AIRLINES' NEW "BABIES ONLY" FLIGHT TAKES OFF
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Fliers are flocking to this novel approach to travel.
Sara “Dairy Queen” Anderson has her hands full as she hands out rattles, changes diapers, and refills baby bottles.
Money seems to be no object to fly in peace.
By KONDY NASTE
Senior Travel Reporter
While Southwest, United, and many other airlines are jumping on the bandwagon, it was Delta Airlines that rolled out a program like no other.
“It’s such a great idea I can’t believe nobody thought of this before,” says Margo Phlaps, Senior Public Relations Officer for Delta Airlines. “We took a deep dive into the complaints we’ve received over the last decade, and crying babies was hands-down the most hated part of flying, even more than crashing.
“Our marketing team decided on a soft opening for the service. Which means we made it available but did very little advertising. Out of nowhere, we got so many reservations it crashed our computers.
“When the system went down so quickly, the first thing we thought was the system had been hacked by terrorists, but it was just parents wanting to fly without their kids”
From a logistical standpoint, Delta had to think outside the box. Kurt Robertson, operations lead for Delta, explains.
“My team spent a lot of late nights prioritizing what is important and what is not. Reuniting babies separated from their families during a trip was near the top. Profit was, of course, number one, but reuniting families was right up there.
“So to get babies and families back together, sooner rather than later, we took a cue from our baggage handlers. If your kid gets lost and we can’t find it in, say, twelve hours, no worries, we’ll deliver it to you wherever you’re staying. So start your vacation; we’ll drop your bundle of joy right at your motel door. Some parents have even started dropping an Apple Air Tag in their diapers. I don’t know if it will help find their kid, but they’ll never lose the diaper”
In-flight operations also presented a challenge. On the plus side, more kids can fit in one seat. A flight that can handle 180 to 200 adult passengers, depending on seat configuration, can handle at least 450 babies.
Some of the basics of flying had to change, too, like loading passengers. To expedite the process, the crew will line up and pass the babies to their seats in a person-to-person manner. Much like rapidly moving sandbags during a flood.
Genna Davidof is the engineer in charge of the interior of Delta’s fleet of planes. She states several modifications had to be undertaken.
“We knew we had to make some changes, but within reason. When changes become too drastic, the FAA has to approve the modifications for safety or some such thing.
“One simple example is when we have a colicky baby-passenger melt-down, the overhead bins become “time-out units.”
If your baby is too large to fit in the overhead bin or under the seat, Delta is in beta-testing for the “Check Your Child Program”. You just leave them at the end of the jetbridge like a stroller, and the ground crew does the rest.
Still in the testing phase, A ground crew attendant checks the bar code stamped on the “Chuggage” or child luggage in the “Check Your Child Program”.
Many pundits in the airline industry are asking, “With so few flight attendants, how to handle a flight of unhappy babies?”
Davidof was confident, “If we have too many cranky kids, we can drop the oxygen masks. They jangle around like mobiles over a crib. I know it sounds weird, but it’s a loophole in FAA regulations.
“It’s expected the oxygen masks will drop from the overhead when the cabin loses pressure, but it doesn’t have to lose pressure.”
Other re-purposed items are tray tables that are now changing tables, an emergency plush toy is under the seat instead of a life jacket, and now a diaper and an air sickness bag is conveniently placed in the seat back. Delta’s got you covered at either end.”
“We had a few test flights,” Davidof states, “and we quickly found out that hundreds of dirty diapers inside a plane fuselage make for such an ungodly stench that no human can bear it. You’ll die faster and more painfully than any type of smoke inhalation.
“I’m serious; a plane full of poop-filled diapers is where people go when hell is too good for them.
“To mitigate the problem, we made it so that even at 500 miles an hour and at 40,000 feet, you can crack a window.”
And as a typical profit-driven corporation that uses many workers to benefit the few, Delta had some ideas to boost the bottom line.
They had a major reduction for in-flight entertainment options, which saved a mint on licensing fees.
Instead of a variety of movies and songs, they have “The Teletubbies” for the movie and “Baby Shark” for the music. They are both played on an endless loop.
This pared-down entertainment option did have some consequences.
It was first noticed after the mechanics were doing a routine check of the plane’s exterior and began to see bulges on the skin. At first, it was thought the pressurized cabin had caused metal fatigue, and the bulges were evidence of weakened areas in the plane’s fuselage.
Fortunately, it turned out to be flight attendants just knocking their heads against the bulkhead, typically on long-haul flights. Children’s programming has no mercy.
To get the real story of this new paradigm of flight, I talked to the “boots on the ground”; a ticket agent and a flight attendant.
Jan Puce, who has worked as a Delta ticket agent for over thirty years, states, “Despite calling it a ‘babies only’ flight, there are a few adults. We reserve several middle seats for those people that pay for their entire trip using only SkyMiles.
Puce continued with a reptilian grin, “People that actually redeem their mileage points deserve special treatment.”
Running down the concourse, I caught up with a spit-up-covered Sara Anderson as she dragged a heavy garbage bag filled with soggy diapers down the jet-way. I asked her what she thought of the new Delta offering.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that flying has lost its glamor,” she said, heaving the sack over her shoulder. “The flight was great. It was so nice to see Delta making a profit, “she continued, looking directly into the security camera.
“As far as the guests on board, well, let’s see, I had the pleasure to serve creepy twins, ala “The Shining,” that only wanted to suck on lemons.
“One kid was like a toddler evangelist. He was laying hands on others, faith healing, and generally exhorting everyone to repent or go to hell. Nervous fliers are like that.
“Then there’s the quadruplets. I think they were quadruplets. They could have been septuplets, for all I know. They were running around like an unruly litter of badgers. Every time I turned around, one of them was throwing a dirty diaper at another guest. I swear, it was like an AARP flight to Las Vegas.
“We had some droolers, of course, but that’s pretty standard stuff.
“Yet, one passenger got my attention. This kid had the biggest friggin head I’ve ever seen on a baby, or seen on an adult, or seen at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. And when it cried, Jesus Christ, it sounded like a bull elk during rut.
“But the weirdest was the angry kid in a black turtle neck. I swear he had a Mein Kampf coloring book. He should be on the “no-fly” list right now. Like before nap time.
“All and all, a pretty typical flight, though.”
If this idea proves as profitable as predicted, Delta promises more flights limited to other select groups like people that clap when the plane lands, people that look for spit ends in their hair for the entire flight, and people that clip their toenails during the flight.
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