Plane Diverted After Family Complains In-Flight Movie Is Inappropriate for Kids

movie ratingsThis is one of the craziest flying with kids stories you will ever hear. A mom and dad were flying from Denver to Baltimore with their two sons -- ages 4 and 8. During the flight, a PG-13-rated movie (Alex Cross) was being shown on drop-down screens above the seats. After seeing the opening scenes (apparently the movie includes graphic violence and sex), the parents decided this was NOT a movie they wanted their sons to see and asked the flight attendants to fold up the monitor in the boys' line of vision. Even though the passengers sitting behind them lent their support, agreeing that the movie was definitely not appropriate for children, the family was told folding one screen was not an option. The parents nicely asked if the captain would be able to make this happen. The flight attendants very nicely told them no.

The next thing the family -- and the rest of the passengers knew -- the flight was being diverted to a Chicago airport because of "security concerns."

No -- there was nobody having a baby on the plane, no one trying to light a shoe bomb, nothing wrong with the plane itself. Apparently, the pilot decided that the family's complaint about the movie constituted "grave danger to the aircraft."

Yet, according to the father, there had been no raised voices, no swearing (parents who don't let their kids watch PG-13 movies also don't swear in front of them), and no punches thrown. The parents had remained in their seats and did what they could to keep their kids' eyes off the large screen hanging in front of them (we all know how easy and fun that can be.)

More from The Stir: 8 Inappropriate Things Kids Just Love Doing

Upon landing, a police officer came on board the plane and escorted the family off. They were then met at the gate by more Chicago police, two border protection officers, an FBI agent, and airline officials.

Does all of this sound craaaaaazy to you? It did to everyone else too.

All of the officials were horrified that the pilot had abused his authority and gone to such extremes -- causing the other passengers to miss their connections, inconveniencing his crew, wasting time and jet fuel, wasting the time and energy of the authorities and unnecessarily scaring two little boys. The family booked another flight and made it to their destination. Their assertions about this event are being investigated by James Fallows of The Atlantic in conjunction with his "The Way We Live Now" column. (But, really, why would the dad lie in a forum like that?)

This whole incident sounds like a nightmare for this family for many reasons, but let's focus on the thing that got it all started: the movie. What the heck was an airline doing showing an adult movie to children? Not all parents are on board with their kid watching PG-13 movies -- or even any movie at all. (Note the movie screens were the kind that hung down for all the passengers to see and not the individual ones on the back of seats.) This was what irked the dad the most, too. He writes:

[O]f even greater concern is United's decision to inflict upon minors grossly inappropriate cinematic content, without parents or guardians having the ability to opt out. Had this been in a cinema or a restaurant, we would have simply left if the content were too violent, or too sexual, for a preschooler and a 2nd grader. Cruising at 30,000 feet, leaving was not an option.

And he's right. What could the family do? They didn't know about the movie ahead of time and they couldn't escape it.

What's the answer here? Should airlines show only G movies during flights that have kids on board? Wouldn't that be unfair to adults traveling without children? And what about families who have a total no-movie, no-media policy and don't want their children watching anything at all? After all, what one parent deems permissible for their child may be against another parent's rules. I know I would have been angry, not only if the movie being shown was inappropriate for kids per its rating, but inappropriate for MY kid according to MY maternal barometer. Does that mean airlines should stop showing films entirely? Or should they all adopt single-screens (at a cost to all of us, of course)?

These are issues parents negotiate every day -- how to compromise with other kids and parents when our ideas about what's okay to eat or watch or say conflict. Yet we work it out. That's not an easy feat at 30,000 feet. We're trapped. It's easy to say no to sugary snacks on a plane, but keeping your kid's eyes off a big movie screen with flashy images is another story.

Do you think it's okay for planes to show PG-13 movies when kids are on board?


Image via dno1967b/Flickr

airplanes, movies, travel


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nonmember avatar Tracy

Get. Over. It. People. Bring things to entertain your children and don't rely on the airline to do so. Although I find the flight diversion and resulting issues positively ridiculous (and an entirely different topic), be a proactive parent and bring whatever you need to keep your kids busy AND fit in the overhead bin.

miche... micheledo

Newer planes have individual monitors in the seats.  Maybe if they don't have that, they should show a movie appropriate for ALL ages.  From the reviews on this particular movie, I would not want my children seeing it either.

And I don't necessarily blame the pilot.  I think it really depends on what he was told and the attitude of the person passing on the info to him.  He could have been told a story by a very annoyed stewardess claiming they were 'making a big deal' about it.  Sure it was over the top, but until we hear the pilots side of it, I wouldn't pin the blame on him.

nonmember avatar Rhiannon

disney movies sexist and racist?!?

Melissa Lavallee

No matter any arguement anyone has, some people just aren't comfortable with certian things and that is their right. The pilot's actions were so out of line in my opinion, and the point is that they shouldn't have been FORCED to watch ANYTHING they didn't want to. I am imagioning myself in that situation and they probably would have had to land the flight when I got up and just flipped the screen up myself.

They should have individual screens so that if there is anything you don't want to watch, you can make the choice to change it or turn it off. "You are on this plane, so oh well." Doesn't cut it for me, and I would have been livid. I would have raised my voice and probably gotten thrown off.

jalaz77 jalaz77

So should I have to watch Nemo to accommodate kids on a flight for adults and kids?? I look at it this way, if you are going to fly with kids be prepared, don't rely on an airline to make sure your kids are comfy. This is sad really, everyone else's flight had to be interrupted because of a damn movie. If the other passngers were ok with not watching it then take a piece of paper and cover up the screen or find something else for the kids to do.

nonmember avatar Gretta

What the HELL is wrong with United? I mean seriously, this is not he first time recently they have been in the news for doing something absolutely ridiculous and out of line.

PonyC... PonyChaser

Why is it the airline's responsibility to entertain people? They can afford to put video screens in seats, but they can't make them wide enough, or give enough legroom for people over 5'0" and 100lbs??

IF you're going to show a movie in a public venue where the audience is "captive", as on a plane, you'd better make damned sure that the movie is suitable for ALL audiences. And yes, that means that some adults will have to sit through "Nemo". It's basic customer service. You cater to those who are most 'needy'. Adults, presumably, are capable of handling an hour and a half of watching (or ignoring) something they don't want to. Children haven't learned yet how to engage those filters.

Craft... CraftyJenna

I agree with Ponychaser. If you are stuck, how exactly are you going to keep your children and yourself from seeing a movie you don't want to watch/ want them to see? The Alex Cross movie is stretching the PG 13 even, sex and murder. Definatly not what I want my preschooler watching, and I think the pilot was way out of line. It's becoming too much trouble entirely to fly these days, airlines are alienating people

nonmember avatar Lydia

To those of you telling parents to just bring things to entertain your children, I can practically guarantee that those parents brought plenty. Most do. The problem here is that they were forced to view the movie in front of them anytime they looked up from their coloring book, and what they were seeing was inappropriate by most people's, even nonparents', standards. This is not to say Nemo should be standard viewing on every flight, but the airlines should at least make It known in advance that the movie being shown is not appropriate for children, and allow parents the option to book a different flight or turn the monitors off. You can't make your kid sit backwards in the seat or force their eyes downward to anything you brought.

tuffy... tuffymama

Again, I'm going with exactly what PonyChaser said. There was a complete lack of common sense, common courtesy, and customer service here from the top down. That pilot! Shew! I cannot imagine what idiot well that jackass is drinking from every morning.

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