“Screaming baby on a plane” meets “The kindness of strangers”


We fly with the kids a lot. Our four year old just had his 12th plane trip last week, meaning if we count individual legs of each trip, including lay-overs, he’s gone through security and gotten on and off an airplane 26 times. We’ve had our share of hairy moments, but by passing him between my husband and me, along with some well-timed “behavior motivators” (a.k.a. bribes), we’ve gotten thorough it all without incident and have managed to avoid being “that family with the screaming child” every time.

Until now.

Last week, we flew with both boys to meet up with family. I wasn’t even remotely worried about how the boys would be on the plane; even our not-quite-two-year-old has been on several flights and has always been easy to calm down if he gets upset.

We got on board and saw the worst possible seating arrangement: 3-across seats. Why do I fear this set up? This means we will sit as “4 year old/husband/stranger” then “stranger/me/toddler”. The wild card of having a stranger sit with us and judge me based on how my children behave mid-flight stressed me out BIG TIME. The trip out went off without a hitch. The trip back? Well, let’s just say that our 8:15 p.m.-midnight flight and our two year old didn’t get along well.

Mid-flight, I looked over at my four year old and my husband, happily sharing some ginger ale and pretzels and flipping through SkyMall magazine, while I sat next to our younger son who resembled something from “The Exorcist”. He screamed, thrashed, kicked…it wasn’t pretty. The flight attendants came over and offered us milk, water, cookies, whiskey (ok, maybe I’m joking about the last part, but those poor, sweet flight attendants really tried everything). I tried stickers, iPod movies, books, singing, walking…nothing worked. He wasn’t having it. He was overtired and wanted his bed. We were that family. I could feel my skin turning red and suddenly felt like the temperature of the plane was well over 100 degrees. I wished I could use one of those handy oxygen masks they’re always telling us about. I apologized profusely to the passengers around us.

Then, the kind woman in our “wild card” stranger seat turned to me and said, “It’s fine! He’s a baby. There’s nothing you can do sometimes. Babies cry- it’s just how life is. That’s why I decided to sit in this seat– because I knew if he had a rough flight I wouldn’t be bothered. I know how it is. I’ve been there, too. It’s ok.”

Wow! After hearing so many negative stories in the news about rudeness families traveling by plane with young children encounter, I was blown away to be fortunate enough to meet someone who gets it. Life doesn’t stop when you have a baby. To an extent, your kids need to learn the ropes of how your family lives, and if that involves traveling, then they’ll need to figure out how to do that, too. The reason our older son knows how to act on a flight is because he’s been doing it all along. We have out-of-state family, and we like to visit them when we can. You have to press on and live life, knowing that sometimes, babies will be babies and there’s not much you can do to stop it. I had done everything you can do to calm a baby down and it wasn’t helping. However, after talking to the woman next to us, he magically settled down. Perhaps he could sense that I was no longer stressed, or maybe he just wore himself out screaming, but he finally fell asleep and was quiet.

It’s nice to come across perfect strangers who genuinely seem to care about those around them and treat them like equals, from tiny babies to adults. When my husband and I were early twenty-somethings traveling by plane, we would both cringe at the sound of a melting two year old. I would never say anything, of course, but I never really went out of my way to say “It’s ok.” From now on, I will. In fact, when I’m that seasoned mom of adult kids on a plane someday, I might just pack some stickers for the frazzled moms of screaming toddlers. So thank you, lovely woman on Southwest airlines last weekend, wherever you are! 🙂


19 thoughts on ““Screaming baby on a plane” meets “The kindness of strangers”

  1. What an incredible story! I am going to fly with Lillian for the first time this summer and your scenario is exactly what I’m afraid of. It’s so wonderful that you sat with such a kind and compassionate person!

  2. Haha, love this story. I was on a flight back from Florida yesterday and there was this young mom with her probably-2-year old kid. Her kid was pretty well behaved but SHE was a hot mess. She was soaking from head to toe with sweat from having hauled her kid, her luggage and all the extra gear around the airport, and she was SO PISSED when she realized that her phone was in her checked in luggage and the flight attendant couldn’t get it out of cargo for her. My guess is that maybe she wasn’t a frequent traveler.

    In any case, about a half hour into the flight, she got up to go pee but her kid was asleep. She nudged him to wake him up so that she could take him with her. I felt so bad for her to be waking a sleeping toddler, so I offered to watch him for her while she went to pee. Well, she shot me the look of death that pretty much read: “Why would I leave my sleeping kid in YOUR care, you crazy lady??” yanked her kid’s arm and dragged him, half asleep, down the aisle while to the lavatory.

    I mean, c’mon – I’m not some scary person, and we ARE in a contained vessel, so it’s not like I can run away with the kid!

  3. I want to be that lady when I grow up! In fact, I think we all should be her! Awesome story! We had a similar situation on our trip to Italy when Ava was 18 months old. 16+ hours of traveling and a time change and she was not having any of it! the problem was I tried to keep her up most of the day, thinking she would be tired right at the 8pm takeoff, yet I did not realize that the lights don’t actually go off until 2 hours into the flight! She was completely overtired and I had to walk around with her most of the flight. But people were genuinely nice (mostly the Italians who love the “bambinos”) and we had no real issues. We did however have an issue with the lady in front of us when we went to Florida once when Miles was 3. He put his foot on the back of her seat (placed it there, not kicked it) and she flipped around in her seat and told him to “QUIT IT!” I nicely asked her if she would appreciate if he holds his breath as well, and she turned around and didn’t say anything the rest of the trip!

    1. Ohhhh wow- I’ve wondered about flying to Europe with the boys. I’ve done the USA-Italy flight once, and I’m not sure I’m brave enough to do it with kids. That’s a long trip! How long did it take them to adjust to the time change? That’s terrible about the lady on your FL flight, though- ugh!!!

      1. Actually we were all so tired by the time we got to our apartment that we all crashed for a good 3 hour nap, woke up and headed to dinner and some walking around (we were in Venice- LOVE!)… They adjusted to the time change pretty well, mostly because it was exciting! When we got back the change was a bit more jarring, but we allowed for a few days before heading back to work/daycare.

      2. We use to do England to CT and back twice a year…the time difference flying CT to England wasn’t too bad, although the boys were shot the first day, they recovered quickly, however England to CT, the time difference always took about 3 days to adjust to for them…waking up at 2 am the first couple of days, hard on the mommy. Not sure if this information will help you but hope it does.

  4. I wish I could find that lady and give her a big smooch. Why can’t people be more understanding…they were kids once too – and they might be in that situation one day.

    1. Me too! 🙂 And yes- not to mention, kids are actually people! As much as I think it’s really important to teach them to behave appropriately and hold them to it…sometimes, it’s just too much for them. It’s not like their parents WANT them to cry!

  5. Love this story. I too have two well seasoned traveler boys and most of the time they are great on the plane, unfortunately sometimes…we all have bad days. It’s always heartwarming to have understanding fellow passengers. My girlfriend once had an attendant actually walk around the plane carrying her toddler until he fell asleep on a transatlantic flight while she sat with her other son and quieted him. I’ve always been jealous of that story since I’ve only experienced the flight attendant that scolds me for taking a potty training boy to the bathroom when the fasten seat-belt sign is on. Wishing you more happy flights.

  6. This brought a tear to my eye too. *happy sigh* I KNOW that “is-it-hot-in-here?” feeling when you’re trying to calm a crying baby in public. And I also had an unsettled 1 year old on the way to Hawaii before. Hello, 17 hour trip!!! This is one of the reasons I think every flight attendant should be a juggler and there should be trains that run along the top of the windows on every plane. That an a manicure/massage station for frazzled moms! Some day….. 😉

    1. Yes!! That is the WORST feeling- ugh!! I never really understood pre-kids that you CAN’T just make a baby or toddler do what they’re supposed to, and there are some situations, like flights, that you can’t just opt out of. And yes- what the heck is up with ZERO entertainment for kids in flight? When will the airlines figure out that if the kids are just happier and have something to look at or do or something EVERYONE would benefit?!

  7. I think we should agree to pack a nip of whiskey in our carry on for the frazzled toddler mother in our old age too!

  8. On our trip home from the Ricki Lake show we had an AWFUL woman in front of us who was so rude and terrible, I STILL think about it all the time. So when I read the words from your kind stranger, it brought tears to my eyes. What a sweet blessing. Can’t we all just be kind to each other??

    1. Oh Elise, that’s awful. I don’t know why people seem to forget that parents and kids are HUMAN, and deserve to be treated as such. Of course, I’d never dream of taking an overtired 2 year old out at midnight under normal circumstances, and goodness knows I certainly would have rather not- but things don’t always happen the way we want them to, and we should remember to be kind to others. Being angry really doesn’t change things, and it rarely helps!

      1. Exactly! She kept telling me to “control my child” and all I could think was, “HAHAHAHA. You clearly don’t have any children.”

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