Flying with kids can’t be easy. I’ve personally never done it, but as a flight attendant turned business traveler, I’ve seen many parents struggle. There’s quite a bit to think about before even stepping foot onto an airplane, but once on board, it’s got to feel as though all eyes are on you. I’ll admit, I’m guilty of it myself. I watch as the family with toddlers walks down the aisle, and I secretly wonder where they’re sitting. Because let’s admit it: No one likes to sit near a screaming child or have their seat kicked incessantly on an hours-long flight. But when it does occur, many passengers are left wondering how to handle the situation. Should they speak up themselves or get a crew member involved?
As a flight attendant, you’re trained on every safety aspect of each aircraft your airline operates, but they never teach you how to calm a screaming child or console a stressed-out parent. One of the most awkward requests a passenger could ask of me is to help with a rambunctious child. But there are some circumstances in which a bystanding passenger should ask a flight attendant to intervene. Here’s how to tell the difference.
First, try to resolve matters yourself
If you’re seated near a child, and their actions are disturbing you and your comfort, it’s best to try and handle the situation before getting others involved. Often, a bit of kindness goes a long way. “You’re going to receive a positive response if you mention something about the situation in a calm, humorous, friendly tone, and keep it light-hearted rather than jumping right to a hostile and accusatory tone,” says Shawn Kathleen, a former flight attendant and creator of the popular Instagram account Passenger Shaming.
When I was a flight attendant myself, I was always amazed at the passengers who were able to gracefully offer to help out. For example, Michelle Payer, a luxury travel journalist and frequent flier based in Miami, says she has “successfully used [her] small dog as a distraction” when seated near an upset child. “I’ve also jangled keys, made paper airplanes, and tried to pitch in and help beleaguered parents,” she says.
Distraction seems to be a reliable method to calming a boisterous child. Roughly two hours into her eight-hour flight to France with her young daughter, travel television show host Nikki Noya overheard a crying child; she and her daughter decided to help. “I took her over there with coloring books and snacks just to see what we could do,” Noya says.
Sometimes, however, even the most valiant efforts of a fellow passenger to soothe a child fall short. That could be the time to flag down a member of the cabin crew.
When to tell a flight attendant
Those non-audible annoyances such as kicking the seat in front of them, excessively pressing the call button, climbing over and under the seats, and disobeying the seatbelt sign? Most of these actions are safety-related and warrant a flight attendant getting involved if it gets out of control. But even for flight attendants, the situation is not always simple to resolve. In some cases, parents are doing the best they can, and in others, well, maybe there’s room for improvement. I always approached the situation by stopping by their row and asking “Is there anything I can get for you?” figuring it sent enough of a signal that whatever was happening was starting to disrupt others.
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