Unruly child aboard airplane boy
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Child Out of Control Before and During a Recent Flight

 should have known as I was waiting in the line to pass through the airport security checkpoint for the flight back to the United States that there was trouble ahead — and not the kind associated with inclement weather or mechanical failure.

“No, no, no…” whimpered the father as his child was wandering around the checkpoint area. “Come back here. Come to Papi.”

The child out of control would only move closer to the scanner with every admonition, whose strength was equal to that of watered-down water. Laughter emanating from the little boy only seemed to mock the spineless father, who did not even bother to get out of the line to retrieve his child.

This was going to be a lo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-can I add any more Os-o-o-ong flight.

Sure enough, the child — I am really restraining myself by trying not to call him Bratwurst, for he resembled the worst brat I have witnessed in a long time — sat with his mother and father across the aisle and one row forward of where I was sitting.

“No, no, no — you need to sit down and wear your seat belt,” the father said to his son as the widebody airplane lumbered forward on the runway.

“I DON’T WANNA WEAR MY SEAT BELT!” cried the boy as he stood up on his seat.

The father finally compromised and allowed his son to sit on his lap during take-off — unbuckled as the child violently squirmed in his arms while protesting — and the flight attendants who passed by wanted nothing to do with this potential disaster, as if they already predicted what the remainder of the flight would be like.

“I WANT CANDY!” bellowed the boy.

“You cannot have candy now,” the mother replied sheepishly.

“I WANT CANDY NOW!!!” screamed the boy, ensuring that as many fellow passengers heard his demands as possible.

The mother reached into this large bag filled with colorful items — I am guessing toys and candy — and gave him exactly what he demanded: candy.

I have seen jellyfish with stronger spines than these parents.

Aside from a nap for a few hours — which was to the relief of all of the passengers within the vicinity of this family, as clearly and obviously shown on their faces — the problem child constantly and relentlessly pushed the limits and bounds of what he could get away with doing for his entertainment.

The father would put him in the aisle so that he could run up and down freely without supervision. This allowed the father to lean in and eavesdrop on a political conversation between two men seated in front of me before he chimed in uninvited from across the aisle.

I am not certain of everything which was said; but it was clear that his input was not welcomed by the two men as indicated by the tone of their voices and the limited body language which I could see in front of me — the equivalent of rolling their eyes, which they probably did…

…and the father kept forcing his opinions on them, interrupting their conversation as his offspring ran like a banshee up and down the aisle — to the chagrin of the flight attendants who were attempting to serve passengers their meals and beverages.

One flight attendant finally gave a reprimand to the father in a quiet and polite but stern tone to get the child out of the aisle so that they may continue to do their jobs. The father acquiesced as the disappointment washed over his face. He clearly wanted to continue what became a political debate with the two men — while not wanting to be shackled to his anchor of a son, who was now trying wildly on his lap to wrestle himself free while crying and screaming.

“Do you want to watch a movie?” sighed the father. “NO!!!” protested the son, who then pulled down the tray table and started repeatedly slamming it up and down — not long before the child starting running up and down the aisle again.

I felt sorry for several passengers whose comfort and peace were directly assaulted: the one sitting directly in front of the father who had to endure the repeated slamming on that tray table and shaking the chair as indicated in the photograph at the top of this article; the one who had to endure having his seat pulled by the child every time the boy stood up on his own seat; the one who sat directly behind the boy, who at one point ripped off all of his clothing and happily turned around and pronounced to him “I’M NAKED!!! I’M NAKED!!!”; the one who sat next to the mother in the row of four seats in the middle of the airplane and had the boy flop on his lap and step on him repeatedly as he ran across all four seats back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

It did not matter how many glares of death these passengers darted towards the boy and his parents. It did not matter how many times they sighed. It did not matter how many times they were hit, kicked, stepped on, and almost deafened by his screams. The boy was only encouraged to step up his game; and the parents were equally discouraged to do anything about it — other than an occasional scolding so tepid that it would not terrify the shiest person or animal in the least.

In fact, the mother slept through much of the continuing debacle; while the father used the in-flight entertainment system — with headphones on, of course, as his only means of escape — while “Little Trouble” would run up and down the aisle again and again, throwing things on the floor, approaching random passengers around the aircraft for their attention…

…sometimes fully clothed; and sometimes wearing nothing more than a diaper — except when he proudly announced that he was completely naked, which he was.

It was not like the parents rushed to put his clothes back on. They were indifferent to the entire situation. They were as helpless in controlling their child as a person trying to empty the ocean with a slotted spoon.

Very few passengers dared to say anything; and I can understand why. These parents were clearly clueless and oblivious to reason. What were they going to say — “Please control your child”? “Could you put his clothes back on him?” The parents barely listened to the instructions by at least one flight attendant; so why would they listen to fellow passengers with no authority?

Thankfully, I was unaffected by the boy — save for the loud noises — but the aforementioned passengers were not nearly so fortunate, having to spend hours enduring what was probably one of the worst flights they have ever experienced.

By the way, I did not stick around to witness the behavior of the boy after the conclusion of the flight. Despite not being directly affected by the antics of him and his parents, I had had more than enough and was long gone.

There are those people who believe that children should be banned from the premium class cabin. This boy should have been banned from the airplane altogether…

…or — more appropriately — the parents should have been banned from the airplane altogether.

I can only think of one of two reasons to explain the behavior of the child: either he has a physical or mental issue which adversely affects his behavior; or the parents are simply that bad — perhaps to the point where they might be deemed unfit to be parents.

In either case, the family should not have been aboard the airplane. Even more inexcusable than the behavior of that boy was the behavior of his parents on this particular flight. It is wholly unfair to subject fellow passengers to hours of constant misery — and there are people who consider the simple act of being a passenger aboard an airplane for hours miserable enough.

The inside of an airplane is an unnatural environment to many children, as it can be confining with not much to do. It is not surroundings with which they are familiar. It is difficult to sit still for so many hours. As a bonus, the change in air pressure can wreak havoc on the ears of a child…

…so with all of these factors and more, it is natural and understandable for a child to express his or her unhappiness in the form of crying, screaming, complaining or fidgeting uncontrollably — to the displeasure of fellow passengers, who would have been unable to employ one of the 11 most effective tactics for getting upgraded while flying, as the airplane on which we were passengers was full. On October 27, 2014, I reported on how the tantrum of a child aboard an airplane reportedly led to the police being called.

It is difficult enough to deal with tireless children while attempting to sleep in a terminal at the airport as you await your next flight — but unlike aboard an airplane, at least you can escape.

However, a good parent knows what to do and how to minimize the discomfort of a child. Sometimes it is in the form of giving him or her something to do — play a game or with a toy, for example. Perhaps the way to the heart of a child is through his or her stomach; so a favorite snack might be in order…

…and then, there are some children who are perfectly content with the experience. Wonder overcomes them as they unlatch a tray table or pull down a window shade for the first time. They might stare out of a window for hours in sheer amazement.

Children? As a person who usually prefers a seat by the window, I still stare out of a window for hours in amazement; and here is one of many examples why — but I digress.

Dan Miller of Points with a Crew — who is a father of six children — recently posted an article arguing why parents of children flying should NOT give “goodie bags” to fellow passengers.

Forget the goodie bag, Dan. The parents of what some considered to be a “little terror” owe all of the inconvenienced passengers a meal at the finest restaurant, in my opinion.

Many people are usually understanding when a child cries aboard an airplane — especially when the parent is proactive in doing what he or she can to alleviate the situation…

…but what happened aboard that flight with that boy was simply unacceptable and should not be permitted — ever.

The photograph displayed at the top of this article is of the actual boy being discussed in this article. Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

  1. I’ve seen it too many times, but it is usually the parents that I hold responsible. In one case, I did say something to a parent who did nothing to control a child similar to what you described. Among other things, her child had been throwing things at me and slamming his body repeatedly into my seat and the parent thought it was cute. Even though I was polite, the parent ranted and started hollering at me when I brought up the matter. I stayed calm and polite, but firmly told the parent again that they were the problem and they needed to control their child. It was at that point when something interesting happened. The other passengers in the area started clapping and saying, “Thank you,” to me. Five minutes later, I flight attendant came up to me when I left my seat. She smiled and also said thank you for saying something.

    Unfortunately, the flight attendants should have stepped in, but they were afraid of the passenger and the child. They were actually grateful for a passenger saying something. What also became obvious to everyone was that not only was the parent not helping at all, but that the parent shared many of the same characteristics as the child did. They felt entitled and could not even conceive that anyone else but themselves mattered. It did not solve the situation, but at least it did help others feel a little better about an awful situation.

    1. If I were directly affected like you were as imparted in your experience, CarlH, I would have absolutely done the same thing.

      Again, it is one thing if the child is uncomfortable or unhappy for some reason and expresses his or her displeasure by crying or complaining; but it is up to the parent to mitigate the situation as best and as soon as possible.

      Admittedly, that is easier said than done; but at least the parent should put in an effort to execute the best attempts possible — not try to escape the situation and just let fellow passengers deal with it, as I witnessed the two parents I observed do.

      In my opinion, you are also correct about the apple not falling far from the tree, CarlH. Thank you for sharing.

  2. It’s totally the parents. People are super ego-driven now and they see their kids as an extension of themselves as well as some kind of trophy. To them there is nothing to be controlled. And if you say anything about the brat, it’s a direct insult to the parent. It’s pretty much futile at this point. I just bring studio headphones and earplugs on every flight.

    1. While I do agree with you about some people — okay, many people — JesseJB, let us please be fair: there are also parents who do an excellent job raising their children…

      …and I have sat next to children aboard airplanes who behave better than many adults…

  3. Brian-

    I love the blog, read it just about every day and love the great travel insights.

    First off, let me say that I get your frustrations. I travel for business 3-4 times a month, mostly long cross country flights or Europe and the Middle East and I have been on plenty of flights with the kick kicking my seat, screaming next to me, spilling drinks on my lap, etc. I get it. I have ground my teeth in frustration on many flights and I consider noise cancelling headphones to be one of mankinds greatest inventions.

    Let me also say I agree with your assessment (mostly) above about these parents. Any parent who lets their kids run up and down the aisles deserves to be confronted by flight attendants, directly if needed.

    HOWEVER, I gotta say that people who complain all the time about how parents need to “control their kids” and keep them from screaming, or complain when they don’t keep them strapped down in the seatbelt the whole flight have absolutely no clue what they are talking about and have never had to travel with kids. Certainly not when the kids are in the middle of the terrible 2’s, have been delayed for 4 hours, have had their iPod run out of power, have run out of snacks, and are just done! Travel is hell on me, let alone a 2 year old, and having to keep kids “well behaved” for 4-5 hours is tough when they are 4, but nearly impossible when they are 1 or 2. It has nothing to do with being a good parents or teaching your kids manners or anything like that. Kids who are perfectly well behaved in most circumstances can just melt down on a plane, or a store, or anywhere for that matter. I have 4 kids and have traveled with them 3 – 4 times a year since they were born. We take a huge backpack full of toys and snacks and devices for each of them, and a little medicine “for emergencies”. Our kids are generally pretty well behaved in most circumstances. They have certainly never run up and down the aisles of the plane and 90% of the time the flights are tiring but just fine. However, I have spend a 4 hour flight in the back of a 737 galley while one completely lost it because of an earache, I have had several other flights with huge delays that turned into nightmares, and I have been puked on by my 6 year old taking the plane out of service when we landed. Lots and lots of very helpful flight attendants and quite a few accusing and downright mean looks from fellow passengers. The point is they are kids, not adults, and to expect kids to act like adults shows how little many people understand about kids.

    I see an awful lot of these similar sentiments on these blogs, lots of it from younger singlish types who expect the world to be calm and quiet and relaxing around them. I see lots of comments about how kids and families shouldn’t travel on planes so as not to interupt their important business trips. In first and business I tend to agree. However, to me it is the height of arrogance and sadness that people feel this way and cannot accept the kids and families among us. Travel anywhere else in the world and see where this sentiment gets you. In Russia or Asia all of the seatmates will pitch in to help with the situation rather than just rolling their eyes and tuning out, I’ve seen this happen on scores of occasions.

    So before you (not so much you Brian, but all the single complainers out there without any kids) get too high and mighty about how put out you are by a crying misbehaving child, ask yourself one question. How many people 20 years ago did you irritate to no end when your parents traveled? And someday I hope to see you in your agonies and pains when your precious little bundle is melting down despite your perfect parenting.


    1. I still irritate people to this day, Pete Mitchell — unintentionally, of course.

      I attempted to be careful not to complain about children and their parents in general when writing this article. A child will eventually cry when he or she is unhappy. That is part of life with the offspring of most animals — including humans — but there are people who prefer the yip of a puppy or the mew of a kitten versus the cry of a child.

      In fact, there would usually be something wrong if the child never cried. Crying is natural for children.

      It is parents who feign ignorance when their children clearly need the proper attention and guidance but fail to do so for whatever reason that gets my goat — and yes, some people prefer the bleats of a young goat; but I digress.

      I have personally witnessed assistance from strangers in countries outside the United States when a child is in distress, offering to help the parents with the child — and interestingly, the situation is usually diffused quickly. Italy is the first country which comes to my mind.

      There is no issue with well-behaved — or even not-so-well-behaved — children from me. It is these extreme situations — many of which could easily be avoided — which are the problem, in my opinion.

      I suppose that is my long-winded way of saying that I agree with you, Pete Mitchell. Thank you.

    2. I have zero sympathy for parents who pretend nothing is going on and are as spineless as this article describes. Why did the mother get to sleep while this child misbehaved? Seriously parents are not being held accountable for what they could do. Knowing that children are children but also knowing that the world did not get a vote in their lives, I don’t get why the rest of the flight essentially “babysat” their child while they both did what they wanted to do.

      1. I was personally astonished that the mother could even go to sleep with all of that noise and activity going on next to her with her son, Ms. M, as I do not believe I could have slept.

        Perhaps she was really exhausted…?

  4. Brian, My husband and I had a similar experience on a flight from PRG to ATL. Parents were clueless. Thank goodness they sat in the bulkhead seats, but the child was non-stop noisy and active all but maybe thirty minutes of flight time. The parents were older and just looked exhausted but clearly adored their little out of control daughter. We could hardly wait to get off that plane.

    1. That is a long flight to be active for all but 30 minutes, P T. Most children — including the one I described in the article — usually conk out eventually.

      I wonder if the ingestion of copious amounts of sugar were involved before the flight…?

  5. YIKES!!! One of my close friends parented like that. Fortunately when her daughter threw a fit in a restaurant and was not taken outside or corrected, we could leave. In a plane you are trapped. I LOVE children and flew quite a bit with mine when they were babies. There’s no reason or excuse for that behavior. BTW- one of mine has ADHD and we could still find ways to keep her occupied and quiet on the plane.

    1. I would venture to guess that that is because you are a parent who cares and is willing to invest the extra time and care it takes to raise your children with love and support while teaching them the proper way to behave when in public, Kath.

  6. Brian – I think the main reason that I suggest that parents should not give out goodie bags for a flight is that any parent that is conscientious enough to prepare a goodie bag is probably going to be able to keep their kid in control.

    And conversely, a parent that is not going to be able to keep their kids under control is not going to be taking the time to hand out goody bags 🙂

    1. I cannot argue with that logic, Dan @ PointsWithACrew. Thank you…

      …but I still want that dinner at a top restaurant from that family…

  7. Basically a description of what happened to me today. Kid to my left drools on my sleeve several times (looked about 6), brat toddler behind with his 6 year old sibling is playing with his feces and rubbing his hands on the back of my seat. Stewards could not care less and ignored the situation entirely. THIS IS HOW DISEASE SPREADS PEOPLE!!!

    1. That experience is beyond disgusting, DrUX — enough that I would complain to the airline.

      If you decide to go that route, please update us as to what happened.

  8. Brian. Your soft. So is everyone else on that plane. The glares didn’t do anything” well f*cking duh. Why does no one say anything to the parents? If the dad puts headphones in I’m pulling them off and telling him “if we gotta deal with your dog so do you”. .. Yeah cause glares change so much… no, confrontation does. Everyone now a days is to scared to speak up even flight attendtends cause everyone soft. No one knows how to assert themselves I guess and publicly shame a person into changing a behavior? Haven’t tried it? Works great haha. No sympathy for shitty parents. And I’ll be sure they know their shitty parents before they get off that plane. There’s a-holes in life but guess what a-holes create change.

    1. One thing I have learned in life is to never jump to initial conclusions, William.

      I do not know the backstory behind the problems with the parents or the child — not that that is any excuse for that behavior to be condoned…

      …but I guarantee you that if the child was jumping all over me like he did to one of the poor passengers seated in that same row, you had better believe that I would have said and done something…

      1. Yeah thats the point your missing my friend. Not every situation needs a backstory, if I see someone being assaulted I don’t need the back story, I dead the issue out because the action I’m seeing is wrong and needs to be stopped. Being a strong human isn’t about something happening to you it’s about stepping up for others who may not have the ability to speak up for themselves.

        But let’s play by your logic. You don’t know what the parent or the child’s problem might be? Okay well if they at least know what their issue is shouldn’t they do more to prepare, or not take the flight, and if they haven’t properly assessed the possibilities by the time they get on the plane am I really in the wrong for making a comment to them about a space we all share? Saying a parent has a problem (which by the way, what problem could two parents have and not know how to handle it BY THE TIME THEIR ADULTS?)is an excuse, why is no one supervising the parents then right? A parent with a problem probably shouldn’t be out in society with a kid with a problem until they figure out how to handle adverse situations right? wether it was a disability or a child acting out I highly doubt it was the first time that child acted in this manner which only further goes to prove my point that these were just terrible parents who needs to be put in place.

        Please tell me what problem TWO parents could have that would allow you to believe “hey they have this problem so how their child is acting is acceptable” ? What their both schizophrenic so it’s okay? Or what their both deaf and blind? I’m literally struggling to understand how you could say idk what their problem is enough to let two people to allow their child to act like this.

        1. It’s really hard to understand what you’re saying because of your grammar. You may not realize it but using the wrong word changes the whole meaning of your sentences.

          ‘their shitty parents’ should be ‘they’re shitty parents’
          If you say, ‘their shitty parents’, you are talking about the child’s grandparents whereas when you say ‘they’re shitty parents’ you are talking about the parents of the child.

          ‘BY THE TIME THEIR ADULTS’ – their should be they’re
          ‘their child’ – again their should be they’re

          Instead of ‘your soft’ – your should be you’re
          ‘your missing’, it should be ‘you’re missing’

          and ‘to scared to speak up’ – ‘to’ should be ‘too’

          Figured you might not be offended since you have no problem calling out ‘shitty parents’.

  9. Thank you Brian for writing the article in such a way as to not condemn every parent and child who flies. We have flown with our 3 children many times, the first of which was a long-haul from the East coast of the U.S. to Hawaii with at least 2 connections when the children were five and a half and three and a half year old twins. While I do have to give credit to luck/God/whatever (just thanks who or whatever you are!), we didn’t just plop the kids on the plane and hope for the best. For weeks before-hand, we talked about flying, take-off, landing, and by the time came, they were so excited to get on the plane I almost felt guilty. You would have thought the plane was Disney World and they were getting on the Dumbo ride. At one point during those weeks beforehand, we lined up the dining room chairs like they were airplane seats, and I pretended to be the flight attendant going through the pre-flight check. They thought it was a cool game. We also bought some new games and treats and saved them for the flight, bringing them out at different times as surprises to keep them occupied. We brought their favorite books and read to them. Frankly, mostly they just wanted to sit and look out the windows and play games. During the flight and when we landed, we had more than one person approach us (with obvious relief on their faces) to make a point in saying how well-behaved they were. On the whole, I have more of a problem with adult passengers and their behaviors than children. I have to wonder if the child in your story was autistic or had some other problem. Why did we go to such lengths to try to prevent meltdowns? Partly out of concern for our kids on such long flights, partly out of hope to make the flight bearable to other passengers. But mostly because I myself have zero patience for parents who don’t at least try to discipline or control their kids. I also know my limits on dealing with a possibly bratty kid during a stressful trip. We’ve taken them on lots of trips since and they still like flying. Its still stressful as a parent but maybe preventative steps work with some kids. Can’t hurt.

    1. I admire you for all of the effort you put into preparing your children for an upcoming flight, Diane Smith.

      The main reason why I do not condemn every parent and child who flies is quite simple: the number of passengers who are well-behaved children far outnumber those who are significantly problematic to fellow passengers.

      I have noticed that many times, children are better behaved than adults — and I do not love children by any stretch of the imagination…

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