I have recently taken a London - San Francisco (12 hour) flight, with a toddler in the seat directly behind me. His parents actively encouraged the kid to speak out in that typical proto-speech, while reading out from books. For 12 hours.

One might think that the industrial-strength earplugs I always carry with me would have helped. One would be very, very wrong.

What specific steps can I take in all of my future flights so that this experience will never, ever repeat itself?

  • 98
    Pretty remarkable that a toddler could read out loud non-stop for 12 hours!
    – Berwyn
    Commented May 26, 2016 at 23:07
  • 12
    @MichaelHampton: There are no overnight flights on that route. Westbound transatlantic flights are almost always during daylight, Commented May 27, 2016 at 0:29
  • 132
    Just be thankful that the parents were engaged with their child and doing their best to minimize it's impact on you. You could have had a toddler screaming for 12 hours and constantly kicking the back of your seat, with the parents indifferent to their little darling's actions or even worse actively encouraging it.
    – Peregrine
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 9:21
  • 37
    Be thankful the kid was being entertained and educated rather than being allowed to run around screaming, kicking the back of your chair etc.
    – R Reveley
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 12:09
  • 30
    Did you consider politely addressing the issue with the parents? Start with complements on their child's abilities and that it's good that they're encouraging him to read. Then mention that the child does seem to be participating at a rather high volume and ask if they would mind finding a quieter activity for the child for 30-60 minutes, just to give everyone in the area (ie, I'm not the only jerk) a bit of a break. Some people, will, of course, get angry with you, but most will oblige.
    – FreeMan
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 17:08

10 Answers 10


To avoid disturbance from small children, you can use a multi-pronged approach:

  • first, try to choose flights that are more of a hassle for parents. Generally this means night flights - some parents may be sure their child will sleep (and not bother you) but others are worried the child will not sleep and will cry. So they take a daytime flight and are willing to entertain them for the length of the flight
  • second, try to minimize the impact of the child on you. Buy a more expensive ticket - first, business, even economy plus. Children are of course allowed in the more expensive zones, but they are in substantially fewer numbers. In some cases these children are experienced and quiet flyers, accompanying parents who have been kept awake by other people's children in the past. And do what you can to improve things at whatever seat you have. Bring noise cancelling headphones in addition to earplugs, for example. Bring some sort of music you can play that will drown out the repetitive reading.
  • third, try to react in the moment in some way that is more positive than sitting in your seat seething. Go for a walk. Strike up a conversation elsewhere on the plane. Turn around and interact with the child, such as playing peek a boo over the back of your seat. It's probably likely to be quieter than the reading and even endear you to the parents. Tell the child your name and ask theirs, and smile. If in a few hours you want to ask the parents if there's a quieter form of entertainment available, you won't be the grumpy gus in the next row, you'll be the toddler's airplane friend.
  • fourth, try to be realistic. No toddler does anything for 12 hours. They nap, they eat and drink, and so on. Focusing on the behavior that irritates you, to the extent you genuinely recall that it took the entire flight time, leaves you with a bad cloud around you that can take days to shake. When the noise starts, tell yourself it won't last the whole flight. Do something positive, listen to something, take yourself away from the noise. When the noise stops, be grateful, even if it's just a short respite.

And finally, when you leave the plane, be grateful that you are now done with that child and don't have to hear the noise or put in any effort to try to prevent bedlam. The parents will still be on duty for hours more today, and for another few decades in general. Count your blessings!

  • 37
    All good suggestions. I get on a flight thinking how I can stop being disturbed by other people, not how I can stop other people disturbing me.
    – Berwyn
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 0:57
  • 25
    Certainly "non stop" is hard to define, but I remember a ~9 hours night flight when my oldest daughter was just 18 months, and besides the occasional eat and nappy change breaks, she was non stop babbling and climbing out of and into the bed again for 8h, even from my perspective. The poor chap in the seat left to us had it worse, cause left of him was a single mother with an even younger child. We asked crew if he could be relocated, but there was nothing free. So for the grateful part you mentioned, one should be to not be in his place. It can always be worse
    – PlasmaHH
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 8:38
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    I would be extremely careful with trying to interact with the child. You do not want the parents to think you have bad intentions. Some parents don't mind strangers interacting with their child, others view even the smallest interaction as a prelude to molestation.
    – Nzall
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 11:15
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    There is really nothing "stab n the back" about a friendly question as to whether something different is possible or not. Also, if you've genuinely enjoyed interacting with the toddler a little, I believe your request will naturally be framed in a more friendly way. Getting along is good for everyone, as I taught a toddler or two in my time :-) Commented May 27, 2016 at 23:11
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    It seems we can't get past "hey guys, any chance you could try a quieter form of entertainment for a little while?" being "switch that kid off instantly!" You insist that's what it means, even though I (and I have raised my children) do not mean that by it. If I want to say "shut your damn kid up and have some consideration for the rest of the plane, you're not in your living room" I will. If I say "hey guys, sorry to ask, but any chance of toning it down for 20 minutes till my headache pills take effect?" then that is what I mean, no more no less. Commented May 28, 2016 at 13:12

For $160,000, you can hire a private jet for London - LAX return which is a similar trip length to that of London to San Francisco. This aircraft seats 13 making the trip approximately $12,300 each if you could find 12 other people to share it with. That's a similar price to paying for fully flexible first class.

For that you typically get a private terminal, minimal security, ability to take almost as much luggage as you wish, and an aircraft that will wait for you and take off whenever you want. You also guarantee to be sharing the aircraft with people of your choice.

The OP specifically asks "how to avoid toddlers". This question and similar questions, such as how do I avoid drunks, people who snore or sitting next to someone with bad body odor, or why should babies be allowed in first class, typically end up with the canonical answer that you should fly in a private jet. When you are taking a form of public transport, inevitably you are going to come across a disagreeable situation or disagreeable passengers.

On almost any airline (apart from, I think, one exception), babies and young children are allowed in all cabins including First and Business class. Children under a certain age are not allowed in the exit row, but they are allowed in front of, behind and in the bulkhead adjacent to the exit row. There are many parents who can afford to travel in Business and First and you see young children in these every day. Some parents prefer an overnight flight to a day flight in order to get the children to sleep more quickly. In summary, you can almost never be guaranteed to more than one seat away from a toddler.

If the OP had said he'd had an uncomfortable flight and asked what's the best way with dealing with noise on an aircraft, I would have provided an answer responding to that question, rather than the question that the OP did ask.

  • 83
    Well, the question was "how do you avoid toddllers?", which really only has one answer... If the question was how do you cope, then I'd have answered differently. ps, you can always vote it down, I won't be upset :)
    – Berwyn
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 1:21
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    I don't see any sarcasm here. Since the OP is the kind of person who would use phrases like "that typical proto-speech", they will probably never be happy traveling in conveyances that they need to share with other human beings then themselves. That kind of attitude does have a (steep) monetary cost. Commented May 27, 2016 at 8:19
  • 20
    Families usually travel in economy class, so you can also reduce the risk by flying business or first class (or even premium economy). (This would be applying the essence of this answer on a small scale.)
    – Earthliŋ
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 9:06
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    @Blorgbeard Not idea what butthurt means, but I am a parent and I'm pretty sure none of us care what other people think of their child talking on a plane, when out shopping, in a restaurant etc. Adults talk all the time, why should children be any different. Just can just put in a pair of (cheap) earphones and listen to music, read etc. A plane is full of noises, from the engines, constant announcements, other people talking etc. It's not your personal office in the sky.
    – bye
    Commented May 28, 2016 at 10:59
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    All the people who are automatically assuming that this answer is only liked by "angry butthurt parents" - When you grow up, and are able to procreate, you'll realize what an angry pubescent child you had to be in order to consider it okay to whine about how the continuation of your own species gets on your nerves. Once upon a time you were that annoying little kid running around blowing on your arm making fart sounds. Now you're a bigger kid crying about other kids being better behaved than you were.
    – user43814
    Commented May 28, 2016 at 12:34

Toddlers cannot be seated in exit rows.

If you are able to select your seat, choose one that has an exit row behind it. You may lose the ability to recline your seat, but you are guaranteed that there will not be a toddler behind you.

  • 17
    This is the only helpful and direct answer to the question!
    – TCSGrad
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 5:04
  • 7
    This sounds logical, but there tend to be a lot of toddlers in the exit row in the non-aisle area, because that's where they can put bassinets: stylehiclub.com/cruising-flying/airplane-baby-bassinet
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 9:39
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    If you're in front of the exit row, you're not guaranteed that there's not a toddler sat next to you though.
    – Berwyn
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 10:08
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    On a widebody, there are often bassinet seats in the center section adjacent to the exit row seats.
    – Berwyn
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 13:29
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    Since nobody stated the obvious: If you want to be sure that there is no child behind you, book the rearmost seat. Commented May 27, 2016 at 16:37

Assuming you fly with a second person, you could use a small trick to increase your level on insulation. During check-in, reserve two middle seats which are directly behind (or in front) of the exit row:

seat map

Since no children can sit in the exit row and parents will want to sit next to their children, you're guaranteed to have nine child-free seats. If you're flying with a large group you could go further and reserve a large block of middle seats around the exit row.

A similar solution could be applied to other seat configurations.

  • 12
    Nice idea, though I suspect if I tried this, and was the one of the two sat in row 13, someone with quintuplets would book row 14! Commented May 27, 2016 at 11:31
  • 7
    I know someone who has no fear to book separate seats and politely ask you to switch seats with her Commented May 28, 2016 at 11:36
  • 5
    @AskarKalykov You can always say no, though.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented May 28, 2016 at 12:01
  • 3
    But anyway you will be sitting with a mother and a toddler in one row Commented May 28, 2016 at 13:26
  • 3
    Well, this conflicts with my trick of me booking the aisle and my wife booking the window, leaving the middle seat vacant-- middle seats tend to fill up last, so on non-full flights, there is a possibility of getting the whole row to ourselves. If someone does take the middle seat, they are usually willing to switch for either the window or the aisle. We have done this with a lap infant (getting the full row on a couple of occaisions).
    – pkaeding
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 5:55

Bring $20 - $50 cash. After you board, if you happen to be near a toddler, find a more preferable seat that seems to have a solo passenger in it, and make an attractive cash offer to the person who currently has that seat to switch with you. Be upfront with your reason for wanting to switch, as they will likely be suspicious otherwise.

  • 14
    Not to mention, it's only more expensive if you're unlucky. 80% of the time, you will already have an acceptable seat! Commented May 29, 2016 at 2:45
  • 4
    I have to say that this seems cheaper than the previous, now deleted answer involving the private jet.
    – Fiksdal
    Commented May 29, 2016 at 8:45
  • 3
    Even when in steerage, it would take a lot more than $50 US to get me to switch seats to a worse one, but even $300 x 0.2 probability = $60/segment would be cheaper than a first class seat. Commented May 29, 2016 at 13:22
  • 10
    It doesn't have to be attractive to you, just to at least one solo traveler. There will be low demand (just you) and high supply for this transaction, so you should have no problem finding someone happy to take another seat for <$50 Commented May 30, 2016 at 18:14
  • 4
    Many people are far more tolerant of toddlers than say I am. There should at least one person on the plane that would enjoy having in-flight beverages and snacks on me
    – mike3996
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 11:50

Rather than using earplugs, get some headphones and listen to music or something. It'll give you something else to focus on rather than the toddler. This is the approach lots of computer programmers use in open-plan offices, by the way. If you're wanting to sleep, then choose classical music.

The following is just speculation, but it may work: try having a book, movie, or some sort of electronic device to focus on so that you aren't just thinking of, or actively trying to avoid thinking about, the toddler.

  • 6
    Noise-cancelling headphones playing white noise (think like the sound of an untuned radio) is another option good for sleeping. Commented May 27, 2016 at 11:33
  • 7
    Noise cancelling headphones playing anything is a good idea. As a regular flyer I can't recommend them enough (I use Bose in-ear ones as they are very lightweight but there are other options).
    – abligh
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 13:57
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    Noise cancelling headphones are useless for sounds that change frequently (like babies crying). They're great for flights anyway (they're good at suppressing the constant sounds of jet engines) Commented May 27, 2016 at 20:03
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    classical music has the highest dynamic range. to combat noise, you need music with low dynamic range. try listening some death metal, or black metal, for example. :) Commented May 30, 2016 at 4:19
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    Active noise-cancelling headphones only work for low-ish frequency noise. The amount of attenuation declines at higher frequencies. My experience using them in airplanes is that they are great for cancelling out the sound of the engines but terrible at cancelling out children's voices and squeals and screams, because those are much higher pitch. So I use passive noise-blocking earbuds (Etymotic makes some good ones) combined with a white-noise app on my phone. I flew from Zurich to Boston last year with a screaming baby in the seat next to me and had no trouble at all.
    – user316117
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 15:20

While long haul, no layover flights may seem advantageous, this is one area where a multi-hop flight has advantages. If you are seated in an inconvenient manner, you don't have to deal with it the entire flight, the next flight will provide a different seating, and even if that one is inconvenient you'll at least have a layover where you can walk away from stressful environments, perhaps in lounges that cater to your need for peace and quiet.

Consider booking your next flight with multiple legs.

  • This is a good idea if you're not actually crossing the pacific or atlantic oceans. Flying from New Zealand to the USA, you're getting a 14hr nonstop leg across the pacific (7 if you stop in hawaii) at best. Or a trip more than three times as long (time and distance) going the other way around the world.
    – Leliel
    Commented May 30, 2016 at 3:57

You may avoid such problems if you travel first class. On the long term you may not be all that better off, as by the time you get used to traveling first class your tolerance of imperfections may decrease. See e.g. this review of Royal First Class travel on Thai Airways.

  • 14
    Trouble is, toddlers can travel in first class too.
    – Berwyn
    Commented May 26, 2016 at 23:56
  • 3
    @Berwyn, in First Class you get your own mini room, not completely closed off but it's still quite private. Commented May 27, 2016 at 0:00
  • 4
    Not in any F class from LHR-SFO though...
    – Berwyn
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 0:05
  • 11
    Fly LHR-DXB-SFO then.
    – user4188
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 2:15
  • 1
    In some ways it is worse if there is a crying baby in F, because the cabin is much quieter in general and the noise is much more noticeable. Especially if you are trying to finish some work before the plane lands ...
    – Calchas
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 9:43

Judging from your description it seems like your complaints are mainly noise related. You would most likely benefit from some noise canceling headphones. While there are many models out there, Bose has a pretty good reputation in this area.

  • 2
    Noise cancelling technology in headphones (Active noise control (ANC)) will not diminish the sound of a person talking, or a child reading. This technology can only "cancel out" noise by emitting a sound wave with the same amplitude but with inverted phase. So, given enough of a sample (over time) it can detect and match persistent noise at fixed frequencies (e.g. Aeroplane engines, fans, etc) but it cannot adapt fast enough to cancel out the variable tones of human speech.
    – Black
    Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 4:15

White noise is particularly good at "cushioning" sound so that the highs/lows as well as ambient sounds blend into the background.

In fact, there are very well-reviewed machines whose sole purpose is to make white noise to help block out sound and make it easier to fall asleep.

For situations like yours, though, I usually just go to iTunes and play a white noise song on loop, to help me focus and block out distracting noise, whether it be at work, home, or while traveling.

My song of choice is "Ocean Waves" but there's a wide variety of white noise songs to pick from, depending on your preference.

  • 2
    "white noise songs" is nonsense. white noise is a clearly defined thing, and it cannot be in any way different from itself, besides the loudness level at which it's played Commented May 30, 2016 at 4:22
  • 2
    Mm, I must be using the wrong jargon then. At any case, any noise that sounds similar to white noise should suffice.
    – Dante
    Commented May 30, 2016 at 4:55
  • 1
    I personally find white noise to be somewhat eardrum piercing. Pink noise, brown noise and grey noise are all much softer.
    – Pharap
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 1:50
  • Definitely digging the Brownian noise--it's feels smooth and soft, like running water.
    – Dante
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 5:51

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