Childfree Flights: Navigating the Unfriendly Skies?

There was a bit of a stir on the Maybe Lady Facebook page recently when I posted a link to an article from a Mom (Priyanka Kher) who was insulted by Malaysia Airline’s decision to offer premium-priced seats in a Childfree section of the plane. After fielding too many complaints over the years, and reviewing a survey that indicated one-third of passengers would pay extra to avoid seat-kicking and temper tantrums, they made a business decision to create Childfree sections on certain planes, and make other planes entirely Childfree.

Kher’s initial reaction was outrage, and most of the article went on to discuss how it’s actually parents who are the most distressed by having children on the plane, and they should be shown some compassion. She also felt that her rights were being infringed upon and that this was a sign of an increasingly intolerant social structure. When I posted this story on the Maybe Lady Facebook page, one reader went so far as to comment that this was the beginning of a slippery slope where we’d soon be calling for flights that were gay and Muslim-free or English-only.

Yowsa. That’s a lot of reaction for trying to create a quiet section of the plane – let’s break it down:

Feeling sorry for traveling parents.

I do feel terrible for parents who have to fly with kids. It seems like I can barely get myself through security without some kind of kerfuffle over whether lip gloss is a liquid, and I’m always panicked my toothpick arms won’t be able to lift my overstuffed carry-on into the overhead compartment. But this is entirely my own fault. It’s unlikely I need all nine pairs of shoes for a 3-day weekend, and could have checked a bag if I wasn’t such a cheap bastard, but well, there we are. And for parents who have the added mania of folding up strollers, packing enough distractions to get them through the flight, and worrying about a complete meltdown if the kid in front of them gets the last apple juice – well, that too is entirely their own doing. I feel for them – truly, I do – but that’s a choice they made long ago, having full prior knowledge of the consequences. Having compassion for them is not a good enough reason for me to disagree with what Malaysia Airlines is doing. Mainly because…

I don’t understand what “rights” are being limited or infringed upon here.

The right to sit amongst the Childfree or parents traveling without kids, who don’t want you sitting amongst them? Why is that even desired? As Kher herself and many of my friends with kids point out, their greatest worry is that their children will disturb other passengers. If they were all sitting together with people in the same boat, wouldn’t that take the anxiety down a notch? It seems tolerance would run high and struggling parents might even be able to better help each other out if they were all together.

It’s also strange to me that the Childfree are actually the ones being “segregated” – it’s a Childfree section, not a Kids-Only section – that’s being created. And it’s entirely voluntary! Childfree people who adore children are still free to sit amongst them and chat about everyone’s favorite color to their heart’s content. Wouldn’t it be great to know that the adult sitting next to your kid is one who enjoys being around them, or at least wasn’t willing to pay extra to not sit next to them?

This slippery slope looks more like a bunny hill to me.

Slippery slope arguments always, by nature, seem a little silly. I don’t doubt there are crappy people out there who do want flights that are free of gays, Muslims or anyone who doesn’t speak English. But to insinuate that this might be the next step? No airline in their right mind would enact that policy (talk about a PR nightmare), but more to the point, none of these groups consistently cry, shout, scream or kick the backs of the seats in front of them. These are the specific airplane behaviors Malaysia Airlines is looking to group together. It would be impossible to discriminate for those based on ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, but it is possible to identify groups more likely to exhibit these behaviors based on age. And yes, there are adults who cry, shout and kick seat-backs. I’m one of them when they run out of blankets on the red-eye. But it’s with nowhere near the consistency of children. If kids didn’t do it with alarming regularity, no one would even think of offering a Childfree flight. And you certainly wouldn’t get a one-third vote saying they’d pay extra for it (which, by the way, includes parents traveling without children).

Fine, let’s compromise.

I think a Childfree section of the plane is a marvelous idea, but there are likely too many dissenters for this to become mainstream anytime in the near future. So in the meantime, maybe this is a good opportunity to review some airplane etiquette. And lest I be accused of singling out children or attempting the ultimate no-no of providing parenting advice from the perspective of a Childfree person, the following commands apply to every human, regardless of age:

  • Do not kick the back of the seat in front of you. Unless there is a spider on it, then for God’s sake, crush it with a roundhouse that would make Steven Segal proud.
  • Read the visual cues of your neighbor: when you try to discuss where you think the value of the Euro is headed or show off your crayon drawing, does he/she look interested, or are they pretending to repeatedly read the barf bag instructions?
  • Imagine a three inch force field separating you from your neighbors.  Your swinging legs, wildly gesticulating arms, or drooping, sleepy head should come nowhere near actually touching anyone who is not in your traveling party.
  • No crying, screaming, shouting or Fran Drescher-esque whining. Exceptions can be made only if the stewardess has run out of cold Heinekens.
  • Always place the most annoying member of your traveling party furthest from the stranger in the row, keeping a human buffer to deflect flying Legos or excessively boring political conversation.
  • Don’t steal your neighbor’s SkyMall magazine. This should be a crime punishable by death. To deny someone the pleasure of flipping through pages of cat litter robots, AquaBells Travel Weights, or fish tank coffee tables is essentially inhumane.

 

If we can all agree to these simple rules, maybe the whole Childfree flying thing will become a moot point. But I’m positive I’ve missed something – what annoying airplane/airport behavior needs to be added here?

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