Duane Hoffmann / msnbc.com
By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 10/4/2007 10:00:16 AM ET 2007-10-04T14:00:16

Seeing Christopher Walken in a movie gives me nightmares. And I think the saucer-eyed Puss-in-Boots who hangs out with Shrek is creepy, not cute.

So when I’m on an airplane that’s showing a films starring Walken or that darn cat, I try to read a book and ignore the movie entirely.

It doesn’t always work. So I understand why parents of small children worry when the in-flight screens drop down and a movie with potentially disturbing images pop up.

For Jesse Kalisher, the straw that broke the camel’s back was a giant ape. Kalisher was flying with his kids when Peter Jackson's “King Kong” began rolling. The children were sleeping, but Kalisher was upset that, if the kids were awake, it would have been impossible to shield them from scary scenes in a movie rated PG-13 for violence.

Back on the ground, Kalisher created a Web site to air his concerns, and he connected with other parents who felt the same way. They have been asking airlines with publicly viewable screens to stop showing films and TV programs with violent content. Instead, the group would like the in-flight entertainment limited to films rated G or PG or television shows rated TV-G. “Airlines have the choice to show whatever they want,” says Kalisher, “but as parents we have the responsibility to protect our kids from images of murder, torture and death.”

Kalisher and his supporters haven’t gotten much response from the airlines, Air Transport Association (ATA), or the World Airline Entertainment Association (WAEA), an organization of airlines and suppliers of in-flight entertainment and other services. So they upped the ante.

On September 25th, Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., and Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., introduced federal legislation that would require a separate seating area for kids and families “if a covered air carrier provides publicly viewable entertainment screens on which violent in-flight programming is displayed.”

“Ideally we’d like airlines to self-regulate and come up with a system that provides entertainment that appeals to adults but doesn’t terrify children,” Kalisher said. “This legislation will at least require airlines to make sure kids can’t see the monitors.”

The Family Friendly Flights Act will need to work its way through the legal system. But it’s already getting plenty of attention. Although the ATA won’t comment on the bill, and most airlines are referring media inquiries about the bill back to the ATA, a spokeswoman for the WAEA says the group is trying to gather its worldwide members for a conference call for discussion

But Stacey Shultz, who writes the parenting news blog Fussbucket says: “There's no way a parent can keep their child from looking up at the screen so it's up to the airlines to make sure the movies are appropriate for all paying passengers. It's not about parents being overprotective. It's about being considerate to the younger people on the flight.”

She adds that while R-rated films shouldn’t be shown on airplanes, “PG-13 would be OK. If they only allow G-rated films, then everyone will hate the little kids on the airplane even more than they already do.”

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Some folks are already concerned that, rather than comply with the separate-seating rules of the Family Friendly Flights Act, airlines will simply eliminate in-flight entertainment entirely. Others applaud the idea. On the msnbc.com “Bad Trips” discussion board, “adult mother” wrote: “I would support this in a heartbeat. I am an adult and offended by most R-rated movies ... I would rather watch a good cartoon, laugh and have fun with a child sitting next to me!!”

In the meantime, Valerie Wunder, a spokeswoman for US Airways, says parents who find the in-flight movie objectionable should “speak with a flight attendant who may be able to seat them in an area where it’s trickier to see the screen.” Or, she says, “Make sure you bring plenty of books and other stimulating activities so there’s something else to do.”

Some other options include:

  • Choose an airline, such as Southwest, that doesn’t show any films, or one that provides individual screens for each passenger, such as JetBlue. Visit your airline’s Web site to find out what movies you and your family may be viewing. Most airlines list the monthly in-flight entertainment schedule online. During November, for example, “Transformers” is scheduled to be shown on manyAmerican Airlines flights. Although airlines usually show edited versions of films, the MPAA rated the film PG-13 “for intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, brief sexual humor and language.”
  • Bring your own in-flight entertainment. In addition to books and games, pack a CD player or MP3 and kid-friendly music. Or bring your own portable DVD player and movies you’ve handpicked before the flight. Rent a portable DVD player and movies at the airport. InMotion Entertainment has more than 30 airport locations where travelers can pick up and drop off rented units.
  • Rent a personal in-flight entertainment system. Some carriers, including Alaska Airlines, rent on-board digEplayers pre-programmed with movies, music, TV shows and other entertainment. On many routes you can reserve the units online before a flight.

But please, if you’re seated next to me, make sure I’m sleeping or looking the other way if you’re watching “Dead Zone,” “The Comfort of Strangers” or any movie with a Christopher Walken scene.

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