What Do You Do If You Are Sitting Next to a Naughty Kid on a Plane?

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A question posted on Milepoint the other day got me thinking – the basic premise was, “What do you do if you are sitting near a young child (not your own) who is acting up on a plane?” The original poster had experienced a flight in business class from Sydney to Singapore where the following happened:

…..we sat in the middle two seats right behind a mom, dad, and 3.5 year old daughter. Mom and daughter were in the middle seats while dad was in the single seat by the window.

Before we even took off the girl was loud already. Screaming. Not crying but just being loud as if she were on a playground. It continued throughout the flight. I saw her head from time to time above the seats meaning she was standing on the seat.

Mom and dad made no attempt to tell her to be quiet or get down.

I responded some in that Milepoint thread, and my general thoughts were that unless the child was truly dangerously out of control, or it was directly impacting you negatively in a significant way, to just suck it up, put your noise-cancelling headphones on, and chalk it up to an unlucky seating assignment. This is the same as if I am seated next to someone who has a strong odor, snores, talks more than I like, is drunk, leans on me, or otherwise is less than my ideal seatmate. At the end of the day, even in a premium cabin, it is public transportation, and it is just luck of the draw in terms of who will be on your flight.

However, if you determine that something must be done, then the two main options are to either say something directly to the parents, or to say something to the flight attendant. Based on the responses in that Milepoint thread, some think that the best approach is to be direct, but polite, and say something to the parents themselves. Some think that might lead to some hurt feelings or controversy, so it is better to go via the flight attendant.

Of course with young children, if they are jumping on seats, yelling, etc. it is the parents who should be stepping up. If you let them, kids will be kids, and will treat the airplane like recess. They have to be taught when it is appropriate to run, jump, and scream, and when it is appropriate to sit and be quiet. Obviously flights are more of a sit and be quiet situation where you play iPad….

…watch movies


….or sleep.

It is not the time that you scream and bang drums…..


Or blow your party horn!


I have my own thoughts on this, but I am curious as to what yours are? How bad would a child have to be misbehaving for you to feel action of some sort on your part is necessary? Then, what course of action do you think is best? I’m also interested to know from parents how they would like someone to raise this sort of issue if it were your kid that was found to be disruptive to others on a plane.

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  1. The only time I have ever dealt directly with a child on a plane was on an Emirates flight once from Dubai to Paris. I was quietly sleeping on my Business Class seat (on the A380, the biz class flat bed gets pretty low to the ground when fully reclined) when I suddenly realise that some bratty kid around 4 years old was standing in the aisle and smearing cake icing onto my face.

    I grabbed the kids arm, picked him up (he was now wailing loudly) and carried him to the galley where he was summarily presented to the nearest crewmember with instructions to return him to his parent double quick. I must have looked pretty funny with cake all over my face because they were struggling to keep a straight face despite the wailing kid. Happily that took much of the tension out of the moment and the kid was reunited with his nanny (the parents were in First Class but the kid and his nanny were in Economy) with many apologies.

    The crew did have a sense of humour because they made sure to give me a double serving of cake with my meal!

  2. I think I would prefer to have the person speak to me directly, but I really just can’t imagine it happening. I go out of my way to make sure my son is not bothering other passengers. I’m not saying my efforts are perfectly successful, but I’m always trying to do something if he is acting up. Given that I’m doing everything I can to calm him down if he is upset, overtired, what have you, I would probably just tell the person to deal with it if they said anything. But I understand people that get frustrated when the parents appear to have given up.

    I’m lucky. As the oldest of six, crying babies have never bothered me. And after having my own, it phases me even less when someone else’s kid is acting up. It’s almost relaxing because I don’t have to stress over how to calm the child down.

  3. The airline has to have something to do with it. There needs to be clear instructions for parents and substantial penalties for being your child causing issues.

  4. Sean, eek – not how you want to be woken up! ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Kay, I think it depends on what is going on, but the constants would be to be very polite, non-judgmental or accusatory, and just state what the issue is and why it is a problem for you. For example….Mam/Sir, I’m sorry to bother you. Is that your son? Aw, he’s a cutie. I need a little help….I have some back issues and my seat has been getting kicked for the last 30 minutes or so, and it’s starting to take a toll on my back. I know it is really tough with kids on planes, but I would really appreciate your help with this. Thanks so much. ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Walt, I know the feeling! I feel bad when a kid is upset, but I’m also just so relieved it isn’t mine. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. Great pics! Very cute.

    I have very little patience for parents who don’t try to control or calm their kid(s) down. It might not always be possible but every attempt should be made. I’ve got a 14hr flight in 2 weeks with my 5 and 7 year old, in business class, and I’ve already begun talking to them about being quiet on the plane. As far as making sure they understand that if they need to talk to Mommy or Daddy they have to pause their movie and take off their headphones. Otherwise I’m sure they would do the old headphones on yelling thing.

  6. I flew First class the other day on my way back from Cancun. I sat in row 3 and there were two girls age 3/4 behind me in row 4. They were so quiet that I didn’t even know there were children behind me until the end of the flight. I have a sister 14 years younger than me and she is always the same way. Well behaved in public.

    I do think that, if children are noisy, it’s the parenting. The parents have a choice in how they train their kids and whether they choose to fly. This is out of my control. But I am being affected negatively while I’m sure the parents hardly notice their kids’ behavior. I am very direct and diplomatic in these situations, as I am in most. I usually go to the parents, smile and say “Listen. This behavior is *completely* unacceptable.” If another child is quiet, I will often say, “That child isn’t causing any issues. Now why is yours?” I am very diplomatic and cordial in this exchange, but I find it to be an effective means of communication. See, if you act rude or frustrated, then they feel they have the moral upper hand as you’re complaining about their children. But if you can be diplomatic in the presence of their unacceptable behavior, you retain the moral upper hand.

    • As a mother this would really annoy me, quite frankly not all children are the same, I have a busy active 15 month old boy and we had made every effort to keep hom calm on the plane but towards the end he had enough, now how in your mind – you must not be a parent- do you diplomatically try to tell a 15 month old he cant make noise. I pretty much feel that if the parent tried everything they could, stuff happens just deal with it, you dont know the persons situation – maybe they must fly due to family overseas funeral.

    • Exactly how I would handle it! Youโ€™re 100% correct- itโ€™s on the parents to raise well behaved children.

  7. I guess I must just be lucky, because I don’t tend to see all these out of control children that apparently plague so many people.

    I will say, however, that whatever the circumstances physically touching someone else’s child for any reason other than the child’s safety crosses the line.

  8. On my recent flight to Istanbul, my poor friend was seated in front of a hyper child and the problems began immediately. First, the mother told my friend that the kid would be sitting in a carseat the whole time, and told my friend she would not be able to recline. That’s terrible news to hear on an overnight 10 hour flight. Despite the child being in a car seat, he proceeded to violently kick my friends seat for the entire duration of the flight while screaming at the top of his lungs for a solid two hours. Nothing was done by the mother and none of the passengers had the balls to say something. This is an example of when a flight attendant should step to the plate…

  9. I am about to board the first of 6 flights in a few hours with my 5 year old and almost 2 year old, from Atlanta to Spain to amsterdam to the UK, over 12 days. My kids have done these flights numerous times, and while I like to think they are always well behaved (and they always are on flights) we never know what could happen, so we just prepare for the worst (tantrums, unhappiness) and hope for the best. In doing so we have an arsenal of stuff we bring – snacks, toys, books, ipads, etc. I agree it is up to the parents to do something, but if a parents is attempting to calm down a child that is misbehaving or being loud then cut the parent a little slack too.

    I didn’t see Eager Travelers comment before it was edited but I can’t imagine what the ‘substantial penalties’ would be for a child who is causing issues.

  10. Well, I once had someone very rudely tell me to have my kid stop kicking her seat. I can see why she was annoyed, but I hadn’t realized that my daughter was doing it. So, please let us know if the child is bothering you, but keep it cordial. The parent may not have noticed. (well, how can you not notice some of that stuff, but it’s always good to be nice).
    The other thing I would say goes along the lines of MP’s original statement. Don’t complain or say anything about the child if you wouldn’t say anything about a commensurate amount of disturbance by an adult. If you wouldn’t walk over to the group of 20-something’s so excited about the trip of their lives that they are up all night talking on the way to Oz/Europe/wherever, then don’t say anything o the parent/child.

    • I just had a mother use the excuse of her daughter being only 6, as if that’s an excuse for bad behavior?

      • Depends on the behavior…but what matters the most I think in all airplane situations is that everyone is trying their best both to behave well and to be patient with others. Sorry if you had a rough flight!

  11. “TravelBloggerBuzz says:
    February 28, 2013 at 7:14 am

    As a parent, I say โ€œsuck it upโ€. Other parents understand. Of course parenting plays a big role in your childโ€™s behavior. Kids are kids, sometimes they test your limits:-)”

    I agree. When I see a parent trying to calm their child, I empathize and suck it up.

    However, when the parent does nothing to try to quiet their kid, that tests my limits. REALLY tests my limits.

    It is the action, or really, the lack thereof, of the parent(s) that tests fellow passengers’ tolerance.

  12. I’ve been on both sides of the equation.

    My little guy had a previously unknown ear infection on the plane and screeched, but I tried to sooth him and people seemed th understand. On another flight he kicked he seat in front of him while I was distracted by my other child…the woman in front of us calmly informed me…I apologized and made my son apologize, explained to my son that the chair was her back, and was clear with him about consequences if he did it again…I also took off his shoes just in case.

    We also had a family behind us once with two out of control school-aged kids…screeching, dropping food on the floor, kicking our chairs. I informed the parents their kids were kicking my back and asked that they do something, getting blank looks from the parents and it continued. I then called over the flight attendant to voice my concern and ask if we could be reseated directly behind the family so we could kick THEM in the back. This finally embarrassed the parents into speaking to their kids, but they still left a huge mess for the cleaning crew.

    I guess I have all patience for parents who are trying, calmly try to address the problem if I can myself assuming they will do the right thing, then escalate to the FA if they don’t.

  13. The other night I was seated across from my husband in a restaurant. I could tell he was getting really annoyed at something. He finally said he was about to kill the kid behind him who wouldn’t stop kicking the bench. I was confused, because I could see a grown man sitting behind him. We finally realized it was OUR son, seated next to my husband, that was doing it! My point here is address the situation nicely, at first, as the parents really may not be aware of what is going on and being nice about it may get you much more than being rude.

  14. I once was on a flight where a mom with two young children had completely checked out – the plane was about to take off and her son’s seatbelt still wasn’t fastened! He was seated right next to me, so I ended up fastening his seatbelt, and later helping him with something else (his meal or his headphones, I can’t remember). One flight attendant actually thought he was my son! This was way before I had kids, and I still travel a bit.

    I think my son is fairly well-behaved because its a familiar experience, and I do try my best to ensure he flight goes as smoothly as possible for everyone on board. I do appreciate accommodation & flexibility on the part of other passengers – sometimes it’s hard to be 100% on top of every aspect of your child’s behavior if you’re also filling out landing forms, juggling meal trays, etc. especially when it’s just one parent traveling with a child. I’d recommend being polite and direct – focusing on the behavior you’d prefer to stop and not be judgemental.

  15. Coming from the other side:

    I once had a disgruntled passenger sit down on one of those bulkhead “loung” rows on SW at MDW with myself, my two children. This woman was pissed at some connection issues.
    My two children were reading quietly but she needed someone to go off on. She started to tell them that “they better behave yadda, yadda…” I’m usually self-effacing, but this awakened my “Mama Bear”. I got in her face, and I mean – in her face – nose to nose(I’m a big guy)- and let her know that if she said one more word to them she was going to have “a really bad day”.

    She was quite taken aback and turned her attention to bullying the FA. I typically would not advocate violence toward a surly passenger, but in this instance, the implied threat of it worked wonders ๐Ÿ™‚

    In her favor, I will say that by the end of the flight she had simmered down and while disembarking she apologized and told me that my children had beautiful flying behaviors (they read and then fell asleep).

  16. Screaming, unruly children on a plane can make me crazy but stinky unruly adults are almost worse. I have been on a plane where an adult is behind me and I am constantly being kicked, my hair is pulled. Really? How does this happen? You wonder if their moms taught them any manners. They should have started flying earlier like little C ๐Ÿ˜‰

  17. I’d love to be a big man internet commentator and say I’d confront everybody to secure my god-given right to the business class trip to which I am entitled. But in reality, there’s almost no chance I’d say anything to anybody. I would probably make a funny face at any three year old who can see me. Hopefully that would confuse and quiet her for a second.

  18. I recognize that questions cause it was me! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thanks for your input in the thread. I don’t have kids, so wanted to know what parents thought.

    I can understand sometimes kids can be unruly. But my biggest problem was that the parents did nothing about it. The biz cabins was fairly full that day and it’s not that loud so I’m sure everyone could hear her.

    If I could go back and do it again or come across this exact situation, I’d politely ask the flight attendant to talk to the parents. Because if I told the parents, I’m sure they would have thought I was being stupid or ridiculous because in their eyes their child is doing nothing wrong.

    If the parents had tried to quiet her, I’d understand. But they said nothing which obviously encouraged her even more to continue to be loud and stand on the bed often.

    Thankfully I haven’t many bad experiences of screaming kids on a plane. I can’t remember a single one. Just this one.

    Interesting to read everyone’s opinion!

  19. Involve a FA all the way!! That behavior would drive me insane. DH and I put the fear of death on our girls when they were little about NOT kicking the seat in front of them. I remember many times us physically holding their feet if they would forget and start tapping away. One time on a flight a kid was constantly kicking my seat back, and I politely turned around and asked him to please stop. I spoke directly to the kid and since he was sitting next to his parents, they obviously heard me, too, apologized, and were diligent about watching him closely for the rest of the flight. But for a kid standing up and screaming, I would involve the FA.

  20. Seeing Little C on the plane brings back so many happy memories of traveling w/ my kids when they were young. What product is she watching movies on?? Not familiar w/ the red screen…

    • Kathy, that is her red iPad cover. Well, technically MY iPad, but she uses it more than I do. I think she is playing games on it there. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  21. I am a very frequent traveler and my kids have flown all over the world with my wife and I for years.

    I think what this comes down to is preparation. Some parents don’t feel the need to take responsibility for their kids’ actions and are unprepared for trips. When the kids then blow up inflight, they have no recourse and some don’t care and others are frozen in fear.

    The thing to do is to sit down before the trip, and really consider all the possibilities and options. If you have infants, bring food, water, your own formula, sterile bottles, toys, napkins, diapers, a change of clothes, books, etc etc etc.

    If the kids are older, you’ll still have to bring much of the same, although an ipad will come in handy.

    If you are prepared, there is a good chance that the trip can be pulled off without inconveniencing other passenger or the crews.

    But every now and then, something happens that is hard to foresee. We, too, had our daughter onboard a TATL flight when she came down with a previously unknown ear infection. Obviously, we didn’t have antibiotics handy, so we soothed her in the very back of the plane until she went to sleep. Did she drive us and other pax crazy that day? Sure. But it would be exceptionally harsh to blame us for not fortune telling the ear infection in advance, or to require parents to take their kids to a doc on day of departure….

    Some of the very worst behavior over the years, I have witnessed from adults. Specifically the inebriated kind…

  22. Bad children often have bad parents, so I’d go with the FA route. On a flight last summer to Amsterdam I sat in front of a woman with a two-year-old child who spent a great deal of time informing the flight crew that they were going to have to help her get across the airport if the plane was late because she wouldn’t be able to handle all her hand luggage and child, too.

    She allowed her child to be loud. I understand children man noise, but no effort was made to have the child speak softly or make less noise. The mother had some icon on her tablet that, when pressed played Mary Had a Little Lamb or some such. The child played this at very audible volume at least 50 times over the course of the flight.

    I didn’t say anything, but I just feel it’s best not to speak to people such as this. Let the FA try.

  23. While sitting next to an “active” child on a recent flight, I had good luck positively interacting with the child using of the “Talking Tom” app on my iPhone. This was AFTER obtaining permission from the child’s parent first. We had fun together and laughed while “talking” to the child’s mom and sibling seated nearby while using “talking tom.” We also tried to be considerate of other nearby passengers so as not to annoy them with our “distraction fun.”

  24. 1. Try asking politely either the parent or the child but usually the child will listen and be less offended
    2. Asking a flight attendant will just result in the same action as above.
    3. Sometimes the complaints come when the descending starts kids don’t know how to cope with the decompression in their ears. Hopefully the parent is soothing their child.

    I once had a mother who seemed to be In Her early twenties and let her 3 year old do as he pleased run up and down the aisle and jump and stand in his seat. When we went under 10,000 everyone MUST be seated with their seat belts buckled and her son of course was not. The flight attendant in the back asked four times and ask for my help… I crouched down respectively and politely asked she place her son I the seat with his seat belt on her reply was sarcastically rude “um… He won’t ” and I politely explained that it is a very important safety measure her reply “I TOLD YOU HE WON’T SO WHAT DO YOU WANY ME YOU DO ABOUT IT?!” I stood up and asked her once again or we would have to have her and her child remain on the plane after our flight and write the situation up. As soon as I walked away I got a call from the FA in the back saying she grabbed him put his seat belt on and had her arms holding him down…. We are not babysitters even though it may seem we are… Lets be honest when she asked me what I wanted her to do my reply really wanted to be “be a parent and control your kid!

  25. I agree 100% with poster #26,Carrie. ALWAYS involve the FA. FA’s must deal with this constantly and should know how to best handle the situation. It is far better that the uncaring parents, if they become argumentative, have to deal with the FA and/or Purser, who have some level of legal authority, than you being caught up in the process.

  26. I’ve had more problems with grown men acting badly on planes than children. Kids are kids. I’ve been on flights where men kick my seat, act drunk, disorderly, angry, snore loudly, don’t conform to flight procedures. I’ve been on a flight were a domestic broke out. The flight attendants couldn’t even serve because they basically had to put a man on house arrest until the police boarded and took the guy off. I’ve never felt threaten or feared for my personal safety due to a child.

  27. “Based on the responses in that Milepoint thread, some think that the best approach is to be direct, but polite, and say something to the parents themselves. Some think that might lead to some hurt feelings or controversy, so it is better to go via the flight attendant.”
    This is an interesting summery, since it is a solid explanation of how the rules of interaction changed over the course of one generation.
    People of the Greatest Generation (WWII generation) would not have permitted this behavior. As a collective, they would have no problem reprimanding a child, regardless if it was theirs or not. The mentality seemed to be ‘it takes a village to raise a child’.
    However over the course of the baby boom generation, we have adopted a ‘hands off’ approach toward others, and to say something makes us the bad guy. Political correctness and the feelings of the individual takes precedent over the comfort and feelings of the collective (in this case the other aircraft passengers).
    We see poor behavior with adults, too, since they are not held accountable for their rudeness (not signaling when reclining the seat, too many carry-on bags, seat creep, etc).
    The only two options in this society are to suck it up or tattle to the authorities (in this case the FA). Passive measures are most appropriate now, vice direct conversation, as we don’t know if the other person will be ‘offended’, ‘hurt’, violent, or just ignore the request and continue the behavior. They may even try to sue for something like character smearing.
    In the end, this is a sad society we have created and live within, and it will never be as good as it was. Instead, we just need to accept the inconvenience to the collective for the wishes of the individual.

  28. My reactions has changed quite a bit after having my daughter. I remember before that, I was annoyed at the “unruly” kids. I think it is important to politely ask the kid/or parent to not kick your seat after the initial kicks so your annoyance is not high enough yet to make you want to “yell at the kid or parent”. But do be prepared to get the following answer from the parent “yeah, he’s going to kick your seat the whole trip, he is only 3”. One of the mom I know actually used that line. A few parents, believe there is nothing wrong with their kids screaming and yelling in public. You can tell by noting that the parents are not doing anything to quiet the kids down. I think the best thing there is to ask the FA to handle it and then put on your notice canceling Headphone.

  29. I can’t believe all these people just say let it go! If the parents aren’t trying, bring it up to em! Who cares about controversy, it’s a plane ride, you’re only going to be neighbors for a few hours. I’d rather they’d be upset that they have a poorly behaving child than myself be compromised because of their lack of parenting.

  30. Flight attendants canNOT do much at all remember they have to put on a fake smile and help you with your problem even if their child is at home sick in bed.

  31. I took my then 6 month old daughter on her first flight….my crying baby tactic was to schedule the flights around her nap times….worked like a charm. Now that she’s 2.5 and a little more energetic she will only sit still for about an hour at a time. I say if the parent is trying, suck it up. If they aren’t doing anything say something POLITELY to the child or parent. When you’re nasty, expect to get nasty right back. If those attempts don’t work then get the FA involved

  32. I’m not okay with the idea of “just getting over it” but can appreciate the parents who are trying. Only so much can be done 30,000 feet in the air.

    I was in business class on a recent trip when an AA Executive Platinum asked the child behind him to stop kicking his seat. The child did not, so after a few more minutes he told the mother, more forcefully but not angrily to ask the child to stop kicking his seat. She got upset and uttered a vulgarity at him under her breath. He heard this and just totally lost it. He then started calling her a name and yelling that he was an Executive Platinum and he went on an expletive tirade. The flight attendant had to intervene, obviously. She told both adults to shut up or they would take the plane back to the gate and have everyone de-plane (we hadn’t taken off yet). This calmed them down.

    She then realized that the little girl wasn’t even in a seat, but on her mother’s lap. The child’s seat was in the back so the flight attendant told the mother that she had to go to her seat. The mother ended going back with the child and another family member came up to her seat. Situation escalated quickly because both parties reacted poorly.

  33. I find it interesting that there are cute, well-behaved pictures of Little C on this post, when we all know you took pictures of her at the Park Inn in Houston jumping up and down on the bed. My question for parents- do you allow your children to behave like they were raised in a barn at home? If the answer is no, then raise them to be responsible adults that have respect for others and property when out in public. A kid crying on a plane because they are teething is not the same as a kid who smears cake on your face or pulls your hair or kicks your seat.

  34. Bet the parents WITH the scream kids would be the first ones to complain about ANY hotel noises (neighbors, street, elevator,etc.)heard from their room.
    As for the man-hater above, my personal flying experience, both domestically and internationally, has been over-whelmingly children (and a few women too) related problems due to screaming and being overtly obnoxious to ALL around them.

  35. Unfortunately you cant force a parent to “parent”. However, I would bring it up to the FA. Sometimes a kid is having a bad day and sometimes the kid is an uncontrolled mess. I dont run into to it often as I am more likely to get the person edging into my space or snoring or taking their shoes off. Or the guy 3 weeks ago to FLL that was across the aisle “knuckles deep” in his nose for about 20mins picking something out of there. Nasty.

  36. If you are put near children by chance because you fly an airline that assigns seats, I think it’s good to be proactive before you sit down and say hello to the family in front of or next to you. Being personable makes a lot of people think about their behavior. Whenever I fly with my kids (and we usually fly Southwest) I always make a point of having my kids say hello to the people in front of and behind us. I then tell the people that I am going to do my best to make sure the littlest one doesn’t kick the seat but sometimes that’s hard and I hope they understand that I am trying. I’ve only received praise from the people around me that I’m doing a great job (especially when they see us pretend that the airplane is a quiet roller coaster when we land.) because they can see that I am trying. Can you make every parent a good parent? No, but being nice, even in an unpleasant situation is always a good place to start. When we lose our ability to be civil, we lose our humanity. When you’re stuck with people at 30,000 feet more compassion and humanity is better than less.

  37. The worst was sitting next to a ~5 yr old unaccompanied minor. He had the most angelic face. He also had a shockingly foul mouth and and said the most swear words and terrible things to me I had ever heard from anyone (adults included). He also poked and touched me. I felt really violated, but didn’t do anything at the time. Part of it was sheer shock, and part of it was I didn’t know how to handle disciplining a kid with no parents around. In hindsight, I should have notified the flight attendants, but he put on the sweetest innocent smile on when they were around. Ugh, worst flight ever.

  38. I think a polite request to the child or the parent is perfectly acceptable. Neither may have realized what the child was doing, and how else would they learn without someone pointing up the behavior? If the situation escalates, of course, involve the FA, but be polite about it even here. I would rather someone say something to me first, as it may just be a tired parent that has momentarily zoned out. If someone is nice, I have no problem telling my kid to behave. If it is just an oversight, I’d rather know about it and fix it. If he doesn’t stop, I would take the child to the back and have a conversation with him. I would also make sure he apologized. I personally think that it is good for kids to have someone speak to them and tell them what they are doing; how else will they ever learn that they aren’t the center of the universe and have to behave appropriately in public?

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