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What to Do When a Kid Is Misbehaving on the Plane

Welcome to Upright Position, SmarterTravel’s regular series in which Features Editor Caroline Costello discusses emotional and controversial travel topics. Got a question? Please send questions or comments about travel etiquette to (Questions may be edited.)

On a transatlantic red-eye flight, the kid behind my traveling companion would not stop kicking the seat.

My friend did his best to ignore the rhythmic banging for a while, but the child persisted with his behavior. After some time, my friend snapped. He turned around and demanded that the child’s mother control her kid. He was perceptibly angry.

Had my friend asked the mother to put an end to the kicking before he allowed himself to become so inflamed, a more pleasant interaction might have taken place.

The child’s mother apologized and told her tot to stop striking the seat. Not all adults are as accommodating. At times, parents can forget that their strong enthusiasm for their own kids isn’t shared by the entirety of the human population. This becomes evident during air travel especially, when sleep-deprived and cranky grownups are locked in close quarters with other peoples’ histrionic tots. Your kid is dancing in her seat, hungry for the thrill of the spotlight, waiving her arms like little windmills. Her adult seatmate, meanwhile, is struggling to keep a composed facial expression while silently screaming, “Please please please stop it stop it stop it stop it!”

It’s a delicate situation. Avoiding confrontation with the harried parents of misbehaving young flyers isn’t always an option.

I asked travel expert and mom of two Wendy Perrin, author of the Perrin Post, for advice on what to do when a toddler or older child is being disruptive on a plane. (Infants, of course, are a different story.)  Is it rude to ask a parent to quiet his or her child? “Yes, unless the noise is excessive and the parent isn’t stepping in,” said Perrin. “Don’t scold a parent before you’ve given him a chance to rectify the situation. You never know when a child might be sick or have special needs.”

What if a kid is misbehaving and disturbing nearby passengers—kicking seats and such? According to Perrin, “I would ask the parent to switch seats, so that the parent ends up separating me from the child. Say the parent is in the window seat, the child is in the middle, and I’m on the aisle. I’d say something like, ‘I have a lot of work I need to get done on this flight. Would you mind switching seats with your child?'”

Compassion and courtesy are necessary. Give the parent the benefit of the doubt, and keep in mind that illness, special needs, or even sleep deprivation could be at the root of the behavior. If the parent, for whatever reason, refuses to cooperate and his or her child is out of control, talk to a flight attendant.

What would you do if you were seated adjacent to a misbehaving child on a long flight?

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