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.)

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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

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