If you’ve heard a lot of talk about banning babies from planes, here’s why: A European charter airline just announced it will start offering an adults-only section on some of its transatlantic flights next month.
That has some air travelers fantasizing about baby-free flights. And you know what? Maybe they’re onto something.
Airlines already place common-sense limits on young passengers. For example, on United Airlines, infants younger than seven days of age can’t fly. And lately, there’s been an earnest discussion about keeping little ones out of business class. Why draw a line there?
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No one’s suggesting a ban on babies, or even kids, from all flights. That wouldn’t make sense for passengers or airlines.
“Banning children from flights would be a financial disaster for airlines,” explained Mike Taylor, J.D. Power’s managing director for travel and hospitality. That’s because leisure travel currently accounts for two-thirds of all air travel revenues, and people sometimes take their kids on vacation with them despite the screams, tantrums and meltdowns (theirs and their kids’).
But maybe it’s time for a little course correction when it comes to children. Maybe there are places we should keep baby-free, such as a section of the plane, or the entire plane. I’ll get to that in just a minute.
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What’s an ‘Only Adults’ section on a plane?
The debate over kids on planes started when Corendon recently announced it would start selling an “Only Adults” section for passengers 16 and older on flights between Amsterdam and the Caribbean island of Curaçao.
The “Only Adults” zone, located in the front section of Corendon’s Airbus A350, consists of nine XL seats with extra legroom and 93 standard seats. The section will be partitioned from the rest of the aircraft by walls and curtains, creating a shielded environment “that contributes to a quiet and relaxing flight,” according to the company.
One of the primary motivations for the airline seems to be money. A seat reservation in the “Only Adults” zone costs an additional $48 per flight. And an XL seat in the section costs an extra $106 each way. But Corendon says it will also benefit passengers, because a select few will arrive in the Dutch Caribbean well-rested and ready for their vacation.
“This zone on the plane is intended for travelers traveling without children and for business travelers who want to work in a quiet environment,” it said in a news release.
Corendon did not respond to my questions about its new “Only Adults” section, and I suspect I know why. This is a hot-button issue for air travelers.
Do babies belong on flights? Some passengers think so
There are some passengers who believe airlines shouldn’t restrict young passengers from flying anywhere.
“This whole discussion is nonsense,” said Corinne McDermott, founder of Have Baby Will Travel, a family travel website. “People seem to forget that babies and toddlers are people. And we want our children to grow up to be the kind of open-minded and caring individuals who would offer a helping hand to a parent, instead of the cold shoulder. Don’t we?”
Colleen Carswell, a hospitality consultant and family travel expert, said restricting children may be an easy solution, but it will have long-term consequences.
“I don’t think they’re going to like the humans they grow up to be,” she says.
The solution to noisy kids isn’t to keep them isolated at home, according to Carswell. This does a “tremendous disservice” to the human collective by raising children with shame and judgment instead of compassion. Instead, she suggests we should welcome all passengers on board, regardless of their age.
They’re not wrong. I’m grateful that airlines allowed babies and young children on flights when I was a young father. I took my son, Aren, on his first flight when he was barely a month old. When he was a toddler, we flew with him to Europe and were lucky enough to get an upgrade to business class. Today, Aren is a well-adjusted world traveler who speaks three languages. If I couldn’t fly with him as a boy, it might have been difficult to pull that off.
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Why kids don’t belong on planes
There’s an equally compelling argument that we should place sensible limits on babies. Some may have physiological challenges that make a flight unbearable. Others may not have the temperament to sit in a pressurized aluminum tube for hours.
Etiquette consultant Jodi RR Smith admitted she has dreamed of child-free flights, although she thinks it will never happen. She said the strongest argument is that keeping kids grounded is best for them. Some of them are just not ready to sit still for a 12-hour flight. But one of the biggest challenges for babies and toddlers is the pressure changes on the climb to and descent from cruising altitude.
“The child is often in excruciating pain, and it’s heart-wrenching for the parent who both wants to soothe the baby and is mortified at disturbing others,” she said.
Shelley Hunter, an innkeeper from Quincy, California, said airlines should be able to exclude kids from some flights. She recalled a recent flight from Reno to San Diego where she wished it had been “Only Adults.”
“There was a toddler who screamed at the top of his lungs and kicked the back of my seat for the entire flight,” she said. “The parents kept telling him what a good boy he was. He was not!”
No wonder 77% of parents admit they’ve dreaded flying with their kids, according to a survey by private air transportation company KinectAir. The parents say their kids are too loud and it’s difficult to keep their kids occupied.
All fair points. I’ve also found myself trapped on a plane with a screaming child (sometimes my own) and wish there were a way to avoid it. So what’s the solution?
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Maybe it’s time for kid-free flights
Before I had kids, I might have taken the radical and entirely impractical position that we should ban babies from every flight. Wait until the kids are old enough to sit quietly and equalize their ears before subjecting themselves to the indignities of air travel. Or, if I really wanted the website traffic, I could argue that kids under 16 should stay home. But I have three kids — and I know better.
Perhaps Corendon has the right idea. I think most of us already agree that kids don’t belong in places like bars, trade shows, and fine-dining restaurants. What harm could come from offering child-free sections — or even child-free flights?
I know, I know. The very idea of restricting kids in any way will offend some parents. But believe me, if your babies could talk, they would thank you for avoiding the torture of being strapped into a seat for hours and the piercing headache from the pressure on their ears. And I think your fellow passengers would be grateful, too.
Elliott’s tips for handling a screaming baby on a plane
Reality check: Babies will keep flying no matter what I write. So here are a few strategies for staying sane when a seat-kicking rugrat raises the decibel level on your next flight.
- Ask a flight attendant for help: If a baby doesn’t stop screaming, you can ask the parent to intervene (usually a terrible idea since the parents are already doing everything they can to make the baby stop), or you can appeal to a flight attendant. “Flight attendants are trained to assess in-flight issues and problem-solve,” said Sharon-Frances Moore, who runs a social etiquette company. The best solution may be to move you to a different seat, if available.
- Invest in a good pair of noise-canceling headphones or earplugs: “Noise-canceling headphones are always a good investment for frequent travelers,” said LaDell Carter, lead travel designer at Royal Expression Travels. “These can significantly reduce the impact of a screaming baby.” I like my pair of Sony WF-1000XM4 headphones, and I never leave home without them.
- Better yet, avoid the babies entirely: In my experience, most young parents prefer a morning flight if they fly domestically. And they avoid the overnight flights because they’re afraid Junior won’t sleep and will keep everyone up. Certain destinations like Orlando also attract a disproportionate number of young fliers. If you can book the red-eye, you can minimize your exposure to crying kids.
Christopher Elliott is an author, consumer advocate, and journalist. He founded Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps solve consumer problems. He publishes Elliott Confidential, a travel newsletter, and the Elliott Report, a news site about customer service. If you need help with a consumer problem, you can reach him here or email him at [email protected].