Daddy can’t fly: Parents who shouldn’t be allowed on a plane

During a recent 2 1/2-hour flight from Portland, Maine, to Charlotte, N.C., Tom Meador heard nothing but crying.

“The baby in the back row screamed bloody murder,” he remembers. “Its mother did everything she could think of to quiet the baby. She actually was dripping with sweat because you could tell she worried about what it was doing to the other passengers. I think she had reason to worry, too, because there were some very sour fellow passengers.”

The problem is as old as air travel itself: Adults seated next to misbehaving kids while confined to a pressurized aluminum tube. But it seemed like until now, at least, we knew whose side the parents were on. Like the mom on Meador’s flight, they did everything they could to keep their offspring from driving the rest of the passengers quietly mad.

Today, you can’t be so sure.

Take Pamela Root, who recently became the poster child for permissive parents after she and her two-year-old son were kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight. Apparently the child’s demands (“Go! Plane! Go!” and “I want Daddy!”) were so loud that the in-flight announcements couldn’t be heard by the other passengers. Southwest apologized for ejecting them and offered Root a $300 voucher, incurring the wrath of the commenting classes.

Have parents stopped caring?

“Today’s parents have a different view of children’s behavior,” says Renee Mosiman, a marriage and family therapist and co-author of “The Smarter Preschooler: Unlocking Your Child’s Intellectual Potential.” “Parents are more permissive, which can result in children who are more unruly in public, especially during plane travel.”

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I’ve given this some thought after an earlier column in which I wondered if children should be banned from flying. Halfway through the story, I conceded that no discussion of banning kids would be complete without the possibility of getting rid of bad parents, too.

I can’t pretend to know what separates a good mom or dad from a bad one. But when it comes to air travel, there are a few telltale signs that you’re dealing with parental incompetence. Here they are:

‘My child can do no wrong.’
There’s a small group of parents that believes its kids walk on water. On the ground, they are free to indulge their offspring to their heart’s content. But on a plane, it doesn’t quite work.

Michael Liebmann, a legal secretary who lives in Atlanta, remembers flying from Tel Aviv to Rome, where he was seated next to a child, “who started screaming the moment we took off.” After a while, he politely asked its mother to do something. “She yelled at me that her ‘perfect child’ could scream as much and as long as it wanted to,” he says. “No amount of niceness was able to accomplish anything.”

I have some experience with parents who turn a blind eye to their kids’ shortcomings: I am related to a few of them. They shouldn’t allow these kinds of parents to buy airline tickets — regardless of their kids’ ages.

‘I don’t care if my child misbehaves.’
What’s worse than parents who are oblivious to the annoying nature of their children? A parent who isn’t.

Gary Zeune, a professional speaker based in Powell, Ohio, once sat between two toddlers — one in the row behind him, the other in the row in front of him — who performed an exquisite form of torture. “The kid in front was standing and let out a scream,” he recalls. “The one behind me replied with a scream.” After about six of these back-and-forth screams, it became clear to Zeune that the moms were unable to control their kids.

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“Everyone was livid,” he told me. So he stood up and ordered the children to be quiet. And after that, they were.

Parents who won’t step up to the plate to control their kids ought to be shown the cabin door.

‘I can’t control my offspring.’
This is the most benign version of incompetent parenting. I know, because I’ve been one in the past.

I thought I could keep my little ones (I have three) occupied on the plane. Then the doors closed and suddenly I was in charge of three wild children who refused to sit in their seats, demanded food and yelled at one another. After that, I grounded my family from flying for a while.

Nina Boal, a computer programmer who lives in Columbia, Md., remembers a flight from Tokyo to Detroit, where she was seated next to “an inconsolably screaming kid.” “No matter what the parents did, the kid wouldn’t stop screaming and crying,” she says. “This was an 11-hour flight.”

Parents who lose control of their offspring on a plane can be forgiven the first time it happens. But if they know they have a problem, and they continue flying, they’re no better than the ones who can’t, or won’t, do anything about it.

Oh, one more thing: This is bound to get worse.

“Today’s parents think that their little darlings have the right to scream, pound on the backs of chairs, hit passengers on the head and do whatever else amuses them,” says psychiatrist Carole Lieberman. “This comes from parents feeling entitled and being too distracted by their own fears, worries, computer work, movies, and so on. They think of the flight attendants as their own personal babysitters.”

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Airlines already blacklist passengers for all sorts of reasons, from bad behavior to breaking their ticket rules.

Perhaps they should add inept parents to the list.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • PerfectMother

    Thanks for shining a light on parents who let their children do whatever the heck they please! Drives me bananas. Boy, I can’t wait to see what charming humans these kids will be when they reach adulthood. Sat in church last week and listened to the woman behind me having lengthy discussions with her 6-yr-old son about everything EXCEPT theology or what was happening in church — and not remotely in a whisper. PARENTS: It really IS ok to shush your child or even sternly tell them to sit down and be quiet! I have two early teen boys and while not perfect, they know how to behave in public, on planes and in hotels because their parents taught them early on to be considerate of others. And, dare I admit it, we occasionally said “NO.”

  • Julie Northrop2009

    I remember one time I was flying to Ohio when a mother and her 2 young children were not seated next to each other.  I was the one in their row who was keeping them separated. She asked me politely if I would mind switching seats so they all could sit together.  Since it was a window seat, a requirement for me to fly and not have a panic attack, I obliged.  Everything was fine until we took off. From that point on her little boy proceeded to kick my chair over and over. I asked the lady politely to have her kids stop.  She looked at me like I grew two heads.  Again, the kicking started and again I asked the mom to make him stop.  She said that I would have to deal with it, he’s bored. I warned her if he kept it up I would get the flight attendant involved.  After he started again, I turned around, looked him squarely in the eye and told him very loudly to KNOCK IT OFF.  The mother got mad at me, so I got the flight attendant and let her know I switched seats with this childs so the mom could sit with her entire family, but her son has been kicking me non stop since we took off and I would like to have my original seat back.  She made the little boy switch places with me.  When the mother complained that she couldn’t be separated from her kids like that, another passenger said that had if she would have just controlled her son in the first place, this never would have happened..

  • Julie Northrop2009


    My son has Asperger’s Syndrome and anxiety disorders, yet he is extremely well mannered while on a plane.  When he was very little, yes I had a hard time keeping him entertained, but I did so. I worked very hard with him so that he would not become a hinderance to other passengers like you who dislike children.  His only issues now are when we land as it makes his ears painful. He can be irritable and does cry, but then again if you were in pain I would think you’d do the same.
    If a parent tries to comfort, calm and/or entertain their children I have no problem with them being on a plane. It’s when they act out and the parents say or do nothing that makes it unbearable.  There are times in life, where we have no alternative but to put ourselves in a position that may bother someone else.  It’s called life, and sometimes we just have to roll with the punches.

  • HistoryNerd

    Frankly, as someone with ADHD who NEVER had any problems behaving on a plane or anywhere else as a child, I find your post incredibly insulting, Barbie.  We are not less than you.  We are not any less entitled to fly than you.   And for the record, ADHD is NOT a “severe emotional problem.”  If you knew anything about the disorder, you’d know that.  ADHD kids are perfectly capable of behaving and not every kid who behaves like a brat has ADHD.  Sometimes a brat is just a brat.  Heck, I’d rather have ADHD than be a bigot like you.

  • Sadie Cee

    Your post was somewhat harsh and judgmental, don’t you think?

    Children under a certain age do not instinctively know the difference between an airline cabin and the rec room at home. We expect that their parents know the difference and will take the time and have the patience to teach their children how to behave outside the home.    Children have to be taught to respect the rights of others.  It is not an easy task but it is essential.

    Many of us have done our jobs of raising children who are respectful and respected members of the community.  It was difficult and was not done overnight, but we persevered.

    Having children run amok anywhere but on a playground is neither desirable nor civil behaviour.  We have to hold the parents responsible.  The parent described above whose child was on the floor and later in the seat of another passenger while she was engrossed in her laptop is clearly not fulfilling her parental role. 

    Those days are long gone, but when I flew with my children at ages below age 8, they were well dressed and behaved admirably.  Invariably  they and all other children on the flight were invited by an FA to go up to the cockpit to meet the captain and be shown around.  I don’t expect that it would be possible for this to occur nowadays, but it is distressing to hear of some of the experiences narrated above.

    Some adults are no better.  Never realized how bad it had become until last year going to Madrid on a flight with students returning home for the summer. We had to endure them blocking the aisles or shouting back and forth to friends several rows behind and in front of them right through the “night.” They sang and cheered loudly and when they left the plane…the areas they occupied were like garbage dumps!!!  They kept the FAs hopping trying to curb their behaviour including attempting to retrieve their carry-ons before the plane had even touched down.  Frightful and frightening!

    I don’t think that airlines are going to have adults-only or children-only flights anytime soon.  Therefore in the meantime, if we are going to enjoy the expected reasonable amount of comfort inflight, we have to call on everyone to do his or her part to ensure that this happens. 


  • Beau

    I was seated across the aisle from a couple who had triplets, about 18 months, with them. They were all crying from the pressure changes, etc. and the parents could only hold two at a time (they bought three seats, and held two of the children while one was in a carrier.) I offered to hold one of them for the landing, and you would not believe how grateful the parents were. I would not be doing anything otherwise, and helped an entire 737 full of tourists by spending 20 minutes giving a child a bottle. Sometimes, you need to take a better approach than sullenly swilling your airplane vodka or complaining to the flight attendant.

  • Linda

    It is so very refreshing to hear a parent of 3 be aware of what out of control children can do to an entire flight of well meaning people.  I often take my ipad or computer and have stepped in on more than one occasion to use the games as a diversion for such children.  I raised 4 children and have 2 granchildren and enntitlement is not in my vocabulary.!!  That said, please understand that a child’s ears can hurt or they can feel scared etc.
    It is a true dilemma for all of us who fly.  I can guarantee you that no child would be allowed to pound on my chair or hit me on the head!!

  • teacher

    Adding the parents and kids who are horrible to the no fly list is great! I’m sure these same parents would not tolerate such behavior from other children toward them. It would be interesting to know their reactions to uncontrollable children.

  • MTK

    Today’s parents are overly permissive, have an entitlement mentality, and fail to control or discipline their children. Ill-behaved children are everywhere, from fine dining restaurants to first class in planes and expensive resorts. They scream and run up and down the aisles in theaters and churches. Little or no effort is made by the parents to attempt to stop the bad behavior. Stares by those disturbed are met by angry parental eyes. Why do parents today have to take their children evereywhere?  Is there some reason a babysitter cannot be found? Oh, I forgot, pre-teens and teens today don’t need to work as babysitters, since their parents give them all the money their want. How about Grandparents?
    Like all baby boomers, I was expected to be quiet and reverant in church, expected to behave appropriately in a restaurant, which included using silverware correctly, be quiet in theaters, be polite, and respect all adults. If I did not behave, there were consequences. I did not fly until I was a high school freshman, and family vacations were vacations to cities, national parks, and historical places, staying at Best Westerns, with long drives in a car that did not have FM radio or A/C, let alone the video systems that parents view as a necessity. My parents frequently went out without me and took vacations without me. My Grandparents baby-sat me. I was often at my Grandmother’s small boutique store while to was open, and I was expected not to bother the customers. I spent weeks at my Grandparents’ summer home which lacked TV reception, but didn’t refuse to go there because of that. I went to charm school and learned good manners and etiquitte. My upbringing taught me to have concern for others and consider how my actions impact others.

    Today’s parents have no concern for others. They chose to have children; they choose not to discipline or control their children, and in the situations where the child is screaming or disruptive, would never think of taking the child and leaving the restaurant, church, or theater.

    I wholly agree with no kids under 12 in first class, in certain restaurants, at at least one movie showing or church service, or at the very least, a “children’s section” in these places. I should not have to have a miserable experience because of these parents and children.

  • Erin

    My children are 21 and 23.  We had one bad flight with my youngest when she was two, fortunately only SD to Phoenix but she straightened out her body and SCREAMED the entire way.  She wanted to walk (and she was always a headstrong child).  There was nothing I could do, I came prepared with everything I could think of.  I have always been deeply aware of the impact of badly behaved children, but in some situations you are just stuck.  Fortunately we sat near a grandfatherly gentleman who kindly took it in stride and was very nice, tried to help (and did a bit).  I have seen so many other parents struggle with this, they are clearly prepared, clearly doing everything in their power.

    THEN there were the ‘other’ parents… the whimpy Dad who sat away from his kids and wife in our row, the Mom and two daughters behind us.  The kids were maybe 5 and 7ish.  They slammed the trays up and down, kicked the seats in front of them, screamed for this and that and the Mom did nothing.  I asked the children in varying degrees of firmness to stop.  I finally (after 4 hours of this) said _very_ firmly (I didn’t yell) ‘You need to STOP and behave yourself.’  The ‘Mom’ (not a parent, bio only) started screaming at me, demanded that the attendant reseat me etc.  Just pitched a fit.  The attendant didn’t know what was going on or what to do, I just ignored the whole thing and finally the Mom moved the kids behind the Dad more and sat behind me herself.  The rest of the flight was OK.  The Dad said nothing the entire time, I think he was terrified of his wife. I would have been.

    I would pay EXTRA for an adults only section.  The extra legroom is nice, the distance from screaming kids would be worth MORE.  The airlines who squeak out every penny are missing a chance here.  I’ve done my time with my kids, on long flights, in nice restaurants… I don’t enjoy the screaming or misbehaving.  I do have sympathy for parents who try, truly.  I get it.  I still don’t want to sit by it.  I have nothing but contempt for those who say ‘I cannot (or won’t) control my children’ and abdicate their parental responsibilities, impacting their children’s lives and the sanity of those around them.  I feel sorry for those children, but get those parents away from all of us!

  • Nsg

    There is another option. Get a sitter and leave your brat at home

  • Doctor K.

    Maybe?  Why wasn’t this done years ago?  Paying the family of the kid who screamed so mus is worse than paying a ransom.  Where were the cahones of the airline execs. who approved this payout?  How can they have kids if such beaviors are acceptable.  Maybe if all the passengers–except those wih the screaming kinds got off (or asked to pilot to land at the nearest airport) so they could land and hear again. And then these passengars demand an nw flight! Build an enclosed quiet playpen area at the back of each plane & put the screaming ninjas and their parents inside.  Ban parents of noisy chilldren from flying again with their broods. Or al least distribute ear plugs to the others. Both adults &  childfren will get away with anything until the airlines take corrective action Why hasn’t the FAA taken action against the naughty actos?  This noise will continue until they do.

  • Ejordan1110

    I see it all the time in public.  Some parents are so use to letting their kids run around and misbehave in public and fail to control them.  Then the kids are put in a confined area, like a plane and the parents think they will behave.  Why would they think so, they do not any other time.  Then you have the group of people who think this is acceptable and will come to the defense of the parents and children.  I think it is a case where a few bad parents make more noise than the good parents and those affected by the kids.  I know this may rub some people the wrong way, but I don’t have to aid a parent with numerous kids.  If I choose to do so it is my choice.  I see many people in public areas or traveling alone with several small children and expect everyone to help them with the children. 

  • I’m in my 20s and am disheartened to see my peers having children and overwhelmingly having this attitude that their kids are perfect and deserve to be spoiled (bragging about spoiling your children? really?) and expect everyone to feel the same way. I’ve never had an interest in other people’s kids or having any of my own and I’m constantly getting the “child hater” treatment from people who think indifference to their little darlings is some sort of a crime.

    I see complaints about the “entitlement mentality” getting abused all the time to shut down people with legitimate problems, but I really don’t get the entitlement mentality of a lot of parents.

  • Mom

    Excuse me?  How dare you. Brat?  Really?  Obviously you have no children or if you do you shouldn’t!  Actually with that attitude finding someone to have a child with is probably a problem so we’re all safe.

     My 9 yr old has been flying since she was 6 months old.  (I’ve always paid for a seat. I don’t believe in lap children on flights.  Not safe!) She has, so far, flown 18-20 times.  We had one time when she was quite small where we had a bad flight segment.  A really bad flight.  I was the Mom freaking out trying to do everything possible to calm my kid. Trust me on this that it bothered me more than it would you.  As she has grown she has been taught to respect other passengers.  (is she perfect?  No way.  I’ve never been the parent who says “not my kid!”  I know her too well.  You however do not!)  I still have to sometimes remind not to kick a seat or talk too loud etc.  Remind her once.  That is all it usually takes. 

    I feel for the parents of infants or toddlers who find themselves in this situation.  People like you don’t help any.  Kids can tell when a parent is going nuts and the comments or looks from people with this type of attitude make the parents even more frantic which in turn doesn’t help to calm the child. 

    My pet peeve is the older kids (pre or teens) who slam trays, kick seats, jump around and the parents just sit there or are sound asleep.  Even in this case I wouldn’t blame the kid…although I have given some good looks to both them and their lovely parents)  It’s the parents responsibility to teach these kids how to behave in public. 

    My other pet peeve is someone who can hide behind a computer and call every child out there a brat.  How about if you don’t like it then YOU should stay home?

  • Mom

    YOUR plane?  When I see the bill of sale I’ll be sure to keep my child off YOUR plane…

  • Mom

    What do you have against ADD kids?  First of all hyperactivity is ADHD not ADD.  That would be attention deficit HYPERACTIVITY disorder.  Either way what is your issue with these kids?  Not all crying infants or misbehaving kids have ADD or ADHD.   BTW my daughter has ADD.  You would not even know she is there if she was sitting next to you.  Not only do we make sure there is enough to entertain her but also she has been taught how to behave. 

    If you know you dislike flying with children….especially if you are flying out of FL then I suggest you find a more sanitary way to travel.

    I so agree with the comment above about adults.  As an ex-travel agent and now just a traveling Mom I’ve found more issues on flights with adults than any kids!  If they ever allow cell phones on planes…UGG I don’t even want to think about it! 

    Kids can be taught.  Adults…not so much!

  • Projections2001

    The next time you find yourself the unlucky victim of a seat kicker, ask the attendant for a cup of water. At the next, unexpected kick, allow the “surprise” to jolt you enough to have the water go flying into the little rugbrat’s seat behind you!

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