The Child-Free Flight: Super Idea or Slippery Slope?

By , Contributor

It started as an April Fool’s joke that Westjet and Ryanair both found quite amusing, and has now evolved into one of the most hotly contested airline topics in recent weeks — the child-free flight.

While Ryanair claimed that 50% of 1000 Europeans surveyed would pay higher ticket prices to avoid kids in cabins, and WestJet’s fictitious Kargo Kids program pledged to confine children to a special VIP area, the debate has sparked endless sparring between all types of travelers. It was mostly funny and a bit ridiculous to watch, or even think about, until it became real, and now it’s scary. And, this frequent-flying momma with a four-year-old who’s been an AAdvantage Platinum cardholder since her first year of life has a few opinions of her own on this subject.

Effective 1 July, Malaysia Airlines will introduce a special upper level economy deck on their new Airbus A380 from Kuala Lumpur to London that is indeed child-free. That’s right, no kids allowed. Families traveling with children under 12 will not be permitted to sit in the cabin no matter what they wish to pay. This comes on the heels of their controversial move just months ago to ban infants from the first class cabin on most flights.

While the airline says that the downstairs cabin will be enhanced, with the addition of extra lavatories and a dual airbridge for what they call “speedier embarkation and disembarkation,” they maintain the move is to enhance the appeal to higher-paying frequent and business travelers who feel they shouldn’t have their comfort compromised by noisy children.

Is this right? Is this okay? One has to wonder where you draw the line. A recent story by Keli Goff on Huffington Post is still drawing fierce, venomous comments and arguments back and forth by readers who either strongly agree or vehemently disagree with the question which ultimately becomes, “Where do you draw the line?”

Yes, sometimes children scream or misbehave, whether it be in stores or on flights. They’re not adults, they don’t think like we do, and in the case of younger kids, yes, they do sometimes cry in flight if they’re uncomfortable or hurting. That’s life; we all did it once when we were young, and some still do when they grow up. They have bad days (and flights) or good ones, just like we do and at the end of the day, if a family is willing to pay fares for particular cabins, or even for the right to fly in an economy seat, is it really acceptable to ban them based on a supposition of how an individual may or may not behave?

I’ve flown countless hours with my young daughter, who’s been to Europe, Africa, Asia, and back multiple times. Was she cranky at times? Yes, but guess what, so was I. And any noise or inconvenience she may have made in flight was absolutely nothing compared to the gentleman who sat next to us recently with a most unfortunate case of uncontrollable flatulence. Or the lady who was angry at me for having an aisle seat when she wanted it (and didn’t pre-book it), who just decided to keep getting up for the entire five-hour trip, causing me to fold up my laptop and move back and forth, feeling as though she had the right since “I warned you, I need my aisle, I get up a lot…”

What about people who can’t quite hold their drink, and get loud and rowdy, or “loud talkers” or those who sing along with the music piping into their headphones, disturbing the readers around them, or elderly folks who move slowly and block up the jetway? Should we start putting them in a new section too or ban them altogether? Seems to me that the only people who have made the news in recent times for disturbing a flight have been disgruntled in-flight staff, or highly intoxicated people — all adults, not children.

We live in a world that is supposed to promote tolerance, and we’re fortunate enough to have the right to travel the world. Banning someone based on a prejudged supposition based on age just seems like we’re taking a huge step back when we’ve come so far. Something just doesn’t seem right.

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A child of parents both heavily involved in the travel industry, Gabriella Ribeiro Truman was born to do her job. By day she owns and operates Trumarketing, a boutique sales, marketing and PR firm servicing tourism-related clients from around the world. Also a frequent blogger, she produces The Explorateur…

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