• Wed, Dec 11 - 5:00 pm ET

Inattentive Parents Are Not The ‘Worst Fliers’ Out There

200129525-001A new survey reports other passengers regard “inattentive parents” as the most annoying passengers to share a plane with. Yes, I think they are annoying – but the most annoying? Hardly.

I may just be sensitive because I constantly feel like a few bad apples ruin it for the rest of us in this situation. I honestly can not remember a flight that I have been on where a kid was acting like a total jerk and their parent wasn’t doing the best they could to stop them. Maybe I was just glad it wasn’t my kid, so I was more relieved than offended.

I do know that in the many years I have spent traveling I have had some horrific flight experiences, none of which had anything to do with other children. Well, except that flight to Hawaii when a mom didn’t secure her bottle of breast milk in my overhead bin and it leaked on me. That sort of had something to do with a child. But apart from some unhappy, crying babies – I can’t recall ever being tormented by children on a flight. I can recall be tormented by adults, though.

There was my incredibly overweight seat-mate who fell asleep upon take off with his giant arm covering the controls to my TV. I’m a nervous flyer who purposely books travel on planes that offer TVs because they help me relax. I was stuck watching a Scooby Doo marathon for three hours. I tried slipping my fingers underneath his flesh to get to the controls – but no luck.

Then there was the flight to Vegas in which I was completely surrounded by the cast of Boiler Room. Not the real cast, but you get the picture. They were celebrating a bachelor party, drinking “J and C’s,” calling each other “Broheim” and high fiving each other for two hours. Can you say hell on earth?

Then there was the time I sat next to the woman who was so afraid of flying she was white-knuckling the armrest, crying and praying. That makes a nervous flyer feel very at ease. Oh my god – it was the worst.

I get it – kids are annoying. But can we please stop pretending that they are the only annoying travelers out there, or that their parents enjoy traveling with them when they are being impossible? It’s really not fair.

(photo: Getty Images)

You can reach this post's author, Maria Guido, on twitter.
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  • CMJ

    The worst: The dudes who clearly have elephantine balls because they have to sit with their legs so far apart that they are actually just sitting in my seat.

    • http://wtfihaveakid.blogspot.ca/ jendra_berri

      The Elephantine Balled Males are a scourge on society. Their natural habitat appears to be public transit. You will see them on the subway squeezing women beside them into tight balls of quiet rage.
      The average person not wishing to rub knees with a stranger will sadly find drawing ones knees away from this species will only result in a further encroachment of personal space. EPMs view this action on the part of others as invitations to take up more room for their giant testes.
      They space themselves one seat apart whilst travelling in packs, taking up twice the seats of your average beast. There is no known repellent to this breed.

    • thisshortenough

      I’m actually trying to make a point these days not to give up space on my seat for someone who thinks that his balls deserve the ultimate comfort despite being on a public bus

    • Véronique Houde

      I actually push their leg over to their own space. Like I said above, I have no shame ;).

    • http://fairlyoddmedia.com/ Frances Locke

      Me too! First I will try to discreetly push their leg over, hoping they get the picture. They usually do. But if they don’t I will make it extremely obvious. The only time I won’t do this is if I’m wearing a skirt, because nope.

    • Natasha B


    • Byron

      As long as there’s an aisle seat available, letting us have it will solve this. Crossing one leg over the other is the magical remedy to this situation. Of course, when there’s nowhere for the higher leg to go it is impossible but whenever available, I opt for the aisle seat so that my foot can hang out in the central pathway of the plane rathen than my knee taking up half the seat of the next person. This only has drawbacks when there’s people passing through the aisle forcing me to bend my foot in ways that allow them passage.

      Not everyone with EBM is a jerk, we’re just trying to fit in, quite literally!

    • Paul White

      Spill a really cold drink on their lap.

    • http://fairlyoddmedia.com/ Frances Locke

      Yup. These dudes also seem to frequent the subway. Who knew Elephant-Ballsitis was such a common condition?

  • teetotaler

    what is a J and C?

    • Moscow Mule

      Probably a jack and coke. Or jerk and chicken. Maybe jelly beans and candy corn. Or jello and cheese. Probably jack and coke though.

    • Katie L.

      Jack and Coke, is my guess.

  • AE Vorro

    So true. I fly at least twice a year and I can’t remember any one time a child ruined my flight. Not one.

  • Bethany Ramos

    My only bad kid flying story was when we flew (without kids) recently, and a grandma had a toddler that was screaming its head off. I assume it was a grandma because she was older and seemed totally confused by the baby. Anyhoo, the Texan flight attendant couldn’t understand the Indian woman with the screaming kid and ending up screaming back at her in broken Spanish like she was an idiot, so it was racist fun all around. :)

  • Sri

    See, I’ve never sat near a white knuckler, a smelly person, a frat house, or a seat hog (that wasn’t my husband, which he thinks is ok and part of our wedding vows, apparently). I have, however, been assaulted by the spawn of inattentive parents multiple multiple times. I never get upset about parents who genuinely try to stop problematic behavior, and I don’t expect perfection, although I know that some people really don’t get it and start kvetching about kids as soon as they see them.

    I always try to have a little bit of sympathy, but I have to draw the line somewhere. I never know if someone smells because of a medical condition, but I do know that a kid shouldn’t be able to rub chicken nuggets all over me. I feel bad for bigger people because, hey, maybe their parent is on their death bed and they have to fly to see them in time and god knows those seats aren’t big enough, but no kid should be running up and down the aisle screaming for an hour while ripping books out of other passengers hands.

    Honestly, all I’m looking for is a “hey, knock it off, that’s not how you behave in public.” If that doesn’t work, I try not to judge. Maybe that parent just had something bad happen to them and they don’t have the spoons to deal with their kid. But just try to do something to show me that you don’t think that that behavior is acceptable. Barring that, don’t get all pissy with me when I give your kid the stink eye and tell him that if he takes my book and throws it on the ground one more time (making about 6 times), I’m going to personally write a letter to Santa telling him to bring your kid coal (Not my finest moment, but I was on my way to my mother’s funeral with my wedding dress rolled up in a carry-on because that’s the only way I could get it fitted in time for my wedding). That’s all I ask.

    I will admit that I really hate the deep deep denial that people fall into when trying to stow their carry-on, though. Seriously? You think that bag’s going to fit? It’s almost as big as you, and you can’t even pick it up. You think that’s going to fit up there? And now we have to wait while this asshole crushes everyone else’s bags and then screams at the flight attendants that they refuse to check it. Really? I got shit to do! Just accept that you’re bad at Tetris and move on with your life.

    • Paul White

      Carry on hogs are the worst. Can we burn their carry ons in front of them? It’s less annoying than bad kids but there’s so many more of them.

    • Sri

      Yeah, it passes so much faster than the bad kids, but those few minutes are hell. I can’t stand the smell of the deicer, and it just seems to build over time on the ground, too. By the end of the carry-on dance, the only thing getting me through is the thought of barfing into their stupid precious bags.

    • AP

      I had a “bad parent” experience on an Amtrak train (where, oddly, 99% of the kids who you run into are adorable and exceptionally well-behaved little ladies and gentlemen.) The two boys were bouncing all over the place, running through the aisles, jumping on empty seats, and being generally rowdy, though not loud- I put my earbuds in and couldn’t hear them. I could, however, hear their mom screech “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!” without leaving her seat approximately every 10 seconds between New York and New Haven.

      I was also on an Amtrak train where someone threatened to beat up a toddler for accidentally kicking his bad leg. The kid squirmed in Mom’s arms and accidentally kicked the gentleman, the mom apologized, shifted the kid around, and the man and his wife went off on her until the conductor threatened to call the police and force them off at the next station, then found the cranks new seats.

    • Sri

      Oh, I’m not trying to say that there aren’t jerks that hate kids in general. I’m just saying that inattentive parents are at the top of my list, followed very closely by the people who can’t figure out how carry-ons work. Also that I mean inattentive, not just parents in general. I would probably classify the stationary screecher as annoying, though. Maybe not technically inattentive, but they should know that screaming in public places isn’t appropriate or an effective means of actually getting a kid to stop anything. I might group them with the inattentive parent because their “attention” is both completely useless and obnoxious. Then again, I would be super pissed if she didn’t say anything and one of those kids knocked over my drink or something, so idek.

      I’m not one of those people who suggests that everyone isn’t entitled to an opinion about this. They totally are. I do think that it’s a bit of a stretch, though, to look at a survey of 1,001 people and say that somehow 410 people are wrong because you (and by you, I mean Maria, who I generally agree with, but who I think may have been the victim of poor word choice in this article) don’t feel the same way. I mean, the other 591 people also disagree, but that’s kind of how surveys work. Everyone gives their opinion, and then they figure out how many people share the same opinion. No one claimed that they were the only annoying flyer. They were just most commonly picked as the most annoying. There were, in fact, 18 other classes of annoying fliers to choose from, and, hey, look at it this way, 59% of flyers don’t think that inattentive parents are the most annoying.

      I’m sorry if this sounds snarky. I’m just wrapping up my grad school classes and so so so many people are making statistical errors and misusing data that I’m really overly sensitized to it.

  • Paul White

    Wish I could say the same. Oy vey. I used to fly quarterly for business, and about every other leg seemed to have a screaming baby.

  • M

    Can we all just admit that being on flights with kids sucks and institute kid-free plane zones? I fly internationally for work a LOT and there is inevitably a loud kid (or several) in front of or behind me who makes it impossible to sleep. On a 3 hour flight, no big deal. On an 8-12 hour flights, that sucks. I’m sure their parents are no more thrilled to be on an 8 hour flight with their toddler, but they’d get a lot less pissed-off looks if the rest of us could pay $20 extra to sit farther away from the kids.

    • brebay

      You’re a waitress, kids eat where you work, sometimes they get loud. Deal.

    • Jlh

      The difference is she’s not getting paid to deal with a loud kid who’s parents are paying for her service like she might at work. Instead she’s paying for a service and having to deal with a loud kid who’s parents may or may not be trying to handle the situation.

    • coffeeandshoes

      How is that even a remotely similar comparison? Being in a restaurant where you are allowed to move around (and where the noisy kids don’t have a defined time in which they are there) is not at all the same as being confined in a plane for a pre-determined time. Come on.

    • Gangle

      What? Wait! M mentioned nothing about waitressing and kids in her comment. Just long-haul flights and annoying kids. Those are two completely different things.

    • elle

      Yes I fly to Switzerland and Hong Kong SO mich for my job and every time I see a toddler on those flight I’m like no,no,no! I would happily pay even $1000 more (well in fairness I do get reimbursed by my company) to be on a childless flight! I get crabby on that flight, kids don’t fair any better. But yeah like any of the Utah to southern states I don’t enjoy but I can handle the crying for like the four or so hours if I have a drink. But yeah some of the bloggerson this site get really defensive if you suggest kids on flight can be annoying. Like I have a kid so I recognize sometimes you have to/want to fly and bring your kids but imo it doesn’t really make a screaming kid less annoying (including your own!)

    • Kay_Sue

      I actually think this would be awesome. Even as parents, when you’re on a long flight sans-kids, it would be nice to, you know, have the option to really be sans-kids.

    • Tinyfaeri

      I liked that idea right up until a baby sitting more than 10 rows back from us on a recent flight woke up my toddler with her screams. You can’t get away from a baby crying on a plane unless you’re going to section off the plane, and that would take away seats (which raises the rate for everyone). So airlines charging more to get passengers away from kids on a plane are just making more money without any real benefit to anyone.

    • ted3553

      Hell, I’m a parent of a toddler, I also fly a lot for work and I see no issue with the kid free space on a plane. I am very conscious of my child on a plane although when I fly with him it’s short haul. He’s still a kid and super wiggly right now and i often have to say no a couple times since he’s just learning. I wouldn’t blame anyone for wanting to pay extra dollars to avoid even my mostly well behaved kid.

  • JustaGuest

    My biggest issue with children flying is that they often kick my seat and I have lower back problems; there is a serious chance of doing me damage by it. The children themselves aren’t being malicious, but there are some parents who seem completely unconcerned by this behavior. Overall, though, I think this stems more from our culture’s attitudes towards disabilities (particularly non-visible ones) rather than something to do with children.

  • Rachel Sea

    I hate smelly people who try to sleep on me the most, but I have had horrible experiences with inattentive parents. The worst was a kid who took issue with the in-flight movie and was expressing his displeasure on my back. He didn’t just kick my seat, he was hauling back and stomping both feet on the back of my seat so hard that it was making my head bounce off the headrest. When I told him to “stop that, right now,” his mom told me to leave him alone. I had to get a flight attendant to intervene before I did something I didn’t regret.

    • Holly

      This is the stuff I don’t get- if your kid is kicking someone’s seat why on Earth is anything besides “I’m so sorry” coming out of your mouth? I would have had a hard time restraining myself too.

    • staferny

      The same thing happened to me but there were 2 boys sitting with their mom behind me and they were both kicking away (on a 12 hour flight). When I turned around and told them to stop kicking my seat their mom looked stunned, and the lady who was sitting next to me looked right at me (I honestly thought she was going to tell me I was a b***h) and mouthed “Thank you”. Thankfully the kids were perfect the rest of the flight.

  • ktbay

    My very worst flight was from PHX to SEA. I was in the last row, middle seat between two very large women. They knew each other, and had booked window and aisle seats because they “didn’t think anyone was going to have to sit between them”. So I got to squeeze in there and listen to them talk the whole time. I was only 19 at the time so the free booze the flight attendant offered me couldn’t even be consumed. It was my hell.

  • Kay_Sue

    Any person has the capability of being annoying, and just because people agreed that inattentive parents were the most annoying, they aren’t saying other people aren’t annoying. They also aren’t saying all parents are annoying, or all kids are annoying.

    In retail, you encounter inattentive parents all the effing time. They are annoying. I had a kid one time who turned my entire shoe department upside down by emptying the bottom three rows of every aisle–EVERY AISLE, not exaggerating, it took hours to get it straight–while his mother happily chatted on her phone about half an aisle ahead of Typhoon Tyke. And yes, it was annoying, and yes, it was frustrating, and yes, I can’t imagine being confined to a plane, after paying for a ticket that is probably expensive as balls, and having to deal with the equivalent behavior. That’s over and above the number of times an oblivious parent has literally let their kid track piss or shit through the store…or open all the toys in a particular aisle…it’s insane.

    We are going to be plagued by the few bad apples, because unfortunately, good parenting rarely gets noticed. It’s the negative behavior that stands out in people’s minds. But hopefully we can all take comfort in the fact that, as attentive parents, we aren’t annoying passengers. ;)

  • Tinyfaeri

    Inattentive is the key word here. They didn’t say “parents,” or “kids,” they said “inattentive parents.” If you’re trying your best to do what you can to calm your kid down, get them to stop kicking the seat in front of them, etc., most people don’t seem to have a problem with you. If you’re reading a magazine while listening to music while your kid runs rampant all over the plane, then people are going to have a problem with you.

  • Véronique Houde

    OMG Maria you should have poked the guy awake and told him to move his gigantic arm off of the arm rest!!!! I’ve done it before ;). I have no shame. I payed for it as much as he did so MOVE! No one should have to be subjected to three hours of scoobydoo…

  • SarahJesness

    I don’t fly enough to complain about plane passengers.

  • Jallun-Keatres

    My worst flight experience was when I was maybe like 13 and involved my own sister. As a disclaimer, she is handicapped so it wasn’t like she meant to do it but her ‘time of the month’ was REALLY screwed up- she basically bled heavily for 3 weeks and had a week off; it was like the opposite of normal. Anyway she decided one day she was done with having her period so she just didn’t put in a napkin. In her mind, if she denied it, it would go away, right?

    Unfortunately for all of us, she decided to do this the day we had a 6am flight from Boise to Portland. She bled all over the seat of the plane. The staff was very kind about the whole thing and we did the best we could to keep discreet.

    It’s times like these I’m glad she wears her disability on her face lol

    (if anyone is wondering she has Downs, and really she knew better. Thank goodness for birth control- now she deals 4 times a year!)

  • http://fairlyoddmedia.com/ Frances Locke

    “Then there was the flight to Vegas in which I was completely surrounded by the cast of Boiler Room. Not the real cast, but you get the picture. They were celebrating a bachelor party, drinking “J and C’s,” calling each other “Broheim” and high fiving each other for two hours. Can you say hell on earth?”

    This is literally my version of hell, if hell were to exist. My. Worst. Nightmare.

    • Jessie

      I had a boss who acted that way once. In the workplace. Obviously liquor was not involved in the workplace, however he would always invite our entire (and mostly underage) staff out for drinks at one of his Bro-bars, called everyone by stupid DudeBro nicknames, and threw around high fives like they were confetti. We all hated him with a burning passion.
      Thankfully, he didn’t last long, but it was nearly two years of an absolute living nightmare.

  • gothicgaelicgirl

    the one I hate… the nosey chatter.
    Got stuck beside a woman on a two hour flight who just PLAGUED me with questions and judgey comments about my piercings, tattoos and how any child I have would be “ashamed” of my appearance.
    I even pretended to be asleep and she poked me!

    I politely told her if she didn’t shut up she’d be out of the plane…minus a parachute…

  • ted3553

    I worked with kids for years and now have my own and unless that baby is really screeching, I can ignore the crying. My biggest issue is the people who take up way too much room. We’re all squished in here so you need to be as conscious of it as I am and close your legs, keep your arms to yourself and not lean my way and for goodness sake, if there are 2 of you who are large, please don’t leave me in the middle. I’d rather be next to a crying baby all flight

  • Lindsey

    the worst fliers are those who recline their seats, all the way back. Um, hello, I know that theoretically you can do that. But no. Stop taking up my space.

  • CrazyFor Kate

    Airports and planes just make me hate humanity in general. Ugh.

  • Alexandra

    “Then there was the time I sat next to the woman who was so afraid of flying she was white-knuckling the armrest, crying and praying. That makes a nervous flyer feel very at ease. Oh my god – it was the worst.”

    Sorry Maria, that may have been me!! I’m the worst flyer in history. Although, life is much better with valium! :)

  • SA

    haha! I do think that an inattentive parent on a flight might be the worst, but I have yet to experience it either. A woman screaming (yes, SCREAMING!) during landing (I am not a good flier, so you can imagine how unsettling this was for me), a loud Vegas flight, overtalkative seat-mate…you name it, but the children have all been ok (although I may have jinxed myself now)