Do your kids have good airplane etiquette?

There have been loads of stories lately about kid free flights and tales of awful flights with naughty kids and oblivious parents. I even had a reader from New Zealand tell me their plane was delayed due to a child misbehaving and how thankful they were that they had Southern Cross Travel Insurance as the fare was refunded for the flights they had missed.  Great to have that back up but wow, what is going on that a child's behavior can delay a flight??

I've been on those flights so I get the complaints but something seems to be spurring this intense debate as of late. Is it a lack of understanding from the average traveler?  Parents that don't discipline their children?  Social media simply bringing the issue to light more readily? I tend to think it is most likely a combination of all 3 things.

Disclaimer: I will brag now for a bit so hang on just a moment.  We fly a lot, eat out a lot (or used to before landing in Hawaii), and are around adults on a regular basis, all of us, the kids included.  We get compliments constantly about their behavior!  Flight attendants have come over to us in a lull of activity during a flight to let us know how wonderful our boys are.  "I have never see such polite and well mannered children.  I hardly knew they were here except when they asked for something and they were so polite when they did."

We have also received similar compliments from fellow travelers amazed that there were any children on the flight at all as they never heard a peep from the boys.  At restaurants it's the same thing and even last week at an orthodontist appointment the secretary went out of her way to tell me how polite and sweet my middle son was.  Pride is an understatement but what it got me thinking was WHY?  Why is it so abnormal for a child to have basic manners?

Now I won't claim they are perfect, nor am I but we do have our fair share of travel under our belts and from what I have been hearing the boys seem to really have the travel etiquette thing down. Kids are kids and like adults they have their moments, mine included.  Take a sick person of any age and throw them on a 5+ hour plane ride and no one is going to be happy (trust me I know, I have also been the one with a screaming baby for 5 hours and nothing I did helped) but there are some things, barring extreme situations, that we as parents have done to ensure that our children show good airplane etiquette.

Here are some travel tips that can help to ensure your kids have good airplane etiquette:

Before the flight
  • When booking your flight take into account what time frame would work best for you and the kids.  Do they have a witching hour, as some of mine did when they were young?  Try not to cross over that time!
  • Be sure to explain the details of the flight, when age appropriate.  I always feel like keeping a person in the know helps to keep expectations realistic.
  • If it is going to be a long flight come prepared with things for the kids to do.  Electronic devices, coloring books, small bag of brand new toys (quiet toys though of course).  All these things will help to alleviate boredom, the most common cause for bad etiquette.
  • Equally important for a long flight is to try and time it well.  I prefer night flights as the kids typically sleep at least half the ride.  But beware if your child does not sleep that may be a recipe for disaster as everyone else will be wanting some shut eye.
  • A lot of people will tell you to board early as the airline offers for people traveling with children.  I understand the thought process, less people to bump into, more relaxed way to find your seat, etc but we do not do it.  We always board dead last.  I find it speeds up the boarding process and gives them the last 30 minutes to run free before being forced to sit for hour upon hour.  Do what works best but at least try both ways and see which way is best!
  • Avoid jet lag by setting your watch to the arrival destinations time as soon as you board and try to shift the schedule while on board to meet it!
If all else fails try a little quiet meditation

On the flight
  • Teach kids how to get up from their seat without grabbing on to the seat in front of them.  Arghh nothing is more irritating except perhaps the dreaded set kickers.
  • When boarding help them to remember to keep their bags low and remain vigilant not to hit others while moving around, stowing bags, etc.  Carrying them low to the ground and in front of them usually works best to avoid tripping someone or banging into them.
  • Encourage them to use inside voices, no yelling or screaming!
  • Try to work on patience when waiting for meals or the ability to use the bathroom.
  • Always clean up any mess.  The air crew go out of their way to bring around garbage bags so that your area and the area around your fellow travelers can stay neat.  Use it and help your children to gather their garbage as well.
  • Model good manners with the flight crew so the kids will follow suit.  It may be their job but they are providing a service and its not always easy.  Show appreciation at all times for what they bring you or how they help.
  • Let them chew gun or have hard candies so they don't enter a world of pain from the pressure on their ears.  One of my boys refused gum one time and suffered the consequences.  Poor guy was in so much pain, it sort of threw the no yelling rule out the window.  He certainly couldn't help it but we all paid the price and it was easily avoidable.  We live and learn right?!
  • Say hello when boarding and thank you when leaving.  I feel it sets a nice tone to greet the crew on arrival and shows appreciation when leaving.  It may not seem like much but I think it's really important in having good air travel etiquette.
  • The biggest one for me is NO kicking the seat in front of you!  It takes some time to get this set in stone but constantly stopping them, reminding them, and showing them what it feels like (if you have a seat behind them to demonstrate) I have found really helps in the long run.  These are also things you can practice pre flight!
  • For noise reduction be sure the kids have headphones, good ones that do not "leak" sound.  If you need to bring a headphone splitter as well, so they can enjoy the same show/movie together.  That little gizmo was a lifesaver more than once for us!
Meltdowns and crying happen, do your best and relax
  • Sometimes a meltdown or an illness cannot be helped.  All you can really do is try your best to calm the child and alleviate any tension.  People will understand and as long as you are doing something they will know you are trying.  Ignoring it will most likely not help on any level.  
  • What you should ignore though is people staring or snickering!  Do your best and know that any other mama out there gets it, feels your pain, and is just thankful it's not her!
So what do you think?  Do your kids already know all this, do they have good airplane etiquette? 

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  1. Great tips! We do quite a bit of plane travel as well. One trick I use for little ones too young for gum or hard candies is to give them raisins or dried cranberries to chew on. They're sticky so they have to work at chewing them to get them down and it serves the same purpose as the gum.

  2. Great tip Kara, thanks. But of course make sure they are old enough for it to not be a choking hazard:) For teeny tiny guys I would also breastfeed them while we landed or took off.

  3. Excellent tips. Having flown with wee ones myself, I'm pretty tolerant, but the kicking the seat thing. Grrrr. I've been tempted to offer to swap seats with the oblivious parent.

    1. Yes, very frustrating. Even in a movie theater I hate that feeling.

  4. We always get on the plane last. Even when we don't travel with our kids. I've never understood the logic of making kids sit still for that last half hour when they can be roaming free until they absolutely have to be stuck in their seat. Although my friend did remark that she gets on first so that she can get overhead locker space since lots of people travel with big carry on these days. It's still a bad idea though :)

    1. Yeah us too! I don't get it. The overhead thing I can see a bit but I would still rather wait:)