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 1 April) 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 103.

    I do wonder why some parents take small children and particularly babies on non essential flights. Seems like a hell of a lot. of work and possibly stressful to babies who cant be able to understand why their ears are popping. There must also be safety issues for sitting infants on laps on aircraft. Maybe best to wait till they are a little older

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    29.Aqua Suliser
    ........marred by being ”trapped” in the row in front of 3 lads whose idea of having a fun start to their holiday was by conversing loudly and aggressively in sentences where every other word began with “F” or “C”. Give me the company of babies/toddlers over such individuals any day........

    ....................HEAR, HEAR...well said !!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    One word for Simon Calder - Condoms!
    Families might resent the idea of being treated as second class citizens yet have no compunctions at all when it comes to treating the childless as such. "When you have kids, you'll understand" why all the best parking spots are parent/child, why parking restrictions don't apply outside school gates, & why most of the shopping vouchers are family oriented.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    I dont inflict my dogs on others why should they inflict there children on me?

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    Yes, of course there should be child-free areas on planes. People with children have made a lifestyle choice and should not expect everyone to suffer for it also.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Quite simply yes please. I think these zones are needed these days because too many parents don't control their kids. When I was a kid my parents told me to shut up if I yelled, sit down if I ran amok and as for pubs - my sister & I won't be the only ones that sat in the car with a bottle of coke and a packet of crisps (once or twice a year at most!).

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Reply #74.Jon
    Are you seriously suggesting that the people in the wrong are those not disturbing others? Surely the right to peace and quiet comes before the right to be a bloody nuisance?

    Agree with you about the seats though (and trains are as bad these days when it comes to seating too).

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Lot of righteous comments from parents. I have children so everyone else can put up with them. I don't have to be considerate at all and I will teach my child to be just as selfish as I am. Er, no.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Maybe the lack of children in your life is causing you to all be so miserable. Put up or shut up. Don't like it?? then charter your own flight!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Having experienced sitting next to unsupervised kids in economy, whose parents were in business, and the kids jumping all over the seats all through a flight from NY to London Heathrow, I would, personally, welcome child freezones.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    I'm not against children on flights totally, but it seems that the parents of the majority think it's fine for their kids to run up and down screaming and shouting if it keep them out of their (the parents) hair. Last long haul flight we were on there were two small children running up and down the aisles all night while the parents put in ear plugs and pulled the blankets up over their heads.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    There is already a child-free zone on airplanes - its called the cockpit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Noisy children on planes are just part of life, why shouldn't they go on holiday with their families?
    But bad mannered adults - ban them! Shouting, swearing, being rude to staff and others around them, pushing into queues, eating like pigs at a trough, taking up too much room with their huge bellies and elbows digging into you.
    I would much rather have a young child beside me, crying or not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    I really don't understand why not wanting to hear a baby scream is anti-baby. Creating a special zone is not an agressive measure. Silence is one of the most precious things in life and should be secured for people who travel and are either heading for business or are simply tired.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    No - this is plainly stupid. Would I opt to sit in a child-free zone if I was travelling without children? Of course! Who wouldn't? Do I want to be rammed into the child-free zone while the child-zone has spare seats? Is the child-zone going to be sealed, or is it going to be like the smoking/non-smoking divide of old? Anyway, children need to learn to live in society, not be excluded.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    @ 23. Romana

    Pray tell me how I should "control" a baby from bawling due to air pressure differentials across her ears? I await you enlightening response with much anticipation!

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    I think people tend to be more forgiving about these things when they aren't being treated like a cross between cattle and potential terrorists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    It doesn't bother me so much on planes as it's just a necessary evil. I frequently traveled by train from Glasgow to Newcastle booked the quiet coach in the hope of some peace.That rarely happened either due to noisy kids understandably bored or as I traveled Friday night/Sunday afternoon, full of stag/hen parties either getting drunk or being hungover. Neither should really be in the quiet coach!

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    This highlights glaring inadequacies in parenting, these kids may go on in life to be arrogant unemphatic adults with little respect for others or authority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Aidy, were you a child once? I think people should start ot be more tolerent and then you might find that children are less fractious.


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