Monday, May 9, 2011

Flying with kids & dealing with a hostile fellow-passenger

When we travel by plane, my kids are usually pretty well-behaved on board. Actually, most kids I've encountered on planes over the years have been well-behaved. Sure, they can get squirrelly on long flights and they might fidget and go to the bathroom more often and talk a little louder than some adults, but I've never experienced any catastrophically bad child-behavior on board.

I also find that most people are quite understanding, even helpful, when it comes to kids on board, as long as the child's behavior is not too extreme (in which case a parent probably won't be understanding either!). In all my years of traveling with my kids, I can only remember one instance when I had a real problem with a fellow passenger, and I'll tell that story at the end of this post.

Luckily that's a stuffed animal, not a hostile passenger.
So what can you do if another passenger starts giving you the evil eye between the seats, or if it escalates from there? My tips are based on the fact that I'm a rather non-confrontational person. Other people might act differently under the same circumstances, and that is totally their prerogative.

Managing your child's behavior 
Helping your child calm down, if they are acting up or acting out, is the first order of business for any parent.
  • If your child is causing a disturbance by being loud or kicking the seat or whatever, the first thing to do is obviously to try to calm them down. Maybe they're hungry, thirsty, tired, sick, bored, maybe their ears or stomach is hurting. Try to figure out what is wrong and fix it.
  • Explain to your child why their behavior is unacceptable. Use bribes if you have to in order to make the problem-behavior stop. I know, I know, bribes are not the greatest way to deal with behavior issues, but on a long-haul flight with few options, if your child is making other people's lives a misery, then bribes are fair game in my opinion. 
  • If your child still won't calm down, change seats if you can to get your child somewhere where they won't be able to bug as many people (or at least not bug the person who is taking offense). Ask the crew for help if you're changing seats, even if the seat looks empty.
  • If your baby is having a crying fit that just won't stop, try to bottle- or breast-feed them or give them their soother if they use one. If that doesn't help, take a walk to the back of the plane or some other part of it that is less populated: this will give the people sitting next to you something of a break.

Dealing with a hostile fellow-passenger
So, what if your child's behavior actually is not the problem. What if you do your best, and your child is just guilty of being a child on a flight, and a fellow passenger still decides they are disturbing the peace and must be chastised?
  • If another passenger is seriously giving you a hard time, verbally or (I hope not) physically: ask for assistance from the crew. They've got all the power on board. (As you may find out if they decide for any reason that you are in the wrong!)
  • If another passenger is being unreasonably cranky about your kids' presence and behavior, don't let the other person's ill temper stress you out too much. After all, it's not forever: eventually the flight will end, your child will stop acting out, either before or after the other passenger gets tired of glaring and complaining.
  • Try to ignore the other person's glares or comments as much as possible. Your main job as a parent is to help your child and be there for them,
  • If it gets to the point that a stranger is putting their hands on you or your children, you obviously have to do something. But even then, try to be calm (even if you're seething) but very firm in expressing yourself. It is never a good idea to lose your temper, but doing so on an airplane is a Really Bad Idea.

A bad day on board
I can only really remember one time when I had a real issue with a fellow passenger. It involved a woman in her 50s who was sitting in front of my son on a five hour flight. My son wasn't behaving badly, but he was four years old and fidgety.

I did manage to stop the fidgeting, but the woman in front of me kept glaring back at me anyway, sighing and shifting in her seat throughout the entire flight (even when my son was asleep). Eventually she also complained to my husband about my son, and said that my children were not behaving the way her children would have been taught to behave. He ignored her.

Then, when the flight had landed and everyone stood up to exit the plane, it got worse. My son is an anxious flyer: he's better these days, but back then he was getting worked up about the doors not opening and people not moving. He was four. He was scared.

He was positioned in the aisle between me and the woman. Probably his renewed fidgeting and squealing anxiety made her snap, and all of a sudden she grabbed him and shoved him in front of her: out of my reach. While doing so she told him something like "Let me help you get off the plane faster".

My son, already anxious and frightened was now separated from me. Furious, I pulled him back so he was standing next to me while telling the woman, as calmly as I could, that my child would stay next to me and that she had no right to put her hands on other people's children. Luckily we then exited the plane and never had to see her again.

"Bad kids" on board?
I've seen people online make comments that a child who cries and is scared on a flight is not "raised" properly. I've heard people say that children who are sick and cry because of that just need to be "shamed" into being quiet. I know there are people who think children who can't sit absolutely sit still and quiet for an entire 9 hour flight are "bad kids".

I seriously do not know what to think of people like that. Children aren't robots. They have good days and bad days, and just like adults they can get tired, hungry, sick, and scared. They just don't always know yet how to deal with all those feelings. Because they're kids. A little empathy goes a long way when it comes to children.

As a traveling parent, all you can really do is come prepared and do your best. And have an extra long relaxing bubble bath once you arrive at your destination...

T-Rex thanks to Build-a-Bear.

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