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By The Way
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The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Sorry our baby might ruin your flight. Please accept this goodie bag.

Kind gesture or unreasonable expectation? The public is divided.

(iStock/Washington Post illustration)
5 min

Nicole Lindsay was steeling herself for her five-month-old baby’s first flight when she came across a viral — and ultimately divisive — trend: a care package for parents to hand out to fellow fliers, complete with earplugs, candy and an apologetic poem.

“Somehow my sleep-deprived brain was like, ‘That’s an excellent idea,’ ” said Lindsay, 37, who lived in England at the time of the flight eight years ago.

She assembled baggies for 30 or so of their closest seat neighbors, choosing Starburst candy to avoid potential allergens and printing out the poem, which rhymed words such as “sky” and “cry” and “fly.”

She said her seatmates laughed and assured her the preemptive move wasn’t necessary. Her son, Henry, didn’t end up crying at all, and both her kids have since proven to be good fliers.

“I think having apologized in the event he cried, it actually resulted in a lot of people saying what a good job he did at the end, which really felt nice as a mom,” said Lindsay, now a Florida resident. “The ice had been broken.”

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One of the earliest examples of an apology goodie bag going viral dates back 10 years. In 2012, a photo of the bags handed out by parents of 14-week-old twins made it to Reddit, where the post has been viewed more than 2.7 million times.

“We’ll try to be on our best behavior, but we’d like to apologize in advance just in case we lose our cool, get scared or our ears hurt,” the note says. The message, accompanied by candy, offers earplugs at the parents’ seats. Commenters swooned: “Things like this restore my faith in humanity,” one said. “These parents need a trophy because THEY JUST WON!!” another wrote.

7 tips from parents on packing with kids

Baby’s-first-flight packages have made news over the years since. In the case of George and Amal Clooney, the actor and human rights attorney gave away noise-canceling headphones on a 2017 flight with a handwritten note: “Our twins just discovered squawking!! Hope this helps make the flight a little quieter.”

But for every story praising the gesture or parenting blog offering tips on in-flight handouts, there are hot takes against the practice. Vehemently. “Good Morning America” called the issue a “momtroversy,” while a PopSugar writer said that “Parents Who Give Out Goodie Bags on Flights Are Ruining It For the Rest of Us.”

Boston Globe columnist Christopher Muther wrote that the Clooneys’ gift “reinforced a dangerous trend.”

“Any adult who is truly angry that a baby is crying on a flight does not deserve a goodie bag,” Muther wrote. “They deserve a dirty look and maybe a stray service cart ice cube down their shirt.”

Even Pinterest, the home of DIY goodie bag examples, is divided, with multiple posts explaining why parents shouldn’t pass those bags out.

Creed Rykel Archibald, a high school English teacher and author in Salt Lake City, and his wife got individually packaged Mint Milano cookies and earplugs on the advice of a colleague’s wife before flying with their infant son to Maui last August.

But once they were on the plane, Archibald said, passing them out seemed too weird.

“It just felt so awkward, like, ‘Sorry that I reproduced,’” he said.

His son, Everett, was just 3½ months old and slept the whole flight. Archibald, 35, said he and his wife shared some of the cookies with an older woman who sat next to them.

“We ended up pretty much eating all the cookies ourselves,” he said. “The earplugs we still use sometimes.”

Still, Archibald said, he would not mind being on the receiving end of such an act: “If people give me snacks for any reason, I’m just going to be like, ‘Thank you.’”

How did clapping on planes become such a divisive issue?

When Joseph Eisenreich handed out Hershey’s Nuggets and a note of explanation about their 18-month-old twins on a flight to San Francisco, some passengers “looked at us like we were a little crazy,” the adjunct math professor said. Eisenreich, who lives in Columbia, S.C., was flying with an entourage: their husband, the twins and a friend who put the packages together.

But the general reaction to the peace offering was a giggle, they said. Twins Colette and Miryam fell asleep quickly.

“Giving someone something, from my vantage point, it was a great way to say, like, I am aware that I may be the cause of some discomfort for you and at the very least, I apologize,” said Eisenreich, 39. “I want you to know that I am aware of it.”

Etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach and a former flight attendant, said she has only seen an example of a plane goodie bag on Facebook. But, she said, the gesture fits her definition of etiquette: “knowing how to treat others and being mindful of how your behavior affects other people” — or how your children’s behavior might affect them.

Babies and young children don’t know how to adjust to pressure changes that can hurt their ears, and no one can guarantee how they will react to flying, she said.

Whitmore said the best thing parents can do is to prepare snacks, toys, games and anything else that might distract their child; walking up and down the aisle with the child when it’s clear is another solution for a little one who is antsy.

As for fellow passengers, they can ask a flight attendant if it’s possible to change seats in case of disruption — but preparation is also key.

“I would advise passengers to always fly with their own earplugs, because you just never know," Whitmore said. “Being a good passenger means being prepared, and things are going to happen.”