A couple of years ago I shared a long-distance flight with a baby, her mother and grandmother. They were Asian, headed for Malaysia I think, and plain-looking folks. My sister and I were beside them up the front of the central block of seats in economy class -- a great position with lots of leg room and well worth the risk of finding a crying baby in the little cot that folded down from the wall. But I can’t remember hearing more than a gurgle or the odd grizzle from that baby all the way from Auckland to Kuala Lumpur. She slept in the cot most of the time and otherwise her minders cuddled and soothed her to her heart’s content.
I’ve sat near a young couple with a crying baby as well, and empathised with their mortification as the rest of the passengers fell silent, trying to sleep. Being no good at either sleeping on planes or comforting babies I could only offer condolences. I’m sure that even the most placid baby has its off days, and really, when you are booked to travel, you gotta go.
But it’s not just crying babies that have people complaining to the airlines; there are toddlers throwing tantrums as well, it seems, and general noisiness of young children. So airlines are starting to create kid-free zones.
No-frills carrier AirAsia, which connects south-east Asia and Australia, announced last week it will introduce “quiet zones” on its “X” flights -- seven rows of seats towards the front of an Airbus A330, behind the Premium FlatBed seats. Any group containing a passenger younger than 12 will not be able to book these seats, the Telegraph reports. (However, the Huffington Post says the AirAsia website shows exceptions may be allowed if “necessary for operational, safety or security reasons.”)
Malaysian Airlines has already taken steps in this direction. In June 2011 it banned infants in first class of its Boeing 747-400 jets, and in April this year extended the ban to children under 12 from the upstairs economy section of its A380 aircraft. The airline’s chief executive said the move was in response to a large number of complaints from passengers on Twitter about crying children.
The Telegraph reported at that stage that two-thirds of adults who responded to a survey said “loud children” were their biggest in-flight bugbear, and 53 percent supported child-free “flights” -- meaning no kids on some flights at all, apparently, which seems rather intolerant.
I guess this “problem” arises in part from more people flying these days. That is not going to change. Babies are always going to cry a bit -- and that won’t change. Cantankerous toddlers and badly behaved older kids indicate parenting failures, probably, and nothing can be done about that on one flight either. But banning children altogether from some area doesn’t seem fair to the families who cause no problems at all. And there is enough intolerance of children in the air already.
So what about tapping into that great pool of talent represented by the travellers without kids? There must be a few with great parenting skills, just as there seem to be some natural baby pacifiers, who could give the others a hand. I glanced at the comments on one article about this and a woman who said she had no kids had some good suggestions:
They can't help being children, but you can help being adults. If you are in a position to, offer to hold a baby for a while. Do you have some games on your computer? Switch seats with mom, and let the child play some games on your computer under your watchful eye. I now carry a deck of cards in my purse whenever I fly, just in case. Does mom have one in her lap and one next to her in the seat? Switch seats, and read books to the one in the seat. If there is nothing you can do, try to get interested in your book or music in your ears. It won't last forever. Suck it up.
Yes, if all we adults can do is whinge about what bothers us we are not much better than grown-up toddlers.