When A Child’s Laughter Disrupts Airline Passengers…


Yesterday it wasn’t the flight attendant. It wasn’t the guy next to us who had more right to be annoyed than the rest of the plane. And it wasn’t the grumpy elderly couple that spent the flight split between bouts of criticizing each other and snoring loudly.

It was the mom behind me with two kids of her own.

Little man isn’t a screamer. The kid considers airplanes some of his favorite places. He logged more miles before he could walk than I did before I finished grad school. The only time he ever cried was after a horrific landing, when the change in cabin pressure was so sudden it made him throw up – also a one-time incident – and we couldn’t clean and change or wash off the puke because the turbulence was so rough we couldn’t stand up, let alone carry a crying, vomit-covered tot safely to the bathroom. And yes, that earned him a few nasty stares for the 5 minutes it lasted.

Poor kid. I would have been bawling, too. But laughter? Come on, people!

The first time it happened was in December 2014. It was around 8 pm, and little man was 3. He cracked up laughing, but not loudly, while his father and I took turns reading him funny stories and tickling him. We’re the uber-prepared parents. The ones with at least three mini-books, a LeapPad, crayons, coloring book, flash cards, etc. Our plane play pack is so full that when we see parents who forgot to bring a book or snack, we share from our pile.

We get it. Flying with kids is rough. After more than a dozen flights with our little one, we thought we had the whole ‘flying with kids’ thing down. And then the flight attendant approached, looking like a stern librarian from a bad 90s movie and proceeded to scold us…because our child was too happy.

“Could you please keep him quiet? He’s disturbing the other passengers. It’s late, and people want to sleep.”


A few rows behind us, a pair of passengers were talking so loudly that we could hear every word they said. The guy across the passage from us had his music cranked up so loudly, I could tell he had a preference for a bizarre mix of jazz and Indian folk music. Not bad; I enjoyed the free concert. The guy in front of us was watching The Bourne Identity loudly on his portable DVD player. There were conversations all over the plane, and no one (literally, no one – a rarity for any flight) was feigning an attempt at sleep.

Yup. The only person who was ‘creating a disturbance’ was our happy, giggling child.

We agreed to keep him quiet. We stopped playing, shoved a movie in front of his face, and worked on getting him to sleep. My husband was angry. He told our son to be quiet, to think about others. “Don’t be so inconsiderate. There are people trying to sleep,” he said. Inside, I knew he was thinking the same thing I was.

Little man started to tear up. He didn’t get why mommy and daddy were suddenly angry with him. What happened? How do you explain to a 3-year old that in airplanes, we still follow the idea that children should be seen and not heard, but adults can make as much noise as they feel like? I thought.

That was a fluke, right? I mean, maybe the flight attendant was just having a bad day. There’s no reason anyone would get mad at a kid for laughing, right? Fast forward to yesterday.

My son and I were flying without daddy. That’s never easy, but this time I was dead tired, too. We woke up at 3 am to get to the airport on time, and this was our second flight, leaving Miami a little after 11am. I wanted sleep. Instead, I was playing games with my kid.

He was an angel about it.

As we entered the last hour of our final flight, I felt someone tapping me on the head.

“Excuse me? Excuse me, miss?”

I looked around for the person who belonged to the voice. It was the tall, exhausted-looking mother I’d seen board before us. Her kids looked to be about 7 and 10, and were zonked into their respective gadgets for our entire international flight.

My son was sitting next to me, tolerating the flight without his dad reasonably well. He’d devoured all the snacks we had with us, and politely asked for more. He wasn’t putting his feet on the seat in front of us, he was sitting relatively quietly, and we were working on some schoolwork to reinforce his letter recognition. I’d made a few jokes that hit home with little boy humor and he’d giggled a little, but softly.

Couldn’t be the kid. What’s up?

I turned to look behind me at my fellow passenger, completely unsure of what to expect.

“Your son.”

“Yes, he is my son.”

“No. I mean yes, I mean…can you keep him from being so excited?”

“I’ll see what I can do. He is four.” Ok, maybe I was a little grumpier than I needed to be in my reply, but what was he doing? Just sitting and giggling softly while we worked together. I turned to my son and plotted how to take away the last little bits of childhood laughter allowed on a plane. Thoughts of families kicked off flights crossed my mind.

“Sweetheart, we need to stay quiet. We can work on homework when we get home. I’m sorry.”

“Nooooo….I want to do my homework now.” He made more noise in that mini-tantrum of a statement than he had in the past hour. Inside I felt indignant, angry, hurt, confused, and most of all, offended. Worst of all, I felt complicit.

At the end of the flight, my son stood up on his seat, turned around, and apologized. “I’m sorry.” He said, his voice was sad and confused.

That’s when I made up my mind. To heck with the rest of the world. If my kid wants to laugh on a plane, I’ll help him. And if we live in a world where laughter is rude and offensive, screw propriety. We’re aiming to incite a laugh riot. Are you with us?

Christina Boyes is a mother, writer, chocoholic – in that order. Also known to kiss boo-boos and ask for the occasional espresso IV. Driven to improve the existence of others. Empowered by her pen. Follow her on Twitter @Rusmexuswriters.



Leave a Reply