A few days ago a friend posted a story on Facebook regarding an EasyJet flight she took with her husband and two boys, aged four and two. She boarded the flight to find there weren’t any seats left close together, meaning her eldest boy had to sit beside a stranger. She asked people if they would mind moving so she could sit with her children but nobody was willing, and the aircrew weren’t interested. It took about an hour for her Facebook feed to go full Mumsnet, with women suggesting she should have told her child to cough all over the innocent passenger he’s sat beside, or cite safety concerns to the air crew who, apparently, would be forced to swap people around.
So I’ll start by saying I know the family well and they’re lovely, with no sense of entitlement. The mother posted the story just because she was disappointed nobody was willing to move. As it turned out, her boy did just fine on his own (last time I saw him he was about one and he rammed me with his sit-on tractor, so I think he can take care of himself). I’ll also say that the obvious solution is to not fly EasyJet if you want your family to sit together, and instead book with an airline which lets you reserve seats in advance. But it’s a situation worth looking at in more detail.
If it were me, I would have moved. Normally I pay for extra legroom at the emergency exit or the bulkhead, and I wouldn’t move to an ordinary seat in those circumstances, but if I’m in a regular seat and travelling alone and someone politely asks me to move, I always do. I’ve moved seats so kids can sit with their parents, or couples can sit together. I’ve lived in functional societies, and I’ve lived in dysfunctional societies. I believe the difference between the two is a culture in which people make dozens of small sacrifices on a daily basis which act as a lubricant for the society as a whole to get along. So you stand aside for people pushing prams, you let people out into traffic, you conduct yourself in a way which minimises the aggregate level of inconvenience and difficulty for everyone involved in a given situation. Annecy works a lot like this. For example, everyone stops at zebra crossings, and those crossing always give a little wave to the driver. People also hold doors open for one another and stand aside if someone is carrying something heavy. By contrast, drivers in Lagos will move two metres forward and block an entire highway because it means they have gained two metres. The fact a hundred cars are now blocked in because of their actions doesn’t matter one whit: the important thing is they have advanced two metres, and to hell with everyone else. This is why Lagos is the most dysfunctional place I’ve ever been to.
Britain is slowly but surely shifting from a society where people cooperated to ease things along to one where it’s every man and woman for themselves. Unfortunately, none embody the spirit of “f*ck you, I’ll do what I want” more than young mothers after a late-night session on Mumsnet. There was a time when parents didn’t take young children into restaurants because the inevitable screaming and toddler behaviour would disturb the other patrons. Now it’s “tough sh*t, I have as much right to be here as you”. There was also a time when, if a child was causing a disturbance, the mother would feel deeply embarrassed and get her kid out of there pronto. Now her approach is “so what, he’s a child, he can’t help it” or, worse, she does nothing at all. Breastfeeding in public is another interesting subject in this regard. I have no problem with it, and I’ve sat with a friend who breastfed her boy under a blanket and it didn’t bother me at all. But some people don’t like it, and rather than seeking a compromise or avoiding conflict the position of mothers has been “I have right to breastfeed in public, it’s your problem, not mine”.
The trouble with a society where people loudly declare they have a right to do X, Y, and Z and everyone else will just have to lump it, is the give-and-take compromises which act as the lubricant to make everyone’s lives a little more pleasant dries up. Eventually people will think if you have the right to do X, then I have the right to do Y. Or, to come back to the EasyJet flight, I have a right to stay in my seat. There’s also the related issue, which I’ve written about before, of parents thinking the whole world must changed for the benefit of their brats. If you see a highly illiberal policy idea being shared on Facebook, you can be sure it has the strong backing of over-entitled middle class mothers who want everyone’s freedoms severely curtailed “for the sake of the children.” By which they mean their children. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s getting a little sick of this, and it’s not going to help matters when a mother needs too ask a favour of a stranger.
A lot of the responses to my friend’s original Facebook post complained how selfish the other passengers were, or how they despair of modern society. But this didn’t happen overnight, and I suspect one or two of them have helped bring this situation about more than they realise.