Here's a typical holiday travel scenario: You're on a plane, minding your own business, while a brat two rows ahead of you is making your life miserable. You know what you'd like to say, but do not dare.
I know one woman who dared.
Valerie Waterman was a flight attendant a few years back on the old Pan Am. A seven-year-old kid was doing a pretty good imitation of the running of the bulls at Pamplona.
"He was racing up and down the aisle, yelling and bothering everyone," she said. "His parents were completely useless."
So Valerie took charge. "I smiled my sweetest smile while I held his forearm very tightly and hissed into his ear that if he did not sit down immediately, I would personally break his arm and then lie about it."
No, she didn't really mean it. And yes, the kid sat down.
Don't file this under one of my "solutions" -- creative though it may be. I've got better ones. Besides, why let it get to this point? Here are five easy ways to ruin a family trip, and tips on avoiding these messes in the first place.
1: Play the Pal instead of Parent
Many travelers cite bad behavior by children as their number-one pet peeve, but those kids wouldn't be kicking the back of your seat for hours if their parents were doing their job.
And for you snobs out there, it's not an economy-class-only problem. Kendall Baldwin Flint, a public relations specialist who flies almost every week, recalls a harrowing flight in first class.
"I had two children behind me while the nanny sat in front with another," said Flint, who watched the kids kicking, screaming, and fighting endlessly. As for the parents? "Mom and Dad took a sleeping pill and nodded off. I really couldn't decide who had it worse, me, the nanny or the flight attendant."
If you're the parent, wake up! Last year, an allegedly unruly child and his mother were kicked off a Southwest Airlines plane; true, the airline later apologized (apparently the child was simply overcome with excitement) but the family missed the flight just the same.
Here's an idea - instead of acting as your child's pal, be the parent instead. Some specific grown-up roles to try include:
Teacher: Explain proper behavior on a plane. Some kids honestly don't understand that an aircraft is not a playground.
Nurse: Little ears can suffer from changing cabin pressure; get medical advice before flying (veteran parents like pacifiers and bottles for infants, and gum or hard candies for older kids to suck on). If your child is sick, don't fly.
Godfather: Make the kid an offer he can't refuse (see #2, under "B" for bribery).
2: Forget to Bring Tasty Snacks
Notice I say "tasty" snacks, not just any snacks. I have seen parents attempt to entice children into good behavior with raisins and carrot sticks, and have almost fallen out of my aisle seat laughing at the idea.
Sorry, but when it comes to bribery (and sometimes it does), pull out all the stops: unless your family flies all the time, I say a nine-hour flight is no place for concerns about dental hygiene. You need cookies and candy oozing sugar with no redeeming nutritional value whatsoever. That or chocolate, or Chicken McNuggets, or…well, whatever works.
The rest of us will thank you.