Tap, tap, tap. Pause. Tap, tap. Pause. Tap, tap, tap, tap. Stop it! At least if you’re going to annoy me with your foot kicking the back of my airplane seat, do it in a regular pattern. Oh wait, you’re four years old and you haven’t done patterning in school yet. I’ll settle for giving your parents Stink Eye.
As every air traveler knows, there is nothing worse than getting to your seat and discovering that the row behind you is full of children. Even if they’re your own. As a frequent traveler and mother of four, I’ve been on both ends of the annoyance spectrum.
So what can you do to make sure you don’t have the most annoying children on a plane?
- First of all, do whatever you can to make sure you are sitting with your own children. I know this sounds basic, but many times airlines split up families. If you don’t have an upgrade for a confirmed business class seat in your budget, investigate paying a nominal fee ($20-$30) for a guaranteed economy seat, which will likely come with more legroom as well. Children are not allowed in the Exit Row seats, so unfortunately that option is out. Failing this, though, check in early, online. Most airlines allow 24 pre-check in online, which guarantees a seat.
- Book a flight time that will take advantage of your child’s best behavior time. Try to avoid customs line-ups, gate waiting, and boarding during baby’s best naptime or toddler’s natural pre-dinner meltdown time. You know your child; choose accordingly. If at all possible, avoid stopovers. Paying the extra fee to fly direct may be worth yours (and the other passengers’ sanity).
- Prepare yourself and your child for the journey. Extra clothes, non-messy snacks, favourite toys and new toys. A handheld gaming device with age appropriate games can be a great travel gift to your kids (and yourself). Don’t just pack enough food and activities for the actual flight time. A one hour flight is easily a three hour journey when factoring in customs, security, and pre-boarding time. Not to mention unexpected delays, which can happen while you’re on the plane, stuck on a runway. Please, please don’t forget the headphones for tablets and video games. Make sure kids are comfortable wearing them before you travel.
- Don’t board when they tell you to pre-board with children. Why do you want to be on the plane longer than possible?
- Talk to your child about what type of behavior you expect from them. Warn them that they’ll have to sit still for quite a while, and that they have to use their inside voices, and not run up and down the aisles of the plane. If you’ve been reinforcing good “sitting rules” at the dinner table at home, remind them that it’s similar to that; getting up and moving around too much is rude.
- Be hyper-aware of seat kicking and don’t let them continually peek back to the seat behind them, or hang over the seat in front of them. It’s really annoying and rarely appreciated. Getting the back row of the plane solves part of this problem, and it’s also close to the washroom. Often the last rows are the emptiest as well, so you could find some extra space. If you can afford the front row, go for it.
- An apology to other passengers on the plane goes a long way. Many other parents will appreciate that it’s hard to keep a child happy on a long flight, and will be empathetic. But empathy only goes so far, for them, and the other passengers who don’t have any. If your child does something offensive, have them apologize or say sorry on their behalf. It’ll go a long way to getting more understanding.
- If other passengers offer advice on how to keep your child from behaving badly, try not to react over defensively. As much as they are trying to help themselves have a quiet flight, they may be trying to help you also. Keep an open mind – maybe even try a suggestion – or just offer a “Thanks for trying to help.”
Practice makes perfect. If you have a bad flight, don’t give up. Talk to your children about what worked and what didn’t, and reinforce good behavior when you see it happen the next time.