Sunday, June 20, 2010

Tips for flying with other people’s children

I recently returned from an extremely long international flight and I was constantly reminded, in both directions, of the battle between the breeders and the childless. I’ve been on both sides of the battle.

Kids can be annoying as hell, especially when unruly on a flight. Flip side being, sometimes (usually) parents just need a little bit of consideration from other travelers and perhaps we’ll all just get along.

Let me preface this list of tips with the following caveat: there are clearly two types of parents on the plane.

The first are those who will actively and constantly try to pacify and calm their children, for the benefit of the kids, themselves, and their fellow passengers. Well-supplied with entertainment and well-planned for naps, these are the parents that nine times out of ten are thanked at the end of the flight by other people. Their kids, being kids after all, are not always calm and quiet, but the parents are always trying to keep them that way.

The other type are the inconsiderate a-holes who make the rest of us look bad, letting their kids scream, kick and so on. You guys suck.

Now on to the list.

  1. On takeoff and landing, cut us some slack. Kids don’t understand ear pressure. If you see a parent actively trying to get a bottle, pacifier, thumb, or Thomas the Tank Engine in a kids mouth, you know we are trying to get them to get their ears to pop. Nasty looks won’t pop their ears any faster.
  2. If a child has been crying less than five minutes, assume we’re working on it. On this recent flight, my youngest, who only cries when hungry or full of poo, was crying for a bottle. My wife immediately started making one. At tops two minutes into this, during a day flight mind you, what I can only assume was an old childless hag said to my wife, “Can you quiet her, some of us are trying to sleep?” This is not helpful, and stupid, and often as in this case, was met a response of “You can sleep when you die.” The counter-corollary to this rule is that if it’s the 30th time the child is crying for 4 minutes, you can say something.
    1. If a child has been crying more than thirty minutes, assume we’re working on it. I’m not just walking around with them or bouncing them for my health. The last thing I want to do is upset and disturb everyone on the plane. I’m doing whatever I can in my power to stop it. Know that I am more frustrated than you.

  3. If you are sitting in front of a child that is complaining, consider how much space we have to work with. If the lap child behind you is crying and kicking and you are reclined so far they could do your dental work, don’t complain when the kid kicks your chair. You are welcome to recline, but if you sit up, their little paws can’t reach. This goes double during mealtimes, and triple if you already have the extra legroom of the bulkhead, jerk. If you want full recline, buy a business ticket. I certainly can’t do that for the entire family.
  4. Seriously, if you recline on my kids during mealtimes, you’re going to get it. There’s little I can do while they try and eat. Do yourself a favor and sit up while they eat. Much easier that way. It’s only 15 minutes.
  5. Kids get up a lot. If you are sitting with a child and parent and they have the window and middle, and you have the aisle, recognize that even if the parent doesn’t want to, they are going to need to get up a lot. Changes, wiggles, fussiness, they all require getting up a lot. If you intend to sleep on a flight, consider changing for the window, as it will make your life easier. If you need to be in the aisle, while we will do our best to minimize the number of times we get up, it’s going to happen.
  6. Sometimes kids need to move around. These are the corollaries to tip 5.
    1. Before the flight: When you see parents with their children and they are running all over the place while waiting for the flight, this serves two purposes. First, it wears them the hell out so they pass out in their seats. Second, it keeps them occupied. If I force them to sit while waiting, as soon as they sit down, they are already bored. Which leads to crazy.
    2. During the flight: If I’m walking up and down the aisle with a five-year-old, or carrying the two-year-old, this is to keep them calm, and more importantly, quiet. I’m not doing it for shits and giggles. The dirty looks only mean that when they scream, I’m coming near you.

  7. If they are standing on their seats and they wave at you, wave back. Same goes for talking, smiling, or making funny faces. If they are happy, you will continue that vibe, making them much more pleasant for the flight. I’m still doing my best, but it costs you nothing but a few calories.
  8. Don’t push past us to board, or complain that we get a head start (on some airlines). By letting me and my snot machines board first, we get settled calmly with less rush, making a stressful situation much calmer. If my kid is already sitting down and reading, coloring, or watching a movie by the time you get on, you’re less likely to notice her on the flight.
  9. If my kid is crying and I’m standing outside the bathroom with a diaper, let me go first. Listen, I understand you had 3 pre-flight martinis at the sports bar, but if the child is screaming and I’m at the bathroom with pampers in hand, it probably means the screaming stops immediately after I change the diaper. The sooner I finish, the sooner the noise goes away.
  10. Noise Cancellation – Seriously. In this day and age, there’s really really no excuse not to have a pair of either noise cancelling headphones, isolating headphones, or even ear plugs. A little in-ear foam goes a long way to blocking out my kids. And the engines. And the obnoxious guy next to you who wants to talk about plastics. If you don’t like stuff in your ears, the active cancellation ones work great. You don’t even have to spend $300 on the Bose, you can find them for $40.
  11. Remember, you were a kid once, even if you never flew. Call your mom and dad. Ask them about how many times you pissed off strangers in restaurants, planes, trains, busses, stores, or parks. You were not a perfect child. Neither was I. Thank them for defending you. And thank them for me too.
  12. If you absolutely cannot and will not tolerate children on your flight, you have a few options.
    1. Fly business or First class. Does it mean that much to you? Most parents have a harder time paying for premium seats than you do. I have to buy 4 tickets plus a lap ticket at 10%. Plus, those mesh curtains are hi-tech voodoo sound barriers. Try it.
    2. Don’t fly. Don’t want to be near other people and their kids? Stick to transportation where you can get away. Need to cross the Atlantic or Pacific? Take a boat.
    3. Don’t travel. If you can’t handle people and annoyances, perhaps you shouldn’t go out in public. If you are this anti-social, the people you are visiting would probably prefer you don’t come.

  13. I am trying, so try cutting me some damn slack. We, like most parents, really want nothing more than our children to sit quietly and disturb no one, including us. Having them scream, pull your hair, and jump on you is not fun. So I am directly incentivized that they behave. Additionally, as a decent human being, I want them to leave you the hell alone. While there are exceptions to this rule and parents that don’t care, they are just about as common as the snoring mothball smelling old lady or the halitosis salesman.

If with all this being considered, you still can't handle kids on your flight, you're just a jerk and we'll both have to learn to live with that.

If anyone has additional tips, feel free to email them to me or post them in the comments. I'm sure I forgot something.


  1. This extremely well written and I think would be helpful to people who do not travel often.

  2. this post made me happy.

  3. This post made me laugh out loud ... #1 for being a parent and being on the same plane apparently you were and #2 for confirming that many of those (who dont have kids) are jerks and just dont get it...

  4. I fly frequently and am willing to cut parents A LOT of slack.
    After all, I was a child once and am the parent of three kids.
    Everyone understands that pitiful wail of the infant or child
    in pain. Probably ear pain. However, when a parent completely
    ignores their child and he is screaming in rage the least you can do is pick your child up to comfort him. I was on a flight
    where this happened. DS about 2 was lying on mom's lap and screaming. That pissed off screaming only a toddler can perfect. I put up with it that flight but will not do so again.
    I'll post their lack of parenting skills on you tube and announce that it can be seen on you tube under airline XXXXX and flight #xxx.

  5. Seems fair. A parent who ignores their screaming kid is as bad as the jerk that gives them a hard time. Poor kid.

  6. As I said the guy giving me the stink eye when my 2yo was running around the terminal... "You DO realize the benefit of me trying to wear him out now, don't you? So he'll sleep on the plane later. So, yes, you're welcome for being so understanding." Granted, I'm 6'3" and not exactly the shy type, but still...