Q: Peter, I fly pretty frequently for business and personal travel, but I just had possibly the worst flight of my entire life. My husband and I were flying from Chicago to Los Angeles, and we were sitting near two families. Each family had a little girl, about 3 years old, who periodically let out piercing shrieks. Nobody said or did anything about it while we were in the air, but we heard several people grumbling about it as we got off the plane. I know even the best children have their bad days, but it shouldn't come at the expense of everyone else on the plane. What suggestions do you have for dealing with such situations?
–Chris, Naperville, Ill.
A: Chris, we've all been there at some point. Whether it's a kicking and screaming child, an armrest hog or a person emitting some nasty odors, flying often puts us in close quarters with annoying seatmates.
See Also: How to not get sick on your flight.
The real issue here, it seems, is that no one confronted the problem while it was happening. The child's parents probably assumed that the planeload of passengers had a "kids will be kids" attitude because, well, you did.
In this case, the best first course of action should have been to deal with the problem at the source. Alerting the parents that allowing this kind of behavior is not acceptable is a perfectly reasonable response. But remember, be patient and kill them with kindness.
If it seems appropriate, you can even talk to the child directly. For example, if a child is kicking your seat, engage him or her in a friendly manner and say: "Hey, it actually really bugs me when you kick my seat. Could you please knock it off? Thank you."
If that doesn't work, the next step is to alert a flight attendant that the situation is bothersome. A simple reprimand from an authority figure, especially one in uniform, will often solve the problem.
Now that you've been through it, you may want to consider investing in a sleep mask and noise-canceling headphones. That can block out everything from screechy kids to the snorer in the seat next to you.
Biting your tongue and having to live with it is one of the least effective things you can do. On that note, losing your temper and flying off the handle won't solve anything either. A simple, polite and direct request is generally the best way to go about it, whether you're dealing with a screechy kid, a snorer or an armrest hog.