Travel: Should there be child-free flights?

Businessman in an Airplane Drinking

Nobody enjoys hearing the wail of a child on an airplane – it wakes you from your fitful uncomfortable doze, it drowns out even the sound of the engine, sets your teeth on edge and makes it hard to watch the reruns of Frasier. For parents, the problem is figuring out not just to keep your child happy but to keep them from making others unhappy.

Is the solution segregating passengers with child-free flights? An article this past weekend in the NYTimes quoted child-free passengers extolling the perceived virtues of such an arrangement. (Guess what, there’s a Facebook group for it.) Of course, as a parent, in theory I’d love to have a special area where kids could talk loudly, walk the aisles without my worrying about them bodging people, play on the floor. The NYT article quotes an industry expert who’s sceptical anything like that could come about, with an industry fighting for its life and the associated logistics problems.

Feministing suggests what we need isn’t child-free flights but family-friendly culture, where everyone amps up their tolerance levels and acknowledges that kids cry (you did too, when you were young). That’s a good rule to apply to everyone onboard – some people stand in the aisles, clueless, during boarding; some people hog the armrest; some people carouse during the universally acknowledged “sleeptime”. It’s easy to feel self-righteous about the person ruining “your” flight – although depending on whom you fly with, the airline might have already beat them to it.

I’m a journalist and blogger. Previously I was The Times’s online lifestyle editor and Alpha Mummy blogger. Now I’m co-founder of BritMums and BritMums Live! – our annual blogging conference that draws hundreds. Follow me on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and Google Profile+


  1. November 17, 2010 / 10:43 am

    So here’s an apocryphal story for this one (except this REALLY happened to a friend of mine). She and her family got on a flight to the West Indies in Business class. They had business class tickets (as you do – there have to be some benefits to flying all over the place for your work). As they sat down a woman across the aisle started to complain to the stewardess that she hadn’t paid for a business class flight to spend it being disturbed by a baby (my friend’s younger child was around a year). The stewardess listened gravely, looked at the family with the still silent baby, disappeared for a moment and then came back and upgraded my friend and her family to First.
    Respect to that woman.

  2. November 17, 2010 / 1:13 pm

    I tend only to travel on budget airlines – the type that expect you to jostle for your seat rather than have it allocated. I love flying with a baby. Because no one wants to sit near me and I have lots of room (hurrah!)

  3. November 17, 2010 / 1:50 pm

    @helloitsgemma – Yes, a baby is a sure aisle-clearer. We once flew business (thank you, air miles) when my daughter was a baby. You could hear the groans when we arrived, but in those nice big seats she slept the entire flight.
    @PottyMummy – LOVE that story. is this the kind of “it happened to a friend of mine…actually it was my cousin’s next door neighbour…but it’s true, I promise”?
    My only upgrade benefit was for a guy who sat next to me. I was breastfeeding so they upgraded HIM. oh well. At least the nice lady on my other side held my daughter so I could go to the loo.

  4. November 17, 2010 / 2:04 pm

    Wow, awesome story from pottymummy.
    Having kids myself I totally zone out other people’s kids and don’t care. I think there should be children only flights (I wrote a post about it once: and just turn the plane into one, big soft-play area with a ball pit.

  5. November 17, 2010 / 2:59 pm

    Sure – there should be child-only flights. You just have to pay extra for them. Wyy don’t those people just go and charter their own planes for god’s sake?
    And while we’re on, I would like flights to be free of:
    – people who yank the back of your seat because they’re so unfit they can’t get up unassisted when they need the loo. Wakes me up every time.
    – loud partyers on their long weekend away somewhere
    – people who stuff their carry-on into the first available bin (above your seat) so that you have to check your bag
    – people who are late, find their group/family seated all over the plane and then expect everyone to move around so they they can sit together.

  6. November 17, 2010 / 4:37 pm

    @MrShev – Great piece on your blog. Everyone should go to Mr Shev’s blog and read his travel post, which references Tenzing Norgay – an achievement in itself.
    I had trouble getting that link, so you can always try this one:

  7. November 22, 2010 / 10:10 am

    Jen, no, this did REALLY happen (although I totally get your sceptisism). Honest guv. Promise promise (the mum concerned used to be a flatmate of mine and I’m godmother to her daughter – is that close enough?)

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