This week I was thinking about the inevitable conflicts that crop up when small children and well-tailored businesspeople are forced to share cramped quarters on airplanes. I wrote up a tongue-in-cheek contract to be signed by both parties before embarking on a flight.

I got the idea because a childless friend once told me she thought kids should be banned from planes. At the time, I thought her stance was ludicrous and extreme. But in researching my contract, I found that she's not the only one who feels that way.

Apparently, we families are pretty, well, unpopular in the air. Disgruntled flyers have been proposing a kid ban for years, or failing that, they'd like to see child-free sections on planes. That's an innovation I'd welcome, since I wouldn't feel so tense about protecting my fellow passengers from barf, seat kicking and the shocking sight of breastfeeding if I were surrounded by other families. But apparently it really chaps some parents' hides, because what are they supposed to do if the kid section is booked?

Many people blame bad parenting for the conflict. It's true that parents should know that they need to entertain, soothe and keep control of their children to prevent disturbing other people. There's no shortage of information on how to do this -- there are books about how to manage your kids in the air and about 8 million Web pages offering tips.

But of course, being a parent, I don't think parents are wholly to blame for these mile-high hostilities. I blame society. Unlike cultures where multiple generations live together, ours keeps childless adults so separate from small children that, until they get seated next to some on a plane, they scarcely know what children are like. It's one thing to be annoyed if a kid climbs over your lap or throws a toy at you, but it's another thing entirely to feel put upon if there is spilled food or whining. (I have sat next to some very sweet childless travelers -- the businessman who gave in to my 1-year-old's pleas to read her book, and the woman who volunteered to hold my infant so I could use the bathroom. But I've also sat next to people who seem offended by the very idea that children exist.) I do believe we have it in us to extend a little sympathy toward the elderly, infirm and still growing -- and I try to have my kids behave in a way that engenders more sympathy than hostility.

I try, and usually I succeed. We get a lot of compliments when we fly. But kids are unpredictable, and if they come with a magic "shut up" button, I sure haven't found it yet.

Thus, the contract. A suggestion that children be on their best behavior in the air -- and adults be on theirs.

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