Flying With Kids: What Should Etiquette Expectations Be?

Stuck on a plane with a crying baby? Here's what to do.

Boy looking over business class seat of plane
Photo: Getty Images

Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post, author, and co-host of The Awesome Etiquette Podcast, has agreed to weigh in on a few travel etiquette questions from a politesse perspective. We've tackled reclining etiquette and what to do if there's an empty seat next to you. Now, the somewhat thorny issue of children on airplanes.

So, there are a ton of children on your flight. What's your mantra?

"Patience, and find your happy place within."

Is it ever OK to glare at a person with a crying baby?

"If a baby is crying, there's nothing you can do about it, and that parent is stressed to the max about it; 99.9% of parents I meet dread flights — give that parent the benefit of the doubt that they are trying to calm the baby down. A) They're trying to calm their baby, and B) They're trying to make sure other people are OK. Flying is one of those times when parents are really outwardly trying to show that to other people. There is no choice for anybody. You can't go to a different room; you can't leave. I really try to encourage people to think positively about what parents have to do and what it's like for the parent."

What if a child is kicking your chair or otherwise bothering you?

"When they start to get a little bit older, it's really important to remember that you can't discipline other children. [It's better to say] 'I'm not sure if you've noticed but your child is kicking my seat.' 'I'm not sure if you noticed, but your child is dropping Cheerios down my back.' Personally, I think you're in safer territory speaking to the adult. Most people don't want their kids bothering other people. Sometimes when traveling, people in general just don't care. They're tired, security was awful… they've darn well given up. I've seen people in those moments and those are the people that people are scared of. You ask them something reasonable…and they explode on you. I find them rare. I have personally never had it happen to me. You're more likely to get someone who says, 'Oh my gosh, I'm sorry. Katie, you really can't touch the seat in front of you.'"

What if someone says something like, 'Could you please get your crying baby to calm down?'

"If I was sitting next to the parent I would say to them, 'You're doing a great job,' or 'Don't pay attention to that person; they're just grumpy.' If you're the parent, my brain goes to…'I'm trying, I'm so sorry it's bothering you.' I'm amazed how often that [works], even when someone's being rude to you. You don't have to apologize for other people's rudeness, but your baby is bothering other people. I don't think that person is on the right side of etiquette by saying something to you, but the reality is that this is affecting other people."

Some people say that parents shouldn't travel with babies at all.

"Sometimes you have to travel with a baby. You don't bring a baby to a wedding they weren't invited to, and some restaurants I'm assuming are not kid-friendly places. But babies need to be able to travel with their parents. Especially if they're super young, or if they're breastfeeding or something. We're so used to our own personal car or our own personal phone — there are a lot of times when other people are going to be around."

What about kids running around on the plane?

"It's totally OK to get up with your child and walk them up and down the aisle, just like anybody does. Get up with your child; do not let them run up and down. Running at all is just not comfortable in an airplane. It's a place where you want to be really calm and quiet; a lot of people are not that comfortable up in the sky."

If a kid is kicking your seat back, would you ever look back to try to make a point?

"Looks can work and be very effective, but you have to be good at it, and I can't guarantee that everybody who reads this article is going to be good at it. I don't mind the turn-around just to figure out what's going on, but you can't glare. Even little kids can pick up on looks. Little kids aren't as clued in to listening to strangers; you don't want to frighten a child or make a child feel bad. If you can turn around with curiosity, that's OK…and after that, I really suggest talking to a parent. [If it's an older kid], saying to a child who's 7, 'Please stop kicking the back of my seat' [is OK]. Follow that by talking to the parent: 'Excuse me, I've asked your child to stop kicking the back of my seat once, I was hoping you might be able…'"

Any other tips?

"It's never bad to — as you're taking your seat — smile and be friendly. When those parents sit behind you or next to you, smiling is always nice. Think of people with two kids: They sit down, and the people next to them groan. It's always best to start off with a smile; that way they know that at least you're not immediately dreading this."

How should one prepare kids for sitting still for so long?

"Good luck with that. It's more to prepare them to be entertained for three to six hours. Talk about being glad to raise a kid in a technology age; it's fabulous. But when I was a kid it was coloring books and word finds and anything appropriate at the time that was keeping them entertained. You just have to talk to your kids. When they do start to fidget, maybe, 'Do you want to walk the aisle four times with me?' Understand that they may have hit that point that they need more."

Some parents practice with their kids at home; they give them a tablet and headphones and have them sit very still for an hour or two.

"I think that's really smart. It's great if it helps kids understand what they're going to be experiencing. I do think that any time you can prepare kids for what's going to happen, you have a better shot; you take away the uncertainty for them. That's helpful."

Any other thoughts?

"A lot of parents do things like bring Advil, earplugs, candies or something to help alleviate the fear in the people around them and help people around them understand that they're traveling with a baby. I would love to get to a point where we understand that we as human beings need to travel with a child and deal with it. I would love for parents to feel like they don't have to bring an 'I'm sorry I'm traveling with children kit.' Come on, people."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles