"I recently took my 6 month old baby on a long haul flight. She was mainly very good but did cry a couple of times and I got some dirty looks from other passengers. My friend said I should have bought them a drink to apologise or created care packages to hand out before hand. Was I in the wrong? What's the normal etiquette?"

The writer sits with her baby in an airplane seats, flanked by two female air stewards smiling for the camera.
Not everyone is unhappy to see a small child on a plane (c) Imogen Hall

Lonely Planet’s family travel expert Imogen Hall has travelled extensively with her kids. While she will always choose the train over a plane, all three of her children (now 11, 9 and 5) flew within the first six months of their lives.

Firstly, well done you for taking your baby on a long-haul flight to explore somewhere new to her. You’ve done something many people shy away from. She may be too little to remember the details when she’s older but I believe the experience and the memories stay with our kids and lay strong foundations for a love of travel as they get older.

So, the flight. Travelling with infants is tricky: they are little, they have needs and they use crying to communicate them. It’s stressful at the best of times trying to keep them happy and content in public and no more so than when you are also in a confined area and dealing with odd sensations such as pressure changes, loud noises and limited movement. When other passengers start tutting or giving you dirty looks you wish you had Dorothy’s shoes and could just tap your heels to your destination.

Imogen, her baby and two older children with husband Tom on top of an alpine mountain.
Once you get to your destination, it's all worth it (c) Imogen Hall

But does that mean you should say sorry for your crying baby? It all depends on how disruptive your baby has actually been. A couple of cries absolutely do not merit buying your fellow passengers a drink, and what exactly would you put in their care package anyway? A few candies could help, and ear plugs might be a nice gesture but actually the best thing you can do is remain calm, smile at everyone and whisper a ‘sorry’, and then get on with looking after your baby. Most people are reasonable and if they can see you are aware your baby is being a bit disruptive and you are polite and responsive to their concerns the situation will be diffused. If your baby has literally not stopped screaming for eight hours you might feel a ‘proper’ apology is appropriate but by that point you are likely to be so exhausted and anxious about your child that the other passengers will be the last thing on your mind. 

Ultimately you are not going to win over the true grump but for most of your fellow passengers your baby will be a minor and not unexpected irritant before the movies start. I always remind myself that my fellow passengers were all once small people themselves and while they may not necessarily have gone on a plane as an infant it’s likely they took a bus or train and disturbed someone else during their childhood. 

Imogen cradles a baby in her arms while another child rests on the seat listening to headphones
"Don't apologise for having a baby" (c) Imogen Hall

You asked what the normal etiquette is. It’s the same for babies as it is for older children and adults of all shapes and sizes. You are in a public space so being both tolerant and respectful of others is key. It’s important to acknowledge when something you are responsible for is having an impact on other people. Your baby is not the centre of the universe but rather one of a number of passengers travelling together and everyone has their own needs and issues to deal with, so do your best to minimise the impact of her crying. 

Be understanding, keep smiling, retain your calm but don’t apologise for having a baby.  

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