DEAR MISS MANNERS: When I flew from New York City to Los Angeles, I entertained a most charming 7-year-old for 5-1/2 hours. My only concern: He wasn't mine, nor in any way related to me, nor had I ever met him before.
His mother and godmother summarily dumped him and his slightly older brothers in various middle seats in coach -- then returned to enjoy a peaceful trip in business class. Not only did they come to check on the children only once during the flight, but my companion solemnly explained that he was "not allowed" to go up to business class to see his Mom for any reason.
The three boys were provided with only one DVD-player and a couple of electronic games among them -- without extra batteries and without headphones. As the youngest, my new friend got short shrift. Which left me little recourse other than abandoning my book and resorting to reading lessons from the 'Sky Mall' catalogue, trading seats so he could look out the window and pepper me with questions, and teaching him numerous interesting faces to try to help him pop his ears during landing. As well as ensuring his safety during frequent turbulence.
He was definitely -- as his godmother beamingly told me in the rest room line -- a "wonderful kid." His manners were impeccable: He solemnly shook my hand in thanks and regret that we wouldn't see each other after landing. And I appreciated the compliments from surrounding passengers that I "must be a teacher" (I am not) and that I demonstrated the "patience of Job."
But I am absolutely appalled at his mother and godmother! I know flights were full because of a storm and flight cancellations -- but there were so many alternatives they could have pursued: asking people to shift so the three boys could travel together; ensuring their games were fully charged or had extra batteries -- and headphones!; sending the "baby-sitters" free drinks or meals from business class; or, at a minimum, checking on the boys -- and us! -- more frequently.
In an effort to continue demonstrating that at least some adults think of something other than themselves, I did nothing but smile and say "you're welcome" at Mom and God-mom's off-hand thanks as I left.
What could I have politely said? Do I have the right to be appalled? Or should I simply be thankful that I have learned a new possibly marketable skill: airline baby-sitting?
GENTLE READER: Your question, Miss Manners divines, is not whether you should be appalled -- you already are. It is whether you could have decently make these ladies appalled at themselves.
Most parents would simply assume that you were lucky to have had such a charming traveling companion. (Of course, had these ladies thought so, they could have traveled with him themselves.)
The charitable thought that they knew they could trust the children is dispelled by the admonition not to try to get in touch "for any reason." Had he misbehaved, or been in any difficulty, you could have take it upon yourself to summon the mother.
However, apparently he had beautiful manners. Miss Manners suspects a caring caregiver in the background. And the mother and godmother were apparently treating you as such, ignoring the crucial difference that you were neither a relative nor a paid employee.
But at least you were properly and graciously thanked -- by the young gentleman himself. Miss Manners would think that his pleasure, even more than the admiration of other passengers, would reward you for being so kind.