Flying with my kids: Hell is other people

Flying with children

Elder Daughter, flying during the SARS outbreak.

Last week, two wildly different women lit up the blogosphere with their takes on motherhood. Tiger Mother Amy Chua has been bombarded with vitriol since unleashing her parenting philosophy on the world, and although watching that train wreck unfold has been riveting, there’s nothing I could possibly add to the discussion that hasn’t already been said.

When I wasn’t soaking up the outraged reaction to Chua’s article, I was glued to the discussion going on over at Almost Fearless. Blogger Christine Gilbert wrote a great post about the myths of flying with children, and the comments have been heated. So far, this one is my favourite:

“If your kid can’t handle sitting still, maybe you should leave it home with Grandma while you go trekking about….The vet told my sister to give her cats some small medication to calm them for a 9 hour drive. Do they not have anything like that for babies?…I wish after 15 minutes of your kid badly misbehaving the pilot would land the plane and make you both get off. Even in the middle of nowhere. You should really know better than to make 100 people miserable in a confined space for hours.”


I think I’ve actually flown with this woman. If not her, then certainly someone of her ilk: unpleasant and self-important, with a sense of entitlement that invariably leads to colossal acts of rudeness. I’ve seen some badly-behaved kids on flights, but in my experience, adults are by far the worst offenders.

This first became apparent when Chef Boyardee and I took Elder Daughter to California a few days after her first birthday. Everything seemed fine when we boarded, but a technical problem cropped up during pre-flight prep and we ended up being stuck on the tarmac for a couple of hours. That’s the sort of thing that really separates the men from the boys, so to speak.

Elder Daughter passed the time serenely. She ate her snacks, looked at her books, took a cat nap — all with barely a whimper. In sharp contrast, several so-called adults threw tantrums that would make a two-year-old gnash its baby teeth with envy.

Watching DVDs at the airport

Younger Daughter waiting for a flight to Istanbul.

Since then, my girls have flown almost 120,000 miles. Whenever we walk into an airport business lounge, I see that “oh crap” look on people’s faces. Yet my daughters have never become drunk on free booze and made spectacles of themselves. They’ve never torn a strip off hapless underlings or shouted obscenities into cell phones. They certainly know better than to toss garbage on the floor or verbally abuse the airline staff — all of which we’ve witnessed in countless lounges throughout Europe and Asia.

The girls’ lounge routine is unvarying in its simplicity:

1. Scope out buffet for some tasty treats.

2. While away the hours reading, listening to music, watching films on their portable DVD player, or playing handheld electronic games (sound turned down so as not to disturb the guy 50 feet away, with a voice like a foghorn, who’s conducting some unsavoury business deal on the phone while he’s shovelling food into his gaping maw.)

My kids are excellent travellers.

En route to Bali, with everything she needs to keep her happy.

Their in-flight behaviour is much the same. I used to have to pry the game controller from Younger Daughter’s hands to get her to eat or go to the bathroom. They weren’t interested in causing mayhem anywhere but in Super Mario land.

I wish I could take full credit for my daughters’ conduct, but to tell you the truth, they’ve always been pretty easygoing kids. They’re also experienced fliers, so they know they have to expect some level of discomfort and boredom in order to get the payoff at the end of the flight. Pity some of their elders don’t have the same level of maturity.

What kind of fliers are your children?


About Maria

I'm a Canadian repatriate, former expat spouse, mother to two TCKs (and one yellow Lab), mentor to new immigrants, writer, reader, world traveller (grounded for now). I write about expat/repat issues and am still trying to figure out my place in the world.
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17 Responses to Flying with my kids: Hell is other people

  1. I have to confess that I have mixed feelings on this subject. While I don’t have issues with kids on planes (I’d be in trouble if I did as both of mine have been making intercontinental trips since they were weeks old!), I do think that parents have an obligation to try to enforce a certain standard of behaviour in their children. I realise that this is more challenging at some ages than others and goodness knows I’ve had my issues with trying to calm a crying baby or stop a toddler from kicking the seat in front. I do get pretty annoyed though with children who are allowed to run wild, scream, kick etc. on planes and whose parents make no attempt to correct their behaviour. At the end of the day, good behaviour on planes is like good behaviour in any public place, children only learn it if their parents teach them!

    • Maria says:

      So true! That’s why I always get so concerned when our fellow adult travellers act like babies. I don’t want my kids to pick up any bad habits from them!

    • Tanya says:

      very true. kids and adults alike have standards of behaviour – those who are well behaved on a plane bother no one, those who are badly behaved bother a lot of people. it’s unfair to say all kids are a menace on plane, just as it would be unfair to say that all businessmen are rude to stewardesses on planes. that said, my sisters and i probably bothered some people around us on our many long haul flights as we did a LOT of talking. we weren’t badly behaved, we just found conversation more interesting than videos.

      • Maria says:

        Kids who find conversation more interesting than videos — that’s a parent’s dream! My two were never allowed to play games for hours on end on solid ground, so they took full advantage when they were in the air. If I wanted conversation, I practically had to wrestle the controllers from their hands.

  2. naomi says:

    hear … hear !!! (or is it here, here?)

    regardless — our kids are like your crew … easygoing and perfection when it comes to having frequent flier miles AND amazing behavior!!

    Adults appall me all of the time when we fly …. and quite frankly, so do some airline crews!

    We tell our kids at the end of EVERY flight how proud we were of them … in both respecting those around them … and entertaining themselves (hence, respecting mama and daddy!)

    I’m going to resist the urge to click on the link about the airline etiquette of flying with children …. would get my rile up!

    • Maria says:

      I think the screaming/kicking/throwing kids tend to stick in our minds, whereas we don’t even notice the ones who are quietly colouring or watching movies. The squeaky wheel theory, right? A disruptive child is annoying, but likely behaving within the norms of their developmental stage. (And if not, it’s the parents’ job to step in and do something about it.) What really annoys me is adults who think the rules of fairness and common courtesy don’t apply to them. They should know better (to quote the charming author of the Almost Fearless commenter.)

  3. Judy says:

    I agree with thesmartexpat that usually it’s the parents rather than their children that are more of a problem. So many times I see parents with small children who bring no suitable activities for them and make no attempt to entertain them, or walk them quietly up and down the aisles to dispel some of their restlessness.

    Having said that I have long ago accepted that flying is hell anyway and something that has to be endured. People have to travel, including small children. Ear plugs, sleep mask, neck pillow, check!

  4. As with many things to do with kids, it really comes down to the parents. If you are on one extreme of the spectrum, being clearly organized and prepared for travelling with your kids, there is always someone on the opposite end of the spectrum who clearly didn’t even think about bringing toys, snacks, etc.

    • Maria says:

      So much depends on age, temperament, and outside factors such as variations in culturally-acceptable behaviour. But yeah, packing a bag of diversions helps an awful lot. Sitting quietly in a tiny chair with nothing to do for several hours is a helluva lot to ask of a child.

  5. Crystal says:

    My 2 year old is a far better flier than me. That might have something to do with the fact that her first plane ride was at 4 months and that her passport was first used at 9 months, while my first plane ride AND first passport usage were at the age of 20.

    Today we live in Singapore and home is Boston…30 hours door to door away.

    On our most recent trip home, there was a FIVE HOUR delay in Hong Kong to get back to Singapore. Four of those fun-filled hours were spent on tarmac.

    My 2 year old? Slept. Watched Elmo on the iPod. Ate stuff.

    I? Went slowly crazy from lack of sleep and exhaustion.

    15 hour flight from Chicago to Hong Kong? E–sleeps, eats (the airline food that I won’t touch), watches Elmo. I get bored until my brains start to leak from my ears.

    • Maria says:

      Is it okay that I laughed out loud when I read this? The image of the frazzled mom and Zen child cracked me up. (But I do feel your pain — I’ve done Singapore to Toronto often enough to know what special hell that route is.)

  6. Julie says:

    Could only agree…I used to live in CA, USA and fly to Europe every summer…and some adults are far worth than any kid I have come across…I have bottle fed my kids over the atlantic for 4 years…so I should know a thing or 2 on the subject.
    I found out early on in my flying-parenting-experience that noone thought of others when flying, so I grew some extra large shoulders on my baby sons behalf(6 weeks old when he first flew to Denmark from England)…I was lucky to make it into the country before the police whent home.

    • Maria says:

      There’s something about being cooped up in that airplane for hours on end that brings out the worst in people! I miss travelling, but I don’t miss flying one bit.

  7. Adey says:

    Personally I’m for making parents pay a behaviour bond of £500 per child per flight. If any member of your family plays up you lose it. I fly regularly and crying babies, squealing children and equally parents who talk myopically in loud voices to their children are the pits. Stfu there are 300 other people for 8 hours on this plane. We don’t want to hear anything from you. Silence. Thank you.

    • Maria says:

      Let’s not forget adults who snore, talk loudly, hog the overhead bins, are rude to flight attendants, smell bad, get drunk, overshare, leave the bathrooms in a mess, slam their seats back when you’re eating, and have the nerve to laugh out loud during the movie.

      • Adey says:

        On balance, parents and their kids are many times worse than the odd person that describe – unless of course you are a regular on a cheap flight. Then you get everything you deserve. I pay for decent airlines and reasonably prices flights, that people don’t clap on when you land… 9/10 times its some kid screaming or low skill parent causing the noise and distruption.

        One solution is a cry-room, a sound proof section of the plane that parents have to take their kids into. Or simply the majority of flights should ban under 18yo.

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