a bed in a plane

The world can be a very funny place and few places embody that notion more than airplanes. People tend to let their wildest self beliefs take charge and often, many of their most basic manners are left to fly out the window.

And if you want to take things up a notch — or twelve — just ask people about their thoughts around kids on airplanes. If you thought politics was polarizing, my goodness try this one. This is unfiltered coffee.

As a frequent first and business class traveler, who more often than not has a two year old in tow these days, I wanted to address some of the issues, stigmas and the double standards which exist.

And to be fair, I’ll also” tell all” about some of the unacceptable situations involving kids on planes.

Before I do, I’ll say this. I’ve had more flights ruined by childish adults, than children.

a bed in a plane

Should Kids Be Allowed To Sit In First And Business Class At All?

Is that even a question? The answer is yes. Yes, they should.

Somehow, I’ve heard a shocking number of people pontificate that children shouldn’t be allowed to sit in business or first class. These are usually also people where I’d fret to hear their thoughts on freedom of marriage, or who can drive cars.

Even still, there may be solutions lurking which would help everyone. Like any other commodity, airline seats go to the people who pay for them.

If there are no more seats, you can’t pay for them. When I make the decision to pay for an airline seat for someone else, it’s entirely my prerogative who sits there.

How You Can Stop Kids From Being In Your Cabin

If you wanted that seat to be quiet, or want to control who sits around you, you should pay for the seats around you too. Yo-Yo Ma famously pays for a seat for his cello.

At the stage of divine diva-ness where you’re purchasing an entire cabin to avoid the sounds of children, I can recommend looking up empty leg jet pricing, or just buying a jet.

If you’re not at that financial level, remember that noise is not exclusive to kiss. Try not to let cackling laughs, loud “business” conversations about “how important you are”, or an endless stream of farts disrupt a kids flight.

The only bodies which can impact this rightful decision of the ticket purchaser are the governments or an airlines involved.

If the person is deemed physically unfit to occupy a certain seat for a safety reason, the airline can move them. If a government deems a person is inadmissible to travel to a given country before flight, they can remove them.

a child standing on a door in an airplane

What’s The Etiquette On Screaming Kids In First Or Business Class?

I travel frequently in first or business class without my wonderful daughter, Olive, and I travel frequently with her too.

I know the feeling of hearing a child screaming while trying to catch precious zzzz’s on a plane, or catch the subtle nuance of Larry David’s humor on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Neither situation is all that pleasant for anyone involved. But I think this is where the important distinction is. It’s not fun for parents, the child, or for you. If the parents or the kids are trying to remedy the situation, have some empathy.

When the parents are not trying, that’s a different story.

If you’ve had too many gin martini’s to remember, so much is happening at young age with children. Ear trouble, growing pains and emotional overloads are just the start. I’d be lying if I didn’t note that Olive has cried on flights, but it’s always been brief periods, rather than long and sustained bouts.

I’d say that’s really down to us, the parents, really trying.

As part of the essential tips for flying with toddlers, it’s absolutely vital to have snacks, distractions, games, arts and crafts projects and everything under the sun ready for a long flight.

I’d love to recline my seat into a big flat bed and pass out, but we spend most of the flight when Olive isn’t sleeping — doing our best to stimulate her and give her what she needs to be comfortable, or happy. Planes are an environment very famous for being uncomfortable.

It’s our way of trying to make her happy — which is our utmost priority — but also keep the cabin happy, which is a very distant second place. I think etiquette should always be to forgive and forget — or just put your f**king headphones on when possible.

Parents who want to be lazy and forget they are responsible for a young child should pay for an extra seat for a nanny. Remember, we’re talking about first class.

Don’t even @ me with the “but noise cancelling headphones can’t silence changing sounds” nonsense. If you’re into a good movie with a good pair of headphones or in ear monitors, it should be faint background noise at the worst.

When parents do nothing to try to resolve the emotions or discomfort of a young child it’s all just kinda sad though. Nothing good usually comes from confrontation on an airplane, but it’s fair to be frustrated by lazy parents. That’s true on the ground too.

In ideal situations, this is where cabin crew can play a role. Proactively offering up a coloring book to the parents or doing really anything to get them involved can go a long way.

a bed with two monitors and a bed with a purple blanket

Physical Annoyance Is Another Story Entirely

We’ve gone deep enough into the emotional and physical toll flying takes on everyone and children specifically, but there’s an area which even as a parent, I’ll agree is totally unacceptable.

Noise from children is somewhat inevitable, but physically disrupting another persons flight is not. I’m looking at you, parents who mindlessly look away while your kid kicks the back of my seat, or starts lobbing gummy bears.

Even as an advocate for family travel and the incalculable good and joy it brings for all — once you get there (wink, implied) — it’s just never ok for anyone of any age to disrupt a journey in a physical manner.

No kicking the seat, no throwing things. It may happen, but parents gotta’ stomp that out real fast. Not ok.

Would Children’s Areas Or Seat Maps Help Solve This?

There’s no way to create a children’s area in a first class cabin, but some airlines have tried in economy. Many see this as the great solution everyone has been waiting for. Others see it as first world privilege gone mad.

One solution which could help, involves a little iconography key on seat maps, which shows where children are sitting. It won’t stop every case for fussy travelers, but niche benefits may exist.

Who is on the flight can change up to the last moment, but if a person is looking to fly between cities with numerous flights and sees a kid in first class on one flight but not another, it could diffuse some tension for the hardest to please by identifying that in advance.

The problem with “kids sections” is that they can actually make things worse. If Olive is sound asleep and another kid is screaming their lungs out, it will likely wake Olive and then she’ll give her best impersonation.

With natural spacing between kids, there’s actually better chance for those who are asleep, or are being quiet and peaceful to remain that way, even if one of the young kid flyer team is having a rough day.

Parents Should Be Responsible, Adults Should Too

Kids are the innocent parties here. Well, except when they get old enough to be their own kind of trouble. But with young kids, responsibility for a good journey, for every person in the cabin is really down to the parents.

I think it’s essential etiquette to be as understanding as you can be with young kids, as long as the parents are being understanding of your journey too. When Olive has had teething pain, I’ve picked her up and carried her to a galley, to try to spare passengers those couple moments of audible pain.

Being kind, smiling or just remaining calm can also go a long way with making things better for all. A plane full of people recently sung “Baby Shark” to calm a young kid and you can’t help but laugh — and love.

On the flip side, I’ve also had Olive woken from a peaceful slumber by people trying to talk to us without any awareness.

Or, just being loud and obnoxious having conversations with friends, or crew, that practically the entire plane could listen in on.

Very few planes have been turned around, or forced to divert due to young children throwing tirades over booze, political issues or popping too many pills. You cannot say the same about adults. Particularly, these days.

Before going all high and mighty over children being allowed into premium cabins, a look in the mirror can be helpful. If parents are trying and kids are trying their best, it’s best to just sit back, relax, put the headphones on and enjoy the flight.

You can’t control who sits around you. If you want to — charter a jet.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Night flight in lay flat business class and one couple decides to keep their reading lights on the entire flight and talk loudly and get up into the overhead bin (BANG! every time it closes). Drunk guy lamenting loudly about everything on another flight, such that even with ear plugs AND noise cancelling headphones I was disturbed. Those are the two times that stand out in my head when I think of my worst flights- not kids. Or just turbulence, that’s always a pain when trying to sleep.

    1. 100% with you here. I totally get the “when in Rome” thing, but its people treating the flights like their last day on earth that have kept me up more than the kids!

  2. I agree so much on the effort. If the parents are trying I don’t get angry. If they are not trying I get livid.

    1. Last week in first class, I looked behind me and saw 2 preteen girls. Their parents were sitting together next to them. The one behind me starting kicking my seat before the plane took off. I turned around and the wife said sorry. The girl continued to kick my seat the whole flight while the parents had cocktails. When we started to deplane, the father says to me “Sorry, we fly all the time”, I asked him why they didn’t break the kids up with the parents one to one. No answer, I know I should have involved the crew, but didn’t want to put them in jeopardy with the drunk parents. I just wish people knew the reason most of us pay for first class, is for peace and quiet and fewer people using the toilet.

  3. I entirely agree and entirely disagree!

    There are several different issues here: kids screaming because their ears hurt; babies screaming because that’s what babies do; 8 year olds behaving as if they owned the aircraft and playing on their tablets with the volume on whilst their parents are passed out from gin & valium…

    I have no problem with any child screaming in pain. I have a problem with a kid running up and down the aisle and the parents finding it funny as the child is expressing himself.

    These are probably the same parents that use their phones in movies, shout to their friends at the other end of the Eurostar carriage and generally behave as if on school holiday.

    I’m as bothered by someone speaking on their phone with the speaker on as I am by a screaming kid. I will shout at the noisy parent yet offer to help a single parent struggling with two kids…

    But the truth is some parents are assholes and their kids are often brats. And encouraged in their bratty behaviour. They forget that an aircraft cabin is a shared space and not their home… But unfortunately the more children they have the more they consider business or first to be their private space, the FAs to be their baby sitters and other passengers a nuisance to be ignored

    1. Lol i have to agree, no discipline and let the lidds rule the enclosure, never mind the noise pollution to others who may also be suffering, parents totally blazei, I was ab to blow once and cdnt help myself after 3 toddlers all kicking off 2g as one cdnt have a bisquit and another through a tantrum( which went on fir an hour) sm1 behind me saud ” it’s like a bloody zoo” sm1 else’s said ” I’ve seen better behaved chimps” lol although I secretly was smiling this of course called a ruckas, as the said parents quarrelled and called the man behind me a Natzi, all hell broke loose, but all because parents let theyre toddler out of seat, so the other 2 wanted to be let out of theyres , it was absolute hell, but I think the parents parents of avoided the situation by not letting yhe children out to run a muc in the Isles xxx

  4. Interesting that you’ve decided that you’re just right and anyone who disagrees is just wrong. So that implicitly makes it okay for everyone else to act that way too, right?

      1. “Otherwise, shut it. ”

        “charter a jet”

        For what it’s worth, I believe that there are absolutely some places where small children do not belong and premium airline cabins are one of those. Once a child can communicate any problems on a basic level, more-or-less feed themselves when food is placed in front of them, and normally act in a reasonable fashion, they should be welcomed into premium airplane cabins with an accompanying adult. Prior to that, no dice. Telling people to go rent a plane because a young child is screeching in their first class cabin that they paid gobs extra for – specifically for peace and comfort – just comes across badly, kind of a “Let them eat cake” perspective.

        1. I think my disagreement is because these are publicly available commodities. Private members clubs have adult only areas and I get that, but as long as airlines are transportation companies taking equal opportunity money, money talks. I think that’s the basic distinction. People can think what they want, but ultimately it won’t change the fact of who is there. An airline could set such a policy, but as much backlash as there is for kids in first class, there’s more for airlines that discriminate against families.

  5. Wow!!! It is amazing the sense of entitlement that parents have when it comes to the freedoms of non-parents. In the past year, I’ve had my Emirates first-class experience completely ruined by a screaming child. Do I care that the child and/or parents are also not having a grand time? NO. Keep the kids out of the front, period. If you want to book zoo class, feel free to sit in the rear. Why don’t YOU just charter a jet?? Seriously ridiculous, Sir.

    1. I find it interesting to accuse an individual of having an “amazing sense of entitlement”, when one refers to economy as “zoo class”. It would seem fairly entitled to assume that those who are not able to (or perhaps simply don’t want to) spend the money it costs to fly first or business make up the constituents of a zoo.

      Perhaps a little empathy may help to improve your overall experience, both when flying first class and in life.

      To avoid any confusion of bias: Yes I travel frequently, and no, I do not have children with me.

    2. This post reeks of entitlement. Referring to coach as “zoo class” as if people who can’t afford first are animals. Sickening.

    3. Like I said from the start, I’ve had more flights ruined by people having their “first” first and getting obnoxiously loud, drunk and snoring than I’ve had with kids. You sound like a prime candidate.

      So the world is supposed to put seeing family, connecting loved ones or attending doctors appointments on hold so you can enjoy a first class experience as if you own the plane? That sounds like entitlement. Don’t want kids in First? Buy all the seats.

  6. We flew recently in business class with our 18 month old daughter. The only way to keep her quiet was to get ipad on and as she is too young to wear headphones we put volume on max 15% to keep her quiet during day flight.. could barely hear it 1m away. Flight went fine, when disembarking we were informed that a passenger would be launching an official complaint against us and we could expect to hear from SQ in due course.. I thought it was a bit ridiculous the crew couldn’t have just asked us to switch the volume off, the screaming alternative would have been much louder..

    1. Sorry for your experience, FP. All I know is that people are nuts. Hope it all resolved easily — and totally agree. A polite warning or gesture from the crew would’ve gone a long way here.

  7. Less an article on etiquette. More a rant about how you expect everybody else to both accommodate you on the on hand and comply in the other. ‘Olivia is an angel. The world needs to adjust itself for her and us’ God I want to vomit at the level of self entitlement. Don’t worry though, in this case I’d agree and don’t blame her-its definitely YOU.

    As mentioned above. Maybe YOU should start looking at private jets

  8. Normally I find your commentary very helpful. Not so this time, with your characterization of those of us who have to save for quite a while to be able to travel in business or first because we are unable to sleep while crossing the Atlantic otherwise. The whole point of having the bed is to have the option to sleep for those who need/want to, and people (see, I recognize the dignity of children as people) who are not able to maintain some kind of quiet should travel in parts of the plane where it matters less. (For the record, I love children, my own and those of other people. But there’s a legitimate reason why some of us put out the extra money for the sake of the basic human need to rest. Not all of us are “childish adults” who “pontificate” and “let . . . cackling laughs or loud ‘business’ conversations about ‘how important you are'” or produce “endless stream of farts.” And while none off us are saints, we still don’t like being dismissed by such presumption.)

    1. JC, I’d hardly say I’m characterizing you as any of these things. If you’re not those things, then you’re not, right? Some are and some are not. Not all kids and parents are good either, as noted. Why, if I pay for a first class seat should my daughter be less entitled to sit in it than you? The extra space certainly helps create comfort for her too.

      1. You really need to reread your article and pay attention to your tone. Thank you for your other articles, which were often quite good. It’s been nice reading you in general. Sayonara.

        1. JC, I’d be sad to see you go. In this world two people very rarely agree on everything, so maybe we can just agree to disagree here? There’s lots of good stuff to come here, as always. Maybe just don’t click the kids on planes articles! Best, Gilbert

          1. Honestly, Gilbert, I wouldn’t leave over a disagreement. I would leave over being spoken down to. I think you need to check your tone in that article. I have not made a decision yet.

  9. It’s funny how parents who take babies on board always turn into immediate defense mode and justify why others should “be grateful for the flight” or “just use your noise cancelling headphones….you can obviously afford them…”. I’ve been on many flights with “demon spawn” where parents just “tune them out”. That happens more often than not. You may do all you can to make your child stay quiet and that’s good. But if you’re over the Atlantic and your child starts screaming and hollering and won’t stop, what will you do? You and the child are bothering everyone around. Would you settle for an adult doing the same thing? What if someone spoke VERY LOUD constantly throughout the flight? Would you just “use your noise cancelling headphones”? It’s funny how parents feel that others should go out of their way to accommodate them and their child, but those same parents do not feel it is appropriate for some adult to be loud and bothersome. If an adult were to take out an ipad and play it at full volume, people would object, particularly the parents who feel justified that their kids can make as much noise as they want.

    Yes this is a very polarizing topic and it seems that every parent thinks their child is well behaved and is just the cutest thing in the world. I’m sure they are. To them. But not to everyone. And here is a newsflash for all parents out there. Not everyone likes children. Not everyone thinks your child is adorable.

    I personally think it would be a great thing if there were child zones and child-free zones on planes. Everyone would be so much happier.

    1. “But if you’re over the Atlantic and your child starts screaming and hollering and won’t stop, what will you do? You and the child are bothering everyone around. Would you settle for an adult doing the same thing? What if someone spoke VERY LOUD constantly throughout the flight? Would you just “use your noise cancelling headphones”?”

      Again, I’ve had more adults speak loudly or act like demon spawn (thanks, people who like sleeping medication and wine cocktails) on flights than kids. I put my headphones on, turn the volume up and go into my own world as much as possible be it children or adults causing the disturbance. It’s the same regardless of the age of the offender. We can’t control who is around us. Plus, with the added space between seats, and ideally privacy doors, noise should deaden a bit versus economy.

    1. Just want to make you guys aware that you’re now talking about physically harming people, causing mortal injury… over first class, first world problems.

  10. Whilst I acknowledge my own intolerance of children and firmly believe that children should be seen and not heard (lol), I always use my noise cancelling headphones and take my Bose Sleep Buds with me on trips. It would take a considerable amount of noise to be able to penetrate the ‘auditory fortress’ that I build around myself.
    If parents are visibly trying to both comfort their noisy child and control them then it’s just something that people should grudgingly accept. A considerate parent will play to the audience and be seen to be doing their best.
    It’s when they don’t do that, let their kid run up and down or otherwise climb over everything that they deserve filthy looks and very loud comments of criticism and disdain.
    Everyone should always do their best to minimise inconvenience to others, rather than espouse a sense of entitlement. If they are doing their best to do the former, then people should try and be a little empathetic to their situation. It can be the difference between making an unbearable situation tolerable.

  11. Wow, shocking level of emotion here. Do people really believe they should get some kind of preference travelling over another fare paying passenger (Irrespective of age), that is entitlement.
    I’m definitely in the (if you don’t like it don’t fly or fly private camp). Travel is a challenge to the mind and an education, children should benefit more than most and I for one won’t be travelling in economy with my little ones, though I do agree there is a special care that parents have to ensue the right behaviour where small spaces can impact on others, but I also agree that I much more regularly get upset by the behaviours of other adults than children

  12. I could care less about those who feel children shouldn’t be allowed in first class. My concern is during take off and landing. Does my child have to sit in a seat by herself away from me or can I hold her? She’s only two.

    1. Once over two, they’re supposed to sit in their own seat. I find it ludicrous. We flew BA F this week and Olive our 2.5 year old was instructed to sit in her own seat. It was stressful. Even during turbulence they wanted her in her own seat, rather than strapped in with me under the belt.

  13. It’s quite painful to read some of the comments here about the hatred towards children on flights, thought not unexpected. The common misconception that you are paying for some sort of privacy, exclusive access or for a particular sort of person sitting next to you when flying in premium classes is as ridiculous as it is funny. We love to point out children because they are still learning to control their emotions but to your point unruly adults are FAR more plentiful and FAR more worrying on flights. I have heard plenty of folks go a step further and say children shouldn’t be allowed on flights period. A sad world they must live in for sure.

    I can fully appreciate that it can be a bit frustrating but the lack of empathy, in particular I have found in American travelers, is sad. As an American flying in other countries most of the travelers have been incredibly welcoming of my children so much as saying “you did a great job” or “its so great to see them traveling this young” after a particularly hard flight…..whether in coach or in business class. One can only hope that this sort of care for each other as human beings gets better before it gets worse

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