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Flying with Kids: An Annoyance to Others?

We've had many discussions on urbanMamas about flying with children.  Recently, the New York Times featured an article about the "misbehaving children" (a complete misrepresentation in my opinion) on airplanes and the added stress for passengers with little sympathy for kids.  The article provides a flight attendants perspective of hellish experiences when kids are on board, and sensational stories such as a flight attendant demanding a parent give her child Benadryl.  As parents, we probably have utmost empathy for those traveling with kids since it can be stressful.  We've taken trips dozens of trips with our kids, and our interactions with other passengers have been pleasant.  However, the stories recounted in the article seem like the exception.  Or, are they?  Have you had other passengers hassle you because your child was throwing a fit?  What about the TSA?  Any horror stories to share?

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i flew east last fall prior to the TSA allowing you to keep your child in a sling/pack while going through security. they took apart all of my belongings and once i was through, just dumped my things in a chair. my two month old was screaming to be fed and i was trying to get reorganized. i asked for help from one of the handful of the TSA folks just standing there and they refused. there are enough people flying with children that it would expedite everything if they had someone there to help get you and your kids moving along.
In my three years of flying with multiple kids I have found other passengers to be incredibly lovely and helpful.

When have flown on countless planes with Mila with flight times ranging from 1 hour to 14 hours. We did a lot of traveling in her first couple of years so she has been on more than 100 planes in her five years on the planet. Gael has been on 3 round trips (6 planes) in his 7 month life.

In my experience as a parent and a passenger, it is extremely rare to encounter anything beyond what you should be reasonably expected namely...baby is upset...parent responds to need...baby relaxes...

There have been many posts on this site about traveling with children. I also have had the pleasure of meeting countless parents at the store and travel is a common topic. The common theme in the posts and in my conversations with parents is that parents will make travel choices and plans that do not overly stress their children or put them in a position where they will be inconsolable.

I have been an avid reader of the New York Times for more than a decade. Unfortunately, like most papers they sometimes they have articles that aren't reflective of the high journalistic standard they espouse. This is one of those instances. There are no facts here, no figures, no trends, just a couple analogies.

It isn't a piece to be taken seriously, it is a piece that that is designed to be linked to and emailed and responded to by people like....er....ummmm...wait a minute!...Darn you New York Times! You got me again!

My 14 month old and I have flown several times together and frankly, I've been astounded by the kindness of others. Other passengers have been helpful to me and playful with Thea, and on more than one occasion we've had a flight attendant walking her up and down the aisle just because they wanted to. These actions have been an integral part of keeping Thea happy on our trips.

As for TSA...it's been a complete crap shoot. I had a similar experience as mk during the "remove baby from thy body" time - no help, no sympathy, essentially to the point of utter callousness. And then I've had times where the TSA folks were sweet and helpful.

We've travelled extensively with Anders as well, most of it just Anders and I and it's almost always been positive. I've had lots of times when I've been escorted through security with someone helping me, which has been wonderful.

My poor husband took Anders on his first international flight alone last summer--it's a long story, but it was a last minute decision at the airport when we realized that (duh!) my passport was expired and I was not able to travel with them. Tryg had never travelled alone with Anders, and Anders had never spent a night without me, so it was a recipe for disaster from the beginning....From what I hear, it was a challenging trip, to say the least. And Tryg said everyone around him, including the flight attendants were amazingly kind and helpful.

I have flown many times with two children and have found that, for the most part, people on the flights were helpful and sweet towards my children. I have, however, had horror stories with airline personnel -- being rude, refusing to seat us next to our children, one pushed my child when he didn't board the plan fast enough even though I was moving him along.... sooo, I don't think the passengers are the problem, just the overworked, stressed-out personnel who have sometimes decided to take it out on children.

All of that said, I just flew cross country with my oldest and found, out of the many airline companies we've flown with, that US Airways was by far the most sympathetic towards the challenges of flying with kiddos.

Oh, I once sat next to a couple women who were just icky. They were very anti-baby. Turned out it was a vet and her assistant. They just need to get over it. We were all children once.

I have to post this, as it's one of my favorite Best of Craigslist postings: http://www.craigslist.org/about/best/pdx/238400060.html - it still makes me tear up when I read it, realizing that there are lots of people out there who look at mamas and daddies and babies when we travel and see the beautiful relationships that we represent, even longing for the days when their own were small. I hope that we are all lucky enough to sit next to someone like this man when we brave the friendly skies with babes in arms...

I've had similar experiences of helpful fellow travellers. I have to say, I once was extremely annoyed when seated next to a toddler. She was throwing a tantrum about being buckled in for take-off, and what got me so upset was that her parents, probably hoping to avoid a scene, let their little darling have it her way. She stood up in her seat, unbuckled, while the plane took off. I kept waiting for the flight attendant to intervene, and no one did. I guess they were more afraid of subjecting everyone to the girl's screaming than of her sustaining bodily injury. Scary!

I'm sad to read the NYT story. You're right, Tony, it isn't a piece to be taken seriously. Still, it just perpetuates the mass belief that kids are terrors on planes.

We have traveled lots and lots and lots with the girls. I have a few awful experiences with rude attendants. I recall it was on Southwest Airlines. I pulled out my stash of snacks - crackers and cheerios. Before I even had the chance to serve them to the girls, the attendant asked, "Are you gonna clean that up?" Her tone wasn't nice. But, as Kristin has mentioned above, perhaps this is just due to overworked personnel.

During one of my earlier flights alone with the girls, I recall calling Tony & Jennifer at Milagros, asking them to stay open a smidgen longer so I could get there in a nick of time. I was taking a red-eye that night and I need, need, needed that maya sling to make sure I had a device to rock Tati on the plane that night. Turns out I probably didn't even need it. Nursing the whole ride did the trick. ... I suppose this anecdote is a little off-topic.

Anyway, I have had times when other passengers have offered to hold the girls while I go to the bathroom. But, sometimes I feel like I get mean looks when I walk onto the plane with the girls. Kids on planes must have bad reputations! It's not like kids aren't entitled to be travelers; we pay the same amount as adult fares for their seats. Sure they could bring additional noise, but adult travelers can be noisy too with their loud, loud talking.

I think the NYT piece speaks to the rarity. I travel about 2 times a week now. This being prime summer travel season, I am always surrounded by kids (which makes me miss my girls when I travel!). I rarely observe a situation where a child is so inconsolable or irritatingly noisy.

But, today, I did travel with two unaccompanied minors - the two boys must have been around 8 and 5. The younger one, seated in an aisle seat, must've gotten up to go to the bathroom four times in a 90 minute flight. He also had a moment when he stood up in his seat and refused to put his seatbelt on. Like I said, though, this is the first time in the past couple of months and over a dozen flights that I noticed some disruptive kids.

I think that disruption, though, was tolerable and is less troubling than the teenage kid on my flight that snuck into the galley to grab a beer for himself ...

We've been very fortunate when traveling with our son. Passengers and flight attendents alike were very nice, even wanting to entertain him, which was great. Once when I was on a business trip, I noticed a family waiting to board the same plane I was getting on (a flight to FLA). They had two small kids. What confused me was that they were feeding them cinnabons, and when the announcement came that it was time to board, the parents proceeded to give their kids benadryl! These kids were so well behaved in the airport, so I guess they were being proactive? Because you know once the sugar from the cinnabons hit... just didn't make sense at all to me. Give 'em a sugar bomb, then drug them? hmmm....

I fly a lot and generally have the impression that most kids are pretty well behaved on planes, and most parents manage them well. But when they aren't, the annoyance they can cause to passengers and staff is very much amplified by the nature of air travel: you're in a confined space, often you are tired and in a rush and hoping to get in some sleep or work, etc. When a child is disruptive, however, I'm not annoyed at the child for misbehaving or being on the plane but at the parents for not reigning in their child. For example, I had a child behind me that kicked my seat over and over again. He was sitting next to his nanny, and when I turned around she finally told him him to stop once or twice, but for the most part the kicking continued unchecked. I didn't feel it should be my job to reprimand the kid when both his nanny and his parents were sitting nearby. I also see parents who let their kids run up and down the aisles. I understand that kids need to stretch their legs, and wouldn't mind parents walking their kids around a little, but kids shouldn't be racing up and down like they're at a playground. Mostly, it bothers me when it seems like parents haven't done anything to keep their kids occupied during air travel so that they won't be a disturbance. I remember how bored and miserable I was on airplanes as a kid, even though we always had books to read, and sympathize with kids on long flights whose parents haven't packed some storybooks, coloring books, toys, and other activities to help them pass the time.

I would rather have a kid kicking my seat than an adult who leans their seat back, so that no one behind them can move. Seriously, we always pay for our kids' seats, and though they fidget, after ten minutes into flight, they settle down. Adults, I have found, can be far more annoying.

For example, when my oldest son was ten, some adults asked for bulkhead seating, so they could stretch their legs as no first class was available. My son has a different last name than mine, so without checking his age or information, they moved him four rows back, changing our original seats. When I got on the plane we realized the mistake--the adults who had caused the problem to begin with would not budge. We had just visited my dying grandmother, and my son was emotional and exhausted. The "grownups" could not care less, despite my pleas, they said, well, if there were first class seats available, I would move, but we need the space. I cursed them as they dozed through the flight.

In my experience, these are the same sort of people that complain about kids. I have no patience for them, and frankly, they have the problem. The kids are behaving within normal expectations; the adults are the ones "misbehaving".

I've flown many times with young children, many times by myself. I have found people more willing to help than not and most are very sympathetic to the plight of those in our 'pridicament'. I've had a father traveling solo help me out by holding and playing with my baby, remembering when his were young and enjoying the opportunity. Most telling of all was a young flight attendant who admitted, "I used to think that parents shouldn't travel with young children" (!) "until I had 2 nieces and realized I would never see them if they couldn't fly". Does anyone savor the actual journey? Most parents don't, but my 4 year old recently confided, "I love going on the airplane and getting to play with toys and eat snacks." My mommy-brain translated this into, "I love getting to spend hours and hours with little to distract Mommy and Daddy from playing with and talking to me."

I guess I have a problem with all this talk about parents that don't "manage" or "control" their kids. How is one suppossed to "control" them? It just adds to all the stress of travel when you are doing every trick you know to entertain your kids and they are just unhappy having to stay seated, buckled and quiet, or their ears are killing them, and people are giving you bad looks and talking very loudly about how "bad kids are now-a-days" and how "parents are too free with them". How about a little sympathy for the children? It is "public" transportation.

It's true - for every story about a child kicking my seat back or grabbing the food on my tray, there's another one I could tell about an adult - like the one guy who spent all his time at the gate very slowly clipping all his fingernails and letting them fly into the airport carpet. There's no doubt - it is public transportation. But that said, when babies are starting to crawl and walk, it seems kind of mean to subject them to airline travel. There are all kinds of expectations about how to behave - don't yell! stay in your seat! - that they can't possibly understand or want to obey.
I'm going to take a 16-month old overseas very soon, and I'm feeling pretty guilty about it - it's not really fair to her, and it's not really fair to the other passengers - probably the same people who mooned over her when we went overseas at five months.
It seems like public transportation works only if the passengers are generally able to observe some rules and common courtesies, and that is asking way too much of the naturally self centered young child.

Was it ever easy to fly with little ones? It seems like it gets harder as planes seem to feel smaller and more cramped, and as delays and cancellations become commonplace. Nerves are more frayed all around.

Just got back from a very quick flight from San Jose, CA. My 20-month-old experienced a very loud but very brief stormy moment prior to boarding, when she spied a baby doll that another child (justifiably) wouldn't let my daughter hold. The tears subsided quickly; we boarded without incident; we put our bag and Elmo down in our assigned seat, scampered off to the too-small bathroom for one last diaper check, came back to find someone else in our seat, our bag and the precious Elmo gone.

Turned out the seat-usurper had misread her boarding pass, and was actually assigned to sit next to us. She'd given our bag and Elmo away to the flight attendant. I've made the mistake of sitting in the wrong seat before - we're all human - and I have duly apologized when in that situation. Not only did this old crank not apologize, she did the following: in moving out of our seat, she said directly to my daughter, "I heard you scream before we boarded; you'd better not scream now."

Did this idiot somehow feel empowered by the NYTimes article? Maybe she was just missing the bone in the head that allows most people to self-edit before their thoughts come tumbling out of their mouths? Not sure, but in any event, it took everything I had not to haul off and smack her. I just replied, "She's 20 months old, and she'll do the best she can." And then my daughter slept for the duration. I ignored the old crank for fear that engaging with her would cause me to rethink not smacking her...

So there's a horror story fresh off the presses. And while I get where said old crank was coming from, there was NO GOOD REASON for her to share her concerns about my daughter's potential behavior in such an inappropriate fashion. Talk about modeling bad behavior. My daughter set the example for that trip, unlike the old crank.

I apologize - I'm not a mama, but a dada. And I wouldn't post here except that this topic is so apropos to our up-coming situation.

My wife and I are planning a trip to Europe next year, and by then, our son will be 23 months old. If things play out as they are now, we will have a little demon on our hands, as he LOVES to be around new people, and HATES to be strapped into anything. He's highly energetic, and hard to control. Short of relying on benedryl, ibuprofen, or the incredible patience of those around us, is there anything we can do to help ensure a good plane ride, for everyone involved? Any tips, pointers? Any help would be appreciated...

Again, sorry for stepping onto your turf, ladies... won't happen again, I promise. =)

nth256,

Thanks for your comment -- we welcome discussion and questions from mamas, papas, and anyone else who has insight to respectfully share with our community.

Just wanted to point you to a few previous discussions that may have some tips or pointers for you.
Travelin' with Tots
http://urbanmamas.typepad.com//urbanmamas/2007/07/travelin-with-t.html

A Tale of International Travel with Toddler in Tow
http://urbanmamas.typepad.com//urbanmamas/2006/07/a_tale_of_inter.html

Leavin' on Jet Plane
http://urbanmamas.typepad.com/urbanmamas/2005/01/leavin_on_a_jet.html

And something possibly related --

On a Jet Plane: When to Buy a Seat:
http://urbanmamas.typepad.com//urbanmamas/2007/03/on_a_jet_plane_.html

Have Carseat - Will it Fly?
http://urbanmamas.typepad.com//urbanmamas/2007/01/have_carseat_wi.html

Good luck & Happy Travels!

Thanks a bunch, you rock!

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