Once upon a time, I was flying with my then four year-old daughter, and sixteen month-old son to Jamaica. My daughter was engrossed watching the in-flight entertainment, and my son was cuddled nicely on my lap as we looked at a book together. For a moment I marveled at how pleasant the flight had been so far, and how co-operative the kids had been in spite of waking up before dawn. Early flights with kids are usually my preference, and this particular flight, so far, had been snag-free. Notice I said so far.
For underneath the "Thomas The Tank Engine" book we had been enjoying, unbeknownst to me, my son's chubby, C roc-clad foot was kicking the seat in front of us.
I hadn't realized he was doing it because we had been so pleasantly learning to count with Thomas. And I don't think he realized he was doing it. But of course, once I placed my hand on his foot to stop it, kicking the seat was ALL he wanted to do.
Asking him nicely, asking him firmly, repositioning him so he couldn't reach -- all attempts to stop the seat kicking were not succeeding. For a brief moment, I considered asking the passenger in front of us which he preferred, seat kicking or screaming. But then? Eureka! In the midst of his squirming, my son's shoe came off, and the kicking stopped. His unprotected toes no longer enjoyed whacking the in-flight magazines or various snacks and distractions I had wedged in the seat pocket. I decided to worry about finding the missing shoe later, and slipped off the other one as we cracked open the crayons.
The person in front of us said nothing. So, I am led to believe that he either didn't really care about the seat kicking, or is now complaining to friends and online about how his trip to Jamaica got off to a rough start because his seat was kicked by a toddler.
I hope it's the former, because if he was bothered by it, I'd like to think he would turn around and say something.
Back in my pre-kids days, I remember having my seat kicked only once. From what I could overhear, the child (around eight or nine, I think), had been giving her mom a run for her money for quite some time. In fact, I did hear her ask her daughter to stop, which actually intensified the kicking. That was when I turned around, looked directly at the girl, and said in what is now my "mom means business" tone, "Stop kicking my seat, or I'll report you to the flight attendant". The child looked mortified. So did the mom, actually, but the back of my seat was foot-free for the rest of the flight.
I thought nothing of saying something, and even now as a mom I recognize that my kids often listen to others more than they'll willingly listen to me. But an informal poll of my friends revealed otherwise. Most would likely say nothing. Brandie Weikle, mom of two boys and editor of The Toronto Star's parentcentral.ca, said asking nicely might be OK but "...parents can be so frazzled and tired already, I'd be afraid to add to the stress." Emma Willer, host of the blog herebewillers.com and also a mom of two boys, with one on the way, jokes "I haven't asked anyone to stop, but it irritates me because if my kids do that, there is talk of parachutes and opening doors!"
The recent publicity over Malaysia Airlines' decision to ban babies from first class cabins on certain long-haul flights has re-opened the floodgates of articles and blog posts regarding babies and children on flights, and it seems the most common complaint is the seat kicking issue.
I'm going to propose a solution. The next time you are onboard an airplane and your seat is being kicked by a toddler or lap infant, try turning around and saying to the parent, "You've got your hands full so you might not have noticed that your child is kicking my seat. Maybe try taking off their shoes?" If the child is older, you can address the child directly by saying "Please stop kicking my seat." You can probably say that in a nicer tone than I did, and still get results. Both of these methods are sure to be more effective than saying or doing nothing, or complaining and giving the parent dirty looks.
We're all stuck in that flying tin can together, can't we at least try to get along?
Corinne McDermott is the founder of Have Baby Will Travel - your online guide for travel with babies, toddlers & young children. From baby packing lists to tips on coping with jet lag in toddlers, Have Baby Will Travel wants to help you travel with your baby! Follow Have Baby Will Travel on twitter and like us on Facebook, where Corinne welcomes your questions and comments.