Kids and Air Travel

(Sharpie & PS)

I’ve read a number of articles about travel with children recently. Most of them are well written and considerate of both the adult traveling alone sitting near children and the children who are traveling. The comments, however, are always negative and generally one sided. Children do not respond to newspaper or website articles. I’ve been in both positions: a flying child and an adult flying alone. When I respond to those articles, I always respond on the side of a third party: the parent of the children.

I recognize and have experienced the following: as the parent of children on a jet there some things you cannot control

  • Passengers who dislike children will nearly always complain
  • Drunk passengers complain the loudest and longest
  • Children who are afraid, just like everyone else, will cry
  • Children who are sick, tired, hungry and/or poopy will cry
  • Children who are bored will cry and/or look for ways through mischief to entertain themselves
  • Children WILL cause mischief
  • There are never enough diapers when emergencies arise
  • Passengers who sympathize and/or like children will nearly always try to help

As a child, I traveled often with my military parents. We lived in Germany for four years and traveled throughout Europe on vacation. My parents love travel. Right now, out of retired boredom and wanting to pay off all debts before they get too old to do so, they have become over the road truckers driving one of those huge Kenworth trucks everywhere they can get to and are loving it. We traveled whenever the excuse was available. As a child with five brothers all very near in age (I’m the oldest), I was often the ringleader of mischief or the scape-goat for mischief. My brother Pat is the family genius for trouble (he’s now a lawyer). We however knew there were limits. If we acted out while flying, we would go with dad to the restroom to get a spanking with the belt (my dad still wears that thing and it has become a piece of family folklore) to the often applause of passengers.

As a traveling adult who speaks both Korean and French and with a working understanding of German, I traveled often for both AMEX and SuHyup UhHaeng (Korean National Fisheries Bank). I have seen it all, but when possible and welcomed, I have tried to help kids who are flying. I have also been the bane of many traveling drunks who bitch way too often about flying children.

As a flying parent who traveled with his kids throughout Asia and back and forth to the US, I have been attacked verbally and physically (once in Tokyo, Narita by a drunk Frenchman–he got to stay in Tokyo longer than he wanted). I have also found very generous and kind travelers everywhere. To make travel the best for my kids, I did the following:

  • I let them carry their own tickets, passports and carry-ons (I took the documents back when we were in the air or waiting around in airports)
  • I told many tales about Pat and his many visits with the belt to the aircraft restrooms
  • I packed snacks, books, coloring books and crayons, toys they forgot, Walkmans for each kid and loads of CDs and maps showing times and destinations
  • When the kids were toddlers or infants, we packed twice as much formula and diapers as normally needed (we did run out on one flight to Seoul when Martie got sick)
  • I made sure to educate the kids about where we were going and what to expect while we were traveling
  • I also told them that many of the adults were terrified of flying and would not appreciate being bothered by them
  • I also told them that many travelers would be drinking and since they had lots of experience with their alcoholic, maternal grandfather, they knew to keep their distance

Traveling with kids is always hard. Always. I recommend patience and preparation even if you are the adult traveling alone. AND if you hate kids, KEEP YOUR DAMN MOUTH SHUT.


6 thoughts on “Kids and Air Travel

  1. When my wife brought our two children to the Philippines to join me on a military assignment, she said they slept all the way. I was happy to hear that, since she was wearing a cast on her left arm due to a medical condition. Two years later, the kids were well behaved on the aircraft when we returned.

    These days, my wife and I only fly three times a year. We travel twice from Orlando to Colorado to visit family, and once to New England to visit relatives and to pick blueberries. The planes are always full of kids either coming from or going to Walt Disney World. They range from infants to older teenagers.

    We fly Southwest Air, so we don’t have assigned seats. Sometimes there is a lot of good in that, because we usually get on the plane first and end up with a nice seat, away from any small children. The airline used to allow families with kids on the plane first, but now they go on with the B passengers. It’s tough on those families because they sometimes have to find seats close together, which is often difficult at that point in the boarding process.

    I usually sit on the isle. To some children, it’s an open invitation to slam their back packs, and/or five foot long stuffed goofy doll into my head. I once made the mistake of mumbling something after one such occurrence. The kid who hit me turned around, hitting me again, and said, “What was that grandpa?” That just added insult to injury. I was no relation to that kid at all. I didn’t reply, so he turned back, hitting me again.

    To be honest, we try to avoid sitting near any children. We also hold our breath and pray they would keep on moving to the rear, as luggage laden families stagger past us with their kids in tow. As I get older, my wife and I have lost all tolerance for crying and or screaming children, or those kids who think a plane ride is an invitation to kick the seat in front of them for the entire flight.

    For some reason unknown to mankind, the little tykes also have the pesky little habit of opening and closing the trays attached to the backs of our seats. When they do leave the tray down, they usually attempt to climb on it, sit on it, pound on it, or slam something on it which feels like a hundred pound bag of sand. All the while their parents go on with their mundane conversations, or sleep thru it, totally ignoring the animalistic antics of their offspring.

    Then there are the teenagers who obviously have lost their hearing. I know that because they have their music devices turned up so loud, people on the ground 36,000 feet below us can hear them. I wouldn’t mind that, except that they seem to be listening to music from another planet, in a decibel level only audible to themselves, dogs, and the elderly, but not their parents.

    Sometimes I wish we didn’t live so close to the number one family attraction in the world. I guess it’s the price we have to pay for being a senior citizen in the land of the young and restless.

    • You know, I can definitely understand how it can get wearing when you fly and you constantly are surrounded by kids. Especially when kids are going someplace exciting like Orlando. This is just one of those times where smart parental planning would have helped. The problem is that often parents have not traveled much as well.

      I friend read this blog through LinkedIn and called me on the phone with his comments (we’re meeting for lunch in a week). This guy logs hundreds of thousands of travel miles on AMEX rewards every year. He loses track of where he is sometimes. He says parents who travel often prepare their kids really well and make sure the kids know what annoys other travelers. He takes his kids to the most amazing places (Chile, South Africa, India etc.) on his rewards program and he says after a little education, they can see what it takes to be a good traveler from the behavior of bad adult travelers and from that model their behavior.

      He says music, snacks, reading material, portable DVD players, the buddy system and his tattle tale third grade daughter keeps everyone on the straight and narrow.

      It’s hard. One wants to be mad at the kids, when it the parents who are the real novice travelers who have made your travel experiences so rotten.

      • When my son takes his son, 4 years old, they take a lot activities for him. I’ve never travelled with my grandson, so I don’t know how well he travels.

        Thanks for your reply. I have to admit, parts of my comments were exaggerated a bit for a humorous effect. After all, I have a humor blog, and I must be true to my calling. All the best to you and yours. Ron

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