Dealing With Loud Kids On Airplanes – Some Tips You Might Not Like

Throughout the 4+ hour flight from LAX to Miami the two year old in seat 34E barely stopped letting the plane know her disgust. She didn’t have her own seat and was sitting on one parent’s lap or another. It’s not for lack of the parents trying that she was a vocal hotspot, and there were times when she was awake, smiling and happy. Yet, I remember most my struggles to sleep in my seat being broken by her sometimes siren like screeches of complaint.

For all her vocalizing, she didn’t bother me. And I sat there wondering why. Why wouldn’t a yelling child boil my blood and make me twitch with disgust?

Perhaps part of my immunity on this flight had to do with being a parent of a ten year old and experiencing my own child going through phases like this. Two years old is a hard age to travel with because kids want to move around a lot, which usually doesn’t jive with air travel. Many times I looked over to see the Dad hoisting the child into the air or the Mom letting her stand on her lap. The parents were honestly trying to entertain the sometimes unentertainable.

Or perhaps it was because I made a conscience effort to not be annoyed. Sure, loud noises can strike a nerve, but as with most anything in life, our reaction to stimulus is entirely within our control. I’m not saying I somehow became a practiced Zen monk on that flight. Far from it. I gained only 2.5 hours of sleep the night before and had a grinder of a headache churning through the right side of my skull. But I did find I wasn’t clenching my teeth every time the girl let out a yowl.

With that in mind, here are a few tips that might help you when you find yourself across the isle from miniature-human loudness.

1. Realize It’s All In Your Head

The only difference between me being upset at a loud child and not, were the voices in my head. These are the ones that usually tell me “What the hell??! Why won’t she be quiet?!” They are the ones that honestly care about the noise level of others. When I ignore or quiet these voices, that disgust goes away.

In this case, practice makes perfect. You’ve been conditioned to hate loud noises. There are enough complaints about crying babies on airplanes plastering the Internet to make you believe you have only one way to react; to be outraged. But you don’t have to. You can react any way you like. Practice realizing that it’s only temporary and it will stop, eventually.

This is the single most important thing you can do; change your own reaction to the stimulus. You can’t make the kid be quiet any more than the parents are trying to (if they are and most sane parents don’t want their kids to be in any type of pain, comforting as needed). You likely can’t move too far away. You can’t leave. So change what you can and look at your reaction. Is the way you are reacting necessary and the only way you can react?  You might have other crap going on, like a headache, and the yelling is one more thing. But realize it is just that; one more thing. It’s not the only thing.

2. Put It In Perspective

Is the kid six inches from your ear? No? Then, while they may be loud, chances are they are not actually causing you pain, but discomfort. There’s a big difference between the two when you stop to think about it. Pain has to be stopped, typically. Discomfort can be endured until it ends, with the right mindset. As above, know that it will not last forever and find other things to focus on, like the annoying ‘simple’ sudoku puzzles in the in-flight magazine.

3. Noise Canceling Headphones Can Help

“$300!” I exclaimed when I first checked out Bose noise canceling headphones a decade ago. It seemed like highway robbery for something that was suspect. You test the headphones in their controlled environment at the store and it sure seems like they work. But what about on a plane?

Again, unless that kid is six inches from your head (ok, let’s extend it to two feet), the headphones do help. They don’t make everything silent but they will help with one aspect you might not have noticed: engine noise. That’s their specialty and you likely also don’t notice how much it adds to your overall discomfort. The time we do notice it most is when the plane throttles back after ascent and things seem quite for a second. The headphone cut down on noise fatigue which is very real.

When that fatigue is reduced, dealing with a screaming child is a lot easier. It becomes one sound and not all sounds bombarding you.

Most of all, realize all these tips center on you and what you can do. That’s the part many of us don’t like, the fact that we have to change how we react instead of wishing the kid will just be quiet.


Do you have any more suggestions for adjusting to a screaming child on a plane? Share them below on the comments section, please, because we can all benefit!

9 Replies to “Dealing With Loud Kids On Airplanes – Some Tips You Might Not Like”

  1. Caitlin

    Glad to see some common sense and compassion and not just another angry rant about parents who can’t “control” their children.

    I think another tip is to be adaptable and not to have fixed views about what you want to do on the plane. Can’t sleep? Then watch a movie. The screaming distracting you from your movie? Go for a walk and do your DVT preventing yoga stretches down by the galleys.

    Of course, parents should make every effort to keep their child happy so that everyone else can be happy too. It sounds like these parents were.

  2. Shannon Hurst Lane

    As a parent, I can sympathise, to a certain degree. If the parent is trying to calm the child down or entertain them, then I have no problem with the kid. This is the main reason why I always carry a few set of earplugs in my carry on. One pair for me — a few pairs for my seatmates.

    I was once stuck in the middle seat of a middle row between a four year old and a parent with a lap kid. I kept getting knocked in the head with a sippy cup every time I closed my eyes and I ended up being the babysitter of the four year old. Sigh. It was a long flight.

  3. Alex Berger

    I think for me, the biggest factor is the parents. The kids are dealing with pressure issues, having to be still, picking up on the tension and a new experience. If they’re hurting or dealing with those issues, then that’s very fair and understandable. If, on the other hand, the parents aren’t doing anything to…well…parent. Then that’s when I get ticked off.

  4. Robin | My Melange

    Nice tips – I agree with all of your points Peter! Especially the noise canceling headphones. I wasn’t willing to spend $300 – so I bought a similar pair of Sennheiser’s for a lot less and they work like a charm! 🙂

  5. Abby

    They really only bother me when we’re boarding, and I hear one, and I start sweating… But then we usually take off, and the noise of air travel cancels it out. And the little guys usually sleep more soundly than me! I’m such an insomniac that I have probably kept more people up with my reading light than most kids…

  6. Anji

    My trick is to focus on one thing with extreme concentration, like the movie they’re screening or the book I’m reading. It’s all in your mind like you said. Can’t blame the more baby!

  7. Gerry

    Very good advice. We need to control our response always. We don’t know what is going on in that families life. They may have just lost a loved one. Even though they tried to get the child rested, life conspired against them. And, yes, they may just be bad parents. They don’t need our anger. They need our love & compassion. We just might pray for them. Great way to have our attitudes changed.

  8. siouxgeonz

    Great tips 🙂 I read a wonderful article from a teacher about “teaching tolerance” to kids — real tolerance, as in “The block landed on my finger but I am tolerating it” and “I am tolerating that Tommy is having trouble tolerating that his blocks got knocked down and is saying mean things” (okay, she explained it better). It doesn’t mean to accept things we shouldn’t, but it does mean that when we have to anyway, we might as well not get stressed over it!

    FYI: your conscience is the part of you that steers you towards ethical actions. A decision is a thing usually best made consciously.

  9. Jenna

    Thank you for this great reminder that how we choose to deal with things is the most important in any situation. And as long as the parents were trying to help her feel comfortable, then the other passengers could only be upset with a 2-year-old, which makes little sense. Any time we fly, or leave the house for that matter, we are surrounded by other people who might annoy us. On a plane, it can be the guys who drink too much and talk all the way on an overnight flight. We have to accomodate and tolerate others when traveling, and having a good attitude about it makes it so much easier.


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