Carriers haven’t received significant negative feedback.
SYDNEY – Andy Curr says her worst ever in- flight experience was brought on her by her own offspring.
Curr, a web designer from Sydney, was traveling from London to Bangkok about three years ago when her second-youngest daughter, then 20 months, “screamed all the way,” she said. The wailing got her older children going, too.
“Once one goes off, they all start,” said Curr, 41.
Balancing the needs of customers wanting a peaceful trip with those of harried parents has become a major challenge for airlines trying to cater to both groups. Singapore Airlines’ budget carrier Scoot unveiled a childfree zone for passengers prepared to pay extra, following AirAsia X and Malaysian Airline System, who also segregate kids.
Seat-kicking and unruly children came ahead of drunken passengers, rude cabin crew, and lecherous neighbors as onboard annoyances in a July survey by British financial services comparison website Gocompare. Respondents said they’d be prepared to add $78 to the cost of a return flight if they could sit in childfree zones.
“People love their own kids, but they might not necessarily love someone else’s to the same extent,” said Scoot Chief Executive Officer Campbell Wilson. “Allowing someone the option of traveling with the assurance of not having young children around is simply one of the many choices you have.”
Carriers who’ve introduced child-free zones say they haven’t received significant negative feedback. “Getting choice means you are satisfying both sets of people,” said Azran Osman Rani, CEO of AirAsia X. “Even families with kids are positive because now they are in the other zone and they feel less guilty.”
CNN correspondent Richard Quest encouraged followers on his Twitter feed to echo his call to “ban babies in business class,” in an Aug. 28. posting.
Some airlines are responding. Malaysian Airline introduced a largely child-free upper deck on its A380 aircraft when they entered service July 1, 2012.
Other carriers are trying to be more accommodating. From Oct. 1, Japan Airlines Co. will reserve the four rearmost economy seats on routes between Tokyo and Honolulu for women who want to breast-feed or apply makeup.
Etihad Airways PJSC has hired consultants from Norland College, a British child-care training center, to teach child psychology and sociology to about 500 cabin crew designated as “flying nannies” on the Middle-East carrier’s long-haul flights, a free service available in all classes.
The introduction of child-free zones risks backfiring if it alienates parents and will probably work only for budget airlines, said Andrew Wong, regional director for Europe and Australia at TripAdvisor’s flights unit. “It’s a bit of a tricky area for full-service carriers,” he said. “You don’t really want to vilify parents traveling with kids; they’re people just like you and me.”
Still, branding children as the biggest source of in-flight annoyance isn’t fair, said Curr, the web designer. “You can’t choose who you fly with,” she said. “Adults are usually the worst-behaved, and drunk sometimes.”