It could be the one beside the parent with the colicky baby, or in front of the toddler who enjoys kicking your seatback. It could be the one between two families both travelling with overexcited pre-schoolers, or the one near the sleepy newborn who suddenly wakes up with a vengeance. Wherever your seat is located, and for whatever reason, you know the instant you sit down that it’s not your lucky day.

I don't mind where I sit, just not near a crying baby! What are my options?
Parents with infants and toddlers tend to prefer daytime flights, which involve less interruption to a little one’s schedule, so you should consider very early morning, late evening or overnight flights. Talk to your travel consultant. At the time of booking, or even at check-in if you arrive at the airport early enough, you can request a seat in one of the emergency exit rows.

By law, these must be filled with adults who are willing and able to operate the exit doors in the event of an evacuation. Parents with small children will not be seated in these rows. You’re less likely to encounter children when you fly business or first class, so think about investing your frequent flyer miles in an upgrade, particularly on long-haul flights. Remember that the higher ratio of flight attendants to passengers in these sections means parents who do encounter challenges with small tykes are more likely to receive prompt assistance (a warmed bottle, a blanket, or some other comfort item) to address the crying than parents seated in economy class.

If the plane is not full, you can request a seat change. It’s best to bring this up with a flight attendant after you board. Ask politely if you can be moved to a seat away from the baby once altitude has been reached and it’s safe to move around the cabin.

The flight is full, and I can't persuade anyone to switch seats with me?
If it doesn’t appear as though the parent is being proactive in soothing his or her child, then ask the flight attendant to intervene. Psychologist and parenting expert Dr. Susan Bartell, quoted in a recent article on flying with babies, agrees that passengers should not be expected to endure incessant crying or objectionable behaviour (hair tugging or pounding on the seat, for example). “So if you’re flying [with children], it means that you may have to get out of your seat and walk around, pace the airplane and make sure your child has a pacifier and a bottle.

You may be tired at the end of trip, it may not be a great flight for you, but that’s your job as a parent,” she warns. If the parent appears to be doing everything humanly possible to quiet the crying, then a sympathetic smile or offer of help might ease the situation. Changes in cabin pressure during take-off and landing can trigger ear pain, so expect to hear some complaining during those times, especially if junior can’t be convinced to nurse, take a bottle or suck on a pacifier.

Any other suggestions?
Premium seat assignments, either for a fee, or complimentary depending on your frequent flyer status, are not something most families want to pay for, so take advantage of those and work with your travel agent to reserve a seat where you are likely to be surrounded by other adults (far forward, on the aisle, for example). Family travel is often route-specific; think of the popularity of Orlando and Los Angeles for Disney-bound groups. So you’ll want to avoid peak travel times through those airports, if possible. Mid-week, early-bird or evening flights are best if your trip takes you through a prime holiday destination hub.
And if all else fails?
Many road warriors carry their own noise-cancelling headphones when they fly. The Bose label has a particularly good reputation, but if the price is a bit steep ($300 and up for the highly rated Bose QuietComfort 3 headphones), you can find other versions that will help block out engine noise and unhappy babies. Get up and walk around to relieve stress. And try to keep a sense of humor.

Finally, given that UNIGLOBE Travel research indicates that amongst regular business travellers, more than a third have children under 18, there’s a good deal of compassion out there among fellow parents. If you haven’t been-there, done-that with a crying baby in a public place, then you can probably sympathize with those who have. A little understanding goes a long way.

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