This has not been a banner week for airline travel. The headlines have been peppered with incidents of airline staff and TSA agents being rude, imperious, and sometimes downright abusive to passengers. Many of them involve families with young children.

I'm in Arizona visiting my family this week. On the flight out here, US Airways had assigned me and my kids seats far apart from each other. The idea of letting my two-year-old and five-year-old ride back in row 26 while I chilled out in row 5 with an overpriced cocktail and a good book was kind of charming.

Until the gate agent told me they couldn't do anything to fix it. I'd have to just get on the plane and hope some generous passenger would swap seats with us, he said. Uh...really?

This worked OK on the first flight, but on the second we ran into trouble with a grouchy flight attendant. My kids got panicky when she tried to separate us, which in turn pushed my mama bear buttons. I got mad, and so I did what many 21st century moms would: I blogged about it.

That story got passed around the Twitterverse and eventually picked up by other blogs and media outlets. People started telling me their own horror stories about air travel. But at least my kids and I got our problem solved in the end, without involving the authorities and no one getting hurt. Other families were not so lucky.

On Spirit Air, an entire family was kicked off a plane because a man asked for a glass of water for his pregnant wife. Apparently serving water before takeoff is against regulations. Really? Why?

In Philadelphia, the TSA forced a disabled 4-year-old to remove his leg braces and crawl through the security screen. While the family eventually got an apology, there's no telling how scarred the child and his parents will be by that experience. They have private screening rooms to search passengers. This seems like it would have been an optimal time to use them.

And while it doesn't include any kids — just people acting like kids — there's the whole debacle with Southwest kicking Kevin Smith off a flight because he was deemed too fat to fly.

Clearly, the airline industry has one big, fat customer service problem on its hands, one that probably has a lot of airline execs crying like babies. It's also one they're not likely to fix anytime soon. US Airways told me my problem was standard operating procedure.

What's a traveling family to do? Here's what I've gleaned from the 200 or so comments on my blog.

  • Be very prepared. No -- even more prepared than that. Expect something to go wrong and be ready to fix it on the spot. This means being rested, flexible, and cheerful if possible.
  • Plan ahead. The further in advance you book your travel, the more time you'll have to deal with any problems that arise before you get to the airport (like the kids assigned to sit in the cockpit while Mom is in Row 34).
  • Fly as little as possible. While some of us have far-flung families, others have more options. Consider vacationing closer to home, taking the train or driving to your destinations.
  • Be cooperative. Airline staff and TSA personnel have scary levels of power these days. On a plane or in the airport is not the place to register a vocal complaint. If you're asked to do something unsafe for you or your kids, you can always leave, but don't fight about it on the spot.
  • Be active. When you're not in the clutches of the TSA, you can voice your issues. The federal government has a website devoted to protecting air passengers rights. You can also file a complaint with the Department of Transportation, or take your case to the media. It will take many people agitating for reform to get some respect for air travelers.

In the meantime, try to stay sane and safe while flying. You can lighten up with a little travel humor, and just focus on how much you'll enjoy being at your destination.