Should kids on planes be sedated?

Some parents claim Gravol helps ensure a calm flight, but one mother vows never again


Should kids on planes be sedated?At a recent workshop at UBC called “Travelling with Kids,” the subject of sedating children for long-haul flights came up. The workshop was hosted by Sallie Boschung, a Vancouver French immersion teacher who has flown extensively with her two children all around the world. Boschung came with a list of tips for handling kids on the ground and in the air. How to spot a lost kid in the crowd? “Dress even teenagers in really bright clothing like fluorescent pink,” she told the group. For children younger than 11, tag their wrist with a hospital-type ID bracelet with an emergency number.

Boschung is against using any medication for the sole purpose of knocking a kid out on a flight, though she told Maclean’s, “I did mention that parents might consider using a decongestant for taking off and landing, in order to help unclog their child’s sinuses, thereby minimizing discomfort from changes in altitude—but first to consult with their family doctor. One of the side effects of decongestants is they may make children drowsy and I joked that on a long flight this may have an unintentionally positive benefit.”

Attending the lunch hour workshop in July was Sheila Thornton, a research scientist at UBC’s faculty of pharmaceutical sciences, because “I have a three-year-old son and my husband is Brazilian so we foresee a lot of travel in the future.” Also in attendance was her colleague, research scientist Dr. Kristina Sachs-Barrable, who has two young children.

Sachs-Barrable confessed that in June she gave Gravol to her two-year-old daughter on a return flight to Vancouver from Frankfurt. The drug did the opposite of what she’d hoped for, however, making her daughter unstoppably hyper. “I was scared,” Sachs-Barrable told Maclean’s. “Sheila probably told you we both work in pharmaceutical sciences. We have a little bit of experience with drugs and pharmaceutical ingredients but you don’t know what the reactions are going to be under that particular circumstance.” She was hoping “she would get some rest and we’d both be rested by the time we got back home because daddy was waiting at the other end and I wanted her to be in a good mood.”

Sachs-Barrable gave Gravol in tablet form to her daughter shortly after boarding. Soon she realized, “ ‘Oh God, what have I done to my child?’ She was running up and down the aisle, hiding behind the seats, and making eye contact with everybody around her and playing peekaboo.”

“I think her child was already excited,” said Thornton. “Every child is different. Every drug response is different. With respect to Gravol, the product drug monograph states the following under the ‘adverse effects’ heading: symptoms of excitement (especially in children) have been reported.”

Yet some parents aren’t afraid to praise the benefits of inducing a child’s sleep. Canadian biologist Dr. Katherine Barrett has a blog called TwinUtero. At No. 6 in her “ten tips for international travel with kids” is “sedate the children.”

Two years ago, she and her developer husband relocated from Ottawa to South Africa. The journey with their three toddlers involved an overnight flight to London, a full-day layover in Heathrow and another overnight flight to Cape Town. The flight to Heathrow was “hellish.” “Before the second flight, we decided to give them Gravol so we could get some rest. Parenting three young kids, especially during a transcontinental move, means we have to be functioning and responsive. We needed some sleep!” she told Maclean’s. “We gave Gravol to Alex and Thomas on the second flight. Just one shot—the recommended dose. I’m reluctant to give sedation my wholesale recommendation. But this time, for us, it worked.”

Barrett says, “When it comes to sedating a child for a flight, parents are less likely to admit it than, say, [saying they gave] a dose of Advil because the child seemed hot.” Using the term “sedating,” she says, “seems more selfish and less responsible.”

Sachs-Barrable now believes her daughter’s hyper reaction was caused by stress “she inherited from my nervousness. I was sad because I had to say goodbye to my parents. I think my daughter sensed something. And then the stressful environment of the airport, and the aircraft and the noise, and I think it went boom, completely the other way.” Never again will she give Gravol to her daughter on a flight, she says. “Absolutely not. On a plane, no way.”


Should kids on planes be sedated?

  1. Heroin. The kid will be right out, no worries. He may want to start a punk band when the flight lands though, just tell him punk is dead.

  2. I flew many times as a child and my parents never had to sedate me or my brother. My mom packed a bag full of new toys, books, etc so that they were all new and exciting. And there was an expectation that we sit in our seats. Kids these days don't seem to be subject to those sorts of expectations. And since most long-haul flights leave from Canada in the evening, why not use the day of the flight to do something really active with your kids, keeping them awake, so they WANT to sleep on the flight. As a passenger, I hate nothing more than screaming, mis behaving children. PARENTS need to make preparations to keep them under control. If I had been on that flight with a little girl running amock, I would have lost it.

    • Not really a response, just don't want to log in. Drugging children is a lazy, uncreative, unimaginative way that parents with no skills and little tolerance for their own children use to exert control and get their own spoiled way. Some people would rather do anything than enjoy life with their children. If children bother you, on airplanes or where ever, too bad for you. You're a cold human being if you think children are an annoyance and need to be drugged.

      • And furthermore, if you don't think children are exciting, fun, engaging, humorous, insightful, creative, and genuine, do the world a favor and don't reproduce.

        • thanks but keep your unruly spoiled brats on the ground

          • Guess it's too late to ask that favour of your mom.

          • Well said

      • Wow. I can't WAIT to discuss how much you're enjoying life with your children after eight hours of hearing them scream on a long haul flight. Parents do the best they can with the situations they encounter. Judge not lest you be judged. Parents know their children enough to know whether sedation is a good idea for them – let them make that decision rather than making it for them. Who's the cold human being now?

  3. Oh, that would be awesome! Or even restricted to separated flights altogether.

    "Children may be seen, but never heard" — let's return to this time-honoured principle … PLEASE!

    • "Um, ladies and gentlemen, it seems that even after we moved all the kids to the other plane, this, the adult plane, is a little oversubscribed. The bad news is, we're going to have to move a few adults over to the kids' plane, but the good news is, it will only be those adults currently wearing boler hats who will be asked to move. Thank you all for your cries of appreciation."
      You didn't complain when they came for the kids because you weren't a kid…

    • Ummm…this is your captain speaking. As we fly into your destination I have to report your children are all dead because they swarmed the other flight's flight cabin and killed the pilot by screaming loudly. There will be a viewing on Thursday between 7 and 9 pm with the funeral on Saturday. Please, try the veal.

      • Captain? I have a question about the man in the bowler hat. What can you do to assure us that he is dead, too?

  4. Do people seriously drug their kids for flights? I don't even drug my dog…

  5. Time-honoured principle? How is suppressing another human being's rights to express their feelings a time-honoured principle? Most likely you were treated that way and that is where the source of your bitterness towards children comes from. Frankly, what I find annoying is the attitude of that lazy, spoiled, post-war generation that not only has everything, but wants to control everything and everyone around them, even other people's children. Get over yourself. You're not that important that the world's children should live up to your selfish expectations.

  6. I'm now and always have been completely baffled by the idea of using Gravol to aid in flight sickness or calming children. I understand using Ritalin to keep them calm (read doped up) or decongestant, which I require myself. But Gravol? There seems to be more idiots in this world than I had originally considered. No wonder I had absolutely no trust in our financial system. Which just seemed to be proven when the real estate market fell just before the banking sector crashed.

    But anyways, when I was a kid and went on a flight my parents let me buy a book and I just sat there. Thanks to proper discipline from my parents. Kids can be seen and heard without becoming little monsters. One of the best ways to do this? Don't drug them up to start with!!!

  7. As a mother of three children and one who loves her time with them, I feel "qualified" to comment. I do not believe you should have to drug your children to have them behave. Whatever happened to having expectations as to what is and is not appropriate behavior? My children would be uncomfortable when another child would run amok, touching everything, yelling etc. They would look at me and ask "Why are those children behaving in that way? Aren't their parents going to do anything?" So when someone's behaviour (I include adults here) is such that it inhibits the comfort and enjoyment of an event, then the offending behaviour should stop. It is indeed unfortunate we have become a society of self centred individuals who feels they have the right to behave any way the choose and are raising children who emulate that philosophy. How sad some have to resort to drugs when proper parenting and setting appropriate limits has gone out of fashion.

  8. Thank goodness for those TV's in the seat backs!

  9. For those of you with little concept of the real world, travelling on a long multi-continent flight is hellish for all concerned. Gravol has been used by many travellers (both adults and children) since airplanes and gravol were invented. People such as Dr Barrett and her husband and children, along with countless other travelling families, have coped exceptionally well with long and stressful flights. And finally, dressing my teenage son in a flourescent pink shirt so I can spot him in a crowd will not work; have you not heard of text messaging – all kids know how to do it, even if their parents do not.

  10. well I don`t want to be sedated it`s to weird

  11. being sedated is WEIRD! BOO

  12. thubs DOWN for sedataded

  13. aylssa hey

  14. I think the idea is great! I love kids, they are cute and alot of fun, but NOT when you are sitting on a 5 hour flight with kids constantly running around screaming like they are possessed by something! Yes, of course parents should be able to control their children, but alot of them DONT, so YES seduce kids, not in order for the parents to do whatever, but so that the rest of the passengers can have some rest!

    • Shame on you- you should have some more sympathy for people who fly with kids. Yes they chose to have them and are responsible for them, but you can only control them to some point. They are individuals too, who may have unpredictable behaviour that a parent might not be prepared for. No one is perfect and no one can see the future. I think sedation is irresponsible and could cause more problems than good- eg. negative or reverse reation to the drug. Besides, just because it is over the counter, when has it been ok for kids to do drugs recreationally? Maybe you should just drug yourself.

  15. I'm not sure how I feel about sedation. I'm just about to embark on a 20hr flight by myself with my 3 1/2 yr old and 16 month old and I was seriously considering it. After reading the side effects (possible hyperactivity- especially in children), I'm definitely thinking again. I have traveled all thoughout my life and remember as a child my mother giving my brother and I 1/4 of a gravol to "calm our nerves,"on short and long haul flights; we didn't sleep much, but rather played with all our toys/ games with our parents. I do not remember ever running down the isles or screaming etc.

    • how did this work out for you? i have to fly 24 hours with my 2kids soon… a 1 year old, and a 3 year old… and i'm very nervouse!!

  16. I personally would love for there to be an airline or section that caters specifically to children and parents, but realistically there are not enough children flying at one time to a specific destination and the cost would be through the roof. It seems to me that people who have had flights where children are "misbehaving" could be surrounded by children who may possibly have an actual medically diagnosed behaviour disorder. There are a few parents in the world who just don't care, but most of us do and stress for months before a trip, planning down to each detail what and how we will pack. I think that children are wonderfully creative individuals who we can learn a lot from. Maybe those of you who disagree could remove the stick from your butt by getting up from your seat and having a little run down the isles yourself- who knows, you might actually enjoy it. And hey you can always be glad that you aren't the one who has to deal with that crying kid =)

  17. If your child rides well in a car seat, why not take one on the plane? This is what I'm doing in April. My 3.5 year old son sits well when riding in a restraint system in a vehicle, but on a plane, the freedom will be too much for him if I don't take the car seat. I'm hoping for a much calmer flight this time …

  18. The first time I flew with my daughter I was warned by friends and family to give her some tylenol for earpain and gravol for airsickness, I did and she slept the entire flight. The next time I went to fly I thought to myself "my daughter has never had any kind of motion sickness before and I do not want to be giving her gravol just to sedate her" so I did not give her the gravol. Just after take off, seemingly out of nowhere my daughter vomited. It was aweful! Any flights in the future gravol will be dispensed beforehand because cleaning up a pukey mess on a plane is gross and there is no way to get rid of the smell until you get off the plane.