s gimmicks go, the one piloted last Sunday by the American low-cost airline JetBlue was rather ambitious. It attempted to resolve a conflict as old as air travel itself: the impasse between the frazzled parents of fractious children and the fraying forbearance of those forced to endure a journey strapped in beside them.
On American Mothers Day and aboard a flight from New York to Long Beach, California, just as the first of the babies on board began to wail and his neighbours no doubt commenced an exaggerated eye-roll, a flight attendant took to the tannoy with the following announcement:
“We all know when you’re flying with babies and they cry on the plane it can be hard on all of us. This will be the very first flight where crying babies is a good thing. Every time a baby on this plane cries, you will receive 25 per cent off your next JetBlue flight.”
It’s a cute concept. Four screams equalled a free round-trip journey for everyone on board. So, by the time the third baby began to bawl, he was raising audible cheers from his neighbours. On the video that the airline subsequently released, his mother’s relief is pathetically palpable.
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Still. As a mother of two small children who have developed a highly sophisticated arsenal of tricks with which to disturb their fellow passengers, I can’t help but feel that JetBlue could have gone for a more nuanced game.
Crying is just one of many terror tactics employed by the experienced toddling traveller. Moreover, these are not the only beings whose in-flight antics merit censure. Adult responses to their misadventures are frequently just as deplorable.
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So, JetBlue, with Fathers Day coming up in just a few weeks (dads suffer from airline shame, too), I have devised a few more sophisticated set of rewards and – indeed – penalties for you to trial. I promise it will make flights more fun, as well as more illuminating. Let’s call it ‘In-flight Baby Bingo’.
Reward those who don’t tut
It is great that you are rewarding other passengers when babies cry. I get it, crying babies like mine make journeys miserable for those around them. But you know who also causes misery on an equally bone-shuddering, Earth Swallow Me Up Now scale? Childless passengers. The ones who tut, raise eyebrows and issue withering sideways glances at the parents of those infants. As if it were our fault. As if we want to spend the journey wrestling with a red-faced wild thing and the rest of the holiday with tantrum-induced tinnitus.
So yes, reward passengers for patiently putting up with cries. But any discernable sign of censure directed at a parent should result in the automatic forfeit of those points. Once repeating offenders have lost all the discounts earned in flight, feel free to start adding totting up additional premiums on the cost of their subsequent ticket purchases, too.
Let’s talk about little legs
Specifically, their use for kicking and squirming. In Baby Bingo, free massages are offered to those who have the distance between Heathrow and Hawaii (for example) measured out in rhythmic kicks to the back of their seat by a petite passenger. After screaming, it is the second most powerful trick in the toddler’s arsenal and it needs addressing.
But don’t forget longer legs too
Because while kids are among the key offenders, it has been proven (through long, painful and irritating personal experience) that the worst seat-kickers are often, in fact, grown men.
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Some sagacity on the part of the game’s umpire is required here, accompanied by the judicious use of a tape measure. If the man is judged to have insufficient leg room, he should be cleared of all blame – in these cases, the penalty goes to the airline itself. An immediate and public inquiry is automatically triggered, involving the measurement of all passengers’ capacity to stretch their legs in the given space and an award of free tickets plus apology to all those deemed squished.
However, should the man be found simply sharp kneed and inconsiderate, he himself incurs the penalty. Since he, unlike the toddler covered above, is over the age of criminal responsibility, he must administer the massage himself, not stopping until the ‘fasten your seatbelts for landing’ switch lights up. Not matter how long the journey. Auckland, New Zealand, here we come…
These are just a few ideas, JetBlue. Do feel free to add more rules of your own.
Children playing video games with the sound turned on. Adults issuing loud and regular guffaws in response to jokes no one else can hear, since they are wearing their in-flight headsets. Adults offering unwelcome flirting. Drunks.
The possibilities are as infinite and varied as the population. So buckle up, and let’s play Bingo.