The unfriendly skies.

th-1Dreading being seated next to or near a baby on your next flight? You should probably be just as concerned about the adult passengers. Recently I’ve read two accounts of teen-aged girls (one of them an unaccompanied minor) being molested by adult men at 35,000 feet.

As we used to write from the city desk, “Police said alcohol was a factor.” Then again, plenty of people drink on planes and don’t grope strangers. Liquor may break the chain and free the beast, but only if the beast was already there.

The family of one girl (just 13 years old!) is suing American Airlines. The other, aged 16, kept pushing the guy away until another passenger intervened.

The moral of the story: Save the stinkeye for creepy drunken dudes and give parents of small children the benefit of the doubt.


Recently a blogger named Revanche wrote about flying with her husband and toddler (aka “the JuggerBaby”). Although the JB is heck on wheels at home, zie* is surprisingly containable when flying the friendly skies.

It helped that her parents thought ahead and brought snacks and (quiet!) playthings. Revanche’s conclusion: “Flying with your toddler won’t kill you.”

Sometimes it can get messy for fellow passengers, though.


Clean-up in Row 17

Once I was seated next to a woman with an infant and a seat-belted toddler who’d begun sobbing, “Want to get DOWN! Want to get DOWN!” long before the plane took off.

His extremely young mom (21, tops) hadn’t brought any toys or books for him, and was distracted by the nonstop fussing of her younger child. Also by the glares coming from across the aisle and from those walking past our row.

Takeoff caused much infant screaming, with the baby repeatedly spitting out the pacifier. Meanwhile I tried to get the toddler interested in pictures of animals and vehicles in the in-flight magazine. (“Wow, look at this truck! It’s a red truck! What color truck would you want?”) Ultimately he calmed down a little and was thrilled when his mom put out some snacks.

The young woman bought a box meal and I asked if she’d like for me to hold the baby so she could eat. Instantly she thanked me and handed him over. The kid stared at me for a minute, grinned and vomited. Not just a little spit-up, mind you: It actually splashed me, a la “The Exorcist.”

“Oh, no!” said his horrified mom.

“Well, now we know why he was fussing,” I said.

And it was true: Once he’d puked he was the happiest li’l guy imaginable.


Flying isn’t always fun

The upside is that I found out flight attendants have these MAGICAL WIPES — industrial-strength towelettes that could clean the smog off the Taj Mahal. Ask the flight attendant for one if your kid ever throws up on himself or spills something on you during a flight.

Do I like being in a plane with crying (and possibly vomitous) children? Of course not. Their parents don’t much like it, either. While I wish that all moms and dads were as proactive as Revanche and her husband, fact is that sometimes kids can’t be distracted for long.

They want to get DOWN. They want to get off the plane. They want to get back to their usual routines. Can’t blame them. I don’t like sitting in one place for five or six (or more) hours at a time.

But I have the perspective of an adult: “I’m not comfortable right now but I know that eventually I’ll be back on the ground.” To little kids, right now is for-evah. Too, some children have neurological or cognitive issues and can’t help acting out at times.

Fact is, few people are at their best on planes. Myself, I’d rather be next to a wailing baby or tantrum-y toddler than a drunk and belligerent adult – especially if he couldn’t keep his hands to himself.

*Revanche uses “zie” and “hir” in order not to reveal her child’s sex, for reasons of anonymity. (Hint: “Revanche” isn’t her real name.)

Related reading:

468 ad


  1. I agree with you! The little ones are totally out of their element sitting on a plane. The men touching those girls is incredibly scary. I have an 11 year old niece and I’m sure her mother would never let her fly to see me after seeing that report. Glad I have never needed those wipes – but I am glad they have them! (We could have used those in our nurse’s office at school!)

  2. Thanks for the commentary and the link! 🙂

    We need a massive moratorium on creepy dudes – that they just about always get away with little more than a slap on the wrist and the ability to point the finger at alcohol as a totally valid for it is unbearable.

    If more people were reasonable like you, and my goodness you were a bit of a saint with the vomit, travel would be so much more friendly.

    • Donna Freedman

      Creepy dudes…ick. If I’m ever on a flight and see a young woman (or any woman) pushing a guy away I’m going to have to speak up. The traveler who intervened asked the 16-year-old if she knew the guy. She said “no.”

      Which was a reasonable question. It could have been her boyfriend who was liquored up and acting like a douche.

      I’m not nuts about being barfed on, but there wasn’t a whole lot I could do. So I chose not to make a bad situation worse by screaming and complaining.

  3. I would rather sit by a crying/whiney child any day than a whiney or obnoxious adult. The child is probably doing the best he can at his age and I can be patient. Not so much the adult

  4. Teinegurl

    Aren’t unaccompanied minors assisted by flight attendants? Oh this scares the heck out of me I’ve sent my two kids unaccompanied to their dad before maybe luckily they had each other.

    • Donna Freedman

      They’re assisted by flight attendants but they aren’t watched every single second. Which is how these creeps were able to make their moves. Ick.

  5. Amanda

    I saw a poor little kid (appeared to be btwn 1 and 2) vomit while we were taxiing before take off on an 11 hour trip to Brazil. He seemed fussy before and a lot more calm afterwards. Luckily we were in bulkhead, limited splash zone and easier clean up. If there is a little one behind me, I try to distract them during take off and landing. I call it travel karma. When I was younger my family was stationed in Alaska and when we visited family on the East Coast, my parents couldn’t always get the same flight. My mother had a toddler and an infant to wrangle through an airport.

  6. Angela Jewby

    That American Airlines story riled me up last week also. Disgusting. My 15 yr old flew alone last summer, but they put her at the very front to keep an eye on her. Thank you Southwest Airlines.

    I also remember having my oldest (23 now) be the vomiting toddler riding in my hugely pregnant lap on a full flight. He also got knocked in the head by an unsympathetic flight attendant’s cart. If it wasn’t for the kindness of the stranger next to me I might have had a major meltdown. There was one empty seat in front of us on the plane, they asked the man seated in it if he would switch with me so we would have more room. He actually said no, because he wanted to set his newspaper in it!!! I am telling this 21 year old story all out of order because it still makes me nuts!

    Therefore, I also try to pay the kindness forward on flights now to protect parents/kids from newspaper jerk, by purposely sitting next to or near if help is needed, or just to give smiles rather than scowls.

  7. I have never understood why people make rude comments and glare at parents with crying children. Do they think the parents enjoy this? Or encourage it? My oldest son was on a long flight where there was a crying baby. Another passenger was loudly making rude remarks. After quite a bit of this, my son stood up, leaned over his seat to the complaining passenger and told her “shut up. you are only making the situation worse”. The rest of the passengers applauded. She stopped complaining and eventually, the baby stopped crying.
    On another note, I am appalled at the groping story. It is frightening. We need to teach our young women to be assertive and stand up for themselves, loudly and quickly. I have two granddaughters and this scares me.
    Keep writing the good stuff we all need to hear and think about.

    • CandiO

      Actually some of them do seem to enjoy inflicting their screaming children onto the rest of us. I don’t mind babies, they literally cannot help it. But toddlers and children, um yes. I do mind, a lot. The kicking, screaming, the tantrums. The parents who’ve done absolutely nothing for them. The snot, the drooling, the vomiting. I mind. A lot. The parents who sit oblivious, usually with their own medications and headphones and smart phones to ensure their own children do not bother THEM. I don’t often see the parents who have actually done things to help their kids, because their kids are mostly behaving.

  8. Kate Nelson

    I once was on a flight home to Boston from Orlando, and the three unaccompanied kids in front of me were really rowdy. This was before takeoff. The flight attendant came by and gave them the stink-eye, but they paid no attention. Finally I got tired of the craziness, especially since they started throwing jelly beans at each other, and I leaned forward and said, “You boys sit down, buckle up, and shut up. I don’t want to hear another word out of you till we get to Boston.” End of story.
    On another note, I once was groped on a city bus in Pittsburgh. The driver said it was my fault for “sitting next to a creep.” Thanks, pal.

    • Donna Freedman

      I was molested in a hospital, for crying out loud. It was a drunk guy who was visiting the other person in the room. Wish I’d known then that I could have reported it.

  9. mdoe37

    I couldn’t believe when I read about those girls….yuck. Quite a few years ago, we flew my step-son out to see his grandmother and which ever currently dying husband she had at the time (not kidding with that). There was a delay on the trip back in Chicago….they literally sequestered the kid at the airport to protect him. At 16, 6′-2″ and 215 lbs. And they punted for those young ladies Sad.

  10. Bless y’all for being sensible and compassionate adults. In response to @Sandy with the very valid sentiment that our young women need to be taught to be assertive and stand up for themselves:

    On the one hand, I totally agree but on the other, we learn time and time again that men will punish us for it. Like that boy who stabbed a girl to death for declining his invitation to the prom. Or the man who threw acid at a woman for walking away from him. Or Brock Turner whose future was so much more important than the woman’s he assaulted that he got a slap on the wrist.

    These stories happen so frequently it’s almost unremarkable when the news reports it. Men do it because society has taught them that they’ll get away with it. I don’t think it’s fair that society puts the onus entirely on young women to protect themselves and then lets them be attacked again for doing so at all. There are answers, and they start with holding men accountable for their actions.

    • Donna Freedman

      “Holding men accountable for their actions” — this +++++ infinity.

      When do we start teaching our boys that they don’t get everything they want and that women (or other men) were not put on this earth to be available to fill their every need (sexual or emotional) whenever they want it filled?

  11. It’s all about endurance…what you can or will put up with, I guess.

    (I’m talking about crying babies and other kidlets, not the groping. As a parent of two beautiful twenties-something daughters who have been leered at and Other Stuff, it wouldn’t bother me to open the cabin door and give these creeps a free ride to the ground.)

    I just did a business trip from Denver to California. (Stops in San Fran and Phoenix in between.) Both flights on the way there had little kids and babies screaming, kicking the seat, singing loudly, and shrieking…because after all, it echoes so nicely in here!
    I had kids like this two rows ahead of me — and the row directly behind me. (So I got to benefit from the pulling and kicking, especially. Not to mention the singing. I was trying to get some work done on the flight, by the way.)
    I didn’t say a word. Didn’t glare, didn’t protest. Just kept my head down. Getting off the plane on flight #1, a passenger on the other side of the plane said something to the mom of these two little boys (I mean brats). Mom looked at me. (I’m sure she knew I was bothered.)
    I said nothing. Didn’t agree with the Nice Lady. Didn’t smile at Mom. Nothing.

    And as I was congratulating myself for at least trying to understand…then on the return flights home, I get much the same thing!

    So a reminder here — I understand your advocating for the poor hapless parents who are doing their best to keep their kids under control. But my experience has been that most of these problem situations are caused because the parents are NOT doing their best…and hoping that the rest of us will just put up with it until we touch down.

    As for the gropers, though…toss ’em off.

    • Donna Freedman

      Earplugs are a big help.

      As noted, some of those kids might have issues other than poor parenting. But I too have seen parents who completely ignore the kids when they fly or parent ineffectually.

      On one flight after a girl kept kicking the back of my seat as her grandmother fretted, over and over: “Now stop that. You’re going to bother that person in the seat. Stop that. I said stop that.”

      She used the child’s name a couple of times. Finally I unbuckled, stood up and leaned over the back of the seat: “[Name redacted]: Your kicking is bothering me. Stop it.”

      She stopped.

      Had she not stopped — and had a flight attendant not been able to make her stop — what would I have done? Dunno.

  12. Air travel is such hell that I avoid it as much as possible, which means I haven’t flown out to visit my aged parents more than once in the last five years. Sigh. They live on the East Coast so on the way there I usually take a red-eye; there are fewer families with small kids traveling overnight. The way back is always awful though.

    We used to fly from LA to San Francisco when DH’s family events required a visit, but after 2001 with the new security measures, and then after having a flight delayed three hours due to fog in SF, we just said “screw it” and started doing the trip by car. If it is going to take 6+ hours to get someplace, might as well have control of your own vehicle.

  13. becky

    I teach High School (not in the US) and I am shocked at the stories told by some of the girls and even boys as to how parents raise their male children to think they are some kind of gift to the universe. It’s crazy. These eventual men have no emotional skills, they’ve never been rejected. Some parents are raising monsters.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *