Earlier this year, low-cost European airline Ryanair said it would offer child-free flights in what turned out to be an April Fool’s prank. Nonetheless, the notion of “cry-free flying” sparked a discussion about whether, as the Los Angeles Times opined, there out to be “Every Child Left Behind” flights. The issue has been raised again with the recent announcement by Malaysia airlines that it is banning infants in the first class section of its Boeing 747-400 jets, and also plans to do the same in their new Airbus A380 superjumbo jets, as noted in AOL Travel. The ban is only for long-haul flights from Kuala Lumpur to Amsterdam, London and Sydney; travelers with babies will now have to book flights in economy or business class.
Other airlines including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have considered creating child-free/adult-only flights. Last November, the New York Times noted that annoyed business travelers have also pushed for creating “family/kid-only sections” on flights:
In July, Qantas settled a lawsuit from a woman who claimed that she suffered hearing loss after sitting next to a screaming 3-year-old boy on a 2009 flight from New York to Australia. (Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.) In January, AirTran removed an entire family from a flight before takeoff from Fort Myers, Fla., because their 3-year-old girl was hitting the parents, making noise and refusing to take her seat. And in March, a 42-year-old woman allegedly grabbed a boy (3 years old, again) for kicking her chair during a Southwest flight to Las Vegas.
While few travelers would advocate outright assault, a survey of 2,000 travelers released by Skyscanner, a fare-comparison site, in August found that 59 percent of passengers support creating special sections on flights for families. Nearly 20 percent said they would like to see airlines offer child-free flights.
The airlines themselves are unwilling to implement the equivalent of the church “crying room” anytime soon, no matter how big a cry adults or kids raise. David Castelveter, spokesman for the Air Transport Association, points out that, with the airlines industry struggling to turn a profit, they are hardly inclined to prevent passengers from taking one flight over another. Furthermore, the logistics of getting every seat filled make airlines quite disinclined to mark out swaths of seats only for certain passengers:
“There are many markets in this country where airlines offer one, maybe two flights a day,” Mr. Castelveter said. “You’re now going to limit people from flying one of those times? As a parent, I would be pretty annoyed if I were forced to take an 8 a.m. flight instead of one at noon.”
Family-only sections would present their own set of headaches, he said, and are just as unlikely to become reality. “What about the person who says, ‘I want to sit up front, but my son wants to sit with the family?’” he said. “What about last-minute plane substitutions, where instead of 12 rows for families you suddenly have only 7?”
Some parents themselves are in favor of family-only sections, where their kids could kick at seatbacks, cry and watch kid shows without being subjected to the harsh, and often downright mean, looks (and “advice” — why does everyone who isn’t holding your squirming, screaming child have “the answer” to stopping the squirming and the screaming?).
Also, it bears saying that it’s not only babies who can be unhappy travelers vocalizing their woes.
I’m afraid my son has irked at least a few passengers on airplanes. As a babe in arms, he scream-cried for pretty much all of a 4-hour flight; after we finally got off, we got a load of “interesting” looks as we were waiting to get our luggage and a few “so THIS is Charlie” remarks. Charlie is on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum and has had his share of ”exciting moments” on flights; now when I hear a baby or child crying on an airplane, I want to get out of my seat and tell the parents, I’m with you. Given the challenges of flying with Charlie, we’ve often flown red-eye and non-stop so he’s more likely to sleep, making it easier for all parties.
Flying is not, though, an option anymore for Charlie and — I’m sorry to say — the fear of a crying baby in-flight is one reason. Charlie (who refuses to wear headphones) is extremely sound-sensitive and often puts both hands over his ears (or one hand over one ear while scrunching the other onto his shoulder, if he’s holding something), from hearing the hum of fluorescent lights to, indeed, airplanes far over his head. As he’s almost 5′ 9″, he is therefore not going to be comfortable squashed into economy-class seats). Charlie upset and overwhelmed by such high-pitched sounds as a baby crying would not be an easy situation to deal with on an airplane. We would like him to visit my family, all of whom reside in California, but short of driving the 3,000 miles from New Jersey, my husband and I have concluded we just can’t. There’s simply no reason to put Charlie (and us, and the whole plane) through the potential ordeal of a trans-continental flight with him in “behavioral storm mode.”
Something else that advocates of “child-free flights” need to keep in mind is that one day they could have their own weeping baby-whom-everyone-wishes-would-just-shut-up. Or, they could themselves be a traveler with a health issue or a disability in need of a little patience, not to mention human kindness.
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Photo by César Rincón