And good it was, though it started off somewhat inauspiciously, in that our March 22 Columbus-LA flight turned out to be somewhat eventful. For me, that is.
I guess the heart of the problem was the airlines' current occasional practice of seating families apart, the rationale being that if you want seats next to each other you must pay extra for the service. Tacky, right? People have been protesting the practice, but maybe not yet loud enough, So I bought three tickets and we were assigned seats in three different parts of the plane. But in truth, that wasn't really the problem. I wouldn't have terribly minded sitting apart from Tom and Tommy...that is, if I had ended up sitting anywhere other than where I did.
Anyway, it was spring break week so it shouldn’t have come as a complete surprise that our flight to LA was full of kids: crying babies, plugged-in teenagers and every variety of little and big kid in between, most of them attached to one or more parental units.
Except for the four kids in the back of the plane who were flying unaccompanied: two sitting next to me on the left and two sitting across the aisle from me on the right. So it was four kids and one adult. Can you envision the potential dynamic?
On my left were two sisters, one looked about 9, the other I'd guess maybe 13. We made friends over my shared Combos, and I learned that they were traveling from Columbus to LA to spend spring break with their grandmother. It was their first visit to Los Angeles and their first time flying alone. They were quitely excited and I thought, a little nervous, but pleasant enough traveling companions.
Alas, the two little wild things across the aisle were another story altogether.
They were a brother and sister, the little girl was 6 and the little boy 7, on their way from Columbus where they live with their mother to visit their father who lives in Los Angeles.
Immediately bored and wired, they were at it before the plane left the ground, yelling, shrieking, trying out every conceivable sound or noise they could blast out of their little lungs, annoying each other, hitting each other, throwing around their backpacks and the pile of toys, blankets, books, crayons, and other diversions they'd hauled along, standing on the seat and pressing the attendant call button, and, of course, sucking up the attention of everybody around them. Except, at least for about the first hour, me.
Now, avoiding engagement with these kids for even an hour was no small feat on my part. I mean, being the adult sitting directly across from them I was the obvious target, right?
But I refused to engage. "No," I thought to myself. Because I knew that the moment I responded to them I'd have ownership of them for the rest of the trip.
"No," I repeated to myself, closing my eyes and pretending to sleep while they tried to get my attention. After all, I'd paid the airline almost $500 for this plane ticket and for that price I didn't feel like babysitting. It was the airline that allowed these two little whirling dervishes to fly alone, let the flight staff take care of them.
And the flight staff did for a while. At first one flight attendant or another was rushing over to them every two minutes; after a while the flight attendants started ignoring them, much to my dismay; because that's when they started doing a full-court press on me.
I finally caved when the little girl wouldn't cease poking my arm.
I turned to her and noticed that she had an angry purplish welt next to her eye that looked fresh. When I asked her where she got it she showed me the seat-belt buckle and told me that her brother had just hit her in the face with it. Then she proceeded to roll up her pant leg and show me all the other bruises her brother had recently inflicted on her, which caused her brother to scream at her for telling. At that point, as I had foreseen, I was pulled in. And by the time I calmed that crisis and the next one when the little girl thought she'd lost the metal washer with a string through it that she called her necklace, it was clear that for the next four hours I was to be the designated adult.
When the little girl threw her backpack out into the aisle the flight attendant informed me that it belonged under her seat. While the little girl was pulling off her identification wristband the nice little girl on the other side of me informed me that the little girl shouldn't pull of her wrist band because she'd need it to get matched up with her father. When the two kids managed to pull the hard plastic covering off the armrest of one of the seats I decided to just stuck it under a seat until an attendant came by. But the man sitting behind the kids shot me a disapproving look as he retrieved the broken piece of cover forced it back onto the armrest. I was obviously doing a second-rate job of keeping my charges in line.
I did get one perk from the whole deal: at one point the girl sang for me "The Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy Of Company B" - the whole song! Word- and note-perfect! She did have an amazing voice for a 6-year-old, and she said she could sing "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band" and other songs, too, which I would like to have heard, but, alas, after "Bugle Boy" she was done singing and it was back to fighting with her brother.
In the end I felt sorry for these two kids. But then it does seem that even kids who start out wild mostly manage to grow up into more or less functioning adults who end up reproducing some wild kids of their own.
Still, after this heckacious flight I came to a very firm conclusion:
No way should parents or airlines allow young children to fly alone. Especially on the same plane as me.