What to Do When Your Kid Throws Up on a Plane

We have twin 4-year old daughters who, for those who are not longtime OTR readers, can be described thusly:

Twin 1 can be described as the daughter who threw up on our flight to Curacao last April and then threw up on the return flight from Curacao.

Twin 2 can be described as the daughter who threw up on neither Curacao flight but did throw up on our flight yesterday from Ft Lauderdale.

As you may have surmised, this now makes me an expert in what to do when your kid throws up on a plane.  I will now impart some wisdom on this topic with you:

Step 1:  Have a loud disagreement with your spouse over how to handle the situation. I could tell you not to do this, that you should remain entirely calm and speak in only loving tones with both your spouse and your child.  But you are not going to do this, so I’m going to be realistic.  Get snippy with each other over how the whole mess should be handled; whose fault it is; and who always has to clean up these types of messes.  Go ahead.  Get it out of the way.  Good.  You probably feel better already.

Step 2: Deep breath.  I mean that metaphorically, as you will not want to actually take a deep breath anywhere near the area.

Step 3: Your neighbors will be helpful here and offer you with the 2 inch by 2 inch drink napkins they have been using.  These won’t make a dent.  You should thank these people profusely, though, as they will be the ones enjoying the wafting smell for the next 2 hours.

Step 4:  Assure flight attendants that they will not have to deal with this.  In-flight crews have told me that parents have expected them to clean up the mess.  That’s because all passengers are assholes.

Step 5:  You may not know this, but your flight likely has a hazard kit on it.  It is sad that at this point I know that Continental has a hazard kit, and what it contains (trash bag, ties, rubber gloves, disinfectant, disinfectant wipes, face mask – dear God may it not come to that -, and paper protective body covering).  Take all of that stuff out of the bag and set it aside.  You will need much-to-all of it.  Put the napkins you have been using in that bag.  Strip your poor child down and put clothes in a different plastic bag (or, if you do not care about said clothes, in the larger original plastic bag which will be thrown out).  Take the seat that is now covered in vomit and put that in the plastic bag as well (really).  Remember the safety announcement at the beginning of the flight, something about how the seat cushion can be used as a flotation device?  Yes?  That cushion is easily removed.  Remove it and put it in the bag.  Now tie up the bag with the twist ties and put it behind the last row of coach seats.  There’s room there.  And that bag is pretty amazing in that it will not smell.  I should warn you, though:  when you walk down the aisle with the bright red hazard bag with the word “HAZARD BAG” written on in it 80 point font, everyone on that plane will look at you funny.  And not funny ha ha.

Step 6:  If you are lucky, you have a change of clothes for child.  If you are like most of the world, you will end up wrapping your child in one of the blankets they give out which is both sorta cute and kinda sad at the same time.

Step 7:  You will be amazed that you can do a pretty thorough bath and shampooing in the plane’s bathroom to remove the mess from your kid (something to consider the next time you are considering getting amorous in that space).

Step 8:  Put kid back in front of in-flight TV and pretend that nothing happened.


  1. With the cushion now ensconced in a hazard bag in the back of the plane, can the child sit on the seat? Do they have spare cushions on CO flights?

  2. Jared, could you please restrict your and your kids’ travel to Spirit — that way we’re unlikely going to face the situation where you’ll want my napkins. :)

  3. @Avi: They can’t sit on the bare seat. You either borrow a cushion from an empty seat (what I did this time), or they do have extras on the plane (what I did the previous 2 times).

    @Oliver: You’ll be happy to know I’ll be flying Spirit at the end of December. I’m certain they charge $55 to use their hazard kit ($45 if you are a member of the $9 fare club).

  4. What a horrible situation but I’m glad you were able to share it with us as I’m sure this advice will go a long way in many of our family travel situations in the future.

    Did they dare charge you for the blanket(s)?

    Didn’t Willie, the janitor at Thomas Jefferson school have a stash of coffee grinds to counteract the smell of the vomit? Maybe a can of Folgers in your carry-on bag would be advisable going forward.

  5. Thanks, Jared. A very funny and true-to-life story — and VERY useful! Good to know about the hazard kit.

    Amazingly, none of my 3 kids has ever thrown up on an airplane. Well, except in an airsickness bag. Hopefully, they’re now old enough to avoid an explosive vomit scenario. As I think I once mentioned, my son did once throw up on a customs line in Germany. Seeing nothing to clean up the mess with, and the fact that is was just on a tile airport floor, I simply kept moving. :)

  6. Oh no.
    I am sorry your twins got sick in flight!
    : (

    Never knew about the hazard kits. good to know as children aren’t the only ones that sometimes get sick!

    also…i did giggle a few times reading about your experience! : )

  7. That is soooo cute funny

  8. I feel for you J. Probably made the flight go faster though. Probably just as bad as an 18 month old diaper blow out, and only 2 diapers left. It just kept coming as I was changing the diaper on the stew’s jump seat, for which I got reprimanded. The last diaper had to last the rest of the flight and the drive home.

  9. Jared: Well written and enjoyable (at least to read and not to experience!) And your reader comments were great as well. Although, Suzanne, I really have to question your term “stew’s jump seat” as flight attendant’s haven’t been referred to as “stew’s” since “Coffee, Tea Or Me” was written! Sorry you were reprimanded, but, respectfully, it was warranted – those jump seats are designed to flip up automatically as soon as there is no substantial weight holding the spring lever down. Too many infants have been hurt when parents use the jump seats as changing boards and forget or don’t realize this (no infant’s weight will hold them down by themselves.) Not to mention, crews have to sit on these – not exactly considerate to use these for cleaning up one’s baby mess.

  10. Jared: The HAZARD kit is great. I worked with a FA who went all-out, weird mask, et al, to clean up after an unaccompanied minor got sick. Oh, and the suggestion to use coffee as a deodorizer is a trick we use on the plane in the LAV.
    Suzanne: All you have to do is ask the FA for help. We deal with all kinds of things every day. A large trash bag offers great protection of any surface, or child, for your situation.

  11. Great story, Jared. I’m sure it was an awful experience, but really well-told tale, and I learned stuff I never wanted to know from it.

  12. arlene and david

    Those twins are outrageously cute even when they vomit! We are two totally unbiased people.
    Grandma and Grandpa

  13. Jared,

    We suggest that on the next family trip the twins are sent as unaccompanied minors.

  14. Jared my dear ::sad: So sad to hear what happened to your children…. :sad:
    But hey ho,on the bright side: My son barfs whenever he goes in ANY vehicle once every thirty minutes (I actually timed 6 of them :razz: )
    Well just in case,Good Luck Jared