Captive audience: crying babies and air travel

We’ve all been there: the flight with the screaming infant. It strikes fear into the hearts of many to see a baby coming down the aisle.

The issue of crying babies and unruly children on flights divides air travelers. Many say they’re exasperated by parents who seem to do little to quiet or control their offspring, while others counter that fliers should be more patient and understanding.

Even normally well-behaved babies turn into screeching hellions when changes in air pressure hurt their ears. The question is, what to do about it?

Some passengers think airlines should seat families with children in one section of the plane, while others slap on headphones and watch a movie. If a baby on board has you ready to down Valium, it helps to understand the reason for in-flight tantrums.

“Because babies don’t know how to talk, crying is their only way of communicating, and can mean a number of things: I’m hungry, I need to be changed, I’m bored, I’m cold, I’m hot,” says Dr. Jennifer Shu, a pediatrician in Atlanta, Georgia, and a Living Well expert.

That doesn’t make it okay for parents to ignore tears. “The other people on the plane do not have to be subjected to your child crying. It is absolutely not something that they should be expected to endure. They can’t leave.”said Dr. Susan Bartell, a psychologist specializing in parenting issues and author of “The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask.”

Tips for parents and passengers

• If a baby reacts to changing cabin pressure, give it something to suck on such as a bottle or a pacifier.

•Always make an effort to quiet a crying baby. “If other people see you trying, even if you’re not succeeding, they will feel at least you’re … doing your best to stop it.” explains Bartell.”You may have to get out of your seat and walk around [with your child].”

• If there is a baby screaming and the parents aren’t reacting, ask a flight attendant to say something to them.

• Glaring at the parents of a loud or unruly child may not always work. “Sometimes the parent is so thick-skinned and they don’t care, so it isn’t helpful,” says Bartell.

• Give parents the benefit of the doubt. Many babies sleep right through a flight. Remember- one day, it might be you trying to soothe an infant in the midst of an angry economy class.