Flying fidgets

It may seem like a paradox, but air travel is an exercise in sitting still.

You sit and wait at the airport. You sit in a cramped seat on the jet, trying not to goose others with your elbows or disturb the general tranquility (ha, ha!) of the flight. You sit some more in whatever form of ground transportation awaits your arrival.

As parents everywhere know, children are no good at sitting still. They've got too much energy. They're too easily distracted. They need to squirm and fidget and kick the backs of the seats in front of them.

I was reminded of all this recently when my wife and I took our two sons on an aviation vacation. A series of short hops, four flights in all, with the requisite confusion and scrambling for gates between each one. By the time it was over, I was a nervous wreck. I needed a whole 'nother vacation to recover from the first one.

It's not that my sons misbehaved. Actually, they were pretty good, considering that we required them to sit still for hours at a time. But every twitch and fidget set off my alarms. I spent the flights shushing and scolding and squirming until, eventually, I was the problem instead of them.

It's my own fault. I worry too much whether my sons are making a scene, whether they're disturbing others, whether I should be wearing a disguise. I keep watch over my kids the whole time, demanding silence, ordering them to sit still, telling them to stop making hand puppets out of the barf bags.

Some parents don't seem to have this problem. They blissfully flip through magazines and munch their complimentary peanuts while their children cry and caterwaul and do the twist-n-shout in the aisle. Apparently, their thinking goes like this: I'm forced to listen to this misbehavior all the time; the rest of you can put up with it for a few hours.

These parents seem impervious to the angry looks and impatient throat-clearings of others. But not me. When I'm not staring down my kids, I'm glancing around at the other passengers, awaiting their disapproval.

I've boiled this phenomenon down to a simple mathematical formula: T divided by (A times F) equals G.

"T" represents the time the child is required to sit still. "A" equals the age of the child. "F" is the Fidget Factor. And the result, "G," is the amount of glaring by other passengers the parents must survive.

If you actually work out that formula, you'll probably find it results in a negative number. But this is no time for negativity! No, this is a time for positive solutions. Here are some recommendations for parents flying with children:


Smuggle many snacks onto the plane with you. Children -- most of them anyway -- make less noise when their mouths are full.


Older children can be kept occupied with the telephones furnished by many airlines these days. Calling their friends to say "guess where I am?" can run into some money, but what price peace of mind?


Flight attendants and the folks in the cockpit can be enlisted to help keep your kids distracted. Pilots often hand out those little pin-on wings. Flight attendants provide peanuts and blankets and patient smiles. Cozy up to the flight crew as soon as you get on board. That way, your children may believe you have some leverage when you say, "Don't make me stop this plane!"


It would be irresponsible to recommend that you slip your children alcoholic beverages. But a Bloody Mary or six might make YOU care less whether your children are threatening a hijack.


I assuaged some of my in-flight anxiety by sitting across the aisle from my sons. My wife -- who's much more patient -- sat with the boys. You should always pay attention to the seating arrangement when flying with children. Sitting between two bickering kids may result in bruises, but it will keep them from touching each other.

Sitting in a seat several rows away from your children also is an option. When they create a disturbance, you can pretend you've never seen them before. Turn with the other passengers and glare.

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