United: Babies Are Only Allowed to Cry for 5 Minutes (Or Else?)

A woman flying United from Sydney to San Francisco on Monday was told by a flight attendant that the allowable standard for babies crying on the airline’s planes is five minutes.

[The mother] says the flight attendant went on to say the United rule book says babies are not allowed to cry on flights for more than five minutes.

When Bala asked to see the rule book she says she was laughed at, and told she couldn’t see it until they landed because there was no Internet.

Since Bala was on the plane’s WIFI she looked up the rule book, and confirmed there was no rule regarding babies crying.

  • The flight attended instructed them to take the baby out of the bassinet. She began to worry, knowing that the baby would cry again at some point during the long transpacific flight.

  • She was then told if she wanted to discuss the matter further she could do so in economy. Again she followed instructions because David Dao reminds us that bad things happen when you disobey crewmember instructions.

  • There she was told she wasn’t taking proper care of her baby, “she shouldn’t have tried to put the baby to sleep so soon because the lights weren’t down and he was obviously too excited.” The flight attendant also told her she should have given the baby its empty bottle. And that she’s lucky because “some airlines don’t even allow babies in business class” according to to the mother.

    Fortunately she wasn’t wearing yoga pants.

    The plane’s pilot apologized. United apologized. According to the woman, though, the flight attendant refused to apologize. According to the airline,

    We’ve been in touch with our customer via social media and United representatives met the family upon arrival to apologize, offer a refund and make clear that the experience she relayed doesn’t reflect our commitment to serving our customers, including our youngest customers. Young families are welcome on our flights, including in business class. We are continuing to review the incident internally and the flight attendant is being held out of service pending the investigation.

    Babies crying on board are always controversial. My view has long been that as long as a parent is doing their best to take care of the child then it’s unfortunate but whatever the baby is going through is probably worse.

    I’ve been on flights where two parents fought amongst themselves instead of taking care of their screaming child. That’s never a good approach. I’ve also been on Cathay Pacific in first class while two parents sent their child running down the aisles after the lights went out and passengers were trying to go to sleep. The parents turned out to be blog readers and explained they were trying to tire their child out. Understanding, though I would have preferred that happen prior to boarding or while the cabin lights were still on.

    I’ve also been on Sydney flights where I barely noticed that babies were in business class. However if something happens, their ears hurt, they have a need or don’t understand turbulence there will be crying. And there’s just not much we can do if we’re flying commercial.

    (HT: Jessica Puckett)

  • About Gary Leff

    Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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    1. I totally empathise with parents and am sure everyone has a “horror” story of noisy kids or babies but this treatment seems excessive.
      It’s challenging to say the least. I was on a BA Transatlantic recently in biz class and the mother made more noise (when lights were out) shooshing the baby than the baby made with intermittent screaming. Crew usually hate getting involved with parents when babies cry or kids are unruly or noisy so it’s really difficult. Speaking to parents directly can often escalate issues as the parents rightly or wrongly feel shamed or blamed. Personally I’d ban babies and kids from business class but fully appreciate that’s discrimination and not a great business model for any airlines. Perhaps on the busier routes eg. LHR – JFK one flight a day could be designated “child free” ?

    2. People always have very strong opinions about babies on airplanes and whether or not others should bring them because of how they impact their own personal flying experience. Ultimately, it’s just part of living in the world, man. Everyone was a baby once, and babies have to get from point A to point B just like everyone else. Obviously, parents can do things to make it less painful for everyone around them, but I would typically defer to the parent’s opinion about what will work best in a given situation, even if if appears to be counter-intuitive (just letting the child cry for a few minutes without comforting or soothing them, for instance, can actually be effective in some cases, but many passengers perceive this as being the result of parent apathy). I try to be understanding and hope others are too.

    3. NOBODY wants to listen to all that crying after paying that premium to have some peace and quiet on a long flight. Nope, no uncontrollable little spawn in J/F cabins of longhaul flights. If you can’t keep em quiet then to the back you all should go.

    4. As long as the parent(s) are doing their best and not being stupid or overactive about the whole thing it’s just one of those things in life. Noise limiting headphones help a bit. I think it’s much worse on red-eye/overnight flights of course. I think some babies have elevated issues due to teething, ear pressure, picking up on co-passenger and parent stress around them. It’s bad luck to end up next to a crying baby for a long flight but you can either be part of the solution or part of the problem I think.

      Having a crying baby time limit, how funny. #primarilythereforoursafety

    5. Ugh, babies are so terribly annoying. I wish parents would stop bringing them on planes. It’s already hell when you have a damn baby crying on a short domestic flight, but Sydney to San Francisco is a whole different circle of hell. I don’t get why people feel the need to bring babies with them traveling unless it’s to bring to family to visit or take care of. Can’t they wait until the kid is old enough to not torture the passengers around them?

    6. “…but whatever the baby is going through is probably worse.”

      What about the parents. What they’re going through is much worse. Just put on your nose canceling headphones and let them (i.e. me) worry it.

    7. @Ray- all of our trips with our children when they were very young were to “bring to family to visit or take care of”. It’s pretty stressful to travel with a baby/small child, and most people do it for those reasons. Not many people take true vacations with their children until they are 3 and up, at least in my experience.

      Unless there is a steamer ship service to Australia I am unaware of, flying there was the only reasonable option for this family. You of course always have the option of chartering your own plane if you feel the need to control your environment that much.

    8. Ginger – What a moronic comment! Based on your logic, banish kids to the back and economy passengers should suffer because….they paid less?
      What a low life.

    9. I’ve spent enough time trying to keep babies amused, asleep and generally quiet that I have nothing but sympathy for that mother. Would I prefer that business class be quiet – sure. But that mother and baby have exactly as much right to be there as I do, and sometimes babies cry. And the gods long ago invented noise canceling headphones, which help a lot.

      I find their genuine distress less offensive than obnoxious middle-aged drunks, of which there always seems to one or two. Or pissy flight attendants, of which there is *always* at least one on United flights.

      United is doing the right thing. It wouldn’t be out of line to fly the flight attendant to the customer and insist she apologize in person before she returns to work.

    10. By this logic, I should be allowed to play loud music in business class. I paid for the ticket, so screw other passengers’ right to peace and quiet. Sorry, babies don’t belong in business class. It’s premium experience and quiet/rest is part of the premium we all pay for. It’s not that coach passengers deserve noise more, but they pay rock bottom prices and know what comes with that.

      I bring earplugs on flights, but some babies are so darn loud that it won’t help.

    11. Ah, babies on planes. It’s a topic that nobody can “win” on. I do think it makes sense to ban them from premium cabins. Look, whenever I check in to a fancy resort these days, there’s almost always an adult-only pool. Why? Because small children annoy the other guests. Same thing on airplanes. Premium cabins should be a quiet oasis. Nobody “needs” to fly with a baby in first class.

      I also wonder if everyone would be better off if under-twos required a ticket, at regular price. First, it’s safer for the kids. Second, there’s then a reasonable place to put the kid (would anyone want to sit next to a parent with a lap child?). Third, it would likely reduce the number of babies on airplanes, which I think would be best for other travellers, parents and children.

    12. Patience, compassion, and a good pair of noice canceling headphones….that’s all it takes!
      And stop making a bid deal of a simple fact of life. Someday YOU will have to travel with a baby.
      Instead of complaining about the baby why don’t you offer to assist the mother instead? I am sure she feels just as embarrassed.
      And for the flight attendant? She is the wrong profession.

    13. This is just like politics in America- very devisicive. Some people love babies on planes and some do not. A parent can always find someone to play with a baby no matter how bad the child is behaving. It is politically incorrect to express that one is not happy with a child’s behavior. When I expressed to a flight attendant that I was not happy in the window seat with a mother and infant in the center I was looked down upon. Perhaps some airline can have an area where babies will not be seated or perhaps an airline could use technology to inform that a baby is a customer in a certain seat and then depending on preference a person could choose to sit nearby or further away. I assume southwest does not have this issue as babies board first and customers can decide to sit accordingly.

    14. Babies don’t belong in premium class???
      Ok, fly private. Get off shared transportation.
      Dimwits everywhere.

    15. Babies don’t belong in business or first class. PERIOD!

      The entitlement of some parents is just outrageous.

    16. Noisy people are not tolerated in premium cabin. Babies are people. Therefore, noisy babies should get same treatment as noisy people. If you can’t keep it quiet, take it outside to coach, or just book coach to begin with.

    17. Sidestepping the on-board issue, I wonder why US airports don’t make public amenities available for children like Asian ones do – let them tire themselves out playing so they can sleep on the plane.

      TL;DR – U.S. airports are still woefully under-planned and under-invested even for children’s needs.

    18. Chopsticks- I’ve said it for YEARS THAT BABIES & TODDLERS SHOULD BE CHARGED FULL PRICE just like everyone else and you’d see a SIGNIFICANT drop in the number of babies in planes. Honestly, I don’t see the logic in giving them a free ride, especially given that their gear often takes up twice as much room as my luggage and they apparently don’t charge them for that either! It would greatly diminish the numbers of toddlers flying. I’ve also said for many years that there should be a child free zone or a child only zone where IF you bring babies/toddlers/kids on a plane you have to sit and put all the screaming little buggers behind a plexiglass partition. Worst flight ever was a coach flight on Lufthansa from Frankfort back to US with a screaming kid on board (like 4 or 5) that wailed as loud as he could because they wouldn’t let him sit next to his one parent and had him next to the mother instead I think but the entire plane was ready to throw this kid out the plane about halfway across, the flight attendants were literally SHAKING because their nerves were just shot, there was NOTHING wrong with the kid is the sad thing, he was just a spoiled rotten little ASSHOLE of a kid, they begged, pleaded, until finally the parents just tuned him out and let everyone suffer. Somewhere around 5 or so hours into the flight, he FINALLY shut up.
      I don’t really do the kid thing myself, I avoid them at all costs and I’ve noticed that there is a market emerging for the child free folks, many places are very expensive, but you can avoid them with enough money. Smart young entrepreneurs should explore it, I see it getting to be a much bigger market as more and more women (and men) refrain from parenthood.

    19. @Penny — Well, you seem a little too “anti-baby” for me. Kids are people, too, and sometimes they need to fly. But I agree that they should not be subsidized, since babies on planes isn’t a good thing for anyone (including the babies!). It’s kind of how I feel about dogs in the cabin — it’s not something that should be encouraged through the emotional support loophole.

      Banning babies from premium cabins and charging them for seats sounds like the right balance. If you NEED to fly with your baby, you still can. And they will have a seat, which will be safer for the kids and better for the parent and fellow travellers. But, obviously, fewer babies will fly when they’re not subsidized. Seems like the right balance, but obviously others will disagree.

    20. Ginger & Ray – go screw yourselves against the wall. Wear your damn headset and turn up the volume you morons!

    21. Rhonda baby – you must be one of those RePukes, who is anti-abortion moron too, right? You pathetic spoilt brat is dictating who can fly and cannot fly and which class of service?. You must be one of the jerks who supports the guy in the WH, eh?

    22. I was on a flight in first class where a baby screamed literally the entire flight. I don’t think babies should be allowed in premium sections of the aircraft. Those seats are very expensive and people who pay for them do so to be able to sleep etc. I understand that sometimes babies have places they need to go to which is fine, but there is no need for them to be in the premium sections of the plane.

    23. I make no claims to perfection but when people complain about babies, old people, large people, you name it, it sounds harsh and selfish. Tolerance and compassion are in short supply these days, even for babies.

    24. Folks, I WAS actually on this flight UA 870 in business class in the same section and so far what I’ve read from some people here is a bunch of nonsense. You have no empathy and don’t know what happened on the flight. I did not hear the FA reprimand the family but I did notice another flight attendant (not the one who reprimanded) speak with them for a long long time and wondered what was going on. This was not like 30 seconds interaction but like 3-4 minutes. The baby did not cry for the whole flight, there were moments of crying. When the baby did cry, the parents did their best to calm the baby by walking up and down the aisles and this happened mutiple times in the flight. I did not find the parents entitled by any means. How is it being in business entitled?! Please explain that to me. Yes, it was difficult at times and I was exhausted and i had to work after the flight. I even had both earplugs AND my Bose ear cancelling headphones. But in the end, I do commend the parents for trying and did what they could under the circumstances.

    25. chopsticks Yes, some resorts have adults only pools. You got the reason why wrong. Kids will pee in the pool.

    26. As a parent who took an 11 month-old to and from EU on BA F I can assure you it’s an incredibly stressful experience for the parent. Our son cried even through he had his own seat/bed. We tried our best to contain him and everyone was super polite. We couldn’t relax the entire time because we were always on guard and F quickly lost its allure.

      It’s not worth flying F with in infant, at least for us.

      Next time we’ll downgrade to J and fly with Ginger.

    27. Which airlines have child free premium class areas? I’d like to give them my business.

      Babies should be charged full price for their own seat and have their own area at the back of the plane. They need to fly sometimes, but they don’t need to ruin everyone else’s experience.

    28. Personally, I don’t mind the intermittent noise. To me, air travel is like a faster version of a bus…with a small degree of service from a flight attendant. So I expect to be annoyed but not for 8 hours like a real bus. Not that it matters, but how long do babys typically cry—20 minutes, 40 minutes, or 10 minutes. IDK.
      Kim Comando mentioned on her radio spot that AA will start playing meditation mood music to help passengers (and crew?) remain calm. Anyway, if I were a multi billion dollar airline, I might consider reserving sections for customers with infants and make seats more expensive further from that section. Logistically, when people miss flights or flights are cancelled, it will likely be impossible to maintain that seating arrangement, so this solution is not really practical. Which leads to my 1st comment… it’s a fast bus, not a cruise ship.
      I do believe gov’t, which paid for the airports, makes the rules on this, so good luck with changing them.
      Wouldn’t it be more logical for airlines to offer the big ear muffs, like their ground crew use, to customers and flight attendants? Seriously, its ugly, but not that uncomfortable and beats hearing crying infants for 20 minutes every hour ( I think it’s less than that actually). For a 14 hour flight, or train ride, or bus ride, other passengers will make noise, so put on the ear phones and the ear muffs, and fall asleep while using all the bandwidth streaming netflix movies over your vpn, right. Oh wait, that’s a future problem.

    29. When a baby cries, I usually just shout, ” get a muzzle !”

      Of course it’s crass, but I find it humorous and that’s my standard for just about anything.

      Besides ,I’m paying 10k per year in school taxes so I feel that gives some right to criticize peoples’ parenting.

    30. Put all parents with children in the back of the plane and they can commiserate with one another rather than scattering them throughout the plane and making everyone miserable. Passengers located directly in front of the kid section can be pacified by free drinks and complimentary Bose headphones. Flight attendants can flip a coin for who gets stuck with the back section.

    31. FWIW, my two cents is that if the parents are doing everything possible to soothe the child and the child is inconsolable, some patience and tolerance and empathy is the order of the day. Anyone who has kids has been there in some public place and it’s a terrible feeling as a parent.

      And this applies to First/Business as well. The parents have every right to bring their kids aboard in first, but with that right comes the responsibility to keep them under control.

      Frankly, my worst experiences with kids on planes usually involves not infants screaming but toddlers who the parents are ignoring while the kids are either loud and/or banging into my seat etc. An infant’s intermittent cries are way better, even in First/Business than a toddler that parents refuse to parent.

    32. NIce, There are a couple of really cool tips to get your baby to sleep on the plane. These tips are especially helpful if you’re about to take your little bundle of joy on their very first flight! Stop stressing of there’s an infant airplane seat or sky baby mattress.

    33. I just got off a plane and all I can say is that I did not deserve the migraine. If airlines could ban smoking they can ban other stuff too. I’d rather have smoking than a screaming child anyday.

    34. Given that on a flight from Salt Lake to Seattle I had a screaming child sitting next me throw his juice cup all over my computer, completely destroying it, and then take his next juice cup and dump it ON MY HEAD, and then scream so much that he vomited everywhere including ON ME, and the mother said merely, “what do you want me to do?” And didn’t even offer to pay for dry cleaning or my computer and scoffed at me when I asked her for reimbursement, I think that I am well within my right to say that children don’t belong on airplanes. Three other times I’ve been stuck next to babies and the parents weren’t promptly changing diapers. Babies and small kids grab things that don’t belong to them, they poop themselves, they’re loud, they’re sticky. Yes, as a traveler I have a problem with paying $400 for a plane ticket and being vomited on and having my computer destroyed. The airline, btw, ended up paying for everything so they wouldn’t end up on the news.

      I’m not unempathetic to the plight of parents who have to travel with their children. I am unempathetic to parents who know that their kids are hell demons and bring them into an enclosed space anyway. I am unempathetic to parents who do not think about what they are doing or appropriately research and plan for a flight. I am unempathetic to parents who don’t teach their children how to behave. And don’t tell me that toddlers can’t be taught. I know dozens of them that absolutely know how to behave.

      I am not suggesting kids shouldn’t come on airplanes, but I also believe that children under the age of 4 should be seated in areas that are away from other passengers. Maybe create a special section in the plane that is built just for kids with free snacks, toys, video consoles…the things that are needed to accommodate children. This would be fine. Do something that helps parents and also takes other passengers into consideration.

      And I also believe that commuter flights should be kid free, though. For someone like me who takes 5am flights and midnight flights for work, I should be able to do so as a business commuter and not have to deal with kids. My biggest problem should be whether my phone no computer are properly charged on those flights.

      I also have been on a 13 hour flight and a kid screamed and thrashed simply because he wasn’t getting his way for the entire flight. I asked the airline for my money back because I had paid for first class and had a migraine from the kid kicking my seat, throwing things and sca-reaming the entire time. I got my money back and a free ticket voucher for the next trip. But honestly, I don’t want refunds, I want to travel safely, in peace.

      This is like having to sit next to someone who hasn’t showered for a week and reeks of bo. That’s a health hazard, just like being forced to endure sound pollution or the smell of shit or being vomited on. Don’t tell me to get head phones. That doesn’t solve the bigger issue.

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