Friday, August 10, 2007


Children on red-eye flights

When I fly home from the Left Coast, I often take a “red-eye” flight: an overnight flight that leaves at 9 or 10 or 11 p.m., arriving in New York at 6 or 7 in the morning. Five hours in the air and a three-hour time-zone change hacks eight hours out of the day. Add time at the airports, and I'd rather put all that during night hours than lose the whole of the next day. Usually, I get a few hours' sleep in the plane, get home around 8 and go to bed for another couple of hours, and by 10 or 10:30 I'm fine and have the day in front of me.

And the key is that I can usually get at least two or three hours of sleep in the plane. Sometimes it's better than others: two red-eyes ago I got an exit-row seat, and the extra room almost made it feel like I had a hotel room, at least in comparison to the usual knees-up-your-nose seating in economy class. I slept like a baby.

But here's the thing: babies often do not sleep like babies.

Time was, red-eye flights were half empty, or more. You could often spread out on two or even three adjacent seats, and it really was like a little in-flight hotel room. But that time has passed, and red-eyes, as most other flights, are now full or close to full. Things are tight. And as people travel more, they travel more with their small children.

I was on a red-eye a couple of years ago that had a baby crying all night about eight rows ahead of me. That's not hyperbole; the baby really did cry for the entire flight, or at least all of it during which I was awake. I did get some sleep, but I doubt that those in its immediate vicinity could catch any. And on my most recent red-eye, the row in front of me contained a baby who cried on and off, waking me every half hour or so.

Parents: overnight flights are challenging for adults. You have no business putting small children through that challenge, and you have no business putting all the people in the plane around you through the consequences. Trust me on this: there's a good chance that your child will not sleep through the night. There's a good chance that your child will, in fact, be awake often, and will keep you and your unwitting neighbours awake too.

Use this test:

If your child is old enough that you can say, “Honey, you have to be very quiet because all these people around us need to sleep,” and you can rely on the child to understand and stay quiet, then your may take your child on an overnight flight, at your discretion. If that's not the case (and if your child is pre-verbal it almost certainly is not), then do not do it. Fly at another time, during the day. You don't have the right to disrupt the sleep of a plane-load of people for your scheduling convenience.


Dr. Momentum said...

I've never had a baby bother me on a flight. How am I so lucky?

What baby?

Maggie said...

"Babies don't sleep like babies," ha ha. There isn't a parent on the planet who doesn't know that one. As a parent, I can tell you that having small children is an extreme physical challenge all the time, on a plane, on a boat, on a train, with green eggs and ham, without... you get the idea. You may think it's inconsiderate to you to have a child on a red-eye, but I seriously doubt it makes a difference to the baby. I feel very sorry for the parent of the crying child. Blame the airline, they probably didn't pressurize the cabin properly.

I do understand your feelings... life is very, very different without children. Soooo much easier. One digestive tract, one nervous system, one set of wants to think about, and the power to meet those wants. But we all started out as fussy little helpless bundles of noise. Children are a fact of life that is sometimes going to get shared with those who would rather not partake!

Whenever I hear a baby crying, because I have the experience of having been the mother with the crying baby (although never on a plane), I'm just grateful that I'm only a bystander. A little sympathy for the mother might temper your irritation.

The Ridger, FCD said...

You know what? I have no kids. I don't like kids crying on airplanes, either - any time. But for crying out loud, maybe the parents need to use nonworking hours, too. Maybe their eight hours are better at night. Buy yourself a pair of earplugs or Boze headsets if a baby crying disrupts your sleep that much.

Barry Leiba said...

Yes, I'll probably start carrying ear plugs. But in the computer business we call that a "workaround".

I'm sorry, but I just don't accept the attitude that it's OK to bring babies and small children into environments or situations to which their behaviour is inapropriate, and that everyone should just suck it up and like it. That's changed greatly since I was small, and it's a change that I don't think is for the better.

The Ridger, FCD said...

IMO, there's a huge difference between a crying kid at a restaurant or movie, and one on a plane.

Maggie said...

Yeah... darn, I sure wish we were back in the days when women were barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen and children were seen and not heard. Now where'd I put my switch?

Dr. Momentum said...

In life it's called "a solution." :-)

I completely understand why you don't like being annoyed by crying children -- who likes that? And yet people have to travel with their, sometimes unpredictable, children.

The question is -- is there a solution?

Transport the kids during the day and you've annoyed the business traveler who is trying to finish his presentation or do other work on the plane.

Traveling parents cannot win; considering that, I'm not sure scheduling is the problem.

However, I'm confident of my "workaround."

That said, I'd also like to add that there are plenty of times I wanted to cry out loud for a whole flight. I am proud to say I refrained.

choklit said...

Well, this might be in the category of too little too late, but I must say that I sympathize with Barry's comments. I have been on flights where I have felt *incredibly* sorry for parents with children who are obviously sick, parents who are doing their very best to both care for their child *and* not overly bother other people. On the other hand, I've also had children behind me who repeatedly kick the back of my seat and yell with piercing abandon, all without any apparent attention or restraint from the parent.

In a larger sense, however, I think what I react to most strongly is (1) the seemingly rampant sense of entitlement across our culture today and (2) the growing "preciousness" of the children. By entitlement I mean in this case a growing disregard for others: that one's particular lifestyle should be tolerated (and in some cases subsided) by the society at large, regardless of the impact on other individuals in that society. By "preciousness" I mean that the needs and wants of children today increasingly supercede those of adults. To someone such as myself who is old enough to be on the downhill side of at least two generation gaps, this seems like an upside down version of things.

The parents are the ones who have chosen to have children (in most cases), and they are the ones whose responsibility it is to make them part of the society. It's obvious that children in general should be allowed on airplanes, but it should also be obvious that *some* children may not be ready for such a long confinement. If a parent *has* to fly with such a child and the situation unravels, I find it objectionable for the parent's attitude to be (as Barry states) "Hey, suck it up. I have a *child* here!", instead of an apologetic one that recognizes the discomfort of others around him or her that is caused by the child.

When children are in an environment dominated by adults, the children should not be free to act in the same way they are when they're at, say, a birthday party with 20 other kids their own age. Different societal norms apply.

mc2 said...

As a traveller I can see where you are coming from, babies on planes is not a good idea for the rest of the plane (not that it stops me from sleeping as my body just can't do that on a plane). I have had to sit near crying babies and it does get frustrating.

However as a parent with young children travelling at night is actually often the best time since they are supposed to be asleep and often will be.

Ok now I have not put this into practice on a plane with my two and I certainly wouldn't have done with my eldest as a baby since he constantly had ear problems. An even with a properly presurised cabin there is no way the baby is not going to have problems if they have glue ear or similar.

That said night time is still the more convienient time as the children are more likely to be sleepy and less likely to be wanting to run up and down the plane, especially on flights that are several hours long.

kelawoodland said...

I know I'm late on this thread BUT being the mother of two small children, who travel A LOT.... I have to say, the only baby I see identified on this plane was YOU Mr. Leiba! I hope on your next flight with a crying baby you can refrain from judgment and offer emapthy for the mother (and/or father) traveling with the child. Maybe even throw them a smile of respect and understanding.

Nathaniel Borenstein said...

I suspect it makes a big difference whether or not you're a parent yourself. As a parent, when I hear a crying baby on a plane, my first thought is "those poor parents." I then either spend the rest of the trip trying to think of some way to help (there isn't one) or being appalled at the way the parent is trying to quiet the kid; there are harsh approaches that are much worse than a crying child, even for the people nearby.