Crying Kids on Planes Spawn Childfree Zones to Nannies

Crying Kids on Planes Spawn Childfree Zones to Nannies

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 Ltd. (SIA)’s budget carrier Scoot unveiled a childfree zone for passengers prepared to pay extra, following AirAsia X Bhd. and Malaysian Airline System Bhd, 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 ($78.6) 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 an extra S$14.95 for 41 economy-class seats directly behind business class with three inches of extra legroom, where children under 12 aren’t allowed.Heated Debate

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,” Azran Osman Rani, CEO of AirAsia X Bhd. “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 Inc. feed to echo his call to “ban babies in business class”, in an Aug. 28. posting.

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.

Tin Can

“You’re all in one tin can, so it’s a little bit difficult to keep everyone happy,” said Marcus Osborne, a father of three and a partner at branding consultants FusionBrand Sdn. Bhd. in Kuala Lumpur. “If I had the option to sit in an area where there were no kids, I would probably jump at the chance.”

Other carriers are trying to be more accommodating. From Oct. 1, Japan Airlines Co. will reserve the four rear-most economy seats on routes between Tokyo and Honolulu for women who want to breastfeed or apply make-up.

Etihad Airways PJSC has hired consultants from Norland College, a U.K. childcare training center, to teach child psychology and sociology to about 500 cabin crew designated as “flying nannies” on the Middle-East carrier’s long-haul flights, a free service available in all classes.

Smokers, Screamers

The orange-aproned nannies seek to make traveling easier for parents by serving children’s meals early in the flight and offering infant activities ranging from magic tricks to origami and sock puppets. CEO James Hogan introduced a similar program in 2003 while CEO of Bahrain’s Gulf Air.

“We have received fantastic feedback from guests from right around the world,” said Aubrey Tiedt, Etihad Airways’ Vice President Guest Services.

The introduction of child-free zones risks backfiring if it alienates parents and will probably only work for budget airlines, said Andrew Wong, regional director for Europe and Australia at TripAdvisor Inc.’s flights unit.

“It’s a bit of a tricky area for full service carriers,” he said. “You don’t really want to vilify parents traveling with kids, they’re people just like you and me.”

Segregating an aircraft cabin used to be common in the days of smoking sections, which have been all-but eradicated from global commercial aviation in the past decade. Like smoke, a child’s screams waft over several rows, so Scoot and AirAsia X separate their child-free zones from the rest of the cabin with toilet blocks and Malaysian puts them on a separate floor.

A child’s scream can be as loud as 105 decibels, louder than a chainsaw or subway train, according to the American Tinnitus Association. People exposed to sounds above 85 decibels should wear earplugs, according to the group.

Still, branding children as the biggest source of in-flight annoyance isn’t fair, given the behavior of some adults on flights, said Curr, the Sydney web designer. She’s started a blog about traveling with her four children at age 3 to 14 on her website, which advises on “getting there without going insane.”

“You can’t choose who you fly with,” she said. “Adults are usually the worst-behaved, and drunk sometimes.”

To contact the reporters on this story: David Fickling in Sydney at; Heesu Lee in Seoul at

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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