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 83.

    Moving to business class does not help. I had to endure a business class flight with a child continually kicking the back of my seat.

    When I complained to the mother she was suddenly unable to understand English, even though she had been speaking to the cabin crew in English.

    The cabin crew didn't want to get involved.

    The trouble is too many parents think their darling kids can do no wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    Child free zones everywhere please! I love kids. but sometimes I don't want them around. Admittedly a lot of it is due to bad parenting - letting them run around, shout, sick your chair etc.

    I tend to do a lot of work on the train and it is difficult to concentrate when there is a child shouting. They should certainly be banned from quiet carriages.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Show me an adult who complains about crying babies, and I'll show you someone who was once a crying baby themself. And all the parenting skills in the world can do nothing about it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    I'd like to suggest that groups of adults who have been drinking and continue to do so on a plane, are given a special compartment where young kids can't overhear their language. I find them much more disruptive and embarrassing than a child who cries. I often feel like joining in with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.


    Although there are some parents or should I say adults who can't control themselves in a confined space. What makes you think they can control their children?

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    I sit on a plane I keep quiet bother no one else, I have no right to. Why should someone bother me esp a child continually crying, screaming, being a nuisance, parents dont care, offended if you complain. Why am I the villain? If I sat behind, kicked their seat, shouted in their ear? Id be off the plane... OH theyre just kids, so, youre an adult discipline them keep them quiet not bother others.

  • Comment number 77.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Yes ! babies an wee children screaming in tantrums etc make flights unbearable , introduce it to trains too . !!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    If you're a parent taking a new born baby on a plane you should probably reconsider your priorities and not go abroad for your holiday.

    Why are you taking the baby in the first place? It's not self-aware. It's not going to appreciate the hotel or the nice beaches or whatever else you go on holiday for. You go there to relax, no? Then why are you taking your baby? Go go skegness or something.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    I think the people who are annoyed with babies/children crying on planes should get over it, what are families to do stay at home and never holiday? We all paid the same for the ticket so we should be treated the same. Either go First Class or stop moaning.
    People are saying you should make travel tollerable for all passengers, maybe the carriers should look at seat size 1st
    6ft 4" Father of 1

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    I agree this should be offered. I know it's never easy for parents with children who are loud and usually quite irritable for being cooped up for so long but it's also unfair for others who don't have kids.
    The last thing anyone wants is to be sat with a kid kicking the back of the chair (whilst their parents don't stop them), screaming for attention and generally being annoying.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    @11 Aidy......That is the most horrendous comment! I take it you have no kids then and undoubtedly never will. I also assume you were perfection itself in your childhood, sitting still and quietly on any journey, never uttering a word unless spoken to.... I really feel sorry for you, for you must be the most miserable human being. So sad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    I have never been on an aeroplane but could this be noted by cross channel ferry companies as i pay for peace and quiet and not only the children are a problem but the mums and dads shouting at them to be quiet is just as bad

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    What about a space that excludes fat people? I'd rather children than a neighbour oozing over my seat

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Great. Now if we could only segregrate the drunken louts off on a stag weekend, the self important business man who needs to talk on the phone the minute the plane lands and the fat woman with sweaty armpits then all would be hunky dory.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    In fact why bother have children at all. Then in about 100 years it'll be really quiet and calm everywhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    And not before time - hope BA and Alitalia are listening. Noise pollution is noise pollution - whether it's some prat gabbing away on his mobile at full volume, some teen playing some noisy game or yowling brats.

    I'm generally an admirer of Simon Calder, but on this occasion he's got it badly wrong. I'd be quite happy to pay, say, an extra £10 per seat per sector for a bit of peace and quiet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Good God yes ! And in restaurants. I have chosen to keep my legs closed so I don't see why I have to put up with the result of other people who haven't. The other option would be a ball gag which would work wonders.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    a small child sprawled itself across its seat and my lap at night on a long haul flight. as a male travelling alone i was never going to touch the child so spoke to the stewardess. "what can we do about this" i said pointing to the kid. She said "well, everyones asleep. So i'll get the child, you get the door and we'll say no more about it!"

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    children should have their own special areas on all flights, in a steel cage on a rope 100 meters behind the plane.


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