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?