I had last reported on my personal harrowing in-flight adventures traveling with my child. As a service to readers, I offered up a few bits of advice as how to lessen the difficulty of braving five-plus hours in an airplane without hating your life, your child, and everyone else on the plane. My advice was directed squarely at parents, but ask anyone on a crowded flight–when a child is crying at the top of her lungs, everyone cries with her (I guess this is why they make noise canceling headphones).
Sure, you could cancel out the disturbance with ear-plugs, by changing seats, or relying on soothing chants and mantras, but at some point, you will have to come to the realization that complete separateness is not an option when you are being hurdled through the stratosphere with 200-plus people in a metal tube. You must cope and show some patience, if not humanity.
So for the rest of you, those who haven’t or won’t have children, or those of you who just left them at home, here is some humble wisdom as how to get through a flight seated next to, or close by, a traveling family:
1. When that child behind you is screaming, kicking, crying, or all of the above, take a moment to remember that we were all young, impatient, and helpless at one point in our respective lives. That child likely doesn’t want to be there, and if the child is sufficiently unhappy, it is safe to say that the parent isn’t all that happy about being there either. Your annoyance and discomfort are likely a fraction of what both that parent and child are experiencing.
2. Without being condescending or disingenuous, offer to help a parent in distress. This may be a very small gesture like picking up a dropped or forgotten item, or a larger gesture like offering to carry someone’s bag or stow luggage. Many parents are cool-handed pros at traveling with their children, but for many it is an exercise in claustrophobic unease and fear of collective judgment. Be compassionate.
3. Sometimes a little playfulness goes a long way. Many adults use their keen skills at play to occupy neighboring children, and keep spirits high. This is great if the play is welcome and if you have the stamina, but remember try not to engage a child if you are not willing to go the long haul. Often, children have not developed that “enough is enough” receptor in their brain and they will keep going with an innocent game of peak-a-boo well beyond your comfort level.
4. This last one is aimed largely at flight attendants and airline employees. Most parents do appreciate that working an airplane is difficult job, and the simple act of giving birth and buying an airplane ticket for your child is intended as a universal affront to flight attendants. I have seen flight attendants do wonders for families with a small gesture of kindness or creativity, as I have also been witness to flight attendants severely complicating the situation by being short, impatient, or unresponsive to a families needs. Again, be patient and be forgiving, because ultimately, a happy child is a happy plane.
When all else fails and you have found yourself in a veritable romper room in the sky, use a sleeping eyeshade and a pair of noise canceling headphones.
Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.