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Mile High Manners: Sensible Solutions to “Cute” Children, Seat Hogs & Sky Vampires

Traveling can be a tricky business, one that’s often complicated by unexpected, misery-inducing difficulties. You’ve got tightened airport security to deal with, not to mention delayed flights, discourteous strangers and maybe even a screaming child to top it all off. Sometimes it feels like the whole ordeal isn’t worth the hassle, but fear not! Mile High Manners is here to lend a helping hand and guide you through the polite “do’s and don’ts” of flight etiquette, regardless of the class you’re seated in and situations you come up against.


Q: I’m so frustrated! I was on a flight earlier and there was a little girl behind me that WOULD NOT stop singing that “Let It Go” song from Frozen! It was cute at first, but by the third round I was ready to fling open the emergency exit doors and let myself go out of them! The entire family had their headphones on, so I don’t know if the parents even realized she was singing. What should I have done?

A: Children on planes can be a nightmare for both parents and other passengers. My view is that people on either side of the nightmare need to show a little more compassion and understanding.

If you’re on the wrong end of a screaming (or, in this case, singing) child, there is this crazy new invention called headphones. Clearly the parents in the aforementioned situation already figured that one out. Plug yourself in, turn up the volume (apologizing to your eardrums in advance) and drown out the little darling with generous lashings of Kanye West, or perhaps some Wagner. Noise-cancelling headphones are the best in this regard. They’re more expensive, but they’re worth it for those who like to come prepared. If you choose to board a plane without headphones, then I can’t help you.

I believe that most people are rational and fair. If you see a child on a plane, you should be prepared for some disturbance. Children exist and we have to make peace with that.

That being said, there is nothing worse than a parent who sees their child doing something incredibly loud and annoying on a plane — obviously disturbing passengers within earshot — and thinking it’s cute. It’s not. What’s even worse is when these parents choose to ignore their cute child’s behavior and allow the ruckus to continue at your experience. These people should not be allowed on planes, or anywhere else for that matter. A few dirty glances in the parent’s direction may help, but there are no guarantees.


Q: I sat next to very overweight lady on a flight from New York to LA recently. She was a wonderful conversationalist with very fat arms that overlapped into my seat. I lied and said it was OK. It was not.

A: Personal space is very important on an airplane. If you ever find yourself in a situation like the one above, lean your body away from the individual as much as humanly possible without causing discomfort. There is also the old “playing dead” option, which is a wonderful get-out-of-jail free card in most of life’s sticky situations. It’s easy to “play dead” in a situation like the one outlined above. All you have to do is curl up into a little ball, pretend that you’re lying next to a sweaty beanbag and avoid starting any conversations with said beanbag.


Q: Whenever I fly, I prefer the aisle seat (tiny bladder + long-haul flight = aisle seat) but I also like having the window shade open. On the last few flights I’ve been on, the person seated next to me (closest to the window) pulls the shade down before takeoff and keeps it down the entire flight! We’re both paying for the same row, so shouldn’t we both have a say in whether or not the shade gets closed?

A: Ah, a classic dilemma for anyone who belongs to the Aisle Seat Club. In my experience, the battle lines are usually drawn right from a flight’s inception and stay there until the final destination is reached. How you choose to act at the beginning is very likely the way things will stay for the duration, so keep that in mind. The shutters are a hotly contested arena, for sure. Here are my insights on the issue:

If you’re on a flight that leaves in the morning, and you’re not Sky Vampire, then there is really no need for the shutters to be closed right from the start. If you on a flight that leaves in the evening, then this logic is simply reversed.

If you’re a window passenger who feels exceptionally tired, but you still want to catch some rays on a morning flight, then may I prescribe a blindfold and a bottle of sleeping pills?

If these simple laws are broken by one who wields the power that comes from possessing a window seat, then you can do either of the following:

Adopt a passive aggressive approach, wherein you to spend a portion of the flight sneering and looking contemptuously down your nose at your window-seated companion until they close their eyes. Then, while they’re not looking, you slyly reach over and change the shutters. If your seatmate opens their eyes and demands to know why the shutters have been tampered with, simply shrug your shoulders or blame the nearest child.

If you prefer a more direct route, you could always lean over and inform your seatmate/new mortal enemy that unless they change the shutters you will hold the aisle hostage and refuse them access to the bathroom until your demands are met.

In the end, like anything in life, it all comes down to compromise. You have to decide which is more important to you: clear access to the bathroom or control over those plastic shutters. You can’t have your cake and eat it.


Have you ever faced an in-flight encounter or unexpected situation at the airport which you were unsure of how to handle properly? Send your dilemmas to us at [email protected] and check back every Wednesday as we endeavor make the travel experience more enjoyable for everyone.


[Photo: iStock]

Comments are Closed.
Clucky November 3, 2014

I am with IBobi -If flying economy, window seat controls the window, middle seat gets two armrests (as they dont get any other benefits!) and the aisle seat has easy access to the toilet. However, I both agree and disagree with go_around. I have an 18 month old and he is about to go on his first flight. He is generally well behaved but like any toddler, does have the odd tantrum on very rare occasions. I fly A LOT and I do like my peace and quiet, but then again I do accept that if someone has a baby on the flight, its not always easy to just plug them up - sometimes it's very much trial an error to find out the trigger. Trust me, the parent doesnt want the child to be screaming, and therefore giving them dirty looks isnt going to help the situation. However, if the parents are just plugging themselves up then that's when I think a tactical word with the FA would be the way forward. My plan is to load myself up with distractions for my son (iPad with his favorite films on, a few toys, snacks, blanket etc...) and also some earplugs and 'apology' chocolates for the people around me just in case. I am hoping the fact that I am prepared for all situations will show any irritaited passengers that I am doing my best and difuse any iritations people may have. I think he will be fine in all honesty. He is fascinated by planes and if I tactically time his naps, he will most likely sleep most of the flight anyway.

alphaod November 1, 2014

I fly morning flights and I need the sleep, hence I'm in the window seat, so I don't have to yield for people heading to the bathroom and at the same time I can close the shutter (unless the FA tells me otherwise). Yes, I've had one guy refuse to let me use the bathroom, so I just stepped over him.

go_around November 1, 2014

The idea that children exist and noise etc should just be tolerated is rubbish. There are plenty of well behaved children out there who are quiet and sit at peace. It's not inevitable that because it's a child it's going to be a nuisance. Parents of hooligan children would do well to observe this fact and abandon the irritating "he/she is only a child" platitude.

IBobi October 30, 2014

Window seat controls the shade. End of story. You want the shade? Sit in the window. You're in the aisle, you control the entrance to/exit from the row. In the middle seat? You get two armrests. Done & done.

rwmiller56 October 30, 2014

Noise cancelling headphones typically do not help in a situation where there is chatter or babies crying. Noise "isolating" headphones, or ear buds, however, do help.