Ask any flight attendant what time of year they dread working the most, and a majority of them would tell you it’s the summer months. Schools and colleges are out for the season, parents are taking their earned vacations to spend time with their children, and everyone else just wants to get outside and enjoy the weather. Flight attendants don’t dread the season because the flights are full, they dread it because planes are packed with passengers traveling with kids—and those who aren’t used to traveling around kids.
Although not a parent myself, as a former flight attendant, I’ve seen the work that most parents put into traveling with their children. Many board the plane with a bag of toys, electronics, snacks, and coloring books just hoping that one of those items will keep their kids occupied enough to prevent them from becoming rambunctious around the other passengers. Inevitably, no matter the amount of prep prior to departure, some kids will end up disrupting the overall comfort of the flight by screaming, crying, or kicking the seat in front of them.
This triggers one of the most awkward requests that a passenger could ask of a flight attendant: to help with a rambunctious child. Despite being trained to assist in emergency situations, crew members aren’t taught how to soothe a screaming child or calm a stressed-out parent. But there are some circumstances in which a passenger should ask a flight attendant to intervene. Here’s how to tell the difference.
First, try to be patient or helpful
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 patience goes a long way. “Parents know their kids are being disruptive. It only adds fuel to the fire if another passenger jumps in and reiterates that to the parent as if they weren’t already aware," says Susan Marks, a flight attendant based in Los Angeles. "Offer a friendly nod with a smile. That lets the parent know you’re aware of the disruption, and it also acknowledges that they’re cognizant of it disrupting everyone around them. When people jump right into saying something along the lines of ‘that’s annoying,’ it only makes matters worse.”
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.