The Cinema & The Airplane

The fact is I am quite happy in a movie, even a bad movie. Other people, so I have read, treasure memorable moments in their lives.

- Walker Percy, The Moviegoer

Who'd have thought it? The airlines have now become reflections of society's ever changing mores and in the case of Continental Airlines, its spokesman has become an instructor in the obscure and almost forgotten art of child rearing. And it all has to do with the movies.

The airlines, as all who use them know, are constantly trying to make flying more comfortable and enjoyable while at the same time eliminating those things that make flying more comfortable and enjoyable. One way they have succeeded has been eliminating food service. Food served in airplanes prior to its elimination (by the airplane company) was typically more useful as the topic of jokes than as a thing of nourishment. That food has now been replaced by "no food" and, for the benefit of the hungry, something served in a box that can be purchased for $5.00, the quality of which evokes a feeling of nostalgia, if not hunger, for its predecessor.

Improving the pleasure of flying by eliminating free bad food has been accompanied by (a) ever shrinking space between seats thus enabling passengers to more easily become acquainted not only with those next to them but those in front and behind them and (b) unpredictable arrival and departure times thus introducing a bit of mystery to what were formerly mundane voyages. And these improvements affect only the pleasure of the on-board experience. The pre-flight experience has also been enhanced, but blame for that lies at the feet of would-be terrorists and not with the airlines. Aware of the diminished pleasure experienced by passengers the airlines have done one thing to help passengers take their minds off their physical woes. They have enhanced in-flight movies.

Before recent innovations films shown on overhead screens were relatively innocuous and if not of PG quality, carefully edited to eliminate graphic shots of sex and violence thus making them suitable for viewing by all passengers irrespective of age. That has now been changed and, surprisingly, not everyone is happy even though given enough violence and sex many lose their appetites and don't notice the absence of food service while others forget that they are uncomfortable.
According to, a recent U.S. Airways flight showed a film on an overhead screen and within the first 5 minutes there was a drive-by shooting, a child crushed to death by a car and children swapping guns. In August some airlines included a scene from "Fracture" in which the husband shoots his wife in the face. Exercising discretion the shot face was not shown. What was shown was the victim's head with blood oozing out.

In response to complaints about the movie, Eric Kleiman, director of product marketing for Continental Airlines explained that his airline was just responding to the changes in network television and movies. Speaking to a New York Times reporter he said: "Our approach is consistent with where society is going with this." According to Mr. Kleiman "Parents have to be responsible for the actions of their kids-whether they shouldn't look at the screen or look away." Mr. Kleiman believes that well-mannered children will content themselves with looking at the back of the seat in front of them or spending the entire flight absorbed in whatever book they happen to be reading, if they are of reading age. Since parents on airplanes cannot do housework or otherwise engage in useful activity (reading aside) there is no reason they cannot be expected to spend the entire length of a flight distracting children too young to read so that they do not look at the overhead screen.

Mr. Kleiman is apparently childless and understands, as parents should, that watching inappropriate movies is only one part of the flying experience that is truly unpleasant and parents have no right to expect that movies will be geared to the lowest age viewer. As he explains, "People love Pepsi, and we don't serve that, so there you go, we have ruined their flight. That's an accurate analogy." It may be, although Mr. Kleiman neglected to say how many passengers end up with nightmares after having been told they cannot have Pepsi on a long flight. He doesn't know how many children have ended up with nightmares after witnessing scenes of graphic violence that deficient parents were unable to prevent the children from watching. If Mr. Kleiman ever gets tired of doing what he's doing, he might try a different career.

Many parents would gladly hire Mr. Kleiman to play the airplane fool who would entertain and divert their children from inappropriate films. They don't have to. He's already playing the role but no one is laughing.

Christopher Brauchli
For political commentary see my web page

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