No Kids Allowed

I wasn’t necessarily going to get into this in a public forum, but recently I’ve had many a private discussion on this topic.

There is a fairly recent movement in the US (and to some extent world-wide) banning kids from various places.  I can’t speak to the legality in places other than the US, but I’m fairly certain this is a problematic policy within the US.  I’ll get to why within a few minutes.  First, for those unfamiliar with it, this is a reasonable summary of recent bans.

Traveling is one thing, but what about in kids’ own hometowns? Should kids been banned from local movie theaters, like they were at a recent adults-only Harry Potter screening? In Texas, one cinema chain has even flipped the model, banning kids under six altogether, except on specified “baby days”.

Even running errands with toddlers may be changing.  This summer Whole Foods stores in Missouri are offering child-free shopping hours (kids are allowed inside but childcare service is available for parents who want to shop kid-free.) Meanwhile in Florida, a controversy brews over whether kids can be banned from a condominium’s outdoor area. That’s right, some people don’t even want kids outdoors.

Before we begin, allow me to concede a point…I have no problem with banning BEHAVIORS (unattended children running around, for example, as that poses a danger to themselves, others, and the goods being sold).  I’m a big fan of a behavior ban like the ban on smoking in a public place.  But banning a class of people is wrong.  What would be your response if I took out “children” and replaced it with “Asians” or “the blind” or “people with red hair.”  You’d wonder where the lawsuit was, wouldn’t you? At least in the US.

Disclaimer…I’m only talking about the US because that is the legal system I know best and as my home country I care the most about.

Children are a less protected class because, bluntly, they don’t vote, and thus our elected officials don’t care about them so much.  Wonder why Medicare and Social Security are such big issues?  Could it be that the elderly vote in larger numbers than any other group?  Nah, that couldn’t be it.

But are they?  The 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause has been broadly applied beyond protection for Blacks (for whom it was first written) and in the past 50 years it has been used to extend equal protect to various ethnicities, women, and other disadvantaged groups.  It is often cited as precedent in lawsuits that deal with discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  The Civil Rights act of 1968, which addresses housing, makes it illegal to discriminate in home/rental purchases/leases because of race, religion, sex, orientation and AGE (with the exception of Senior Housing, which has an exemption under the Housing for Older Person’s Act of 1995, as long as 80% of the building or more meets the definition of Senior Housing).  Under laws that define my right to breastfeed in a public domain, restaurants/cinemas/stores are all defined as PUBLIC PLACES that can not ask me to leave if I choose to breastfeed there.  So, if my kid is attached to my breast, you can’t kick me out, but if they’re in a sling, you can?  That’s just murky murky murky legal territory.  What about the ADA?  Can you actually ban an autistic child?  A blind child?  Does the ADA prevent the banning of a child with a disability?  Some of those “bad behaviors” they’re talking about are just a child with autism or another disability–should their parents never let them out of the house?  Considering all four potential arguments, I think there’s a real legal case, if someone wants to go ahead and start suing.  Perhaps parents banding together on behalf of their kids?

Look, I was childless once upon a time.  I worked retail.  I worked hotels.  I worked restaurants.  There were points where I hated children.  Where I would’ve given my left arm to not be exposed to them and the running around and running into expensive stuff, and the screaming and the whining and the….

So sure, I get where the gut reaction comes from.

But it’s a slippery slope.  At what age do children then have the right to be anywhere?  When they’re 6?  Is there a magic switch that flips the second they turn six?  I was a classroom teacher and I’m going to share a little secret with you–NO, there isn’t.  Can you ban boys but not girls since boys are stereotypically more likely to be active and “problematic” in their behaviors?  Can you ban children who are less than X inches tall?  Only if they’re not in a stroller?  Where does protection and the rights of a citizen in your home country begin?  If you can ban kids, who else can you ban?  Men with long hair?  Women driving minivans?  It’s taking the argument to an extreme, but banning a child is an extreme position to take in the first place.

But there is a moral side to this…that it’s just plain wrong to exclude a class of people from a public space.

The heart of the matter is behavior.  The proponents of these bans are starting from a base assumption…children behave badly.

Please allow me to pose several questions in response

  • When do children magically learn to behave?
  • How are they supposed to learn to behave in a specific setting if they have no experience in that sort of setting?
  • What about adults who behave badly?  Why do I have to tolerate the drunk adult but not the well-behaved 5 year old?  For that matter, I’ll take a screaming baby over a person wearing too much cologne on an airplane any day.
  • What about kids who don’t behave badly?
  • What rights, if any, does a two year old have?

Perhaps I’m coming at this from a vastly different set of experiences.  I live abroad, I have flown and traveled extensively with my child.  As a stay at home mom in the US, my daughter came EVERYWHERE with me for the 17 months we lived there because not having her with me meant finding a sitter (which, sure, I sometimes did, but often it was easier for me just to take her).  As a person of a higher than average income, I patronize a wide variety of establishments, and I’ve flown first class and business class with my child (although only domestic first, which to my mind is really “business,” but we’ve flown international business with Elanor).   Elanor has stayed at 4/5/6 star hotel properties, including the Waldorf Astoria, the London Astoria, several Conrads (the highest end hotel in the Hilton chain) and she has eaten at a number of expensive restaurants.  I have even taken her into Prada when I wanted to drool over shoes I’d never buy (or at least wouldn’t buy new–I have a pair of second hand Prada heels I picked up for $100 at a consignment store I still gloat over).

So let’s start with some facts.

Why would a person fly in first class with a baby?

Domestic US?  Because there’s a teensy bit more room, it’s easier to fit a carseat into the seat without worrying about a collision with the seat in front of you, and it’s more comfortable on longer flights.

International First?  Keep in mind that my travel time from Singapore home to Boston is about 30 hours door to door.  Personally I’m a fan of getting the kid a seat as soon as they’re old enough to be squirmy/not just hang out in the sling (let’s call it 6-10 months and on).  BUT I am under NO obligation to do so until they’re 2 years of age.  Given that, a seat that turns into a bed, the extra room to spread out (most first class seats on international flights are individual pods, which would give my child somewhere to play at my feet without extending into the aisle or anyone’s personal space), privacy to breastfeed were I less comfortable with doing so (reclined, the seat has an effective shield giving you a bit more privacy).  That the flight attendants are more attentive would help if I needed support in preparing a bottle at a time when food is not being served.  If I were flying alone and could afford it, I’d do it in a heartbeat with a very young (in my case over 6 months under walking age) child.

International Business?  Been there done, that, would fly it every time if it were in our budget.  If we only flew home once a year instead of twice (or this year, three times), it might be.  Instead, we always try to upgrade based on our frequent flier status and using a combo of cash and miles.  Why?  For one, Elanor can sit in her Britax Carseat (which isn’t small and is a giant pain in the ass to put into an economy seat, even though it is FAA certified for that seat) without her feet being crushed by the reclining seat in front of her (a real issue in economy).  She has room to stretch her legs, and we have room to walk around her carseat.  Want a night mare?  Try climbing over a car seat with a two year old in it, while pregnant, from the horrid middle seats.  THAT IS HELL.  The business seats, while not doing a full flat recline to a bed like the first seats do, do allow for a significant recline, which on a 16 hour leg is a GODSEND.  Particularly when your child has an ear infection, and while on antibiotics and safe for travel, is still not happy and just wants to sleep ON YOU (yup, that was me in May with 2 1/2 year old Ellie from Japan to Singapore–she never cried, just curled up on my chest and we both slept almost the entire way).  Space is worth money, especially when you’re facing down 30 hours of travel.

As for banning kids in a section of the airplane?  Let me tell you a little secret from someone who has sat in every section except the super rich private suites they have on Singapore Airlines…the only thing between you and the cabin behind you is a cloth curtain.  It holds no noise reducing/eliminating magic. And the first seats in the business and economy sections?  ARE THE ONLY PLACE THAT BASSINETS CAN BE PLACED.  That’s right, I said bassinets.

This is a baby bassinet on United.  As with all airlines, it can only be installed in the bulkhead row of business or economy (I’m sure there’s something in first, but I have no idea) of an international flight (or I believe a domestic long haul flight such as East to West coast).  If you’re in the last row of business and I’m in the first row of economy (or you’re in the last row of first and I’m in the first row of business)…guess what, you can hear my kid cry.

But here’s the ugly truth no one wants to admit about babies who cry on airplanes.  (1) They’re not doing it to ruin your flight…they can’t yawn to adjust to the pressure of the altitude.  Some kids are more sensitive to it.  The way they can adjust to altitude is by breastfeeding (which most of the people who want to ban kids also hate) or by drinking from a bottle (if they do that).  E never had many issues with atltitude, but she’d get fussy if she were sleepy or hungry or wanted a diaper change.  Babies cry, so did you, move on. (2) It’s not actually that loud…they’re competing with giant jet engines…if you’re further than a few rows away, you can’t hear it at all after take off…AND you (the adult can put on headphones…and if you have any sound coming out, you can’t hear them…I say this as the adult who wasn’t in charge of our crying baby and was sitting right next to her…couldn’t hear it at all). (3) The parents are actually more stressed by it than you’ll ever have the capacity to be, and we’re doing something about it.  Even when it looks like I’m not doing something about it, I am.  E never went to sleep if you were rocking her, she needed to fuss for five-ten minutes before she could sleep.  So I put her in the bassinet, gritted my teeth and let her cry…and five minutes later she was out.

So why should the airline care?  First of all, if they can make more money off of me (and if I have the kid in lap in first or business–or economy, for that matter–I’m paying more than you are for the seat).  Secondly, my kid might have status (that’s right, my 2 year old is a United Frequent Flier Premiere Member…and is ENTITLED to that first class domestic seat, and in January she’ll be a Premiere Executive, which also entitles her ONE HER OWN to get into international lounges as well as those upgrades) and possibly (in our case probably) represents far more revenue than you, a transient domestic passenger does.  Who should they make more of an effort to keep happy?  The one time non-frequent flier status holder domestically or the international frequent flier with status who represents over 10k a year in revenue?  (And while I don’t fly first internationally with my kids, I’m going to bet celebs do, and their kids have WAY more status than mine).  There’s also the fact that not all airlines have banned kids, so I might jump to another airline and give our combined revenue to Delta or American or someone else not in your carrier group.  While Maylaysia Air (who is not actually all that big a player, let’s be honest) might not give a damn….United most likely does care.

Side note—hotels–same rules apply.  As a Hilton Diamond member (their highest level of status) they’re going to care more about keeping me happy (which means having things to accomodate my child, which they all do from the Waldorf on down) than they do about the person who maybe stays once a year.  I refuse to stay at a Hampton Inn because you don’t like my kid.  If I can afford the Waldorf, (and they’ve gotten rid of the bedbugs) I’m staying there.  Deal with it.

Waldorf Astoria, 3 months of age

This is not to say that United is a paragon of good behavior.  They (and most airlines) have a sneaky lounge policy that makes all children over the age of two (all non-lap kids) a “guest” should they not have enough status on their own for entry.  In our family, this year, it doesn’t matter when Ravi and I travel together because we both can sponsor Ellie in.  But what about families where only one spouse has status?  When flying back from the US last May I traveled with my friend Jim, who did not hold status with United.  When we tried to enter the lounge in Japan, United tried to tell me that either he or my 2 year old needed to stay out.  This is an effective way to try to ban kids without outright banning them.  Now, we were lucky that a random stranger sponsored in the odd person out, but after over 20 hours of flying (especially with a sick kid) I caused a very loud scene over it.  Lesson?  Lie and say she’s under 2 if I can get away with it (in E’s case I could’ve).  People say that kids don’t belong in these lounges…but you know what?  My kid eats some fruit, watches some Elmo, and chills out.  We have the option to take a shower (after 24 hours plus of travel).  And on that day?  She curled up on the couch and slept the entire time.  Yeah, she’s a real threat to peace and quiet.

Why would I take my kid to a nice restaurant?

How about that’s how she’ll learn to behave there?  When traveling, especially, we often treat ourselves to nice restaurants.  While at home it’s easy to find a sitter, but (a) I don’t always want to because it’s a special occasion (I want to go out with my daughter on mother’s day, and I want to go to a nice restaurant–sue me) (b) in a foreign country a sitter isn’t always an option and (c) I expect her to learn how to behave, so I expose her to places where behavior expectations are different than at McDonald’s.  Even in Asia, while I did take B along to Phuket, that’s not always going to be the case.  And in a country where English isn’t a common language or child rearing practices may make me wary of leaving a child with a stranger (hitting a kid…really common here), I’m not going to hire a sitter.

While Ruths’ Chris Steakhouses might not have a changing table in the bathroom, they do have high chairs.

Ruth’s Chris, Boston, Mother’s Day 2009

Should I leave a restaurant if my child is screaming uncontrollably?  Duh.  And I have.

But if my kid is behaving, why not treat her to a nice meal?  Let her get dressed up and come out with us?  At what age is it supposed to be appropriate?  Because honestly, when we’ve taken her to nice places, all I get is “she’s so good!” and “she’s so cute!”

Should a store ban a kid? What about an attraction?

When traveling, especially with a young kid (arguably when it’s easiest…prior to a year or so), they just go where you go.  Ellie has been to Museums, to Castles, to Harrods, to Loch Ness, to Mansions, to just about everything.  But the younger she was, the more my agenda drove our travels (especially as often we were traveling as trailing kid/spouse of Ravi at a convention).  Sure I took her to a few kids museums, but my 2 month old doesn’t give a damn about being at a kid friendly place as opposed to a Rembrandt Exhibit, as she’s going to sleep through it regardless…and I’m the one who’ll enjoy it.

Granted, now that Ellie is going on 3, we do more kid geared travel.  We try to find stuff she’ll like and make compromises so that we can do more adult things on our own (Ravi watched 10 month E so I could see Evita in London, for example).  But that doesn’t mean that if we made it to Argentina, we wouldn’t just take her with us to a high end steak restaurant along with an aquarium day.

What are the benefits of kids being allowed in?

Look, maybe I’m just kidding myself and Elanor is a well behaved (mostly, we’ve had epic whining lately) freak of nature, but I truly believe that the way you get a child to be a good traveler and a well behaved in public kid is to expose them to the wide world.  Ravi was flying internationally from a few months of age and was always a good traveler…ditto with E.  I’ve been flying since I was 20, and arguably I’m the least good traveler in the family.  Ellie knows the rules are different at dress up places than they are at McDonald’s.  Ellie has learned limits.

The only way that kids become good, productive members of society is when they’re allowed to participate in it.

If you disagree, well, I’m sure there will be a court case or several that you can argue soon enough.  If it were Boston and I were there, I’d be first in line.  My child is a person.  My child is not an accessory, or a nuisance, or a coat I can check.  She is a citizen, and she has rights.

You can say I’m elitist (that some of my argument with regards to me personally involves invoking status and the privlege of wealth) and you’re welcome to do so.  But those are factors that when you’re talking about elite institutions  like top tier hotels, top tier planes classes, high end restaurants, etc…it matters.  I am their clientele specifically because of my income level.  None of it negates the argument I make initially about things like the 14th amendment and other laws that say age should not be a factor.

If you want an adults only place, they exist…they’re called private clubs.  Go ahead, make one.  I won’t sue you over it, and I’m sure you’ll make good money.  But don’t think you can ban my kid from a public place and not have me call bullshit on you.

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12 Responses to No Kids Allowed

  1. Zach Woods says:

    I say ban the men with long hair!

  2. Musns says:

    I hate reading about this on the net and remember my shock when someone posted online about how a crying child ruined their dinner and that how dare that family ruin her meal at . . . wait for it . . . Cracker Barrel!! Of all places!!

    Children get whiny, they cry – all ages, even my 8 and 9 year old get into trouble at the store. Let me tell you I have not hesitated to whack a rear end in public because of their behavior, or left my cart in an aisle to take them to the bathroom for a “talking” to. I have been the woman traveling alone domestic, with a 6 year old and a 6 week old who cried for most the trip. The little one was in a harness for hip dysplasia and in tremendous pain from the cabin pressure. I spent most of that flight walking up and down the aisles to keep him from crying. The attendants were amazing, kind, and considerate. They brought me my meal after everyone else had eaten and the baby was asleep.

    I agree, I don’t understand how legally any place can ban a child. I wouldn’t go out of my way to push the issue but if I walked into a store and was told I couldn’t take my children with me, that they had to be left in a babysitting area….on principal I would cause a fuss.

    • Crystal says:

      Of all the idiot comments…kids were being kids at CRACKER BARREL? *headdesk*

      Honestly, the flight attendants have always been nice, although when Ravi flies solo with Ellie, I’m sure they’ll treat him like a god. Dads flying solo always get the “WOW” vote when it’s just moms, it’s like “oh great, another mom to ruin our day” (from the other passengers).

  3. Don’t forget one very important thing, these are not public places, per se, they are private businesses that can make whatever rules they choose about their clientele, who then have the choice to patronize the establishment or not. Money talks, after all.

    • Dawn says:

      I agree with you, Christina. Age discrimination is not the same as discrimination based upon race, creed, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc. Age is something which changes over time and so those who are discriminated against now will have a chance to be the discriminators later – not true for any other kind of discrimination. Children are NOT voting citizens – and for good reason. They are the responsibility of their parents. If their parents cannot keep them in check, then a reasonable option is to ban the parents from bringing them to any place people want/legally have control over. Public parks, not so much, but hotels and planes – you betcha. It’s similar to banning smoking; they may lose smokers but gain non-smokers who don’t want to be around smoke. In this case, they may lose the business of parents who need to bring their kids with them, but gain the business of all sorts of adults who do not want to be around someone else’s screaming kids. For the private businesses, it’s all about which option is most profitable for them.

      If enough airlines/hotels ban children from flying/staying, then the parents who need to travel with kids will be a HUGE market potential for an airline or hotel specifically designed to be kid-friendly – and that might be beneficial for everyone (as catering TO the children may reduce their rowdiness). Wouldn’t it be cool if there were a hotel with play areas in every suite or an airline that provided baby toys (and sanitized them after every flight)?

      • Crystal says:

        Again, I’m just not sure…and the legal rights of kids are quite murky and I think there does need to be clarification about rights/responsibilities. Sometimes they’re a protected class (employment law) and other times not. If you look at neuro pyschological development, it’s arguable that people aren’t ready to vote/take adult responsibilities until 25 or older, but it’s unlikley that age for those things will get revised upward. Historically, childhood is a very new concept…look back 200 years and an 8 year old of the higher classes could easily be expected to not only behave and converse properly in public, but in 4-5 languages. Culturally, in Japan, you NEVER get a babysitter (or so my friend who is married to a Japanese citizen tells me) so kids come everywhere. Actually, that’s quite true in Singapore, too…you see kids out at all hours and in a lot of settings.

        There are hotels that do specialize in family friendly stuff…look at homewood suites, etc. They’re specifically marketed to families, not the casual business traveler. That doesn’t mean that I want those amenities every time….if we’re going to be somewhere for a few weeks, maybe. But for a weekend? I’d much rather have a downtown centrally located hotel with 24 hour room service than a play area/kitchen.

        And a family friendly airline sounds great in theory, except they’d have smaller capacity (both in terms of seating, as family friendly would mean that the seats wouldn’t crush the kid in the car seat behind them) and in terms of routing. It would be a losing proposition, as their costs would be SO HIGH that no family could easily afford them. And toys? I’ve seen what passes for clean on most airlines…and you can be certain I wouldn’t let that near my kids. To properly re-clean everything, you’d more than double the ground time between legs/flights. Highly unlikely it would happen…sounds nice, but the costs would make flying a regular airline’s business class far more appealing. And once your kid is old enough to wear headphones and watch movies (e is almost there) business is better because of the individual screens/big movie selection (hence why we always fly with an itouch) so there’s no appeal to the kid-friendly airline after they’re 3 or 4. It’s just not actually a realistic money maker.

        Ban parents who don’t parent their children (letting them run around and such)…banning kids is a pointless bandaid on something that isn’t actually a problem.

    • Crystal says:

      not necessarily…the 14th does potentially apply. Target has to let me breastfeed in MA or they have to pay a fine because the law defines them as a public place.

      The law is super murky on this, and I think it will take a test case to get a real feel for legal protections and rights children have.

      When I was a member of Healthworks, a women’s gym in boston, we were sued by a guy who wanted to join. The ONLY reason we won the case was because we were a private club, where members paid a membership fee and dues. Had we not, we couldn’t have had a criteria based on sex.

  4. Sheila says:

    Thank you! Well said, children are a class of people. When did it become OK to discriminate a class of people – umm, we ended that trend a long time ago! Why are people not understanding their intolerance becomes prejudice becomes discrimination! Whether it is race, gender, sexual orientation – to say NONE ALLOWED would be illegal! Why are we not doing the same for our children?! THEY ARE THE FUTURE. Next, we will ban the elderly … has no one THOUGHT about what these actions are doing to our children – prejudice breeds violence. Anyone remember Rodney King? What about the women’s rights movement. Now we have to defend our children?!

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