4 reasons why child-free zones aren’t coming to U.S. airlines

by Janice Hough on February 20, 2013

© Leocha
Few topics stir up more passions than the subject of children on planes. And the issue hit the headlines recently when a man was arrested for slapping a crying toddler (while adding a racial slur).

It’s one of those subjects where, at different points in life, travelers find themselves on different sides of the argument.

Malaysia Airlines already bans children under 12 from their upper-deck economy section from Kuala Lumpur to London. Now, a second Asian carrier is offering a child-free seating area on some flights.

In this case, it’s Air Asia X, the long-haul branch of discount carrier Air Asia. Children younger than 12 are “strictly off-limits” in the first seven rows of the economy class on the company’s flights.

Air Asia X actually already charges for advance seat selection, but these seats don’t have an additional premium over the regular fee. If the seats sell out, I would assume the section will be expanded and/or the price will go up.

What’s stopping U.S. carriers from trying the same thing? For that matter, why not add a fee for travelers to sit in a child-free section? Most airlines never met a fee they didn’t like. Here are four reasons.

1. It’s one more programming issue to deal with involving seat charts. Right now, most airlines only restrict exit rows for adults and, even so, a smart traveler with elite status can reserve those seats with a family.

(In fact, I’ve known more than one traveler who, unable to get other seats together, has booked exit row seating for a family, and then had the gate agent ask if anyone wants to switch. Exit row seats are the easiest to trade for good window-aisle seats.)

2. Airlines fear a backlash from the public. Especially from the same elite traveler who might normally welcome a child-free zone. Those travelers sometimes travel with their own kids.

From my experience, clients accustomed to extra legroom and preferred seats on business trips expect the same for family travel.

3. A child-free zone could create more delays at the airport. Airlines abhor this. As it is now, if preferred seats go unsold, it’s a simple matter for carriers to give them away. This wouldn’t be so easy with a paid child-free zone.

4.Lawyers, lawyers, lawyers. My sense is that the first discrimination lawsuit in the U.S. would be filed within a week of an announced child-free zone.

And, of course, let’s be honest. If it’s a question of quiet, often a well-behaved child is a major improvement over many adults.

Would you opt for a child-free zone if you were given the choice?

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  • James

    I would absolutely opt for child free zones. If we can have smoke free restaurants and planes why can’t we have similar restrictions on kids? It’s impossible to legislate competent parenting but the rest of us could be spared exposure to the results of over indulgent incompetence.

  • ton lammering

    My sense is that the first discrimination lawsuit in the U.S. would be filed within a week of an announced child-free zone.

    really why? movies, casino’s etc have limiting rules for kids

    in fact airlines have them also, if i fly economy i am not allowed to walk into the business section

    so i think legally its not an issue, not that that would prevent some bottomfeeder from filing in the hope of a settlement.

    Just as with binspacehoarders the airlines just don’t want to act because it could ad to the workload (do kids get to walk to the toilet etc?)

  • pauletteb

    Unlike most of today’s kids, my daughter knew how to behave in public. In the tight confines of a plane, a kid-free zone would be a blessing.

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  • Skeptic

    Yes, on long flights and red-eyes. OTOH, fellow passengers who spill into my seat, can’t eat or read without having their elbows at right angles to their body, or watch porn on their laptop are worse than all but the crankiest infant.

    I do believe the FAA and NTSB should ban lap children, however. They are dangerous projectiles during a crash or severe turbulence and given the size of airplane seats, they are almost impossible for their parent to contain between the armrests, meaning adjacent passengers get kicked or drooled on (or worse) with no means of escape. I live in AK so the regulatory agencies’ rationale that if lap children were banned, everyone would drive instead (riskier) doesn’t hold. You can’t drive between most destinations within my state and few people would drive the long, narrow, largely unserviced two lane road to the Lower 48 in order to “save money” on flying.

  • Skeptic

    Casinos, R-rated movies and bars ban children in order to protect them. This is a legitimate use of the “police power” under our legal system. It’s not the same thing as a ban on a certain class of people in order to allow others to have a more enjoyable experience. That is allowed for private clubs (golf clubs, Boy Scouts, etc.) but not for facilities of public accommodation like common carriers.

    However, if airlines did not ban kids outright, but merely restricted them to certain parts of the plane, that might be OK legally. A true headache for the airline, though, as this article points out. A better solution might be to force parents to take more responsibility for children who are capable of controlling their antisocial behavior, but who don’t.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    For years, I have read comments on this site and other sites making the suggestions for family zones, children zones, child-free zones, etc. but the real issue is the public willing to pay (i.e. higher fares; taking later a flight if their zone isn’t available on an earlier flight; etc.)? I will say ‘No’ given our appetite for low fares.

    In regards to Air Asia X, even if they restrict the first seven rows in economy to passengers above the age of 12, you can still hear the cries, screams, etc. if the baby was sitting in row 8, 9 or etc.

    My son (a first grader) and I traveled to a college bowl game during the New Year season. On our outbound flight, we sat in economy…sitting behind us was a mother and her two daughters (3YO and 5 YO)…they kicked our seats for the entire flight. The mother did nothing after being asked twice by a FA to control her kids. On our return flight, we sat in first class and my son made comments on the young children that were crying, screaming, etc. in economy while he was trying to concentrate the book that he was reading.

    It not only babiesyoung children…it is adults as well. I can’t count the number of times that I have encountered a loud obnoxious person while sitting in first class over the past 15 years. I can still recall the passenger who tried to sell me on Amway on the entire flight from PHX to SEA after I told him several times that 1) I am not interested and 2) I have work to do. The problem is adults. There are parents that are not prepared to travel with children. There are parents that do no prep their children on the proper behavior at the airport and on the plane. There are parents that do not discipline their children.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    “fellow passengers who spill into my seat, can’t eat or read without having their elbows at right angles to their body, or watch porn on their laptop are worse than all but the crankiest infant.”
    I agree.

  • LFH0

    Years ago there were “women-free” zones. United Air Lines operated the “The Chicago Executive” from New York to Chicago, and vice versa. It advertised the fact that the flight was for men only. See http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/adaccess_T2235. Today, there are “men-free” zones on the local transit bus system in Mexico City. See http://www.rtp.gob.mx/atenea.html.

  • DCTA

    I am so, so, SO willing to pay extra to be in a child-free zone for any flight over 3 hrs. Really, I am.

    Yes, the problem with most kids on the plane is in fact the adults with him/her. BUT if one is in a child-free zone, then you’re not dealing with the adults either!

  • James

    Also in Japan.

  • TonyA_says

    How about an a**hole free zone. I flew Cathay Pacific premium economy last Monday from JFK New York to Hong Kong. For those unfamiliar, the Cathay Prem Econ is a small but separate cabin in between business and coach. I had an inner aisle seat on Row 33. The first row (Row 30) was a bulkhead. Right after they closed the door, the head FA approached me asking if I could exchange my aisle seat with another aisle seat. So I asked why. Was there someone complaining on the right side of the tiny section since there was a Chinese baby boy crying while laying in a bassinet on a ledge behind the only bathroom wall? She said no, it is a different kind of problem. There is a man giving her all kinds of problems. In other words an a**hole. OK, I told her if it meant solving her problem, I would give up my seat.

    She did not become back so I called her. She told me I had the right to stay on my seat just like any passenger. I was surprised at her comment so I repeated that I was willing to give my seat up if she needed it.

    When we got to cruising altitude, several mainland Chinese passengers wanted to use the sole bathroom in our cabin. As they tried to cross the bulkhead aisle, they were blocked by a white man who spread his legs as far as he could. Without looking at the Chinese passengers, the guy would twirl his index finger around suggesting that the Chinese people needed to go to the coach cabin and use the bathroom there.

    Finally one Chinese man got so mad and started shouting. I did not understand a word he was saying. The head FA came running over to the white guy and told him he could not block the way. Presumably he was doing it to protest his bulkhead seat. It did not have a footrest so he put his handcarry by the bulkhead’s wall and used that as a footrest, thereby blocking the path to the bathroom. The white guy would not budge. After a few minutes, the FA started almost crying and knelt on her knees begging him to cooperate. At about the same moment, I had to use the bathroom. So I stood up and walked to the guy. I looked him straight in his eyes and told him thank you for letting me through. He put his legs down. The Chinese women were all laughing

    The Chinese baby boy slept through the whole scene. Later he woke up crying. Maybe he missed mommy because only an old man was traveling with him. I learned that it was much better to travel with a crying baby in a small cabin than with an a**hole. I rest my case.
    PS. The young Hongkong lady beside me spoke perfect English. She thanked me for not giving up my seat because she said she would be terrified seating beside the a**hole.

  • Skeptic

    Where groping on crowded subways is ubiquitous. As it is also in NYC, as every woman knows.

  • Ella

    Problem is, once crap parents are on a plane with their children you can’t exactly chuck them off can you? And that’s the issue. Parents are taking their kids onto planes with no idea how they’ll behave and with no thought for other people. It’s unbelievably selfish and to be honest I would say that young children should be banned from long haul flights except in emergencies (going abroad for specialist medical treatment). It’s funny how families survived living apart from loved ones back when they couldn’t afford to get flights to visit each other! If you have a kid you know you have to make some sacrifices and that may well mean missing funerals, birthdays, weddings etc.

  • Ella

    That’s not a case. Fact is that if an adult is objectionable they can find themselves banned by an airline for life. How often does this happen to parents of babies that make excessive noise? Never. An arsehole is annoying but can be dealt with, you cannot make a baby stop crying and a metal cabin is a horrific situation to be stuck in with a screaming baby!

  • Ella

    We shouldn’t have to pay extra to have relative peace and quiet. A baby’s cry can reach 100dB, it would be incredibly difficult for any adult to produce that level of noise without employing power tools (and you wouldn’t have them in the cabin). People really need to get a grip and understand just how loud a child’s cry can be. It can actually be loud enough to damage an adult’s hearing.

    The fact is that there is no real need for very young children to be on flights. Any reason an adult gives you for taking their child with them will be something that benefits the adult, the child will be too young to even remember it. And seriously, who is paying like £900 to take a baby on a long-haul flight? Clearly got more money than sense.

  • TonyA_says

    There was no consequence for this a**hole. Cathay Pacific was not going to divert or go back to JFK to get him out of the flight. I would bet all 5 or 6 rows in our cabin would vote to kick him out rather than the Chinese baby boy that did cry a bit during our almost 16 hour nonstop trip. Sorry you can’t seem to stand babies. I don’t think they are intentionally trying to irritate me do I really do not mind flying eith them. We have 3 kids so we understand.

  • Ella

    Have to laugh at the assumption that I dislike babies :-D I simply object to adults who, for usually incredibly selfish reasons, drag babies onto long-haul flights with absolutely NO idea how the child will act. They don’t even care that their child may well be in excruciating pain for a large part of the flight (babies cannot regulate their gases the way adult’s can and can be in extreme abdominal pain!) It’s up to Cathay Pacific how they handle obnoxious adults but fact is they CAN apply lifelong bans (and many airlines do). The fact that the one child didn’t cry is neither here nor there, the parents couldn’t have known prior to the flight how he would be. He could have screamed hysterically for 16 hours. Adults can be, and usually are, dealt with on flights, sometimes even being arrested upon landing, but the issue with babies is that no airline wants to tackle bad parents. No objection to babies, just rotten parents. It’s not a human right to be on a flight, and there is very little good reason to have a young child on a flight, it’s almost always just selfishness on the parents’ part. Do you really think a young kid wants to be forced to be still and quiet for 16 hours?????

  • TonyA_says

    Why don’t you think there is real need for babies or young children to be on flights? Can’t they immigrate or relocate with their parents. We moved to the East Coast when my second son was two weeks old.

  • Ella

    FYI I also have kids. Did I take them on flights as young children? No, there was no need. If there was a funeral abroad that we couldn’t easily sail to then one of us went and the other stayed with the kids. We missed a wedding. Fact is, people actually understand that when you have kids it may prevent you doing some things, no-one minds that at all. We didn’t take our children abroad on holiday either until they were actually old enough to remember it in future years. It’s always worth parents considering WHY they take their children on flights. If they are honest with themselves they will usually find it’s because of something they want to do, rather than being for the child.

  • Ella

    Of course people will emigrate Tony, but given that flights I go on have at least 3 families with very young children it’s highly unlikely that they are all emigrating. Indeed it’s fairly unlikely that any of them are. I’m quite sure if it was only children emigrating that were on flights then there would be no public issue with children misbehaving on flights because it would be a fairly rare experience for most of us. And on the flights I’ve been on you can hear the parents talking about the holiday. The up-in-arms parents need to understand that this situation has only actually come about because of the parents who fail to carry out their societal duty of raising their children properly. It’s not the people who want to experience a reasonably peaceful flight that are at fault, the problem is being caused by bad parents, they are the issue.

  • Martha Brown

    I agree there shouldn’t be an extra charge, a toll for the childfree. But if given the option, I’d pay $20-$30 extra per ticket for a childfree zone. 3 hour flights from Orlando to Denver are a nightmare with crying children

  • LFH0

    I remember the “commercial” produced by WestJet regarding its child-free cabin service known as “Kargo Kids.” It is available for viewing at http://www.westjet.com/kargokids

  • TonyA_says

    A less than 2 year old crying on an airplane is not the fault of the parent. It is normal for babies to cry. They and their parents have the same right to be on an airplane as you do. That is the way I understand our common carriage laws in the USA. I have no idea how Malaysia does it. But then again that is a place that is known to put Indians and Chinese below local Muslim Malays so it’s not surprising they can ban babies on certain cabins in their airlines. Air Asia operates in many ASEAN countries. I doubt they can do the same in their other Asian operations.

  • Ella

    It is the fault of the parent Tony, the baby/toddler certainly didn’t ask to be on the plane, and it probably has no desire to be on the plane either. Also, you seem to be mistaken as to what a ‘right’ is. There are certain rights afforded to all of us by private companies AS LONG AS we obey certain reasonable social rules. Those rules must be applied to children as well as to adults, in the case of children you’ll find most people are happy for a little bit of extra allowance to be made, but to have a child screaming constantly for a flights upwards of even 90 minutes can be incredibly distressing. And so it is right that airlines start to apply those rules and take action against parents who don’t bother to consider other passengers.

    You may not realise it has been scientifically proven that parents do not hear their child’s cry as loudly as others hear it. Because the child is theirs a mechanism in the brain kicks in which blocks the noise slightly for them, but not for others. You may also not be aware that quite a high number of people have brains that become hyperactive when subjected to certain types of noises for long periods of time, particularly car alarms, babies cries etc. This isn’t their fault, in fact it’s a perfectly natural part of being human, we weren’t designed for dealing with sustained loud noises at high frequencies. For those people (including other children and babies might I add) a prolonged child’s cry can be incredibly distressing and make them feel physically ill for many hours (even more than a day) afterwards. Of course since they aren’t the one causing the disturbance they DO have every right to be on the plane. It is only in recent times that this reaction is being measured and recognised, so it it likely it will be found to apply to quite a substantial percentage of the population. Still, the simple fact is that a child’s cry can damage an adult’s ear drum and so it is reasonable to expect that parents are sensible about where they take their children. Enclosed metal cages are not a suitable environment.

    You seem to desperate to justify something that isn’t justifiable. We are all subject to social rules, children included, and until the children are old enough to obey those rules of their own accord it is up to their parents to work around it with minimum disruption to the rest of society. That is part of our role as parents, WE chose to have children, the rest of society didn’t get a say in it, they certainly shouldn’t have to put up with bad behaviour just because we have failed in our role. Typical selfish parent attitude to think that anyone else should put up with a disturbance being caused by their child.

  • TonyA_says

    Me desperate? Nope, I am just used to reality. I travel long distances so I need to tune out all this non-issues to still have a decent experience. I have no problem travelling with babies. I have with brats throwing temper tantrums.

    My wife taught disadvantaged and autistic kids in our public school in Connecticut so I do get the regular dose of kid stories. Nothing new here.

  • Ella

    Tony, I am also used to reality and travel long distances. The fact is that if you have no problem travelling with excessively noisy babies then you clearly haven’t experienced such a flight :-D No-one has a problem travelling with babies, they just rightly expect to be protected from a damaging level of noise (regardless of who or what is making the noise that IS actually a human right!)

    Still, I’m glad to note your concern for the baby whose parents drag it onto a long-haul flight with absolutely no regard for the fact that the baby could spend all that flight in excessive pain!!!! Great parenting that, should give them a medal for their intelligence :D

  • TonyA_says

    Ever tried ear plugs? They are cheaper than Bose units.

  • Ella

    It’s good to note that even on here some parents show no regard for others, almost as if they think they are more important and that the rest of society should make an exception and allow them to break the rules. All anyone asks is that passengers on flights are protected from excessive noises (no matter who or what is making the noise). Anyone who has an issue with such a simple request really needs to learn that they are not the centre of the universe.

    We are all humans, we all have to live together, and to do so happily we all have to abide by some reasonable (but unwritten) social rules. These are generally that we can do what we like as long as we don’t negatively impact on someone else. The term for excessive noise is ‘noise pollution’ and it is a bigger factor than many people think in causing health problems. And much as it sounds very clinical, any excessive noise that we are subjected to for a fair period of time IS noise pollution. It can exacerbate physical health problems and, even moreso, any existing mental illness (even very mild mental illness).

    The fact is that it is only our right to go on a private mode of transportation, to a privately own establishment (i.e. restaurant, cafe etc.) if we continue to obey the social rules within that place. As soon as we make a nuisance of ourselves we risk being permanently banned and rightly so. It is NOT a human right to go to any of these places (if you think it is then please go acquaint yourself with the charter).

    It is perfectly reasonable to expect that anyone who causes a disturbance on a flight will have action taken against them (or the parents) and will have cause to think twice before doing the same again. When people do not even bother to abide by basic social rules it is the start of society breaking down. It should really be concerning the majority of decent people that so many parents in today’s society think that they are exempt from the social norms simply because they have children! My generation didn’t think that way, nor did the generations before us, but today we seem to have a generation of self-entitled precious little parents who think they and their children should be an exception to the rule.

  • Ella

    I’m growing my hair longer so I can use them and have my hair cover them. Airline stewards tell you to take them out during take-off, landing and when there is turbulence. If they allowed them then I suspect few people would be bothered by crying children as they could listen to loud music to block it out! It’s stupid that it isn’t allowed, the argument is allegedly safety and being able to hear announcements, but profoundly deaf people use planes.

  • DCTA

    You know, after reading all this, I think what I would like on the really big planes with multiple cabins in Coach, would be a “quiet zone”. And yes, I would pay extra for that. And I think being a “quiet zone” it could easily be limited to passengers over 6 years old?

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