How Should Airlines Handle an Out of Control Young Child

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You may have recently seen, or at least heard, about the video of a young child who reportedly had an eight-hour tantrum on a Lufthansa flight from Germany to Newark. I watched the video, and have had a hard time figuring out how to address it here in a constructive and ethical way. I feel absolutely terrible for the child, his parents, and everyone else around them on that flight. I’m not going to link to the video as it already has close to one million views, and while I am not sure I would have believed just how bad it was without seeing it myself, I also don’t think that it is necessarily best to have this little boy’s situation and face blasted around the internet for everyone to watch.

This was not a baby or even a young toddler crying on the plane off and on for hours, as that is unfortunate, but in a different category. This little boy appeared to be of preschool age, maybe in the three to four-year-old age range, though I could be slightly off on that estimation since size can be deceiving in either direction. Beginning while they are still on the ground in Germany, and then continuing while making the flight to the United States, he screams (and screams, and screams), climbs on the seats, goes around the aisle screaming, bangs on the ceiling, and looks to be out of control at times.

The mother can be heard telling him to calm down and trying to get the iPad going. I’m not clear if there was another parent present or not. I don’t know why this family was traveling, if this is within the realm of regular behavior for this boy, or any other context for what happened beyond what you can see and hear in the video. I know better than to make assumptions, so I won’t begin to speculate on any of that other than to say the problem isn’t always as simple as “bad parenting”, so simplifying it to that level probably isn’t productive.

While I do advocate for families to get out there and travel with their little ones, I also think that there can be times when it isn’t the best moment to travel. Crying or screaming is unfortunate for everyone, but probably not actually dangerous. My concern for this situation is at what point does crawling on seats or going through the aisle become unsafe? Certainly, there have been reports of families with young children getting removed from the plane when the little one won’t stay buckled in their seat. Sometimes that might have been a premature action, but that sort of behavior can absolutely reach a point when it is a safety concern for the child and everyone around them.

I have no clue if we can have a respectful discussion about how airlines should handle a somewhat out of control little one, but I’d like to try, as this situation appears to have been one that wasn’t particularly safe for anyone involved. Should there be a set amount of time parents have to gain control of their child, a certain number of warnings, or some sort of other measure that allows for an unfortunate but normal temporary toddler or young child meltdown, but also maintains the safety of the child and those around them for situations that escalate?

I hope that the family got where they need to be and don’t have to experience a flight like that again anytime soon. I hope the same for the passengers and crew.

 

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Comments

  1. Kind of like the problem with emotional support animals. There doesn’t seem to be any hard and fast rule that can be used here.

    One thing to define would be “out of control”. If the child can’t be kept in the seat I would think that would be out of control.
    Yelling and screaming but still in the seat…? Maybe out of control? Annoying but not a safety issue.

  2. I agree, it is a terrible set of circumstances and difficult to address “solutions” without knowledge of the underlying circumstances (including medical issues). I think it’s best to address the facts that are known. This is not just a circumstance where a child misbehaving in this manner is merely disruptive. Unlike the child screaming at a restaurant, the parents and other patrons cannot leave. In a pressurized metal tube flying at 36,000 feet this behavior can be dangerous. Even if the child is not physically capable of doing anything to bring down the airplane, his disruption and disregard of instructions and refusal — or inability — to follow directions and social norms (such as “thou shall not stand on the heads of others”) makes his behavior a safety issue. Having established that his behavior is safety issue, the question is what can be done about it? Drunken passengers who try to open the emergency exits have been duct taped, sat on, and/or restrained with zip ties on their wrists and the flight is often diverted to the nearest airport. Such methods of restraint are not options with children. I think the mother and the child should be asked to speak to the purser and another flight attendant in the galley. Explain to her that she and the boy need to listen very carefully. Ask if there is anything they can do or provide, within reason, to help keep him calm. Next, tell them his behavior would prevent the crew from adequately doing its job in an emergency and if he does not obey the seat belt sign, keep the aisles clear, and refrain from banging the ceiling (which has overhead oxygen masks) and seats, the crew will give one last warning. After that, the plane will be forced to divert and they will be taken off the plane. My biggest fear is the unknown: the reactions of other passengers. They are human beings too and are also capable of misbehavior. The flight attendants must have had their heads on a swivel looking to see if any passengers reached their breaking point. Would a passenger decide to confront the mother or the child. If so, would they get physical? Adults fighting in that pressurized metal tube is an even bigger risk to flight safety. I am basing this recommendation on the observable facts without speculating on whether there is an underlying medical issue, neglectful parenting, excellent parenting that is just being ignored, or other underlying circumstances.

  3. I flew from Gatwick to Orlando on BA in coach, direct flight. My seat was on the right side aisle seating. The family was seated a couple rows ahead of me in the center behind that bulkhead that has the crib shelves. The flight took off and as the beverage service went rolling down the aisle the Mom started drinking little bottles of vodka, straight I couldn’t see Dad he was on the other side of the row. By the time meal service came she was out cold. The kids weren’t supervised and food was everywhere. The flight attendants aren’t baby sitters and only kicked the stray bread rolls out of the aisle when they walked by. I felt bad for anyone seated near that family. The kids were all on their own and mostly running up and down the aisles as if this was the park playground. By the time we were coming into Orlando the FA had to wake up the Mom to have her straighten out her seat AND buckle up her kids. She made no effort to clean up even apologize for her kids.

    While these kids weren’t babies they were certainly in need of attention. The respect you give to your fellow passengers is unspoken and understood. By either having a potentially spoiled brat or parents that won’t realize they need to do something to calm their children down they aren’t alone on these flights. Requesting to move to a place or change seats where you can limit the discomfort to others should be a priority when faced with these types of behaviors.

  4. Summer, I haven’t watched the video but from your description, the child could have some developmental issues which could exacerbate the situation. I hope people are not being too judgemental in their comments.

  5. We recently witnessed a similar situation that could have become like this one if an excellent flight attendant on Southwest had not stepped in to calm the child and have a wonderful rest of the flight. A little girl of maybe 2 or 3 was screaming and refusing to sit in her seat before take off. During boarding, she had asked to switch adults 2 or 3 times, as grandpa was flying with the family, and there were 3 adults to choose from. Once it was time to push back from the gate, she tried to change her mind again, but everyone was already settled. She slid down her seat and announced that she was sitting on the floor. The mother was being very patient and tried everything to get her up into the seat without physically placing her there. The grandpa wanted to intervene physically, but the mom was trying to be gentle with her, which I highly admire given the circumstances and pressure. Finally, a flight attendant came up, talked to the little girl in a stern, but caring voice, used her name, and asked her to get in her seat and buckle, pointing out the fasten seat belt light to let her know when she could unbuckle later in the flight. She then gave her a moment to comply and went to get her cookies. My own daughter (grr) said (to me), “Hey, I want cookies!” The flight attendant came back to a buckled little girl, lavished her with praise, and proceeded to hand out cookies to all of the children in the vicinity. I was overcome with emotion at the flight attendant’s ability to handle the situation with empathy and dignity for everyone involved, especially the little girl, but also the mom who was doing her best in a difficult situation.

    • I love this! Sometimes it really does take another adult to help out a little bit.

      I always travel prepared with my kiddos. Bags full of treats and new things to keep them occupied. One flight, one of my kids was being particularly difficult. I tried everything I could think of and none of it was working. I was starting to worry when a mom who was sitting behind me, handed me one of her child’s books. I had plenty of books but something about it being someone else’s was what ended up doing the trick. Now, I always try to keep an extra snack, toy, or book in my bag just in case another mom needs it.

  6. The blame for this instance is with both the parent(s) and with the airline. First, a parent/parents that can’t or won’t control their kid. If this child has “special needs” the parent should already know this and have a plan in place, perhaps not flying at that time or specific medications. If this child was not special needs, then shame on the parent(s) for allowing such behavior. Secondly, the video indicated this began before take-off at the terminal. Lufthansa should have deplaned the parent(s) and child. If after take-off, the FA have a responsibility to maintain safety, if the parent(s) did not want to comply, the plane should have turned back and the offending passengers deplaned.

    • Heath Hutchens – I couldn’t agree more with your response. Parents have responsibilities to the child, fellow passengers and flight crews, definitely and especially when it comes to safety issues. Who would accept responsibility and fault should this aircraft had hit sudden severe clear air turbulence and this totally uncontrolled child had been severely injured or killed? The same question could be applied to “lap babies”.

  7. Assuming that the kid could be jammed into a seatbelt on takeoff and landing, I did not see safety problems in the video. Therefore, I don’t fault the airline, as anything the airline might have tried to do probably would have been “wrong.” Observations: (1) what a torture test for the passengers; (2) had I been sitting near that kid, I would have been miserable and mentally frazzled, and ultimately I would not care about the underlying reasons or causes; and (3) I am of “a certain age” and so had I pulled that as a child, I would have gotten the cr$p kicked out of me by my parents, right then, and also when we got home (my parents also would not have cared one whit about the underlying reasons or causes).

  8. Entitlement. As a gay man with no children that flies nonstop and lives in hotels, the majority of parents I have encountered lately have a sense of entitlement when it comes to traveling with their children. Now the majority of you may have perfectly behaved children or atleast take care of them when they are screaming or kicking the seat in front of them but I hope you realize that you are the exception and not the rule.

    It is not up to an airline or hotel to make your children behave or follow the rules, it is up to you. If your child won’t stay in their seat while the plane is taxiiing and the flight attendant has to get out of their seat then not only are you a bad parent but a terrible person who doesn’t care about the safety of our cabin crews. Put your child in their seat and buckle them up. This is no time to be a passive parent.

    As far as I’m concerned if you have a baby or a child that is prone to temper tantrums or has a condition where they can not behave and it is not a life or death matter then they should not be on a redeye or a long international flight. Sorry but some of us need to sleep on planes and then get to work. I’m tired of landing sleepless for meetings because parents wanted to take their screaming baby to London. Not necessary. Also if you can afford first class or business for that matter you can afford to bring a nanny with you to sit with your screaming children in coach if you absolutely have to bring them.

    Now I’m sorry to be harsh but over the last three months I’ve encountered too many screaming and misbehaving children on long haul and red eye flights where the kids scream and run around and the parents just sit there. Ive received several hundred dollars and tens of thousands of points from the airline as compensation for bad parenting. But why should airlines have to compensate other passengers for misbehaving kids and crappy parents? Just as airlines are cracking down on emotional support animals they should be cracking down on bad parents.

    Air Asia’s slogan is “Now everyone can fly” and unfortunately people have listened, the problem is not everyone.

  9. “I have no clue if we can have a respectful discussion about how airlines should handle a somewhat out of control little one, but I’d like to try…”

    MP, you tried. And now you have your answer. Using profanity and hate to speak of a parent and/or their child is not respectful. Please take this post down before the nasty comments get worse and more hurtful to parents who may have a struggle with their child that others will never, ever comprehend.

    • Christine, I’m trying to monitor comments and can any that are not written in a respectful way. I was focused on something else for a minute, but let me find what you are referencing and nuke it. I think there is good discussion here, and I don’t want to lose it all. It is a tough situation that there isn’t an easy answer to.

      For anyone else commenting, I know there will be a wide variety of opinions here (even on a family travel site), and different opinions are okay, but if your opinion isn’t expressed in a respectful way it will be deleted as that isn’t what this site is about and won’t lead to a productive discussion.

  10. @christine. The fact that you want the post taken down because of some words further proves how soft you are. Have you never been bullied, are you really that hurt by words? Jesus Christ grow a thicker skin. This is the Internet, there is no forgiveness and kindness here, maybe you should log out and start using a pen and paper so you don’t come across words or comments that “hurt” you. I’m dark skinned, you know how many racist comments I come across daily. You know how many times I’ve been called n*gger, how many times people have made a prejudgment about who I am BEFORE I show my character. How many times I’ve been followed in a store for just looking around? And your hurt by people speaking on ACTIONS that demonstrate how terrible these parents are? Well we know one thing, you and your child aren’t built for the Internet age. Idk how old your kid is but the world cares little about your issues and will only be meaner the older they get. Facing bullies and harsh words is how one learns to cope not avoiding them, clearly your parents didn’t take that approach. Or else you end up with an adult who doesn’t know how to do anything but break down when real confrontation arises. Awhh “out of site out of mind” isn’t white privilege nice? And you have the nerve to talk about what people will “never ever understand” lol. It’s your responsibility to plan and teach a child or society will do it for you, and I promise they won’t be as kind.

    • William, the fact that someone might be bullied in the future isn’t a reason to bully. Forgiveness and kindness belong on the internet as much as anywhere, if not more, because it is so simple to be nice and kind from a keyboard. It is harder at 36,000 feet next to a screaming kiddo.

      I’m so very sorry for the racism you experience, and I believe it 100%. We don’t know what race Christine is, nor should we make assumptions about that or why a kid is crying, or anything else. Let the internet age allow us to learn about others and appreciate their experience, not use it as a way to attack and overly simplifiy.

      • Yes except that I did not read the deleted post as bullying and I don’t think its text warranted deletion. At some point in these posts you may need to step in for the sake of civility, but I did not think that this was the time. Still, I am aware that this is a judgment call that belongs to you alone.

        • The bullies comment comes from @William’s statement where he uses that term. Regardless, the discussion here should be so blatantly above board that there is no reason to moderate and thus no reason to discuss moderation, which isn’t my favorite thing to do anyway. Let’s try to refocus the discussion on what can be done when a kid is on board and has behavior that crosses from unfortunate to dangerous, and what that line looks like.

      • Summer, I appreciate your sympathies but their not needed. That’s my point. I grew a thick skin as a child. I don’t need someone to tell me their sorry, I need you to educate others if you understand. I don’t have a victim mentality, I don’t use my skin color as a excuse to act a certain way or to believe I haven’t been given an opportunity (although totally possible). And after all this time I certainly don’t let comments made by others affect how comfortable I am in my own skin.

        How is it bullying for someone to make a comment and it’s not directly aimed you. Let alone it being a general comment on a blog. You further prove my point. If you believe your being bullied because someone makes an indirect comment then you haven’t grown a thick enough skin in the first place. I also didn’t say that kindness doesn’t belong on the Internet, what I meant is that mean spirited comments are everywhere and its better to become numb to them let’s say online and cope with them then to face it in person and break down cause you didn’t learn how to handle those emotions in the first place. Why avoid them when you can confront them and become more comfortable with yourself and how you’ll handle your response.

        Also, i agree it’s wrong to assume but I can make a pretty reasonable assumption. How? I haven’t come across many adults who were black, Hispanic, middle eastern or any other color than white who aren’t hurt by words because we’ve all been dealing with it our entire lives and grew a thick skin. I know Houston is diverse, go and ask someone. We’ve been conditioned by the world and our parents that words don’t hurt or determine who you are. Of all things verbal harresment especially on the Internet is not something thats going to upset us or make us uncomfortable. More like people people getting shot for no reason or imprisoned for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We risk that every time we step out the door and we don’t go looking for it, so I have little sympathy for an ADULT being hurt by words. That’s their own fault. The world has assholes, that’s not to say their right but avoiding them is not the answer. Is it better to educate your child on the danger of predators or let them live in a world where they think everyone is doing right by them? That’s how one gets deceived.

        You know what other experience I have, my parents are white and I’m adopted. I love my parents but I very starkly see the difference in how we react to a situation or conversation. My dad is a classic middle class middle aged white man who was a head accountant at a large company. He gets uncomfortable when someone speaks to him about a conversation he doesn’t agree with, he gets defensive, he closes up. This is due to his inability as a child to ever have to confront hard conversations. He’d rather not talk about it then beleive there’s an issue. It’s taken years of in depth conversation for him to understand not everything is so simple as “they just need to work harder and find better help” for example. Yeah if only it was that easy for people.

        So, I guess let me finish by saying I’m sorry Chrsitine, maybe I was harsh, I definently dont think so. But I do think you should take a hard look at yourself and understand if words hurt you, especially indirect comments on a blog about parents in general, maybe you should work on how comfortable you are with yourself. Forcibly making yourself uncomfortable by facing conversations and words you don’t agree with builds character.

        • William, I like good discussion, so I appreciate much of what you said. We are all so different, as you know. We aren’t all going to have thick skin in the same ways, nor should we have to…especially on a family travel site. That isn’t where we go to deal with thick issues most of the time. You sound like a very strong person who may not be bothered by what someone writes on the internet, but that is not everyone’s reality in the slightest. I do agree that not everyone has the same opportunity to just work harder and it will all work out. It is not always that simple.

          To bring it back to the topic in the post, race was not an obvious factor in what happened on that plane, but when watching the video I 100% did wonder what role race might play if the family was a race other than white. I think in approaching how airlines can handle these things, some sort of objective rules and guidelines would be helpful so that biases and assumptions play a lesser role in determining where the line is between unfortunate and dangerous behavior.

          • I really appreciate your willingness to have an open dialogue. Your right though, I don’t want to do it on a family travel site any further, but I will say if we can’t think critically or be ready to face harsh words or different opinions on any platform even the ones we don’t expect (like a family travel site) then were gonna have a hard time changing this country for the better aren’t we? Anyway.. Again thank you for the open dialogue and I apologize if any of my comments crossed to far of a line for your site. Have a good day.

  11. As the parent of an autistic individual please allow my flow of thoughts.
    I am not medically qualified to diagnose but the behavior seemed to definitely be on the spectrum. As I understand it, the child does have the right to travel as long as it will not be a danger to others, This might excuse the sound effects but does not condone the climbing over seats.
    The adult accompanying the child, which I assume to have been the Mother, was overwhelmed. I do not know all the facts but she should have arranged for another adult to come with her.

    I am licensed to prescribe and I can tell you that it is not that simple. More often than you might think a drug of this nature can seem to cause the opposite effect, even a drug that you have used before. That was our experience and it is similar to some people that get drowsy after alcohol while some get aggressive.
    I imagine this developed onboard and they did not realize how this issue would evolve. I also am aware that LH is very careful about US laws and also allows emotional support animals on flights to the USA only because they feel compelled to. We have successfully flown within the US and I suspect an attempt to ban autistic people from flying wouldn’t be worth the bother and legal challenges.

  12. Quite a few people have anxiety about flying. It is hard enough to relax after buckling in and taking off. Throw in a wild and braying child just raises the stress level to a maximum. There’s your dangerous situation.

    If a drunk person was running around the cabin, bothering people, he would be tackled so fast

  13. Unfortunately one is going to encounter in life a variety of situations which are not enjoyable. This is even more likely to happen when confined with several hundred people in a small metal tube suspended 30,000 feet in the air. Among those situations are people with strong fragrances (natural or artificial), people watching video material you consider objectionable, strong food odors you might not like, and, yes, children whose behavior does not meet your standards — in this case, anyone’s standards.

    Somehow, people have developed a sense that they are entitled to never be discommoded in any way. Alas, that’s not likely.

  14. I can only surmise Summer went down this road to get a rise from her readers. MP was definitely successful. This posting serves no meaningful purpose except to further polarize her readers who are increasing faced with children having control problems in aircraft. There was no way any collective agreement or meaningful solution to this problem would be possible. Continuing on the same path, will her next posting seek input as to whether children should only be seated in the last aircraft rows and totally prohibited from B or FC? Unfortunately, now that would get even more divisive comments being generated on this site. No more, please!

    • Quennie, do you really think that this is a topic not suited for a family travel site? I agree it’s a tough one and there are strong opinions, but tough doesn’t mean inappropriate, or that it is done to get a rise from readers…in fact, I like to minimize ‘rises’ whenever possible unless it is celebration over a great deal. And I have also written about kids in F and either here or elsewhere have discussed the idea of family sections on planes. All are polarizing in their own way because of strong opinions, but that is just the nature of the beast, not something done intentionally.

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