Here’s why flying with toddlers can be awful, even in the best of circumstances


If there’s one thing 2½-year-olds are known for, it’s sitting still for long periods of time in a confined space. They’re completely obedient, remaining quiet so as to not bother the people around them, and they stick to socially acceptable limits on personal space between them and others.

Clearly, I’m joking. Toddlers are belligerent, inquisitive, loud, wiggly little people who don’t care what others think of them, and use their powers to achieve control of any situation they can. They’re about as good on a plane as an entitled drunk man with restless leg syndrome and Tourette’s.

So I feel for Shirley Yamauchi, a mother who recently took the second leg of her trip from Hawaii to Boston on a completely full flight with her toddler son on her lap because United gave away his ticket to someone on standby. In fact, my immediate reaction was, “I would rather saw my arm off” than hold my son on my lap for any flight.


Earlier this week, I flew with my 5- and 2-year-olds from Wilmington, N.C., to Boston. Two flights: Wilmington to Philadelphia, Philadelphia to Logan. As you might imagine, it was interesting, even with a literal bag full of tricks.

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First, because of bad weather elsewhere, our initial flight was delayed so long that we missed our connection before even taking off. After spending five hours at the airport and waiting on the plane, we called the grandparents, got “loaner” car seats, and spent what I branded a “bonus night” at my parents place. The kids were psyched.

On day two, we boarded after spending two hours in the aiport to check on the luggage that made it to Philly and return the car seats. The exhausted kids whined a bit and ate some bribery candy, but overall just played games.

But by the time we landed in Philly for our hour layover, they were hungry, needed the bathroom, and wanted to run around a bit. Then I checked on our connection: The one-hour layover had turned into three. (Spoiler: It ultimately became four.) We ran around a little playground in the terminal, visited multiple bathrooms, ate some pizza. The 2-year-old proceeded to crash into people as he ran from gate to gate to gate (we transfered gates four times), put his hand in a toilet bowl, banged on a glass wall overlooking the arrivals area, and annoyed his poor sister who just wanted to watch “Minions” for the third time on her tablet.

If it weren’t for the kindness of strangers laughing things off, listening to them both chatter and scream, and even watching our stroller so we could take our upteenth trip to the bathroom, I would have melted down. Did I mention all this happened during what should be nap time?


An hour after we were supposed to board, we finally did. The little one was a wreck as we stuck him by the window in our row of three: He was overtired, loud, antsy. He wanted to play a game, but upon receiving the tablet absolutely did not want to play a game — why would I even try to make him do that? He was standing on the chair, hiding under the chair, roaring like a dinosaur. You know, the usual.

Yamauchi had to spend her flight crammed by the window with her 25-pound child on her lap while sharing an armrest with the man who was given the seat. That’s degrading. That’s telling her that her experience and that of her son were lesser than the hassle it would be for the gate agents (who messed up) to right their wrong, and lesser than that of the other customer. Nevermind that the situation was potentially unsafe for her child. Her son fell asleep for part of the ride, contorted on her lap and making her arm and leg fall asleep. Fear of being hurt or yelled at like other recent United passengers prevented her from speaking up.

Traveling with kids makes you feel vulnerable: You’re out in the open, children are uncaged and wild, a free show for the other travelers who are sitting quietly, relaxing, and reading on their phones. Your mere presence causes a scene. You’re trying not to bother those around you, apologizing a lot; you’re trying to make sure that you’re not the one whose child screams for an entire flight so your fellow passengers don’t shoot you dirty looks or accuse you of bad parenting. You’re also trying not to scar your children so that traveling becomes more of a nightmare down the road. You’re holding your breath, hoping others will extend a little understanding, and maybe some grace.

For me, that came when I landed in Boston. After the plane landed, I was sitting there, mentally preparing for getting the stroller, two kids, two bags, and two car seats around Logan. My kids were laughing and giggling, performing for the people around us who had gotten up and were starting to grab their bags even though we were still taxiing to the gate.

A woman looked down at my kids and then at me and said, “You’re a good mom. They did great and so did you.” I burst into tears.


“I’m so sorry,” she said, taken aback. “I didn’t mean to make you upset. I have twins and I remember how hard that was.”

I flew with my 5- and 2-year-olds from Wilmington, N.C., to Boston. Two flights: Wilmington to Philadelphia, Philadelphia to Logan. As you might imagine, it was interesting, even with a literal bag full of tricks.

“Oh no,” I blubbered, wiping my eyes, absolutely mortified about public crying, realizing that I had become the one making the scene. “It’s just been a really long day.”

Heather Ciras can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @heatherciras.