Tuesday, July 24, 2007
When families go to play
I have been busy traveling lately to New York, Los Angeles, and Johannesburg and now on my way to Washington. It doesn't matter which airport I visit or airline I fly on, there is a horrible common thread. Families on vacation. Stressed parents, arms filled with rubbish. Children cluttering up the business lounges. And wherever I look, babies in business class!

Yup, it is the European holiday season and with more wealth and bumper air miles, families are going on vacation. Often in business class.

Now in my day - we were lucky if we got a week in Wales as a summer treat. Today if a continent isn’t being covered and an ocean crossed, well, it just isn't a proper vacation! So I want to address the knotty theme of how we can all keep good humour and still get on with our business travels.

It is tough. The urge to shout "get out of the way" can be overwhelming especially in overcrowded airports where security lines are getting longer because holidaymakers have brought literally everything - including the bucket and spade - with them.

If you are travelling in business class, do your very best to avoid the last row of the cabin. Why? Because behind you is the bulkhead of economy and that is where they put the families with babies using skycots attached to the wall. Beg, grovel and prostrate yourself to avoid that last row seat. You will be thankful later.

The business class lounge in the summer becomes a war zone. With so many alliance gold members able to bring in their children, what should be an oasis of calm has often become unpleasant. I know you want to shout and scream "Oi, shut up!" but the cool answer is: don't. You may just have to find a quieter part of the lounge or leave it altogether. This is summer travel, and it is nasty.

Once on board, if children are creating a nuisance it is tempting to solve the problem yourself. That would be a horrible mistake. Unless you have the diplomatic skills of the UN you will only make things worse. Fierce looks only annoy the parents and comments such as "do you mind!" add fuel to the fire. You are effectively saying to parents that they don't know how to do their job and they won't thank you for it. I have seen wholesale feuds break out on planes over such comments. Leave it to the staff. Gently ask them to sort it out for you. They won't like it. But it is their job to be the peacekeeping force.

There is one area where you can help yourself. If the child behind is kicking your chair repeatedly, then you can sympathetically turn to the parent and ask them to try and stop them. It's the one thing with which everyone can identify, since their chair is probably being kicked at that same moment.

Obviously ask for an emergency exit row if it is available. That way you will avoid children since they aren't allowed to sit in those seats! And don't be afraid before you board a plane to ask if there are any free seats elsewhere on the plane. The airlines seating computer often seems designed to put as many people in as many uncomfortable places as possible.

So, when you get to the gate, ask if there are any no-shows and may you please move seats to a less crowded part of the aircraft.

If you are a parent traveling with a family, spare a thought for the business traveler. Sure, you have paid for your ticket. And yes, maybe your child isn't the monster other people seem to think he is, but those business travelers are getting off the plane and having to go to work. You are heading for the beach. You will be putting your towel on a deckchair while I am sweltering in my suit!

Everyone needs to remember that we will be on both sides of this problem during the summer. The holidaymaker and the traveler.

I have just re-read this article. I know why I am being so reasonable... I upgraded myself to first class. I can only hear the children back in economy. I can’t see the anguished look on the faces of tired execs. Families? They should travel in the hold! Have a pleasant summer!

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