Airlines move toward child-free seating

Bloomberg News /

Published Sep 15, 2013 at 05:00AM

SYDNEY — Andy Curr says her worst ever in-flight experience was brought on her by her own offspring.

Curr, a Web designer from Sydney, was traveling from London to Bangkok about three years ago when her second-youngest daughter, then 20 months, “screamed all the way,” she said. The wailing got her older children going, too.

“Once one goes off, they all start,” said Curr, 41.

Balancing the needs of customers wanting a peaceful trip with those of harried parents has become a major challenge for airlines trying to cater to both groups. Singapore Airlines’s budget carrier Scoot unveiled a childfree zone for passengers prepared to pay extra, following AirAsia X and Malaysian Airline System, who also segregate kids.

Seat-kicking and unruly children came ahead of drunken passengers, rude cabin crew, and lecherous neighbors as on-board annoyances in a July survey by British financial services comparison website Gocompare. Respondents said they’d be prepared to add 50 pounds ($78.60) to the cost of a return flight if they could sit in childfree zones.

“People love their own kids, but they might not necessarily love someone else’s to the same extent,” said Scoot Chief Executive Officer Campbell Wilson. “Allowing someone the option of traveling with the assurance of not having young children around is simply one of the many choices you have.”

Scoot charges extra for 41 economy-class seats directly behind business class with three inches of extra legroom, where children under 12 aren’t allowed.

There was “some very robust debate” in the office about the merits of the service, said Wilson, who doesn’t have children. Several colleagues who are parents favored a play area instead, he said. Carriers who’ve introduced child-free zones say they haven’t received significant negative feedback.

“Getting choice means you are satisfying both sets of people,” said Azran Osman Rani, CEO of AirAsia X. “Even families with kids are positive because now they are in the other zone and they feel less guilty.”

CNN correspondent Richard Quest encouraged followers on his Twitter feed to echo his call to “ban babies in business class,” in an Aug. 28. post.

Some airlines are responding. Malaysian Airline introduced a largely child-free upper deck on its A380 aircraft when they entered service on July 1, 2012. The carrier said it will only seat families in the 70 upper-deck economy seats if there’s no more room on the lower level.

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