Flying with Kids Sucks (Trip Report)

This should have been an awesome trip. Thanks to nonstop flight times that don’t work for us (redeye), we nearly always have to connect when we go to see my wife’s family in Indiana. This time, however, Delta had retimed its flights to compete for too few passengers with American, and we were excited. As if that wasn’t enough, we were able to snag something more rare than a unicorn: 4 saver awards using Delta miles. Excellent, right? Well sure, if not for having to fly with a 2 year old. This was a rough trip, and it wasn’t Delta’s fault.

Reign of Terror

I dropped my wife off with our daughter at the curb at LAX so she could check our bags while I went with my son to park off-site. When we came back, the security line-minder tried to corral me and my son into the family line, but I showed her that I had Pre Check. She didn’t seem to understand why that was better than going in the family line. Strange.

Once through security, we found a very busy gate area. Gates 53A and B are crammed into a small waiting area, and both had flights leaving at 942a. (The other one was going to Boston.) We couldn’t find seats so we set up camp on the floor.

I went up to the gate to get a pink tag to gate-check our stroller, and the gate agent asked where we were sitting. I showed her that we had 15AB and 16AB so that my wife could tackle one kid and I could tackle the other. She then said the flight was pretty empty so she could move us toward the back and give us each a row of 3 to ourselves. Awesome, and very nice of her.

April 19, 2014
Delta 962 Lv Los Angeles 942a Arr Indianapolis 439p
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 53B, Runway 25R, Depart 3m Early
Indianapolis (IND): Gate A13, Runway 5L, Arrive 5m Early
N362NW, Airbus A320-212, Standard Delta colors, ~65% Full
Seat 23D/E, Coach
Flight Time 3h39m

I should have known this was going to be a tough flight when my son decided he didn’t want to get on the airplane at all. He threw a fit which, fortunately, he completely forgot about within about 2 minutes.

Once we got past that, we found our seats and realized that this had become the family section. There was a woman across the aisle who was traveling alone with two children, one in her lap! (That is the definition of insanity.) Another couple families were in front of us.

My son didn’t want to be buckled in (we use the CARES harness) and he kept throwing a tantrum for just about anything. Great.

The captain came on and told us that we’d have some bumps over the Rockies and then on landing but that was about it. We pushed back a little early and headed east.

Once on the airplane, my daughter was great. That’s because she ended up spiking a temperature and just slept the whole time. Unfortunately, my wife was the lucky one who got to deal with her.

I, instead, was with my son who was in no mood to obey anything. That might have been easier to entertain had the seatbelt sign not stayed on for so long. It came off briefly when we reached cruising altitude but then over Northern Arizona it came on again. It stayed on until we were well over Kansas, went off briefly, and then came back on. My son was downright angry and decided to let everyone know. He even refused the iPad, which we had filled up with his favorite movies. It was a struggle, to say the least.

Somewhere over Missouri, when I was contemplating opening a window exit, he passed out. That gave me about 20 minutes of much-needed rest. I had signed on to wifi with my phone, so I browsed that a little. But then it was time to start descending and my son woke up again.

As we started the descent, my wife’s head, stuffed up from one of the three million colds our kids have shared with us this winter, felt like it was going to explode. Meanwhile, my son again staged a protest by squirming so I couldn’t get him buckled in. Finally, I won that battle, but it took considerable effort.

It was a beautifully clear day in Indy but the winds were rockin’. It probably wasn’t more than light to moderate turbulence at most, but it was enough for my son to keep referring to the “bouncy airplane” for days afterwards. (I think that was the one thing he liked about the whole trip.)

Once on the ground, I was begging to get out. Of course, we waited for everyone else to get off before we gathered our things (and did a brief cleaning) and headed into the terminal. We had a one week respite before the return.

I was hopeful that the return would be better since we had such an early departure. I figured we could scoop my son out of bed and then get him nice and tired. Hah.

We got to the airport and checked in with no problem. Then we went through security and to the gate. Once again, I went to get a pink tag for the stroller and asked if we might be able to get a little breathing room again. This time, the gate agent had no full rows open, but she started calling people up over the PA to see if they’d want to move. They had more room and wouldn’t be next to an angry child, so it was an easy sell for them. Another above-and-beyond effort from Delta.

April 26, 2014
Delta 877 Lv Indianapolis 7a Arr Los Angeles 850a
Indianapolis (IND): Gate A7, Runway 23R, Depart 5m Early
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 53B, Runway 25L, Arrive 14m Early
N367NW, Airbus A320-212, Standard Delta colors, ~65% Full
Seat 13E, Coach
Flight Time 4h15m

We pre-boarded this time (yes, Delta still allows it) and I nervously asked the captain whether we were expecting a smooth (and seatbelt sign-free) ride. His response? “Dunno, haven’t been up there yet.” Ah yes, a funny guy. I liked it. We pushed back a little early and headed straight toward LA in mostly clear skies.

Departing from Indianapolis

There’s something about a very calm early Midwest spring morning. It was pleasant enough to lull me toward sleep. I can’t say the same for my son. He was wide awake and ready to wreak havoc, so I clearly would not be dozing.

I stocked up on all kinds of food for him and started trying to bribe him to be good. It worked for a very brief moment in time. But then he wanted more, and if I refused it, he would scream bloody murder.

Once again he refused his iPad but instead became infatuated with the window shade. Up, down, up, down, up, down. I’m guessing the people around us were not enjoying the light show. I finally got him to stop but not without a good bout of screaming first. Then he decided to move on to the tray table. Open, down, up, closed, open, down, up, closed. I put a stop to that immediately because I knew that had to bug the person sitting in the row in front of us. More screaming ensued.

The seatbelt sign came on and off over the first couple hours, but by the time we were over New Mexico, it would remain on the rest of the time. There was a storm below and we were feeling it above the cloud tops as well. My son thought this was a good time to learn how to unbuckle his seat belt. Click, open. (No, he didn’t put it back on. When I did that, he screamed.)

It was somewhere over Northern Arizona where I just about lost it. My son decided to get his angriest when I refused to let him go outside. No, I’m not kidding. Is it bad that I contemplated letting him do it?

We finally began our descent and I figured I was the happiest guy on the airplane. It certainly wasn’t my son, since he refused to drink from a straw, suck his thumb, or eat anything so his ears wouldn’t hurt.

As we got closer, he finally gave up the fight and fell asleep. If only that had happened two hours earlier. At least it was a beautiful ride in. The pilot came on to tell us that it was an incredibly clear day in LA. He said that he could see the airfield 90 miles away and that is indeed a rare thing. The mountains were covered with snow, and I took my first deep breath of the trip.

Arriving at LAX

We landed, and of course, our gate wasn’t ready. But we were really early so I couldn’t be surprised. My son woke up while we were waiting, but at that point, he was disoriented enough that he just sat there. I was thrilled once the door opened and we could get out of there. Of course, he saved one last tantrum for the parking garage. He refused to hold my hand when we were walking through the place, so he just went limp and made me drag him.

The next trip with him is in September and the flight is even longer. I really hope he’s grown out of it by then.

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74 Comments on "Flying with Kids Sucks (Trip Report)"

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John G
Yesterday, I went on the trip from hell with my two-year-old. Screaming, tantrums, wouldn’t stay buckled, glares from everybody on the plane. Today, I’m printing his prom pictures. He moves out August 11, to go off the college. That’s it, childhood over. Brett, days like those seem to take FOREVER. Or the barf virus nights where you clean up stuff from both ends…again…and again…and again…at 4 AM. Or when they get up at 5:30 AM day after day for some reason. Or when it takes an hour and a half to get organized and get everything in the car so… Read more »
Joe L

We, however – the rest of the people on the plane – don’t get to experience the joys. We just get the tantrums.

I get that CF – and most other parents in this situation – don’t have all that much control over their children’s behavior. I have to wonder, though, whether it really would be unethical for the parents to slip an unruly kid some kiddie Benadryl?


some kids (i’ve read maybe 10%, like my son), freak the heck out once the benedryl hits his blood, making them more unmanageable!

Jeff G

Benadryl? Hell, my grandma kept a small bottle of Jack Daniels for that purpose!

“Are your teeth hurting? I see you’re developing a little sore on your gums. Let me put a little of this on it to help clear it up.”

Worked like a charm. :P

Remember – don’t pass judgement on the perrents until you see what they do. Some times no matter what happens, a child may not be able to be consoled. I know that’s little comfort to the other passengers, but it’s the truth. I can tell you first hand about seeing little ones in shopping malls who no matter what perrents try, they still scream. Every so often if I see a child crying, I check if everything is alright & have managed to get most of them to calm down. A few said thank you, but most have a look… Read more »

Meh, once they turn 5 it gets a lot easier and there are many years before parents have to worry about them leaving the nest. If it is the terrible two’s you choose to reminisce about, your kid either isn’t as bad as you make him out to be, or you don’t remember how bad that stage is. I would take 100 older children over 1 toddler any day of the week.

Eric A.

#Benadryl is your friend

Enjoy the precious times while they last….soon enough they will be insolent teenagers and THAT is when the ‘S’ is Sucks deserves capitalization.


I took one Benadryl some years ago & had an unusual reaction. It stopped my alergy in 20-minutes, but when I went to sleep that night I was out within 10-minutes & the next thing I knew it was 7:30AM the next day & I wasn’t able to walk. It took another 4-hours for that side effect to ware off, but it scared me enough to avoid it since.


And the problem with that is, what, exactly? Of course the terrible twos are as you put it “the precious years”…I am willing to bet it was your wife who did the majority of the childrearing. The teen years may suck but not many people are willing to name toddlerhood as their favorite time in their kids childhood. I am a teacher’s aide for fifth graders and a class of ten year old’s is hands down soo much easier than dealing with one toddler. But they aren’t as cute as toddlers.


did you bring the Cranky goodie bags for everyone else on the flight?

John G

You know what else is your friend in a case like this? Connections. If you can take shorter legs, even though it makes the overall travel time longer, do it. A 2-year-old hates sitting still…let them get up, run, shriek, laugh, whatever. Burn some of that energy off. Then they’ll be in better shape to sit still again on the next one.

Jake Redman

Good tip! You’d think the opposite but maybe only because you’ve got to unload the kids and all their gear but might totally be worth it.

Neil S.

This is good for me to remember when I hear a kid screaming – it never really occurs to me that the parent is as unhappy as I am. Good lesson.

And your comment about him wanting to go outside make me laugh. Though I’m sure it wasn’t funny at the time.


Sorry,but I don’t recall reading the word SPANKING!


Because physically abusing your child is always a good solution.


I was spanked as a kid. The moment my mother would raise her arm, my brother and I *** IMMEDIATELY *** straightened up.

I was just at the store, watching 3 hellion kids with a mom. Her weapon, “timeout”. Think it worked, nope. She never once raised her hand, yelled a lot, but only threatened them with timeout, no more wii, etc.

Some people can take spankings overboard, but to each their own with their choice of discipline. I’m just not sure that I buy into NOT spanking a kid.

Leslie H (tripswithtykes)

Thanks for the brutally honest post. I promise it does get better. The iPad should be a more reliable distraction in just a few months — just in time for your daughter to hit the rough stage, right? ;-)

Bruce Hallett
I have taken hundreds of flights, many with our children, some with one child, some with the whole family, often overseas, even to Australia, and sometimes it just doesn’t go your way. We always have games, toys, snacks, ipads, Dramamine, Benadryl, whatever, but if a child is bound and determined to make a fuss, all you can do is grin and bare it. One of our daughters once wiggled, wrestled, cried and screamed nonstop on a five hour flight to Florida. She passed out when the landing light came on, and woke up screaming again as we carried her off… Read more »

What’s the benefit of pre-boarding for families when children often don’t want to sit still? Doesn’t that just lengthen the time they have to sit on the plane? A good friend when flying with his 3 boys always boards absolute last, literally before they shut the door on him so he can just buckle them in as they are pushing back from the gate.


This is exactly what we did when Mom and Dad were flying with 3 boys. Last on the plane, off when the flow came to our row. Connecting flights usually.

Nick Barnard

AFAIK, the airlines offer preboarding because parents getting kids situated can clog up the aisle and delay boarding for other folks. It also easier to put in the car seat or CARES harness when you can walk to the aisle behind you and arrange it instead of having to bother the person behind you.

Cranky, I can sympathize. My son is 2.5 and has red hair lol. Our last trip from Phoenix was fun. He did not want to cooperate with the cares harness but he lost. Which by the way I mentioned it before but thanks for the recommendation for the harness. It makes me feel much better taking my child flying. Anyway about halfway back to Pittsburgh, my son and wife were asleep and there was a screaming child 2 rows in front of me with a dad trying hard to calm him down. I reached into my backpack and grabbed some… Read more »
Gary Smedile

Forwarding this to my younger son, a new father himself. We laugh now but I remember a cross country trip when he was 18 months old that he “figuratvely” almost didn’t survive. I look forward to hearing about the “payback.”


One word for you – carseat.

We’ve traveled on planes with our young children with and without carseats, and it’s amazing what being strapped into something familiar does to them.

Of course, this presumes your two year old behaves in the car….

Cranky, what a wonderful write-up! Back in the day, of course, we never had the chance to act up on a plane. We never ventured to much of anyplace, much less on a plane. But, there was Sunday church, where, if memory serves me correctly, I was always perfect but my brother, well, just impossible. Justice was served by my Dad in his own way, which today would probably get him arrested. I’m sure if my Dad ever had the misfortune to handle a situation involving his son on a plane, the next day’s newspaper report would have noted: “The… Read more »

No one said it so I will……..
Kids shouldn’t travel on planes until they are at least 6 years old. Mine didn’t. That is the considerate thing to do.

Andrew B
No one said it, so i will. Get a life. I am 31, no kids, and can’t stand sitting next to screaming and fidgety kids. But the idea that someone would declare that kids under 6 can’t fly must have the most narrow worldview ever. Give me a break. Brett’s story makes a ton of sense to me. He came prepared. He did the best he could. You’re telling me kids under 6 don’t have the right to travel to see grandma, or go to the beach, or do whatever the hell their parents want them to do that more… Read more »

That’s BS. People with kids need to get to faraway places just as much as people without. Our kids do better on airplanes now that they’re older (4 and 8) because they’ve been flying consistently since they were about six months old and know the travel routine and what type of behavior is expected. As a parent, you do your best to keep your kids under control but sometimes, they just can’t be mollified.

When I did my Around the World Trip for Cranky ( I recall there being some kids on almost every flight. The quietest TWO had one thing in common: Japan. the 9 hour leg from Dubai to Tokyo had a few kids seated in my zone, and not a peep (for fear of being labeled a ‘racist’, I’ll refrain from determining their ethnicity), and from Tokyo to Honolulu there were some kids in the zone behind us — and NOT A PEEP. Not sure how they do it, or if its a culture issue. Dubai to Tokyo was a daytime… Read more »
Agree 100%. It is cultural, it is a function of the way the parents raise the child. You don’t have to even address a racial aspect, here is an article about how French kids are much better behaved than British: And here is a frustrated (white) mother in Kenya, wondering why her child is the only one that throws tantrums: Two examples of cultures that have totally different approaches, one that engages in strict authoritarian discipline and one that is ‘pick your battles’ and both raise children that are noticeably, observably less prone to tantrums. Cultures develop systems… Read more »

I wonder what kind of passenger Brett was at age 2…


Knowing Brett, he was probably co-pilot or just memorizing the flight timetables.


Are you saying, Brett never got a little cranky? I’m sure he did – why else would the blog have it’s name. LOL But you might be right regarding the timetables though as I did the same with the commuter trains & busses in my area as a kid & it has served me well since I cant drive.

Andrea, Passports And Pushchairs

Thanks for the honest report! Sometimes kids have bad days. Sometimes adults have bad days. We all have bad days. It sucks, but I assure you it sucks for no one as much as it sucks for the parents, no doubt. The good news is the flight always has an end in sight. And kids get better at traveling!

Jim M
I’m going to give some props to Delta on this one. Its really great that gate agents tried to corral the kiddies into the back of the bus. I really wish airlines would stress “Hey Moms and Dads. This is the place for you and the kids.” If the seats fill on their own when families typically buy (6 weeks out), great. If not open the seats up and sell normally. Everyone wins. As for the rest of the story my wife will be taking 3 birth control pills tonight just to be sure. Oyi.

Totally agree. They know their business by actually trying to seat the kids together and put a buffer between the families and others.


Brett, I’m going to echo most of the folks here. My kids are just a few years older than yours (7 and almost 4), and I know exactly what you’re going through. My 7 year old is a great flyer, and my younger one is quickly getting there. As they get older, it’s easier to entertain them, bribe them, or if need be, threaten them with the loss of a favorite toy. In other words, this too, shall pass. Until then, best of luck on future flights.

SAN Greg

I see a future blogger in the family: The Cranky Son

Takes me back to our first trip with my son…at three months of age. Traveled to see family in Green Bay and connected at O’Hare since I was a slave to United. The trip to ORD was painless…he slept most of the way and thankfully for Channel 9 I knew exactly when to tell my wife to give him his bottle for takeoff! Problems started on the second leg when we had to go onto the apron to board the CRJ…very hot, very loud and he was understandably terrified in my arms and crying. Get on the plane, struggle to… Read more »
Nick Barnard

I think this is the spot where Brett wishes he didn’t foreshadow the content of his future blog entries and that he had named the blog The Sedate Flier.


Ipads or other movies related displays will not work if they are considered “normal” by your son. IFE and/or videos in the car works wonder with our sons because they usually don’t get to see any TV at home, therefore making it special.
We got a Leappad for our last trip and it was awesome !
Re seat belts : empower him with buckling in with him his favorite plush toy. It usually works wonder !


I have dealt with the same issue on many of flights with my daughter. She is four, nearly five and is now much better. She enjoys the take off and landing then focuses on the iPad during the remaining time.

Just remember, your crying kid is always better than some drunk harassing the flight crew causing an unscheduled diversion into Wichita.


About a decade ago,I was returning home from Vegas & there was a crying baby on the entire 5-hour flight. As much as I was anoyed, I also realized it wasn’t the fault of the baby. Who knows perhaps the child was sensitive to the air pressure change – I know I can be at times having alergies & all. It’s the oblivious perrents that anoy me the most – you know – the ones who don’t try to calm there child down when it is obvious the child is uncomfortable & needs atention.

David SF eastbay

Have you ever thought of an Amtrak journey to the midwest?

Now you know why the rich and famous have a nanny so they can fly in first class and the kids and nanny in coach…

I’ve been on enough flights with “feisty” kids to have seen the best and worst in how the parents handle the situation. The “Terrible Twos” are just that sometimes, and not a whole lot a parent (good or bad) can do to change it. As a former airline brat my Mom had me non-revving at 2 years old. That’s where I caught the bug and my Mother learned early to give me the window seat and all was well! For some reason I was never better behaved than when on a plane (or in a restaurant). Go figure… Each kid… Read more »
Leslie in Oregon
During the eight years I flew for Pan Am, many of my colleagues were from Europe or Asia and frequently (when they were not working) took their children (newborns through adolescents) on our long-range flights to visit family. It may be the vagaries of memory, but I don’t recall any instances of those children posing a problem that was evident to anyone other than their parent. Only when I became a parent did I fully understand how incredible that was. In fact, if I could find those colleagues, I would write a book full of their advice for flying with… Read more »

Maybe one of these days, you’ll get the opportunity to accompany YOUR kids as they try to cope with THEIR kids acting like kids. I hope you enjoy it.


2yo is the worst age as they just cant sit still, and don’t sleep enough to be guaranteed sleep during the trip, and have the attention span of a, well, 2yo.

As he gets closer to 3, he should be more interested in the flight and be able to be entertained by his favourite things.

Another “tick” is to have “practice” play at home – pretend you’re on the airplane, you have to sit still, is your seatbelt on etc.


I am sorry to break it to you but you (plural) are failing as parents. Too spoilt, too spoilt children you have. Take a job for a year or so in NE Asia, and you and your wife might pick up a technique or two.


[…] yesterday’s trip report on my painful journey across the country with my kids, I received a lot of feedback. Most of it was empathetic or at least found the humor of it all […]

Wayne Rutman
My kids were very frequent flyers when they were very young. I remember my 2-year-olds qualifying for elite status! But I’m still no expert on the subject of travelling with kids. It seems like each one is different. My only advice is that most kids seem to like familiarity and freedom. Strapping them into something they’re unfamiliar with is probably more likely to lead to tantrums. When we had unhappy 1 and 2 year olds, we’d take them out of their seats and hold them — even if the seat belt sign was on. Little ones seem to respond well… Read more »

Goodness gracious, your next trip is in September? Well, bless your heart……we always bought tickets for the grandparents to travel to us.

Frank of America
Dramamine – or “airplane vitamins” as I described them to my three year old as we were getting ready to board a LAX-CDG non-stop. Having had a similar experience as CF had a few months prior to this 11+ hour flight I had visited the pharmacy asked about something for the trip mentioning and expecting the pharmacist to recommend Benadryl. Au contraire mon ami – Dramamine. Induces sleep and as a bonus prevents motion sickness. It worked like a charm. Child slept dang near all the way to Paris, waking only for the meal. At one point I even felt… Read more »

[…] Flying With Kids Sucks (Travel Report) via CrankyFlier: One of the best known bloggers in the biz now has two small children.  They apparently made him question his sanity on their last family flight!  This is a brutally honest, funny and cringe-worthy post about the occasional realities of travel with kids. […]