Many months ago, an utterly charming story hit the blogosphere, where it stubbornly remains on every “25 stories that will restore your faith in humanity” list imaginable. A young couple, traveling on an airplane with their baby twins, made candy filled goody bags for their fellow passengers, with an endearing note attached which offered advanced apologies for any rowdy behavior.
Like everyone else who saw it, I was initially absolutely besotted with these unidentified parents. In a world where seat kicking and toy throwing seems the norm, these parents were not only acknowledging that child passengers can be tricky neighbours – they were doing something about it! It was a drop of kindness in the aloof world of air travel and demonstrated self-awareness, sense of humor, and darn good heart.
Unfortunately, it seems to have become the norm in some circles for traveling parents to now bring along goody bags for their fellow passengers. I recently heard from a good friend (and amazing mother) who was shocked to be told, time and time again, that the secret to success when flying across the country with a teething infant and 50% potty trained toddler was to just make up some goody bags for her neighbours (and keep her active toddler angelically occupied by making a thank you card for the pilot!)
Traveling parents shouldn’t be making up goody bags for their fellow passengers and here is why.
1.) It’s a waste of your time. At best, it would take an hour to go gather the candy and another to assemble the bags. That’s time you could be spending researching the latest TSA rules, repacking your suitcase to make it more orderly, memorizing airport layout maps, or polishing off a good Pinot and a wheel of Brie.
2.) It’s a waste of money. How much will this cost you? It could easily be upwards of $200! It would be less expensive to Fed-Ex your suitcase to your destination, upgrade your hotel room or rental car, or hire a babysitter – things that would actually help you have a better travel experience.
3.) It aggravates airline and airport staff. I’m guessing the first time an airline employee saw this kind gesture; they were as charmed and moved as I was. Their work conditions can be anything but cheerful and I’m sure the first time or 5 they helped distribute dozens or hundreds of goody bags, they were thrilled it wasn’t the usual rubber chicken. But the reality is that airline staff is on a strict schedule and rarely get a break on a long flight – this kind gesture really just causes the staff extra work.
4.) Likewise, airport security guards have enough on their plate without worrying why a hundred metal twist ties are all over your suitcase, arguing with you whether caramel is a solid or liquid product (fine line!), or giving you an exception to the strict carry on rules as you lug an extra duffle full of goody bags with you.
5.) It sends the wrong message to your children. Yes, it is very important to teach children the importance of neighborliness and courtesy, and it’s very important to impress upon them than an airplane is a special setting where good behavior is the norm. But distributing goody bags is pre-apologizing for your child’s expected misbehavior and is little more than a bribe for other passengers to not get upset. You wouldn’t send your child to school on the first day with a bottle of wine for each staff member, would you?
So what can you do when you are anticipating a challenging flight or when you want to express a kind gesture to your airplane neighbours?
When meltdown time inevitably hits – never launch a litany of complaints about the third ear infection in a month, how your no-good sister-in-law was supposed to come along and help, how you’re a victim of airline rescheduling – this only makes other passengers feel awkward, as if their own misfortunes are not valid. Never complain, never explain. Just offer a short, sincere apology and do your best. A simple “I’m so sorry for the noise. We’re doing our best to keep him amused and occupied” is a polite, polished acknowledgment that you are part of an uncomfortable situation and will earn you sympathy and even offers of assistance.
There are many bad apples in the air travel barrel, those who grumble and complain and shoot dirty look, but I still believe that the majority your fellow passengers are decent, patient, understanding human beings who can really appreciate how difficult it can sometimes be travel with children. They don’t need candy to see the sweet side of travel – and neither should you!