Should there be child-free zones on planes and trains?

Toddler on a plane

An airline says it will offer baby-free "quiet zones" on its flights. Should all planes and trains follow suit, or do adults need to learn to live with child passengers?

At 35,000ft, the klaxon-like howl of a distressed toddler screeches through a pressurised cabin.

For travellers already stressed by lengthy security checks, crammed into cramped seating and unnerved by the very fact of being so high above ground, it's almost enough to make them shatter the Plexiglas windows and jump.

And it's a source of anxiety for the embarrassed parents, too, desperately trying to pacify their wailing offspring while facing disapproving stares from fellow adults.

One airline is offering what it says is a solution. Budget carrier Air Asia says from February it will provide a "quiet zone" for passengers aged 12 and over at no extra cost.

2012 child-free travel news

Children at an airport
  • 2012 survey claims a majority of British travellers supported child-free flights
  • Malaysian Airlines ban children from top deck of A380 aircraft
  • WestJet announce plan (on April Fool's Day) to pack children in boxes in cargo hold

Separated from the rest of the cabin by toilets and bulkheads, these seven rows of economy class seats should be immune from the sound of infant tantrums, the company claims.

It is following the example of Malaysia Airlines, which in April announced it would limit families with children sitting on the upper deck of its Kuala Lumpur to London service.

For the childless and the easily irritable, it may be a blessed relief.

Equally, many parents will surely be disgruntled at the suggestion they should be segregated from other passengers like second-class citizens.

But others accustomed to getting around with offspring in tow can see the point.

Cathy Winston, 35, who runs the MummyTravels blog about her journeys with her 10-week-old daughter, is planning to fly both of them to the Spanish island of Lanzarote in November.

She is determined that her love of travelling should not be curtailed. But she believes a dedicated family compartment would at least mean she wouldn't have to worry about reproachful looks.

Start Quote

Cathy Winston

If I knew that all the people around me had chosen to sit there, it would take some of the stress off”

End Quote Cathy Winston MummyTravels blog

"I know from before I had my daughter what it's like when you're trying to get some sleep and there's a baby crying," she says.

"If I knew that all the people around me had chosen to sit there, it would take some of the stress off."

Hitherto, the sound of noisy or distressed children was one that all users of mass transit were expected to tolerate.

Typically, UK train operators which provide "quiet coaches" instruct commuters not to use their phones and ensure music devices aren't heard by other passengers - but no mention is made of infant noise pollution.

Certainly, there appears to be support for segregation. In April, a survey of 1,666 British adults by found that 53% supported child-free flights.

A poll by Tripadvisor in August found that over a third of Britons would be prepared to pay extra to travel by air without the presence of children.

But although airlines could presumably charge a healthy premium for the privilege of no-infant compartments, there might be logistical difficulties.

What about in restaurants?

The continuous wail of two nearby infants, caterwauling at subtly different pitches, can be enough to disrupt the gastronomic experience of even the hardiest of diners.

And a similar level of stress can be suffered by parents with young children, as they garner irked looks from the childless adults two tables away.

But people with young children don't stop wanting to have some sort of social life.

Sensitive parents have a social sword of Damocles hanging over them. Many sit there aghast at the thought that the noise or behaviour of their children is about to spark upset at another table.

In smaller aircraft, with different layouts to those used by Air Asia and Malaysia Airlines, screening off the sound of crying children will not always be practical. Adult-only flights would mean reducing the number of available customers, and thus have a negative impact on profitability.

And perhaps most importantly, introducing segregation would risk infuriating families who resent the idea they should be treated as second-class citizens.

After all, there are no separate schedules or compartments for adults who impinge on the peace and quiet of others by snoring, for instance, or taking off their shoes to unleash malodorous feet.

Arguably, part of the deal when travelling in economy class or on low-cost carriers is that you have to put up with other people's irritating habits in extremely close quarters.

Simon Calder, travel editor of the Independent, has taken his two daughters around the world with him. He believes families who pay for their tickets should not be discriminated against.

"I very, very much think that people need to be tolerant," he says. "People who have a problem with children on flights need to get over it.

"If they don't like it, I have two words for them - ear plugs. We're living in the 21st Century where people have iPods."

Perhaps, while they're listening, they can play a lullaby.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Can I also have a zone free from: people who push and shove; people with movies on their iPads but no headphones; people with headphones but music turned up so loud that all I can hear is 'zzz , tzzz, tzzz ' for hours; people who fall asleep and think I'm a pillow; drunks. Give me kids anytime ... and before you ask I haven't got young kids of my own any more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    We would all like to have our own private flight but until we are all millionares we have to get by with whomever we share the cabin with including children, fat people, thin bony people, tall people, short people, bald people, hairy people, smelly people, nice smelling sexy voluptious people and best of all whingy moaning people who believe they are important and deserve their own private flight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    It's better all round for everyone:
    - Parents are not saddled with guilt facing keeping an irritable child quiet for 10 hours
    - Other passengers don't get kicked in the back
    - Cabin staff can tailor their service to an area and ensure families can sit together.

    However, I'd object entirely to the concept of them having to pay more, or being denied tickets if the area is full with other parents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    I've never had a problem with children on planes; I've encountered a fair few adults who I'd pay good money to avoid, though.

    Mrs Vee
    (Mum and Grandma)

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Same as Clum... YES!!! Most parents don't know/care what effect their brats have on others who want a bit of peace and quiet. Planes, boats, buses, trains... oh, and pubs. Pubs are very definitely an adult venue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    May I suggest special zones for drunks and loudmouths, give me a crying baby any day - at least they have an excuse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    @andysuth...if you want to take your children, pay extra for business class...

    In fairness i have never experienced any children issues on a plane, i went on an 11 hour flight and a lady sat next to me with a newborn in her arms....didnt make a sound all flight, i moaned more

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    No matter how stressed the other passengers are you can guarantee the parents will be more stressed having to have gone through the same ordeal as the other passengers but without the comfort of listening to an iPod.

    I don't think having a family compartment is a class issue. Anyone with children is far more relaxed in family areas with other people in the same situation and would appreciate it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    It is odd isn't it that there seems to be this inbuilt assumption that it is only kids that make noise on planes, kick or push the back of seats or generally act like a pain in the behind, from my experience adults can be just as bad. I don't like the notion of demonising children or young people. Why not go the whole hog & insist they get put in cargo with no heating or oxygen

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    I would like to see child-free days at museums and art galleries as well. A child under 5 does not get anything out of these places other than somewhere free to run around screaming

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Isn't this what business class is for?

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Sorry but most of the people forget they were a child ones. I really don't understand people complaining about children on flights, the behaviour of a child during a flight is very unpredictable even if a child has got good behaviour. Myself I fly at least twice with my kids, one of them is autistic, but what are the choices?, not to travel till you are 18?, totally ridiculous this article.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Simon Calder - you should realise that most children cry during landing and take-off. Ipods, etc are meant to be switched off then, so that's not a solution. Ear plugs are a ridiculous suggestion. What makes more sense - to have a few families sit in a child-friendly section, or for 300 other passengers to buy earplugs? I, for one, would be happy to sit in a child-friendly section with my kids.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Sure! immediately after we've sorted out special areas for overweight people, people with bad body odour, people who play their music too loud, people who have to fold out their entire newspaper, etc etc etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    This'll give the O'Learys of the world another excuse to charge people. If it's free and set up on a first-come, first-served basis then that's fair enough, but it's absolutely screaming out as a potential "added extra".

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    I generally can't hear screeching children over incessant cabin crew announcements of the availability of refreshments, duty free luxury goods and raffle draw tickets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Many people, parents in particular do not take responsibility for their actions and are willing to be combative against anyone raising an objection against their behavior.
    Restaurants as well as aircraft and shops are made uninhabitable by the ignored screeching of these children. Segrigation is an excellenct option and the cost should be born 100% by the parents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Peace at last, peace at last- thank God, peace at last.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    As a parent, YES. Knowing you're in a cabin with someone who is child free and has little tolerance for them only adds to everyone's stress levels.

    Although people should still aim to keep their kids from being a nuisance, at least being in a zone where people have accepted the potential irritation of younger travellers might allow for more understanding.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    The sooner we have factory farms for babies the better. Leave them there until 18 then put them in the army the better!

    Father of twins


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