Airplane Etiquette 101: Are Crying Babies Breaking the Rules?

Seat kicking is the top in-flight ettiquette no-no, according to Expedia.com's 2015 Airplane Etiquette study. Can you guess the second-biggest pet peeve?
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Last Sunday I took a 7 p.m. flight home from Tampa, Florida to New York City. At the airport, I downloaded Amy Poehler's Yes, Please on Audible (I know, I'm so late to the game, but read it if you haven't. It's so good.), and was looking forward to a relaxing, quiet flight to listen to the memoir. Of course, quiet flights are hard to come by these days. I ended up sitting in front of a high school-level travel softball team on their way home from a tournament. These girls were chatty, reading out emails they received from college recruiters, and restless. Every so often, I felt a kick on the back of my seat when the girl behind me shifted positions in her chair. It wasn't consistent so I didn't turn around, but it was jarring nonetheless.

I wasn't surprised to come back to work Monday to learn that seat kicking is the top in-flight etiquette no-no according to Expedia.com's 2015 Airplane Etiquette study. Of the U.S. adults surveyed, 61 percent said it was their biggest pet peeve. Can you guess their second? Yup—loud children.

I've been on plenty of flights with crying babies, tantrum-throwing toddlers, and a few school-aged kids who just don't like flying. I'm speaking from the perspective of a childless 20-something, so sure, it's annoying and frustrating to have to sit through that noise on an expensive flight. But I can only imagine how hard it is for the parents, who I've come to empathize with since joining the Parents team.

A few days ago, I spoke with Samantha Ponder, an ESPN reporter for College GameDay and co-host of College Football Live who travels a lot for work and brings her almost-2-year-old daughter Scout along for the ride. Scout has already been on more than 90 flights, so by now she's a traveling pro, but Ponder admitted she used to worry before each flight. Her fear wasn't about packing enough snacks or diapers—she was afraid Scout would cry and annoy passengers around her. A lot of new parents share this fear, some bringing baggies of candy and earplugs for other fliers to pre-apologize for any fussiness that happens in air. But Ponder learned to accept that baby freak-outs might just happen. "She might scream for three hours straight, but then it's going to end," Ponder told me. Her plan now is to just let go of her stress and hope her calm nature rubs off on Scout.

The Expedia study specifically said that 53 percent of fliers are annoyed by parents who travel with loud children, and 59 percent blame the parents for being inattentive. Is it really a parent's fault though? If you have a fussy baby or toddler, I'm sure you would like a few hours of silence on the plane as well. You'd probably also like that silence when you are at the grocery store, cooking dinner, or trying to sleep, too. So instead of glaring at the screaming baby whose ears just painfully popped, I'm going to take out my anger on those other etiquette violators who aren't as helpless. The boozer, the chatty Cathy, the seat switcher, the guy with the mad bladder, and the seat recliner are great options on Expedia's list for me to hate on. But personally it's the man sitting behind me who put his bare feet on my arm rest practically touching my elbow with his toes on that flight last year that I'm calling out. Hey mister, that's gross!

Melissa Bykofsky is the Associate Articles Editor at Parents who covers millennial trends and pop-culture. Follow her on Twitter: @mbykofsky.

1 Comment

  1. Certainly, bringing toys, books, comforting songs, food and such are important for keeping children occupied and comforted on an airplane or other form of transportation. Paying attention to a young child also is important, and trying to have the child well rested (or having the child sleep on the plane) really helps. (People often forget or are insensitive to the fact that young children have quite short attention spans. (Helpful fellow passengers also can be a distraction.)

    But many parents are not aware that with their much narrower ear canals, airplanes' taking off and landing (which can take more that a very short time), which have changes in airplane cabin pressure that can be dramatic, can be very painful for small kids. I can sympathize totally with that, being sensitive to pressure changes, and can only imagine what those times are like for children.

    Kids who still are nursing, on the bottle or using a pacifier may get some or a lot of comfort from sucking; other, older kids should be encouraged to suck on hard candies, chew on gum or swallow hard, repeatedly, whenever pressure is a problem. Routinely beginning any of these activities before ascents or descents can relieve childrens' often extreme pain during ascents and descents in the air, which can last for quite a whille. These remedies are harmless, and though they are not effective in every case, they often resolve the problem of crying or complaints of pain by children (except for those who are just overtired) in airplanes.


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