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Forget snakes: What about diapers on planes?

Long delays, computer glitches, weather woes — events like these really suck the fun out of air travel and make some travelers vow never to fly again. But an Air Passengers' Code of Cordiality could go a long way toward improving life for travelers.
Duane Hoffmann /     

In a summer already filled with wild, wacky and woeful tales of air travel, last week was a whopper. It started off cute enough: a man onto an airplane by hiding his furry friend under his hat. Sort of precious, don’t ya think?

But things went straight downhill from there: Fire led to a at General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee. Authorities spent hours searching for a screening at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. And on Saturday, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection computer malfunctioned and more for hours at Los Angeles International Airport.

Not cute at all.

Events like these really suck the fun out of air travel and make some travelers vow never to fly again. But not the little girl I met recently on a flight from Eugene, Ore., to Seattle. I chatted with her as she settled in beside her grandma in the row ahead of me. And I admit that I eavesdropped (just a bit) during the flight and heard how thrilled she was to be served “free” soda and dolphin-shaped crackers and to get to see mountains outside her very own little window. When we landed, I expected her to turn around and recount her adventure. Instead, this young traveler turned to me and politely asked, “And how did you enjoy your flight?”

That reminded me that for some people — not just little kids — plane trips can still be magical. And it made me think of another item to add to the I described here a few weeks back. In that column I proposed a basic set of “let’s get along” travel rules that all passengers would be encouraged to abide by. Asking fellow passengers if they’re having fun on their trip wasn’t on the list. But maybe it should be. Along with some of the other suggestions sent in by readers, including:

  • “Don't bring foods with a strong odor on the plane. Sitting next to someone eating something with an intense odor makes me gag.”
  • “If there is a tall person sitting behind you, please don't recline your seat.”
  • “Be ready to go through security BEFORE you get to the security check point. This means having all your belongings put in a carry-on bag before you get to the security check point and not rushing through all your crap just before the security guy calls you through.”
  • “How about this one: Do not take someone else's assigned seat! If you have the middle and no-one has taken the aisle or window, wait till the door is shut and the plane is pulling away to snag it. Don't make its rightful owner fight you for it. Grr.”
  • “Other passengers should not automatically assume kids are going to be awful to travel next to and should also cut some slack to parents who are trying to be responsible.”
  • “Please, please, please don't board a plane reeking to high heaven ... both in terms of B.O. or heavy perfume.”
  • “When moving in and out of your seat, do not grab the seat in front of you.”
  • “When you go to baggage claim it is just plain rude to walk up and stand so close to someone they can feel you breath to try to be the first to get your bag ... stand back, watch for your bag, and then excuse yourself forward so you can grab it.”
  • “Keep your shoes on when you are on the airplane. It is a confined space and no one wants to smell your feet.”

All these seem like fine additions to the Code of Cordiality. But there’s one item from my original list that needs a bit more research.

Several people took issue with my proposed rule of “No diaper changing on the seat cushions or the tray tables.”

Carol W. of Richmond, Va, wrote:

“ ... I do wonder exactly where a parent should change a child. I was a flight attendant for 25 years and during that time was aghast at seeing a mother or father change their child in a seat. (Never saw anyone use a tray table — ugh) When I retired I took my son on his first plane ride when he was two months [old]. Fortunately no diaper change was necessary, but had it been, I honestly don't know where we would have gone. Airplane lavatories don't have any surface large enough to change a baby, and can you imagine putting a baby on the floor? The only place I can see using is the seat. I always carried a plastic mat in my diaper bag which I would have covered the seat with, but fortunately I never had to go that route.”

Plastic mat or not, I wouldn’t want to be seated on an airplane next to someone while they change their baby’s diaper. But Carol W. raises a good point. Parents: how DO you change a baby’s diaper on an airplane without grossing out your seatmates?

Diapers aside, I’m just about ready to issue my “clip-and-save” version of the Air Passengers’ Code of Cordiality. But while many readers wrote to say “Where do I sign?” others aren’t so sure: “The big question is: If the code does come into existence, who will [be asked to] enforce it? That's an awfully big burden to impose on cabin crew.”

Another reader was adamant: “ ... You will NEVER get a code of conduct enacted or enforced.  As soon as you try, you will wind up in court. You cannot legislate morality or manners.”

Nope, we can’t. But we can give the Air Passengers’ Code of Cordiality a try. For starters: How did you enjoy your last flight?