When I first read the story of Air Trans ejecting the Kulezsa family, including their 3 year old daughter Elly, from a flight because the couldn’t get her seated by the time the crew was ready for takeoff, I was amazed. Amazed that an airline would show so little sympathy for a baby and family facing such a predicament. I wrote a blog post expressing my sympathy for the family and expected a good part of the rest of the world would agree. But somewhere along the way, this story got under people’s skin and became fodder for what I call the Reality News grist-mill, the talk radio chattering classes, and the blog armies of the know-it-all set. The Kulezsas were vilified as boors and parents pistol-whipped by their monstrous 3 year old. Elly was characterized as “spoiled brat” and far worse.
This angry response also characterized my post’s comment thread where almost everyone wagged their finger at the victim family or at me for my response to them. Here are some of the choice ones:
“This Richard guy is a boor”
“…people like this family…Pathetic.”
“…this family…with their (uh-hmm) whining.”
“parents were…nearly as bratty as that of their child”
“these people are completely self-absorbed”
“two whiny parents”
“…parents…completely tone-deaf to anyone else”
“they’d worked themselves into such a self-righteous frenzy”
“You self righteous, hypocritical, egotistical, pompous jerk”
When I looked at the blogosphere I found almost no posts agreeing with my view. It was distressing. I wondered why other parents of young children or advocates for children weren’t standing up for this family. When I earlier had written a post about a mother thrown off a Freedom Air/Delta flight for nursing her baby, there was a torrent of goodwill for her and of hostility for the airline. I didn’t expect the same response since this incident involved different circumstances. But I expected something far different than what I saw.
I think Margery Eagan of the Boston Herald is onto something when she notes how those Reality News shows have an insatiable hunger for such “human interest” stories that involve drama and confrontation. And as in the dime store novels of old, there’s always a moral angle–a bad guy and a good one. Never any shades of grey. And when they take hold of a story, they have the clamp-down strength of a shark’s jaws. Once you’re in that meat-grinder, you’ll never get out with your reputation intact. From there, it’s only a short hop, skip and jump to eliciting the worst prejudices and judgmental notions from the know-it-alls who take their cues from these shows.
God, now I’ve insulted lots of people who think Air Tran did the world a favor by kicking off the Kulezsas. I’ll get comments about from some saying their negative reaction to Elly’s behavior has nothing to do with what they saw on cable news. Perhaps. I’m not saying everyone who thinks Elly was a spoiled brat takes their cues from Nancy Grace, Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly. I’m merely making a cultural observation.
Eagan’s column is so dead-on accurate in capturing the important issues for me I’d like to quote from it:
…AirTran reported it was winning the public relations war by about 90-to-1, and Googling the Kulesza name produced 14 pages of commentary, much of it vicious in its criticism of the family, as if they were terrorists, grave robbers, serial killers or worse – illegal aliens!
“Where are those Taser goons when you need them?”
“Next time bring a tranq(uilizer) gun.”
“Just shove the brat in with the luggage.”
“Can’t anybody discipline kids anymore?”
[Dianne] Williamson [who broke the original story], a Telegram columnist for 13 years, says…she’s never gotten such a lopsided response…That is, “85 percent not only support the airline, but applaud it, and the e-mails were so hostile toward the family.”
It’s incredible when you think about it, really.
…Now Julie and Gerry are national poster parents for New Age leniency – two pushovers in a pod – though we know nothing about them, really.
And little Elly? The conventional wisdom is that America’s Biggest Brat is in urgent need of an exorcist.
Neither the Kuleszas nor their in-laws are talking anymore, at least not to me. Can you blame them? Williamson said the Kuleszas seem like a decent enough family who can totally understand why people are upset with screaming kids on airplanes. But they’re still miffed by AirTran’s elephant-gun response, not to mention their own national evisceration.
I mean, what is this about, anyway? Why this fixation with trashing…work-a-day Joes like the Kuleszas?
What’s with these supposed parenting paragons who call radio talk shows, pompous as can be, so holier than thou, and say things like, “Well I am the mother of five children and I would never tolerate such behavior” . . . “Children must learn discipline” . . . “Mothers today just can’t be bothered.”
Oh shut up, will you please? Shut up!
“I had no idea how many children are the products of wonderful upbringings and would never do anything wrong,” said Williamson, tongue firmly in cheek.
Neither did I, since I see unruly little brats with regularity. But I’m not going to start shooting.
I was just listening to Nick Spitzer’s wonderful American Routes as he played Norah Jones’ soulful cover of the Randy Newman classic I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today.” They ironic lyrics brought to mind my reaction to this whole sad story:
Human kindness it’s overflowing
And I think it’s gonna rain today.
Or to quote another great Elvis Costello lyric:
Whatever happened to peace, love and understanding?
Have we become a society of censorious, trigger finger moralists quick to find fault with others, and quick to anger when our prejudices are questioned or challenged by others? I’m afraid so–at least if this sorry incident reflects our impoverished reality.
Boston’s Channel 7 ran this interview with the Kulezsas (video stream) which is hosted at MSNBC. To give you an idea of how divorced from reality some of the hotheads are–a commenter at my earlier post tried to publish this today. After watching the video you’ll be wondering what planet she’s on (unless she watched a different TV interview from this):
I saw an interview with them on the news, and the kid was throwing a tantrum on air! And they acted like it was part and parcel of being a three-year old.
I didn’t publish this or the rest of the intolerant quote because too many commenters already had used terms like “spoiled brat.” You’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it enough.
i don’t know why but i really like to visit your weblog. maybe its because of what you and i have in common. i really hope we become closer friends. and the world be a better place for all brothers.
I agree with so many of your posts, and while I agree that too often the commentary about this incident has been over-the-top nasty, I also think that Air Tran did a good thing in drawing the line with child misbehavior. A delayed flight screws up queuing at the departing airport, screws up gate usage at the arrival airport, can cause missed connections, and so on.
Kids often misbehave on planes and at the airport. They dump drinks on the people near them, they kick and pull at seatbacks, they clamber over strangers, and the parents do nothing (or worse, they exacerbate the behavior by filling the kids up with caffeine and sugar [soft drinks]). Children scream all night on red-eyes and they play on the baggage carousels when people are trying to pick up their luggage. I think you’re asking a lot when you ask other travellers to tolerate this.
Richard Silverstein says
Melinda: Let me first congratulate you on the fact that you are exactly the 2nd person out of perhaps 10+ in the comment threads of the 2 posts I’ve written about this incident who’s disagreed with me civilly. It may sound strange to have to thank someone for being civil. But I do.
I should make clear that I’m trying not to be an absolutist about this. I’m fully aware that children are sometimes over the top on airline flights & that some parents don’t have a clue how to act in such situations. I’ve been there myself on various flights watching stuff like that.
My only concern is that perhaps on this particular flight, this particular child wasn’t in that category. Sure, she was crying and perhaps out of control. But we parents know that there’s a thin blue line separating a peaceful child fr. an out of control one. Sometimes it only takes one magic gesture or act to shake such a child out of their funk. I’ve witnessed this many times w. my children & others. I’m not saying that you can perform such magic every time there’s a meltdown. But you’ve got to try & you’ve got to give parents time to try. You can’t work miracles in a moment. Well, sometimes you can, but sometimes it takes longer. Did Air Tran work w. the parents on this? Or did they not give a crap about their problems? I’m not sure. But I bet they could’ve done better. And perhaps the parents could’ve done better too. I don’t know. But casting blame one way alone is perhaps satisfying to the “child monster” crowd. But it’s prob. nowhere near what the reality was here.
ann adams says
I wasn’t there so I can’t be sure of what happened. I realize the little girl had to be in her seat but I think Air Trans could have done a little more to help. From what I read, Air Trans apologized to the parents and offered restitution.
Anyhow, that’s not what we’re talking about really. We’re talking about hostility cloaked in anonymity or I think we are.
The net can bring out the very best in people. It can also bring out the worst. Lately, with this incident, the one you experienced not too long ago, and most recently the appearance of blogger Melissa Summers on the Today Show, I’ve seen the worst. (If you don’t know about Melissa, let me know – I have some links).
Several of my blogging friends have closed down their blogs or gone to password protection (which doesn’t usually work) because of the hostility they’ve encountered. One was even threatened in person. I’m not closing up shop but I can tell you blogging isn’t as much fun as it once was and I find myself holding my tongue sometimes instead of saying what I think and opening the floodgates.
I don’t have a solution.