Question: What is the protocol for complaining about a child who continually gives shrill screams and/or cries for the entire flight, especially when the parent does nothing to help?
Answer: I want to love babies. I really do. But I'd rather listen to a dog barking all night while the theme from "It's a Small World" plays in the background than listen to a squalling infant on a plane.
My rational self knows that a baby isn't crying because she or he wants to create a little drama or because there's just been a horrid fight with his or her spouse after bouncing a check for the property taxes. This is the only way God's little miracle can communicate discomfort or boredom, which begs the question of whether God made a tiny mistake by employing shrieking instead of, say, sign language as the communication method of choice.
Because I'm not especially polite about other people's children, I turned to an expert who is — not just polite about kids but about a range of things: Mary Alice Kellogg, who writes under the moniker "Ms. Behaving" for FarewellTravels.com. Besides being an etiquette expert, she has notched 125 countries on her travel belt.
"When you're in a situation you cannot control, you have a choice: You can make the situation better or make it worse," she said. "One of the ways to make it worse — regardless of what the child is doing — is to give the beleaguered parents 'the look' — the look that says, 'Please smother your child with a pillow so I can read my book.' This does not work."
Here's what does work: "I will give a sympathetic smile to the parents … and say, 'Is there anything I can help with? I know you're having a tough time.' Just by the very act of your saying that, the situation is not as aggravating as it was."
If the parent is oblivious to, say, the brat who is kicking your seat? "I'll turn around and smile instead of [giving] the look of death and say, 'Hi, could I ask you — maybe you don't know this, but your lovely young son or daughter is kicking the seat — and would it be possible to ask him if he could not do that? I would appreciate that.' Under no circumstances do you accuse them of being a bad parent or human being." (I've seen firsthand what happens when that situation deteriorates. I vividly remember a fist fight between a parent and a passenger on a New York-Los Angeles flight after insults about parenting skills — or lack thereof — were hurled.)
Is a crying kid the flight attendants' problem? Not really. They have their hands full, and their concern is your safety. But, Kellogg said, if the situation is getting out of control, "absolutely call the attendant and say, 'Look there's this thing that seems to be escalating and it's unpleasant. Perhaps you might be able to interrupt.' I think you're fully within your rights to do that."
If nothing works, Kellogg said, whip out those inexpensive but effective earplugs you bought at the drugstore, or put on your noise-canceling headphones. As you drift off to sleep, dream of the day when there are adults-only planes and you have a ticket to ride.
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