At the tender age of 3, Daniel Yanchuk boarded a plane headed from Seattle to Miami with his family. He had, as his mother Svetlana Yanchuk would later tell reporters, “flown many times before without any trouble.” This, however, was not one of those times.
Daniel was seated with his father Mark Yanchuk in the main cabin, while his mother, grandmother and 1-year-old brother were given a free upgrade to first class. This is what happened next:
Daniel played with an iPad until passengers were asked to turn off their electronic devices and Yanchuk took the gadget away. “He got a little bit cranky, started screaming, maybe yelling a little bit, crying,” Yanchuk told msnbc.com. “During this whole time I’m trying to put him in his seat and his seat belt. I put the seat belt on him but not all the way, so I’m struggling to put in on and he’s still yelling.”
Alaska Airlines spokesman Paul McElroy said flight attendants came to check on the father and the boy several times before departure to try to help calm the child down, but Daniel was restless and wouldn’t get buckled in. “Everybody wanted to make this work, just trying to work with the child and get him to sit upright,” McElroy said. “He kept lying down in his seat, his legs were dangling over the arm rest. At one point, we did have the seat belt fastened but because the child was lying down, now the belt was across his neck and the flight attendants were worried that he would begin to choke himself.”
Young Daniel finally sat up, and the plane headed for the runway, but when attendants noticed the boy lying down again, they returned to the gate and Daniel and his father were told to disembark. (The rest of the family decided to join them.) “We think they overreacted, and we would like an apology or at least an explanation,” his father said.
From the department of superior parenting, here are a few explanations the Yanchuks might want to consider. I’m going to skip over the iPad entirely and start with the fact that the six-hour flight was a red-eye. The Yanchuks, who live in Everett, Wash., say they chose the flight “because we planned to have him sleep the entire time,” as if “plan” and “3-year-old” weren’t mutually exclusive. Has anyone of any age ever taken a red-eye and felt sufficiently rested upon arrival? (It was but the first leg of a trip ultimately bound for the Virgin Islands. Imagine what might have ensued on the connecting flight.)
The boy was obviously exhausted and having a meltdown, which in the comfort of his own bed, where he doesn’t have to comply with FAA regulations, would have been perfectly acceptable and age-appropriate. Instead, all the other passengers not only had to listen to his screaming but also had to return to the gate, delaying their departure and possibly making them miss their connections. They’re the ones I feel sorry for, not the Yanchuks. And I say this as a parent of two children, one of whom is not much older than Daniel.
Before I had kids, I hated being seated next to them on planes. But just because I now have them doesn’t mean that I should expect special treatment for inflicting them on everyone else. Some parents are up in arms because airlines have started to rescind policies of letting families with small children board early or exempting families from being charged extra to pick their seats. These parents seem to expect that everyone should bend over backward to accommodate them, as if taking very young children on long flights (and to restaurants and movies in theaters) is their right and not something that should be carefully weighed and perhaps, erring on the side of caution, decided against. (Doing any of those things after a child’s bedtime is simply asking for trouble.) When I’ve traveled with my children, I’ve been amazed at what the airlines put up with — requests to rinse sippy cups, 2-year-olds ceaselessly wandering the aisle — and the obvious indulgences like visits to the cockpit and blatant favoritism of bumping us to the top of a standby list. “Family-friendly” policies are only great for people who have families. No wonder there’s a movement to create kid-free zones on certain airlines.
Meanwhile, Alaska Airlines has acknowledged that what happened to the Yanchuks was unfortunate. “We regret the inconvenience to the family, but our flight crew used their best judgment,” said Alaska Airlines spokesman Paul McElroy. “Turning back is not something we want to do. Our mission is to get people to their destinations on time with their bags. It costs money to turn around, so it’s not common.” But the Yanchuks have not acknowledged that they, in turn, and I’m sure without intending to, inconvenienced a whole plane full of passengers and flight crew. “There is no mute button for children,” said Svetlana Yanchuk. “At home, Daniel helps wash dishes and pull weeds. He is such a good boy.” And I’m sure he is. At home.