Travel Etiquette: Flying with Kids

Etiquette expert on how to handle disruptive kids on planes, and TSA security.

Sept. 21, 2011— -- In this edition: Handling seat-kicking kids, what will TSA think of my sonic screwdriver?

Q: Parents often seem to go into a coma when traveling with their children. When Junior keeps kicking my seat back with his little sneakers (just because it's in easy reach), I get mighty cross. Asking Mom to get him to stop helps for -- oh, two minutes or so. Then it's back to whack, whack ...

The only thing that ever worked was when I asked Mom to remove little Susie's patent leather pumps for the duration of the flight. It wasn't quite so much fun for Susie to bump her little toes against the seat back.

That solution isn't always possible, though. Any other suggestions?

A: Asking the parent to remove the kid's shoes is something I've never thought of -- if it works, by all means do it.

One thing I've had some success with is talking directly to the child. "Hi. I'm sitting in front of you. When you kick the back of my seat, it really disturbs me. Could you please stop?" Obviously that's not going to work with a two-year-old, but it's worth trying with an older kid.

Otherwise, though, just keep asking the parent to step in. You shouldn't have to repeat yourself, but there's nothing wrong with speaking up more than once if the parent isn't helping.

There's also nothing wrong with a preemptive strike, as long as you're nice about it. Turn around before takeoff to say, "Hi, I noticed your son's sitting behind me. He's adorable, but I've had bad experiences with little kids kicking my seat on planes. I know they're not trying to bother me, but I have a really bad back and it's painful. So I'd be grateful if you would ask him not to kick me. Thanks."

The other option: sit in the row in front of the exit row. You might not be able to recline your seat, but you're guaranteed not to have a kid behind you.

Q: My son has a toy sonic screwdriver. You probably don't know what that is, but it looks like this -- it's from "Doctor Who." (We're a geeky family.) Can he bring it on a plane? I'm afraid the TSA agents will think it's some sort of weapon and take it away. My son loves it and would be crushed if that happened, which would make for quite a miserable flight.

A: Oh, Reader, you underestimate me. I not only know what a sonic screwdriver is, I know exactly the toy you're talking about. My kids have one, too. (ThinkGeek, right?)

That's not technically a TSA-prohibited item, but Matt Smith, the actor who plays the Doctor, actually got stopped at security with a prop sonic screwdriver ... and that was at Heathrow. I doubt our TSA agents are more familiar with British sci-fi than their British counterparts.

But it sounds like Mr. Smith was eventually able to bring the prop on his flight, and I think you also should be able to get through security with your son's toy. Just expect a hassle.

You should assume you'll have a secondary screening, so get to the airport early. And be prepared to demonstrate that it's a toy. The TSA folks have the final call, though, so if you're really worried, it would be safer to pack it in a checked bag or leave it home.

You might also want to consider removing the batteries before your flight ... not so much to help you get through security, but because that "wwrrrwwwrrrwwrr" noise will really annoy anyone sitting near you.

Lesley Carlin has been writing about travel and etiquette professionally for more than 10 years. As one of the Etiquette Grrls, she is the co-author of "Things You Need to Be Told" and "More Things You Need to Be Told" (Berkley). Have a travel etiquette question of your own? E-mail Lesley at