This week budget Indian airlines IndiGo announced child-free seating zones on all its planes. Some parents are in an uproar. I think it’s a great idea.
I’ve been writing about travel for more than a decade, first in magazines and newspapers, now on this blog focusing on family travel. I remember what it was like as a young single woman in row 17 listening to the ear-piercing sounds of the infant in row 18. “Why weren’t the parents calming that baby down?” I would ask myself, in complete ignorance of the realities of flying with young children.
Now as a parent myself — and one who has had her own crying child onboard — I’m a lot more sympathetic to the families themselves. But if someone is really averse to sitting next to young children, why should we insist they aren’t given that option? “I demand you endure my crying child, because I have to.”
Crying babies on planes are a stereotypical example — along with bad food and inconsiderate armrest hogs — of what can make flying tedious and stressful for both parents and other passengers. And IndiGo isn’t hte only airline catering to the desire for child-free space onboard — Malaysia Airlines and Singapore airline Scoot do as well, to name two.
How much less anxious does it make you as a parent, when your child throws a tantrum during dinner service, if the passengers around you are shooting you sympathetic glances rather than dirty looks?
How wonderful as an adult who wants to tune out and relax on a flight (imagine your honeymoon flight) to know that any noise from rambunctious children would be rows away, the equivalent of miles and miles on the ground?
To be sure, there are some issues with the child-free seating zones. One of IndiGo’s over-12s sections is at the front of the plane, exactly where you want to sit if you have to hustle off to make a connection. Other airlines have offered similar services — Malaysia Airlines and Singapore’s Scoot — but on very full flights you can imagine the policy could present a problem: If the last four seats available to a family are in the “quiet zone”, will they be allowed to book? (I have a feeling commerce will triumph over adult comfort in such cases….) Or if the adults-section books up, you could have a very grumpy grown-up seated next to you, pouting like a small child.
But if I were ever in any doubt about the mutual benefit of child-free seating zones on flights, an early experience with my daughter made it clear.
I was flying to New York from London with my four-month-old. On one side of me, a young twentysomething guy who, while friendly, was clearly disconcerted by both the baby and the breastfeeding. On the other side, an older woman who had children and grandchildren of her own. The granny struck up conversation, admired my daughter, even offered to hold her mid-flight while I stretched my legs. The guy had a quiet word with a flight attendant and disappeared to another seat soon after takeoff.
I hadn’t felt uncomfortable with him there, but knowing he was happier further from me and the baby in a way made me happier. It’s much better as a mum or dad to be around other passengers who are tolerant of the vagaries of flying with children than folks who sit simmering with tension and expectation that at any moment you and your child will ruin — RUIN! — their experience.
Let’s not forget that parents sometimes travel without their children as well, both for business and leisure. IndiGo and other airlines with no-kid zones may find unexpected customers for these special sections: Mums and dads traveling solo, looking for a bit of peace and quite of their own at 39,000 feet.
Does child-free seating in-flight create welcome spaces catering to customers, or engender an us vs. them mentality when it comes to kids?