The world is huge

Don't miss any of it

Travel news, itineraries, and inspiration delivered straight to your inbox.

By proceeding, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

child on plane for airline family seating.

Should Parents Apologize for Bringing Their Child on the Plane?

A few months ago, New York Times Editor Damon Darlin wrote an op-ed suggesting that parents of rude or screaming children should give out small inflight gifts or “goodie bags” as a preemptive apology for their child’s behavior. Which begs the question, should parents have to apologize for traveling on an airplane with their child?

Obviously there’s no straightforward answer to this question, but having a screaming kid a few seats away is an unenviable situation almost all frequent fliers are familiar with. Even if you’re seated rows ahead of an upset child on the plane, those screams and shrieks tend to echo through the plane, and even the most patient adults may find themselves muttering “oh my god” or stifling an eye roll.

In a recent @SmarterTravel Twitter poll, we discovered that an overwhelming 67 percent of you thought that parents should apologize if their child disturbs others, while 28 percent said “no, never” and five percent said “yes”. So it seems the majority of our followers agree with Darlin in that some sort of apology is necessary for disruptive child passengers.

And while I’m sure many parents sympathize with the challenges of traveling with an unhappy child or baby, the disruption unhappy kids cause takes a toll on other passengers. So much so that four international carriers—Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia, Scoot, and most recently, IndiGo—offer some sort of kid-free or quiet zone.

This is obviously a sensitive issue because families need (and want) to travel together, but it’s also important for airlines to provide a positive flight experience for all customers. To be fair, adults can be just as, if not more disruptive than children in some situations; however, when this is the case, the adult is typically removed from the plane.

The issue of kids on planes can become even more of a problem when customers are paying more for their seat … should all premium and first-class seating be kid-free like on Malaysia Airlines? This idea is similar to the one about not bringing your kids to a fancy restaurant or hotel if you know they’ll be disruptive. I am somewhat surprised more airlines haven’t capitalized on this by offering a kid-free area—even if it’s more expensive than a regular economy ticket.

Parenting tactics also come into play here, as they do in any public space. But parents shouldn’t feel that their parenting skills are under examination for the entirety of the flight. I do think most passengers understand that a baby crying because of pressure changes is totally different than a four-year-old kicking the back of his or her seat.

But this leads back to the original question: Should the parents really be apologizing for their kids’ behavior? To which I say, what does the apology really do? If I have noise-canceling headphones and a movie to watch, there’s not really much else I can do about a kid having a tantrum or a crying infant in the row behind me . An apology or a goodie bag full of candy aren’t going to change either situation.

Darlin argues that in apologizing or giving a small token, parents are doing “what economists call signaling. You are letting the recipients know you care about their happiness, whether you really do or not … you need the bag to build social capital fast.” And while you’re likely never going to see the passengers on your flight again, maybe a free inflight drink will come your way for not complaining and accepting their apology.

You Tell Us: Should parents apologize for having a disruptive child on the plane? What do you think is the best solution for bringing young kids on planes?

More from SmarterTravel:

Don't Miss a Trip, Tip, or Deal!

Let us do the legwork! Sign up for our free newsletter now.

By proceeding, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

We hand-pick everything we recommend and select items through testing and reviews. Some products are sent to us free of charge with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions and do not accept compensation to review products. All items are in stock and prices are accurate at the time of publication. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

Top Fares From