Screaming kids on planes: are parents really to blame?

Flying hell might be other people's children, but is it the parents' fault?

I'm just back from flying a toddler and a baby to Australia and the United States and at least one obvious solution to people's problems about flying with kids has occurred to me: make airports family-friendly, and you'll reduce the number of children arriving on the plane in a shrieking, seat-kicking frenzy of boredom.

A wise parent trades off the hours the child spends complying with adult needs and rules against time spent doing what the child needs. And what children need is a place to run, climb and be noisy.

It's a small-minded attitude that says because toddlers don't pay full fare, nobody should have to provide for their needs. Give them somewhere to let off steam before they board, and everyone wins.

Picture this: You've arrived at the airport early so you can deal with contingencies like delays, cancellations or overbooking. What's to do?

The airport bookstores can kill a few hours. There are bars to quell any pre-flight nerves. You could shop for gifts. But if you're a toddler, in most airports there is exactly nothing for you. There is only so long a toddler will play with a new game or listen to a new book before he becomes like Hairy Maclary: "He wanted to run, he wanted to race".

Airports have stressors for anybody, but the killer for parents is the exhausting, maddening hours that pass trying to control and entertain a toddler in areas where there are no safe places to contain them and nowhere for them to play.

You simply can't carry enough stuff to entertain them for a five-hour layover.

Sydney International Airport claims to have children's play areas "in development". Nobody working there could direct me to one; all we found was a pillar with some puzzles that occupied us for 15 minutes.

Wellington, Sydney, and Canberra airports all lack an area with a lockable gate, or some play equipment.

Canberra required us to check in our stroller, blithely waving to some "courtesy strollers" that proved invisible.

That left no way to contain a fast-moving toddler. Curbing his attempts to vanish down one-way security doors got tiring pretty fast.

Baby travellers at Wellington are luckier than most: there's a family room for nursing mothers that's clean, spacious, and well-lit.

Don't let that spoil you though. If you need to breastfeed a baby, most airports will direct you to a cramped, grimy toilet with a change table.

Non-parents might argue that parents chose to put up with inconveniences when they became parents.

But parents and their children are not just being an inconvenience. They're being treated poorly. There's a difference.

The Dominion Post/stuff.co.nz

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