An assumption of bad faith on the part of other airline passengers is widespread among travelers today. Airports and airplanes are more crowded than ever, and all that spatial scarcity tends to dampen, if not destroy, any sense of camaraderie among seatmates.
It’s not hard to understand then why parents traveling with young children in this high-strung environment would feel compelled to take preemptive efforts to avoid tension. One popular method to put other passengers at ease, beloved on social media, is to distribute goodie bags filled with candy, ear plugs, and a note apologizing for any inconvenience at the beginning of the flight.
Viral tales of parents trying to endear themselves to other passengers with this method have been circulating the web for at least four years now (the oldest example I could find took place in 2012), and the feedback has been mixed. There’s been a good amount of praise for these parents, as well some critique that such efforts are overkill or unnecessary. Two years ago, Today’s Rebecca Dube argued, quite convincingly in my opinion, that nobody should feel as though they have to apologize for the fact that they have young children.
Nevertheless, parents are still goodie-bagging their way to the hearts of fellow passengers and internet readers are still applauding them for it. Earlier this month, Love What Matters, a media site dedicated to feel-good stories, posted a picture of a ziplock bag filled with candy, ear plugs, and a note written from the point of view of 18-month-old twins distributed by parents on a recent flight to Orlando. “Such a thoughtful, simple act of kindness that I am so happy to have experienced,” wrote Christina Galese, the passenger who took the photo. So far, the post has received 22,000 likes and nearly 2,000 shares.
I understand the praise. Two people went out of their way to take other people’s feelings into consideration in a small, enclosed space. That’s lovely. Still, the only reason this type of generosity is considered necessary and praiseworthy in the first place is that we live in a culture that is so patently ungenerous to parents. If most people believed that children are a normal and necessary part of life, instead of an inconvenience, there would be no need for these goodie bags.
The notion that children are inconvenient is pervasive in our culture. It’s why the government—and most businesses, for that matter—fails to provide families with much in the way of guaranteed parental leave, sick days, work flexibility, or affordable childcare. Preparing and passing out little gifts only reinforces this idea that parents, and parents alone, are responsible for their children. It’s also yet another thing to do during the already Herculean task of preparing for a trip with infants or toddlers.
In an Travel + Leisure interview about the etiquette of traveling with kids, Lizzie Post, the great-great granddaughter of Emily Post and co-host of the podcast Awesome Etiquette, says she discourages parents from bringing goodie bags: “I would love to get to a point where we understand that we as human beings need to travel with a child and deal with it. ... Come on, people." Post offers a few tidbits for parents in the interview, but the majority of it, in a refreshing reversal of how these discussions usually go, is about how passengers without children should behave towards families. (Brief eye contact with the parent of misbehaving kid gets a thumbs up. A suggestive glare, thumbs down.) She also points out that children traveling today are some of the best behaved in history, thanks to tablet computers and in-seat entertainment centers.
Of course, even the loveliest infants and toddlers, including those with unlimited access to cartoons and videogames and the attention span to be abosrbed by them, still turn into horrible monsters sometimes. Should this happen, parents absolutely can and should offer to pay for a drink or a movie for anyone being inconvenienced by it. Considering that most people spend the entire flight with headphones on, this is likely only going to be the handful of people right near them. I’ve done this before, and the offer was always appreciated and politely declined. Just showing I cared during the incident was enough—no pre-packaged bite-sized Snickers and apology notes required.