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Should you make goody bags for other passengers when you fly with babies or small children?

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 When traveling with babies and small kids - good bags or not for other passengers?

Recently one of my sweetest friends posted a status update on facebook soliciting ideas for goody bags to hand out to fellow passengers when she and her husband take their two small children on a long distance flight.

I’ve seen this idea before, and as a new mother with a young baby, I—too—considered doing something like this as a way to befriend passengers around me that might be a little put-off by seeing they were about to share a tiny cabin with a brand new seven-week-old baby and a mother traveling solo.

I ended up doing nothing of the sort (mostly because what mother of a newborn has time to prepare “treats” for strangers as she’s preparing for an overseas trip?), but I’ve since taken many flights and have firmly decided that this idea, although nice on a certain level, is actually a bad one.

Since my first flight as a mom (from Australia to America alone), and over the course of more than 50 flights in the four years since then – short and long, domestic and international, with my husband or solo – I have come to believe it’s a bad idea for parents to hand out goody bags to other passengers with a cute little “sorry in advance for your inconvenience” message.

Are kids are less important than adults?

My main concern with this concept is that it inadvertently reduces our children to inconveniences to be tolerated, rather than children to be nurtured and supported, and that the adults’ needs on the plane somehow trump the kids’ needs. Obviously that is not the intention of well-meaning parents who are hoping to spare other passengers from an ill-timed meltdown (or any meltdown, for that matter), but apologizing in advance can unconsciously perpetuate an attitude of entitlement in the adults around us, rather than one of compassion and tolerance and empathy toward both our children and toward us. I realize that some may disagree with me completely, but I think—however subtle—we need to think through what others may read between the lines.

Let kids be kids, rather than “seen and not heard”

In our grandparents’ generation, children were expected to be “seen not heard”… but haven’t we grown beyond that sentiment by now? Child development experts and parents alike intrinsically understand that children need to be children. We complain about how they “grow up too fast” with all that they’re subjected to on TV, in school, and on playgrounds, and yet we don’t want them to have the freedom to be kids and do what kids do – yes, even ask for another juice box just a little too loudly on the plane. If we think this “seen but not heard” attitude is outdated, then why would we suspend that belief on flights and expect our children to act like adults as soon as the fasten seatbelt sign lights up?

Sometimes flights just suck, and there’s nothing we can do about it

In all my years of frequent plane travel, I can think of several flights that were miserable for me, none of which included the “problem” of kids. One was a flight from Kenya to India where the stinkiest feet on planet earth were a row behind me, freed from their shoes for the entire duration of the 12-hour flight. It was so bad that flight attendants were constantly walking up and down the isles spraying disinfectant and air freshener. I spent the all-night flight gasping for air though my scarf as my eyes watered from the stench.

On another annoying flight I was traveling from Egypt to Morocco via a transfer in Italy. I’ve never heard such noise on a flight before – it was like the New York Stock Exchange with people literally standing up in their seats, talking—yelling!—to each other several rows ahead or behind. Or the flight when I sat next to a lovely elderly couple while one of them farted her way, blissfully unaware, through the entire five-hour fight across Australia.

But you know what? I had to be a grown-up on those flights. I had to give up my entitlement and not collapse into a fit because the flight wasn’t going according to my ideals. I had to forgive a stinky man, a slew of middle-aged Italians, and a sweet woman delivering death by natural-made chemical warfare. I had to swallow my pride, bite my tongue, and extend grace because I’m an adult, and adults should act like grown-ups.

When adults act like children and want children to act like adults

In my more than 50 flights with my kids (age four and under), I can honestly only think of one where a woman in the seat behind us was clearly upset about sharing her breathing space with my boys and I (this was a 14-hour flight from LA to Sydney that I was on by myself). She huffed and puffed and continued to ram the back of my seat with her knees to make sure I understood her disapproval. In my kids’ defense, they were great travelers on that flight — one of their absolute best! (Others around us kept commenting how wonderfully they were doing.)

This lady’s behavior was so absurd that I eventually complained to the flight attendant and asked her if she could somehow talk to the lady discreetly and defend us a little. Several minutes later I heard her behind me explaining that the children were paying passengers and they had just as much right as she did to a comfortable flight. In the end, the lady simmered down. But you know what I learned in that scenario? I learned that the immature one on the flight wasn’t my 3-year-old, nor was it my 18-month-old. It was her – the grown woman throwing a fit because the mom in front of her kept having to get up and down to change diapers on one child and make endless potty runs with the other.

This lady was acting like a child because my children weren’t acting like grown-ups. It was nonsensical on the most basic level. (Maybe she had been given a parent-guilt-ridden goody bag on another flight and was bitter at me for my obvious lack of foresight on this one — where was her goody bag filled with Starbucks vouchers and ear plugs and homemade cookies?)

The unknowns of traveling with small kids can be scary and intimidating

Now young parents, here me loud and clear: I understand the fear of having your small children on long flights, I do. A myriad of things can go wrong and we don’t know how they’ll cope in such a confined space. (Or you don’t know how you’ll cope in such a confined space.) I also understand the lighthearted desire to buffer your neighbors with a little treat in hopes they don’t shoot you the evil eye if your child starts crying. I get it – all of it. (And yes, they probably will cry at some point during a long flight. Kids do that sort of thing.)

But who we really should be thinking about is our children. Let’s do our best to prepare for their happiness (snacks! treats! toys! games!) and then give them the benefit of the doubt. And with as much grace as possible, let’s help fellow passengers to remember that children are people, too, and that it’s offensive (and plain wrong) to treat them as an inconvenience to be tolerated.

I’ve stopped worrying about my kids and flying as I’ve learned that kids will be kids, no matter if they’re on an airplane or in your living room. They will have loud moments and quiet moments. When they get loud at home, you take them into another room or outside and help them to calm down; when they get loud on the plane, you take them for a walk up and down the aisles or stand in the back. No big deal. That’s called parenting – doing what you need to do when you need to do it – and being mindful of your children while also taking into consideration the others around you. (And I do realize that there is the possibility for things to go terribly wrong — little ears that won’t pop, a pacifier that vanishes into thin air, or a toddler that has a huge accident when you’re not allowed out of your seat. This is when you have to roll with it and trust in the good of others to lend you a hand as they’re able.)

Relax, and trust your ability to parent well – even on an airplane

The biggest thing I’ve learned in flying with small children is that your flight will normally go according to your expectations. If you do your best to prepare and then settle in for the ride, your kids will likely surprise you. They’ll do fine, just fine! Other passengers will play peek-a-boo through the cracks between seats and flight attendants will bring them crayons and tell you how adorable they are. As you get off the plane the businessman with grey hair will wink and give you the thumbs up. A woman in her 40’s shuffling tweens down the aisle will tell you what a great job you did. The captain will high five your toddler on the way out and a grandmother in her 70’s will tell you she never heard a peep while you wait together at the baggage claim.

Most people are really nice, so have a little faith

People are mostly nice—really nice—and they have compassion on you as you wrangle tiny backpacks and sippy cups and your oversized purse stuffed with all but the kitchen sink. They feel bad for the baby who’s ears won’t pop and the mother exhausted from endless games of “this little piggy”. They think you’re amazing and they applaud you for “bravery” and admire your children for being irresistably cute.

And those people who aren’t really nice? They probably missed their morning cup of coffee or left for their trip with an unresolved fight lingering at home. Everyone has reasons for responding the way they do, but as parents, let’s take responsibility for our kids – not for the adults around us – and remember that our attitude and the tone we set can go a long way. Things like warm hellos as you’re getting settled at the beginning of the light, friendly eye contact, and apologizing if your toddler begins wailing after jamming his finger in the tray table (after comforting him, of course), can help soften most any skeptic’s attitude. Sometimes all people need to help them lighten up is a genuine smile and a kind or witty remark. And other times, nothing you can do will help… because every now and then you run into someone that just doesn’t like kids.

Trust yourself and trust your kids

By all means, if your child does the opposite of what I’ve said and becomes a monster once the plane lifts of the ground, buy those near-by a round of drinks or share your goldfish crackers or stash of lollipops – do whatever you have to do to try and make up for the perfect storm that hitched a ride in your carry-on. (And I say “monster” as tongue-in-cheek here – no child is a monster, no matter how much they lose control or misbehave.)

But by and large – trust yourself, trust your kids, and trust those around you to be decent. Because if you start handing out apologies for bringing your kids on flights, then what will be next? Goody bags at the doctor’s waiting room? Goody bags for the check-out line? Goody bags for other restaurant-goers?

Come on, let kids be kids and expect grown-ups to be grown ups.

For those of you that still feel nervous about traveling with your babies and small kids, you can read my four best tips for airplane travel with little ones. I’ve narrowed all the advice down to four tips… and I really think that’s all you need! (Though if you do want more, you can go here for more tips about traveling with a baby.)

Let’s not overcomplicate this friends. Are you tired of this refrain yet? — Let kids be kids and expect grown ups to be grownups.

Happy flying!
Adriel

 

Related:

4 tips for flying with small kids - babies and toddlers.

12 Reasons you should travel with kids - yes, even internationally.

Travel tips for flying with a baby - simple tips for making flights with an infant easier and more enjoyable!

 

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18 Comments

  • Reply Krystle 9 June 2014 at 4:38 pm

    I just think- I don’t have time or money to spend on goody bags for adults on an airplane. That’s my bottom line haha.

    Like it’s a flight. It’s over with eventually. It might suck but then it’s done.

    Haha. I don’t have any deep thoughts here 😉

  • Reply Rachel 9 June 2014 at 4:57 pm

    Like you I have travelled on tons of flights with youngins all under 3 and had never heard of this goodie bag nonsense. I flew SYD to Florida alone 7 months pregnant with a 2 year old and 1 year old… goodie bags my arse. I dont even give the “sorry we are by you” look anymore. My children are well behaved and if they happen to have an earache or a meltdown, well that’s life.
    Rachel recently posted..This is what infertility feels likeMy Profile

    • Reply Adriel 9 June 2014 at 5:30 pm

      I think the more I’ve flown the more confidence I have, which makes it easier to not be so insecure about what others might think or how they might behave, should things go wrong.

      That sounds like quite the itinerary you had while pregnant with a baby and toddler in tow! Pro-mum traveller, right there! Nice work. 😉
      Adriel recently posted..I’m going to write a book for you… and give it away for free.My Profile

  • Reply Bronwyn Lea 9 June 2014 at 5:00 pm

    Totally agree with you, for all the reasons you state and one more: I am philosophically opposed to goodie bag/ party favor culture. Really! As if we need to apologize for our kids being kids, or thank people of or the privilege of attending a party… (Forgive me for adding another link here, but this is one of my preferred petty soapboxes… http://bronlea.com/2013/09/14/do-me-a-favor/)
    Bronwyn Lea recently posted..Tattoos and Cardigans {Jamie Hanauer}My Profile

  • Reply Charysse 9 June 2014 at 5:41 pm

    Great article, Adriel! Your points are dead on. I always stressed out so much more before long flights when my boys were young, and it was always for not. I have never had a bad airplane incident in all of our traveling. If I remained calm, they remained calm. People that travel frequently expect for there to be little ones on the airplane. If it bothers them greatly, they can treat themselves to first class. Not too many of us mommas spring for seating up there, and I know they get their own nice goodies up there, so leave the goodies to the airlines, not to us!

    • Reply Adriel 9 June 2014 at 10:44 pm

      I agree, the vast majority of the time, kids do really well!! There are always variables, and you’ll never know in advance how they’ll do for sure, but by and large kids handle flying like most people – a little uncomfortably, but overall just fine.
      Adriel recently posted..Giving birth to hope (and a baby)My Profile

  • Reply Lisa @bitesforbabies 9 June 2014 at 5:52 pm

    I love this post…and I completely agree! When I first started traveling with my kids I looked for every way to make the flights, transfers, etc easier…and I this one popped quite a bit on the internet. I contemplated it but then decided that I’d rather not do it. I actually hadn’t put much thought into, I just knew it wasn’t “me!” Now, (since you’ve so eloquently put it) I know all the reasons why!!!

    • Reply Adriel 9 June 2014 at 10:48 pm

      Yes, it was/is quite the “thing” – all the “cool” and clever moms doing it. You know what else gets me that I didn’t include in the post? The unspoken pressure for moms to do it all and bend over backwards to please everybody, even those outside of their own family. The last thing any mom needs is more pressure to perform to unattainable standards – whether it’s expected by others or self-imposed. Not healthy!
      Adriel recently posted..The only 4 tips you need for flying with babies and small kidsMy Profile

      • Reply Lisa @bitesforbabies 10 June 2014 at 4:07 am

        So true! We should be worrying about our own kids…not what others think of us or them! I’d like to think that most people would “understand” but then again, anyone who doesn’t have kids would most likely NOT understand!

      • Reply Kate 25 July 2014 at 8:02 am

        This exactly. Thank you. I’m leaving in less than a week with my 5 month old, and I was considering the bag thing… and I felt pressure! WHY?!! I’ve traveled a TON in my life and never once thought about getting one.

        Thanks for giving me a good talking to!!

  • Reply Travelling tips with toddlers and small children 19 August 2014 at 8:46 pm

    […] recently read a post by Adriel on why you shouldn’t make goodie bags for nearby airline passengers and, I must admit, I had never heard of this phenomenon. No offense if your love language is a gift […]

  • Reply Sprinkle 14 November 2014 at 4:53 am

    Excellent post! My parents were missionaries, (YWAM at one point too) and I was born and grew up overseas as is my family now so more passport extensions than I can count all around. Rather than pack goody bags for other passengers parents should put more thought into activity/snack/goody bags for their kids and Parent them.
    Sprinkle recently posted..Moving forward…My Profile

  • Reply Claire 30 March 2016 at 12:46 am

    This is well written and convincing. I did an image search for flight goodie bags because I’m flying to Brazil next week and thought it was a good idea. Because your article is filled with good points instead of “reasons why I’m feeling pissy about goodies bags,” like some of the other blogs, you’ve changed my mind. I’ll take a bag of ear plugs with me, just incase, but I won’t be assembling any treat bags. Instead, I will take your advice to “trust yourself, trust your kids, and trust those around you to be decent.” Well done.

  • Reply Belinda 12 May 2016 at 4:49 pm

    My darling daughter is 9 months old and she has been on 4 flights, I found that the other passengers were delighted to engage with her, I agree that ‘buying or providing’ goodie bags is not the right approach, fully grown adult passengers are way more offensive then kids can be, i’ve travelled extensively and overweight people, people with poor personal hygiene and drunk people are far more annoying on a flight than a child or baby is.
    Belinda recently posted..Flying with a BabyMy Profile

    • Reply Adriel Booker 13 May 2016 at 9:01 pm

      All of the worst flights I’ve been on are DEFINITELY due to adult issues. I’m sure there are a few horror stories from children on flights, but I have heard (and experienced) waaaaaay more dramas with adults!

  • Reply Remsun Debbarma 25 January 2017 at 9:31 pm

    According to me, it is not necessary to carry food bags for other passengers even though if you are traveling with kids, but it is always good that you can carry some extra food items in your food bag. So that you can at least ask for if they want it or not. yes obviously they will say NO :)

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