A Reminder: Don’t Forget What It is Like To Have A Small Child On An Airplane

My son staring out the plane window

He started to scream before the flight even took off.  We were in the same row, but on opposite sides of the aisle.  I figure he was about 2 and a half.  He was sandwiched in between his parents… two people who desperately wished the three of them could somehow disappear.

You know why?

Because their baby was HURTING.  On an airplane.


Because it took absolutely NO TIME for the stares, the deep sighs and the eye rolling to start.

The LOOKS.  I’m stuck sitting near the screaming baby.

The woman in front of me actually asked to have her seat moved because, LOUD VOICE , “of the screaming baby”.  She turned to the people next to her and said, “and they aren’t doing ANYTHING to stop it”.


As if the parents were doing shots instead of rocking him, trying to play with him, offering him milk and snacks and doing everything they could to alleviate potential pressure in his ears.

Not one to keep quiet in a situation like that, I used an equally loud conversation with my daughter as a teaching moment, “That family is doing everything they can to help that little guy.  We don’t know why he is crying.  Clearly he is unhappy.  His ears might be hurting him very badly.  Yes, he is loud…. But know that no one wants him to be ok more than his mom and dad”.

Hey, Lady in front of me… I’m talking to YOU.

That little boy – I believe she said his name was Christopher, screamed for the better part of a two-plus hour flight….  And I have a little newsflash for the ridiculously behaved people sitting around me:


Look… I get it.  Listening to a screaming child or baby for any length of time isn’t a picnic…. In fact, I had a headache just like everyone else….But to turn around and shoot daggers at the family every minute…. How does that help?  You are only succeeding in making a very difficult situation virtually unbearable for that family.

I have a few suspicions…. The adults who were acting out are

  • a)    not parents
  • b)   have forgotten what it was like to be a parent or are disillusiioned enough to believe that their children were perfect (I suspect otherwise having seen the uncharitable behavior of some of their offspring)
  • c)    they have no souls

That little guy cried himself out and feel asleep about 10 minutes before we landed.  That’s when his mom’s tears started.  She simply broke down…. sitting in her seat, red-eyed, softly rubbing the face of that tuckered-out boy.  Even as passengers exited the plane, she stayed in her seat, hand on his back and cried.

At one point she looked at me and mouthed, ‘I’m sorry”.

Not to worry, my friend.  Not to worry.

I patted her arm as I left and told her I’ve been there.

And I mean it.

You snuggle that little guy when you get home and just make sure you make another mom, on another flight feel less alone.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AngEngland Angela England

    “and they aren’t doing ANYTHING to stop it”.” Yes. Because clearly they forgot to install the mute button their child.2.0. What were they thinking taking their new unit out in public with such a malfunction. *insert giant annoyed eye roll here*

  • http://amandamagee.com amandamagee

    I bleed empathy in those situations. A lot of the time I think the kids actually pick up on the resentment before even boarding. People openly loathe the sight of travelling families. I work so hard to keep my kids happy and quiet or to understand the plight of others. Bless you for defending her in your way. Poor parents, poor little guy!

  • http://twitter.com/ColoradoMom ~ Emily

    I was on a 3 hour flight with a screaming 1 yr old. While others around me made noise, hemmed and hawed, I decided to help. I had just left a toy showcase and had tons of marketing materials. I gave the child a toy catalog to look at, played peek-a-boo with her for a solid hour, let her pull on my hair and even offered to buy the parents a drink. They were tired, embarrassed and just wanted to get home. I felt so bad for them. 

    Next was my turn. Just a few days after this flight my 4 year-old got sick. Multiple times. I was humbled by how much everyone around helped! Not one dirty look or eye roll (that I could see) and they offered to have my other boys sit with them, gave wet wipes, collected trash bags, even offered my youngest clothing to wear after we had to throw his outfit away. I was amazed and grateful!

  • Danielle Smith

    Ang!  EXACTLY!  It made me crazy….  The poor family was doing everything they could.  Poor guy just couldn’t be soothed.  

  • Danielle Smith

    Amanda – I feel just the same.  I always try to keep my children as calm as possible, but since they were little, I could always see the ‘oh I hope they aren’t sitting by me’ people…. the same ones who would remark in surprise at the end, ‘wow, I barely even heard them… they were so good…’  A misplaced way of expressing gratitude.

    I had a conversation with the 20-something next to me too – who complained that this was the ‘worst flight she had ever been on’….  I explained that I was pretty sure it was a lot worse for the family… nothing is harder than being unable to soothe your crying child – unless of course, you are dealing with resentment at the same time…

  • Danielle Smith

    Emily…. I’m the same way…. I offer to help.  I tried to chat with him across the aisle… unfortunately, I didn’t have anything to help a potential ear problem.  I’m so glad you had a good experience.  I was always humbled when people offered to help – especially getting off and on flights when I was traveling alone.  It makes such a difference to be treated with kindness….

  • http://twitter.com/Stephanielex Stephanie Lex

    I’ve been a flight attendant for 11 years, and you’re right, no one wants that child to stop screaming/crying more than the parents.  I’ve had so many parents apologize to me, and I always tell them they have nothing to apologize for.  I’ve played countless rounds of peek-a-boo with kids in an effort to entertain/distract them.  

    People need to remember that an airplane is public transportation.  If they need a cocoon, perhaps they should drive where they’re going.

  • Rizon

    I was flying across the country to go my mom who had had a stroke. I was flying alone with a 3 year old and a 9 month old. My 3 year old started vomiting shortly after the flight took off (flu, not air sickness). I will never forget the caring and help of the other passengers. The man in front of me took my 9 month old and kept him for the entire 4 hour flight while I dealt with my 3 year old who ended up being taken off the flight in a wheelchair and spent the next four days in bed. Another time a man spent most of the flight moving his wrist because the lights reflecting off his watch were fascinating for my son to watch. There are good people on flights, along with the bad.

  • Danielle Smith

    Stephanie – I love that…a cocoon… yes.  There were two flight attendants who did try to help….and two who took turns rolling their eyes with the frustrated passengers.  It is always magical to be on a flight with someone like you.

  • Danielle Smith

    Rizon….  how wonderful to be surrounded by so much good. I have been lucky in the past as well. I do certainly know there are kind people on flights….unfortunately for this poor family, there weren’t many on this one.  It is always such a treasure (and relief) to be seated by ‘the good ones’….  

  • mamakatslosinit

    My 8 year old was once a crying baby on a plane…the only thing that quieted her was breast feeding and I got to my own breaking point. I don’t care who you are, breastfeeding for 2 plus hours is NOT comfortable. I had to stop and TRY to find another way to comfort her. It was awful. Thankfully all I can remember were the sympathetic people like you offering help and encouragement. Pretty sure I would get violent with a meanie. 

  • Mary Fischer

    I couldn’t agree with you more! I was on a flight recently with a screaming 5-year-old behind me. People were being so rude…she was with her grandmother who had no idea what to do. I was traveling alone that day, but still had one of those restaurant packs of crayons in my purse along with a post-it note pad. I slipped them both through the seat to her…it was like I gave her gold…and she stopped fussing. The grandmother must have thanked me 100 times…and I just kept telling her I’ve been there! People really need to show more compassion when traveling.

  • Maria Sykes

    I’m the Mum of a 3 year old. When she was 18mos old, we took her to England to see my husband’s family…needless to say, this post made me tear up a bit. I can totally empathize with how that Mum was feeling….and breaking down…I remember snuggling my baby so fiercely (my attempt to protect her from the dagger stares) and wanting people around me to know I’m trying! I do love her! She’s a good girl I promise! Even before I had my Lucy, I would always offer to sit next to the people on the plane who had a child(ren) with them – and now that I’m a Mum, I ALWAYS have extra fruit snacks, crayons, paper or silly little toys in my bag to give to that child (and Mum) who just need a little bit of help..and love…and empathy….thank you for your reminder….

  • Corinne Dobson

    great post. It made me cry, it’s so hard when your baby is crying, and everything you do isn’t working, never mind when everyone is staring at you. 

  • http://www.momentsthatdefinelife.com/ Nicole @MTDLBlog

    Oh. This made me tear up at the end.  Thanks for writing about this. Well put, and such a fantastic reminder.

  • Danielle Smith

    Kat – I’m so glad to know you were surrounded by good people – the other way around is so sad.  This poor woman… I could see her falling apart at the seams… bad enough that her little guy was struggling, but then to be judged so… heart breaking.  Miss you!  

  • Danielle Smith

    I LOVE that – you are a good mom – you see?  You HAVEN’T forgotten what it is like… I always keep that in mind when I travel.  Thank you for being one of the good ones!

  • Danielle Smith

    I had the same experience one time…. my then 14 month old (who had traveled beautifully up to that point) wasn’t feeling well and so her ears were hurting terribly.  I asked the flight attendant for milk and they said they didn’t have any…. until 30 MINUTES later – that was 30 Minutes of her screaming with my husband and I doing everything we could to help her…. then all of a sudden the flight attendant showed up with milk and said, ‘ok fine…. HERE’.  He let her scream for a half hour.  As she quieted, I remember starting to cry – not only in relief, but in frustration – most people were giving us the worst looks.  It has stuck with me.  

  • Danielle Smith

    Thank you so much my friend.  I’m grateful.

  • Danielle Smith

    Corinne – that is exactly it!  As a Mom, (And Dad) you want to help them… you want them to stop crying because you don’t want them to hurt, but additionally…. you have the animostiy of people around you to deal with… it is hard :( 

  • http://twitter.com/thekitchwitch Dana Talusani

    I will never  forget a flight to Houston where my daughter wailed for an hour straight. Then I took her into the bathroom, and you know how on airplanes, when you open the bathroom door the light comes on and there’s this little “ding!” sound? My daughter was smitten. Giggles, smiles. The minute we left the bathroom, more wails.

    The airline attendants actually allowed us to hang out in the loo for the rest of the flight, knocking on the door if someone needed to use it. 90 minutes in an airplane bathroom with a kid on your lap–torture. But to this day, I am grateful for those sympathetic flight attendants.

  • Danielle Smith

    Oh my, Dana – it is the ‘little things’ right?  At that point, I am willing to do anything to keep them happy…. so glad the flight attendants were there to help!

  • Natalie Caruana

    This story brought me to tears. I never realised how true this situation could be until I had my second child. My first was a freak of nature lol a not much fuss child. My second is making up for the first don’t you worry lol.

    It’s difficult enough dealing with a distressed child. There is no need in intensifying the difficulty by taking on others negative and nasty attitudes. I just pretend no one else is there. As a parent you’re doing everything in your power to ease your childs discomfort and thats all thats matters. No one elses opinion of you or what you do as a parent matters. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. I tend to use this in most situations while dealing with my children. Because they are all that matters to me. 

    I have found lollipops to help a lot for the pressure on their little ears during the take off and landing especially. Doesn’t always work but can help a bit.

    You couldn’t have written this story any better x

  • Danielle Smith

    Natalie~  Thank you so much for this….  You are right – it is a challenge, but we do need to try to focus on our little ones and be grateful for the kindness of strangers – fortunately there are still good people :)  Also?  I’m now vowing to carrying lollipops, gum and crayons with me on airplanes…even when I travel alone… just in case.

  • amie444

    SHAME ON YOU!  I really liked your blog until your conclusion. People  who don’t have kids are not ogres.  They are people without kids.  You are just as guilty as the people shooting looks at the parents.  Stop all stereotypes.  

  • Danielle Smith

    Oh Amie… I hate to hear that. This was not intended as an indictment of people without children, but rather the relation of an individual experience coupled with a series of personal experiences I have had as a mother…. I absolutely recognize that people without kids aren’t ogres and I don’t believe there is anything in this post that says otherwise. As you can see from the comments, there are both kind and unkind people when we travel. My hope was to remind people that the families dealing with small (yelling, screaming) children are doing everything they can AND the glares from anyone (not simply people without children) only make the situation worse. Thank you for your comment, I do appreciate an alternative perspective.

  • JV

    my 6 month old infant SCREAMED on a flight last weekend for 45 minutes. i felt terrible, but there was nothing i could do about it. the flight attendant came by and asked if i needed help, but there was nothing she could do either. i was so upset and sad about the crying. thankfully no one said anything to me about it. i only got 1 look from a 20-some male (obviouly has no children). THANK YOU for your post.

  • NoKids

    Parents would not be getting dirty looks if they stopped taking their children on planes in the first place anyways. If they felt that bad then they would not subject others to their children’s bad behaviour. Leave them at home or drive your car so you do not bother everybody else.

  • Danielle Smith

    I have to confess, I actually laughed out loud at the absurdity of your comment. The very idea that families with children should ‘leave them at home’ or ‘drive’ so they ‘do not bother everybody else’ is, at best, ridiculous.

    I’m not going to drive 750 miles with a child in lieu of a flight that I am PAYING FOR just like every other customer simply because others, like yourself, have somehow deemed having children in public to be a selfish act.

    I regularly encounter loud, obnoxious and rude people while I travel (which I do regularly WITH and WITHOUT my children)… I recognize they have as much of a right to travel as I do.

    It seems to me, based on your ‘name’ – NoKids – you’ve chosen that route for yourself… my small people enrich my life beyond measure…. and I won’t allow people who choose a different life path (one that they would prefer to lead entirely child-free) to rob me, or any other parent, of the joy I get from having my kids around and yes, traveling with me.

    If that means there will occasionally be a crying baby on a plane, it will no longer be mine, but you can BET I will defend those parents and their right to travel.

  • Charlie

    I am a frequent traveler. International mostly, so long flights. Airlines should reserve the back of the plane for parents with small chindren. These seats should be on a first come first serve basis. If you want to guarantee not sitting near caios then pay a few dollars more. There is no reason an already stressful 10 hour flight should become unbearable because of a screaming child. I understand people have to travel, but it is the fault of the airlines to not give us a clear choice.

  • LeeCMH

    You demanded throughout your article people empathize with you. Try just a little to empathize with others.

  • nicki1212

    so when my grandpa was dying, i should have missed his last few hours by driving just to make people like you have a more enjoyable flight? if you dont want to hear “bad bahaviour” maybe you should stay home. i get the crying baby in a theater but you are horrible to think you have more right to fly than a family does. shame on you

  • sue

    Having children in public is not a selfish act. Causing your child perpetual pain because (s)he is too young to know how to pop their ears onto an airplane IS a selfish act not to mention downright cruel.

    Also, it is YOUR decision to have a child and you have zero right to cause other people distress because of your decision. Rule of thumb for you: if an adult would be rightfully kicked out, arrested, or otherwise brought to task for a certain behavior…then you should immediately take your child somewhere private if (s)he is engaged in the same behavior. Being a parent doesn’t miraculously give you the right to cause other people discomfort.

    Finally, most parents point out defend their ‘right’ by saying we all behaved like that when we were little. Therefore, I’ll say right now I never screamed or acted out in public for several reasons:

    1. My parents knew when it was age appropriate for me to engage in an activity (such as being on a plane)

    2. I’m very sensitive to high pitched noises and screaming children caused me as much pain as a small child as it does now.

    3. I was taught when it was and was not appropriate to yell, run around, and otherwise carry on.

    Parents need to teach their children when it’s appropriate to engage in certain behavior instead of letting them run wild, ruining other people’s day, all the while defending their ‘right’ to parent as you like. Yes you have the right to parent. You don’t have the right to allow your child to misbehave in public.

  • Annoyed

    If you have a young child then don’t bring them on long flights. Not everyone wants to hear your baby scream for hours on end. If it hurts them then stay out of the plane. I’m just getting off a midnight flight with 5 screaming kids that didn’t shut up the entire time. I will NEVER fly again until an airline offers child free flights. The least parents could do is not bring a grumpy kid on a late flight.

  • Annoyed

    How ridiculous to expect to not be stuck in a claustrophobic tin can with YOUR screaming child that you can’t control. How selfish of ME. How would you feel if you were stuck in a small space with a screaming parrot or barking dog for 5 hours? Would it be ok if an adult started screaming and kicking everyone? Children have to travel, fine. Why can’t there be separate flights for that? It would be just as good for the kids and their parents as it is for everyone else.

  • Annoyed

    Truth. It is cruel and irresponsible.

  • http://twitter.com/DanielleSmithTV Danielle Smith

    That is just a silly parallel. An adult who screamed and kicked everyone? Unless that adult was incapacitated? Well – in that case – the very same applies. I fly regularly – and have to deal with the same ‘inconveniences’ as everyone else – including barking dogs – including adults who have had to much to drink and talk too loud – including adults who are inconsiderate of passengers around then in general in fact all THREE have happened on my flights in just the past month and I DIDN’T demand refunds because I am reasonable. Just as there are ADULTS who are capable of popping their own ears and some who struggle with it, the same is true for children, so claiming that is it cruel and irresponsible to take children on flights its just the talk of someone who is aggravated about listening to a child cry. My children never struggled as drinking a bottle or sucking on their pacifiers (both ways to combat the issue) WORKED. It is both ludicrous and selfish to think airlines, with all of the trouble they seem to be having to stay in business as it is, with all of the expense it requires for people to fly, would be expected to create separate flights for families with children.

  • Lynn

    My 2 year old cried non stop for 10hrs on a flight back from India. I got all the comments from 2 passengers on the plane that you have made and I say the same thing to you as I said to them. You live as part of society, children are part of society. If you do not want to be disturbed by them then leave society, oh you can’t because you like the conveniences that it offers you. Also if you don’t want to be bothered by children crying on a plane then simply use your private jet, oh you can’t because you can’t afford it and have to compromise. That’s the whole point, compromise. If you are not able to compromise then you have no part in society do go and crawl back under your rock because society doesn’t want people like you.

  • A parent

    That’s what the headphones on a flight is for. Turn the volume up if it bothers you so much. Or next time take earplugs If you’re that arrogant. You were a kids once and by the sounds of your attitude as an adult you were most likely a whinging spoilt little brat. So quit your whining and move along.

  • compassion

    OK I am not a parent but a similar situation happened to my two year old brother when he started crying in the airplane really loudly we tried as hard as we can to calm him offering him toys and food. we were also very embarrassed, you said ” Parents would not be getting dirty looks if they stopped taking their children on planes in the first place anyways.” this is impossible because we were moving to another country how can i leave my 2 year old brother behind ?

  • Lee

    Why should other people have to put with such noise. Don’t take a child on a plane until its older. Take a break in this country instead. Such parents are just being selfish putting the child through such an experience. It’s time airlines did something about this issue. I would suggest its possibly child cruelty if their ears are hurting.

  • Danielle Smith

    Lee – why should anyone have to put up with loud talkers on airplanes? Or people with coughs? Or people who take their shoes off? Or people who are rude to other passengers? Do you suggest ANYONE who is disturbing anyone else should be banned from travel? That is just silly. It is absurd to suggest that parents with children shouldn’t be allowed to travel via air. They have every right to visit family on the other side of the country or simply to take a vacation. Also? Children don’t only cry on planes because of their ears ….like some ADULTS, they are simply having a crabby or tired day, but this is how it manifests. To suggest child cruelty of any kind is purely ignorant.

  • bibliofly

    I just sat in front of a 2 year-old during a three-hour flight. His mother was attentive, had unlimited snacks, toys, books to read to him and she talked to him almost the entire time. When he kicked my seat for too long, I let her know in a nice way and instead of being a defensive idiot like so many parents are, she apologized and firmly told him kicking is not okay and she explained why in a loving tone. He never kicked my seat again. When he got to loud she insisted he use his “inside voice.” She made a game of dealing with the air pressure by prompting him to pop his ears by yawning in front of him until he did the same. I thanked her profusely for being one of the rare parents these days that can be a great parent and considerate neighbor at the same time. She explained that they visit her family frequently since he was born but that they took a break when he was teething. I wish more parents were willing to put in the effort and tend to their kids needs while being considerate of others’ needs as well. Is it too much to ask parents to hold off on faraway vacations when their child is teething and only fly when absolutely necessary?

  • bibliofly

    I agree that visiting family is essential, especially when someone’s dying. However, as a parent it is your obligation to make every effort to comfort your baby or teach your child not to bother others. Too many parents nowadays allow their toddlers to scream and kick seats and that’s not right. It is also NOT essential to fly to vacation destinations if your child cannot be reasonably quiet, for whatever reason, be it teething, neurological issues or plain old parental inability to teach right from wrong.

  • alltogether

    Yes- I am coming to this conversation a year late but feel compelled to say my piece.

    People need to accept that part of a global world where families are spread out more often, that part of that world is children on flights. It is not always about going on holiday. It is a necessary mode of public transportation, again, public transportation to get from point A to point B. No one gets to have a sense of entitlement. We are all customers. We come with loads of snacks, beverages, books, soothers, movies, toys, and are prepared to buy the passenger next to us a drink not only because we care to make our children comfortable, but because we fear for a moment our kids aren’t distracted and those piercing looks of animosity come shooting at our family. So I wager those parents your feel such contempt for are more concerned about disrupting your flight evil glancing passenger, than perhaps you are about having any level of concern or humanity toward their circumstances.

    And Sue- I am sure you were a perfectly agreeable sugary sweet child just as you have conveyed to be so in this post (sarcastic tone overlays).

  • Nihilist

    typical me me me. my baby is so special…. you dont have any more rights to wreck my flight, and sleep as anyone else. you are selfish and this is why your generation is doomed. narcissistic bullshit. good thing is, your kid will never live to see 30, thanks to that not happening climate change…. babies should only be in the last 5 rows if at all.

  • Jacob

    Perhaps you’re not or have never been a parent of a two year old. You ever try to “teach” a two year old anything? Huh? I have to chuckle at the ridiculousness of trying to teach a toddler to “not bother others”!!

  • Jacob

    Yes, please answer compassion’s question.

    I will reiterate that parentless people have little idea of what it’s like to deal with a two year old (maybe a range of about 19-30 months–that’s when they’re pretty much unhappy with everything and everybody).

    You think anybody wants to take their young one on a plane? Sometimes people have to do things. Just asking for some perspective.

  • Jacob

    Guess what?

    Those of us having to fly with little ones don’t want to be on the same plane with you either!

    Please….please….please get a families only airline up and running–I will be on the next flight.

  • Bradley Conder

    What a self-entitled person. Keep your bratty children of the plane unless you can control them. The only time you should ever be flying with children is when you have no other choice (last minute emergencies). Just because you have bought a ticket, that does not mean that you have the right to make everybody else miserable on the flight. You rarely NEED to take a child on a plane, you just value your own convenience more than not making other people miserable. You mentioned people who talk loudly or do other things that annoy you are just as bad as children. The difference is that you can ask them to be quiet or ask a flight attendant to deal with that issue. In regards to people with coughs, that is an unforeseeable condition (assuming it was not a last minute booking) unlike your crying brat, which you know is probably going to ruin everybody’s day. You simply have no excuse for bringing your children onto planes other than the fact that you just don’t give a shit about other people. This would be fine if you were just admitted this fact. I could even respect the honesty. But instead, you make it out as if WE are the ones being unreasonable.