bottles so that everything she needs is accessible and kids aren’t causing a stir as people are trying to board. A shockingly small number of major airlines still allow parents with small children to board first.
- Offer an onboard “mom kit” or some reservoir of supplies for parents.This can range from having on stand-by the parent essentials that might have been forgotten and cause incredible anxiety, be it a packet of formula, a pacifier, or crayons and an activity page, much like what a restaurant offers to children. Every little thing helps in making the flight easier, like the lids and straws Southwest offers for toddlers having a drink.
- Lobby airports to offer better amenities for families. I have never once seen a space to nurse a baby in an American airport, though a handful of airports offer them, but I’ve seen a number of smoker’s lounges and airports are now under pressure to become “pet friendly.” European airports offer amenities such as nap rooms for children, jungle gyms for feisty toddlers, and lactation rooms for nursing moms. Airlines would make a world of difference for parents if they began demanding that airports accommodate families’ needs in exchange for opening new routes or keeping existing ones.
There’s no end to the list of creative ways airlines could help moms who juggle small children on flights alone or the parents who struggle together. Free tickets for annoyed passengers is cute, but it’s obviously financially unsustainable. And ultimately, it may do more harm than good in reinforcing an entitled mentality that one has a right to travel publicly without coming in contact with babies or their parents. If airlines really want moms and babies to be treated well, they can lead by example.