I've gotten a parking ticket or two in my life, but otherwise I'm a fairly law-abiding guy. Except when it comes to bribery. On planes. With kids.
My favorite bribery tip ever came from Kim-Marie Evans of LuxuryTravelMom who's flown around the world with four -- count 'em! -- four little ones. She knows a thing or two about kiddie meltdowns and says when children are screaming on planes or otherwise annoying fellow passengers, getting out the credit card and offering a free round of drinks to everyone in earshot usually does the trick.
On the other hand, alcoholic beverages can run as much as $9 a pop on some airlines (on United for one) so it's a pricey option. Apologies are cheaper and nearly as welcome, especially if paired with a matching facial expression that says, "Yeah-I-know-my-kid-is-behaving-badly-but-I'm-trying-my-best". Nothing ticks off nearby passengers more than parents who appear to be doing absolutely nothing to control their brats.
It ticks off the airlines, too. A couple of years ago, Southwest booted a mother and child because the 2 year old wouldn't stop screaming. The youngster was not upset, exactly, just loud and kept yelling "Go, plane, go!" over and over and over again at ear-splitting volume. I imagine the echoes are still ringing in the heads of some of his seatmates (by the way, Southwest ultimately issued an apology).
If you are flying with another exuberant little traveler, no problem: just bring out the bribes.
Ogden Nash knew what he was talking about with that candy-is-dandy line and I can't think of a better bribe for kids. Don't worry; all that stuff you hear about "sugar rush" is a myth. At least, that's what the Straight Dope's Cecil Adams says; he even cites medical studies but suggests the myth endures because "control freak" parents believe in it:
"Kids … typically aren't oblivious to this sort of anxiety; consciously or not, they may well figure out that after taking on a load of candy they're expected to run amok and happily oblige." --The Straight Dope, Feb. 2008
Ask your pediatrician about sugar and if he gives the okay, load up on the Milky Ways. The kids will behave.
And pack whatever else your child likes to eat. Why spend hard-earned money on airline snacks? Take the airline's free beverages (though I'd advise against giving the kids any of those "energy drinks" as caffeine really does produce interesting results in all of us) but bring your own food. Favorite sandwiches, raisins, nuts and cookies are a great distraction for kids.
So are toys. Pack some favorites but not so favorite that if it gets lost the child is inconsolable. Need another bribe? Buy a couple of new toys you know they'll enjoy but won't cost a lot of money; try your local big-box drug store. If the child is old enough, put these toys in his or her own backpack; most enjoy the responsibility of having their own bag.
Now for some tips that don't involve bribes and may involve shelling out some more money --- but it can be worth it!
If your children are small, pay the extra for direct flights instead of connecting routes; the time and hassle at the airport you save will probably make it worth the money. Plus, if there are delays or weather problems that cause you to miss your connection, well, that doesn't bear thinking about, not if you're traveling with tired, cranky kids.