Flying With Children, Not Your Own

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.


Elaine Bainbridge
Elaine B5 years ago

Oh there are definitely times when thoughts go to asking if that screaming child can be put in the hold, then I think, it's not the child's fault, they don't know why their ears hurt, why they are feeling tossed around, maybe the parents have to take some of the blame, don't let the child sleep too much to early, see by way of a snack if you can calm them down, make sure they have their special toy,blanket,pillow etc - sure it's more for you to lug around but if it helps then tough. The really annoying habit that must be stopped is allowing the child to jump using my head rest or kicking repeatedly the back of my seat - please find someway to stop this, would you let the child jump and kick the chairs at home. Thank you to all who can help, I often have to take 9 hour flights and whilst I can normally sleep, having a little one bouncing on my head rest or kicking the back of my chair makes me very grouchy.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W5 years ago

thank you for sharing

Lynn D.
Lynn D5 years ago

Put the kids in their own section, or only with the parents (they had them let THEM enjoy them and entertain them themselves!

jayasri amma
jayasri amma6 years ago

please help

Kristina C.
Kristina C6 years ago

I am all for family seats - with sound proof dividers. I know it is not the fault of the children and/or the parents - but should we not accommodate everyone that buys a ticket?

Shannon H.
Shannon H7 years ago

I would pay double the cost of my ticket to fly in a child free aircraft. I know it's not the kids fault but I hate flying as it is and the sound of kids shrieking for hours makes me want to jump out of the plane. Until that option comes around, I just medicate and booze it up and hope I pass out before the screaming starts

Dorothy Dickson
Dorothy Dickson7 years ago

I am sure that parents travelling with a child who won't stop crying,must feel like joining in with them! I have never had a problem with the crying baby but for the older child continuously misbehaving, and not being stopped, now that's a real probelm!

Chantale Kanazawa
Chantale F9 years ago

Hey yo, Brett! What's up with that?! "I do know people who don't want kids for their own selfish reasons." You know a lot of people don't want kids for unselfish reasons as well and some other couples can't have children. There are more reasons than ever to decide not to have kids: surpopulation of the earth, greenhouse effect, terrorism, trajic past, not ready... I do know many people who don't have kids that love and respect kids and their families very much. Just because you decide not to have kids doesn't mean they aren't compassionate.

Pamela White
Pamela WILLIS9 years ago

please help

Jennifer R.
Jennifer R9 years ago

My son never cried as an infant or toddler on a plane -- because I always nursed him when we were taking off and landing (when he was young enough to travel as a lap infant, I held him and nursed him, later I just leaned over and let him nurse while he was in his seat, which was his carseat). Other babies would be wailing on the plane, but he would be nursing and happy.