Flight Complications? Play the Parent Card.
All of the experts I contacted for my articles on Flight Rights and Flight Delays and Cancelations noted that families do not receive any special treatment when it comes to air travel complications. A ticket is a ticket, no matter who is filling the seat. If anything, people traveling with kids
have a harder hill to climb thanks to their additional gear, high-energy half pints, and a net negative reputation among other passengers.
Here’s what you can do to swing the pendulum back in your favor when you need an extra hand or your flight plans go sideways.
Even on a good family travel day, I’ve benefited from extra hand at the airport. Perhaps the shuttle driver unlocks my stroller. Maybe the ticketing agent looks away when my bag is a pound over the limit. Even when a fellow passenger lifts a judgmental finger in the direction of my child toddling towards a sniffer dog in a “DO NOT PET” sweater vest, I consider this unpaid childcare of sorts.
On a bad travel day, facing a delayed flight or missed connection, parents need even more help, and we’re facing a serious PR crisis when it comes to the general perception of family travelers at airports. To be fair, we can be pain. We’re typically bringing enough stuff to move across the country. We’re no George Clooney in the TSA line. And there’s a 95% chance that one of us is carrying a contagious germ or two.
Thankfully, most airline staff are kind and empathetic to families. Maybe they’ve been there. They’ve definitely seen things. For those who are not, or for employees who are simply indifferent—I call these the swing voters—here’s my advice for improving your situation, whether that means meal vouchers during long delays, a credit for a future flight after a missed connection, or a ticket change when you’re not seated with your child (yes, this happens, often).
Be Nice. And Polite
Were you packing up to the last minute? Yes. Did you get much sleep last night? Of course not. That’s not the gate agent’s problem though, and the more friendly you are, the better your chances are of a favorable outcome. Bonus points if you can get your kids to make eye contact and say hello to the ticketing agent. Children have a way of making (most) people pause and connect.
Dress Up for the Airport
Comfort is key, but cute, maybe even matching outfits will earn you smiles, and communicates to airline staff that you care about the experience of flying. Oh, and moms and dads, you should look smart too.
Talk to a Parent
Do you hear a gate agent talking about his grandkids? Is the nearby airline attendant proudly showing off photos of her half pints? If you have an educated guess as to which representative at the booth you’re approaching might have kids, beeline to that person.
Is this a fair recommendation? Maybe not. Plenty of adults are great with kids whether or not they have their own cubs at home. I do know this though: I was not one of them. Before having kids, I had zero interest in other people’s children. Today, I still don’t have much interest in other people’s offspring, but I do have serious sympathy for anyone managing kids, especially at the airport. And sympathy just might get you on that flight an hour from now—versus the one tomorrow morning—or something like a meal voucher for those much-needed snacks.
If you’re a mother, you figured this out in week one: People are more sympathetic to dads caring for children than moms. See a dad at a grocery store with a toddler in his cart and it catches your eye. You might even wave to the kiddo, ask if you can help at all. See a mom in the same situation and it’s business as usual. She’s got this, and if she doesn’t—if the child is crying or she strays from the cart for more than five seconds—we are more likely to judge.
So whenever my husband and I have an issue with a flight at the airport, I strap my smock-dressed baby girl to my husband’s hip and let him deal with the issue. Eleven times out of ten, he fares better than I would. (People are also very drawn to his hair.)
Are you a single parent, or taking this trip alone with your kiddo? This is also worth mentioning. When I travel solo with my kiddos, I’m always impressed with the treatment I get from everyone from the ticketing agents to flight attendants.
Minimize Your Stuff
I know it’s hard, but if you can manage to only carry on and keep your things streamlined, you’re in the best position if your flight plans turn sideways (read more on that here). It’s also easier to keep up with your half pints—raise your hand if you’ve abandoned your bags in search of your kids—and, for what it’s worth, it makes a good first impression to other travelers and airline personnel.