Should Parents Stop Giving Out Goodie Bags on Airplanes?

Lately, I’ve heard more and more stories about parents handing out goodie bags before flights begin.  Usually, these bags have a note pre-apologizing for their child crying, candy, and ear plugs.

baby airplane

The argument against goodie bags

There was an article in Slate a few days ago that suggests parents should stop doing this.

The argument is that this furthers the idea that parents need to constantly apologize for their kids’ existence.

The author, Elissa Strauss writes:

Preparing and passing out little gifts only reinforces this idea that parents, and parents alone, are responsible for their children.

So the author is not only criticizing society for perpetuating this idea, but is also those parents themselves that “perpetuate the notion that children are inconvenient.”

She cites Lizzie Post (of Emily Post relation) on this subject, who says:

I would love for parents to feel like they don’t have to bring a ‘I’m sorry I’m traveling with children kit.’ Come on, people.

But Ms. Post does not say the parents shouldn’t do this.  Just that they shouldn’t feel obligated to do this.  Which is very different.

The point at which Ms. Strauss loses me a bit is when she suggests:

Of course, even the loveliest infants and toddlers, including those with unlimited access to cartoons and videogames and the attention span to be abosrbed[sic] by them, still turn into horrible monsters sometimes. Should this happen, parents absolutely can and should offer to pay for a drink or a movie for anyone being inconvenienced by it.

So her argument is suggesting you shouldn’t feel the need to apologize for children unless they act up (something children are prone to do because. well, they are children).  And then, you are allowed to start buying rounds for all the affected passengers around you.

cocktails cosmos

Why I think that’s wrong

This seems a bit backwards to me.

First, let me start by saying, I don’t think anyone is obligated to hand out goodie bags and I certainly don’t expect it.  However, I don’t think we should say they shouldn’t.

Here’s a story.  Bear with me, I’ll tie it back in a second.

One day, I looked out of the window of my house and a neighbor’s dog was starting to go in my front yard.  I just happened to lock eyes with this neighbor, whom I didn’t know.  When she saw me looking back at her, she started yanking on her dog’s leash frantically to get him to move on.

She didn’t know how I felt about the dog using my lawn and started panicking.  Honestly, I was wondering if she was going to clean up after it.  There was no context or relationship there.

I met another neighbor while he was walking his dog.  All we said was “Hi” and “How are you?”  Later, his dog also went to go potty in my front yard.  (It’s apparently the dog hot spot).  I saw my neighbor and waved, and he waved back.  Our little interaction beforehand helped build up a relationship and context between me and my neighbor, so we didn’t sweat the small stuff with each other.

Back to the airplane

So how is this story related?  I think those goodie bags that are given out aren’t apologies for having children (and in fact, nothing has happened yet to apologize for).

They give the people around you on the airplane context and start to build up trust.

If a baby starts crying and a passenger can’t see the situation directly, he may start building up a narrative in his head about whether or not the parents are trying to do anything about the crying.  This narrative will probably be negative.  “Why can’t they do something about that?”  “I bet they aren’t even paying attention.”  etc.

With the goodie bag, the narrative will change.  The passenger will think something like, “That parent is trying everything she can.”

The drink solution puzzles me.  That’s literally an apology (the thing the author says parents shouldn’t do).  At that point, the negative narrative is already building in the fellow passengers’ minds, and sending them drinks would work to repair a situation.

The goodie bag would give fellow passengers context to the situation and would start to build a relationship.  Because of this context, fellow passengers would give the parents a greater benefit of the doubt.  I don’t think, however, that the goodie bag is perpetuating the negative thoughts that people might have about children on the flight.  I think it is actually preventing them.

Again, I’m not saying parents have to do this, but I think they should do it if they want to.

What do you think?  Do the goodie bags make the situation worse overall for parents?

About Jeanne Marie Hoffman

Former bartender, still a geek. One equal part each cookies, liberty, football, music, travel, libations. Stir vigorously. +Jeanne Marie Hoffman Jeanne on Twitter

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  1. Look up my EconLog post on crying babies. It’s reasonable to expect some kid noise. Do I get compensated if the kids are unusually civil?

  2. i don’t give out squat. More like I should get a treat when we land and the kids r quiet lol

  3. Instead of giving out goodie bags in advance, maybe keep a supply of earplugs handy to hand out if needed, and buy a round or three if things go south. Otherwise, enjoy the fact that nothing went wrong.

  4. I think it’s silly with a little too.much Pinterest involved. Just parent your child. If they scream and cry I’m ok with that as long as you seem to be trying. The worst parents I see are the ones with say a 3 year old and they give them sugar and candy to placate them. Why not just hand them a red bull while they are at it. What could go wrong once that sugar hits them full force.

  5. No surprise, I have strong opinions about this. What drives me nuts is when the parents aren’t even trying to control their child. If it’s one parent with two or more kids it’s understandable, but when it’s one child and two (or more) adults who are too busy with their conversation to do anything to help the child that I want to smack someone.

    The only time it seems appropriate to buy a drink (or other compensation) is if the child does something to the other passenger. Spills a sippy cup on them, causes them to spill their food/drink, etc. In that case you’re apologizing for something your child actually did to them. Otherwise it appears to be apologizing for your child’s existence which I’m not going to do.

    *stepping off soap box*

  6. I’m in the same camp as Tiff. Children exist. You shouldn’t be “apologizing” for that by giving out preemptive gifts.

    When I fly with my daughter I try to keep her under control as best I can. If she acts up or lashes out, yeah, I’d apologize to the people around us, but I’m not going to be giving people things just because she’s there.

  7. I get that there’s conflict between families with kids and those without kids.

    I really feel like we shouldn’t be suggesting / insinuating to parents that in order to be “considerate” to their fellow passengers, they need to be providing goodie bags.

    The parents most concerned about this are the same ones that generally are “good” parents that are already doing their best so that their kids aren’t bothering other passengers. i.e. the mythical people mentioned upthread with 2 parents ignoring their kid are not going to be making goodie bags for you 🙂

    Not to mention that the parents most concerned about this are typically those traveling with YOUNG kids, who already have limited time. It just irritates me so much when people suggest that they use some of their limited free time to cater to the possible offended sensibilities of people that can’t handle possible unpleasantness for a few hours.

    As a father of 6, I’ve written about this before

    • Jeanne Marie Hoffman

      I do think there isn’t *one* type of customer who deserves to have a specific situation on the airplane too–I’m specifically talking about other childless people (like myself) believing they somehow deserve peace and quiet just because they have an upgrade. I’ve been trying to write on that from the other childless-flyer perspective, but I haven’t gotten the tone right yet.

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