Should There Be Child-Free Zones on Planes?

Traveling with a baby or young kids can be a daunting experience for parents, and it often leads to heightened stress levels for parents and fellow travelers. The thought of potentially having to share an airplane with a baby who can’t be calmed down or a toddler who isn’t sure how to use his words yet isn’t fun for anyone, but is creating a child-free zone the best move?

Newsweek recently published results from an exclusive survey conducted by Redfield and Wilton Strategies on its behalf where it asked 1,500 American adults if there should be child-free areas on public transit, specifically on airplanes and trains. The survey found that a majority of people were in favor of the idea.

“Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed agreed that a child-free zone on planes and trains would be a positive thing,” the publication reports, “while 27 percent disagreed, and 14 percent were unsure.” According to the data, younger people tended to answer that they’d like to have a child-free zone more than those in older age groups, with 69 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds agreeing and 49 percent among 45- to 54-year-olds.

Over the years, several videos have gone viral on social media of people complaining about sharing an airplane with a less-than-happy kid. One video amassed 1.2 million views and had nearly 30,000 comments on TikTok debating the idea. Posted by mooorganic, the nine-second clip of a child screaming in the background asked: “Why isn’t there such a thing as adult-only flights?? I would pay so much money.” And recently, Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Anthony Bass tweeted about a United flight attendant who allegedly forced his pregnant wife to clean up after their toddler, sparking more debate about having children on planes and who’s responsible for the cleanup.

While it can be unpleasant to sit next to a screaming baby or watch a child make a mess during a tantrum, does someone’s desire for a clean, quiet flight trump a parent and kid’s freedom to travel? We asked a few people where they landed on child-free zones on airplanes — here’s what they said.

“Airlines could turn this into a kid-friendly, parent-friendly service.”

Kimberly King, parenting expert, coach, and bestselling author, tells POPSUGAR she’s open to the idea of child-free areas on planes. “As a mom of three little kids, years ago, I would have loved a ‘families only’ or ‘kids only’ area to sit,” King says. “To protect me from mean, grumpy, rude travelers with no patience or perspective.”

However, she feels that framing the tickets as “family-friendly” or “kid-friendly” may be a better move than labeling them “child-free zones,” and airlines could go the extra mile for parents navigating travel with kids in tow.

“Airlines could turn this into a kid-friendly, parent-friendly service. Early boarding, help with car seats, loaner iPads with games, free headphones, extra Goldfish, and secret stashes of chocolate milk,” she shares. “If airlines had kid-friendly zones, these tickets would be appealing to families. And folks who want to sit away from the possibility of a cry or a moving tray table can sit a few rows up or back.”

Travel blogger Roisin Miller also likes the idea. “I’m childless,” she says. But she “would definitely pay to be in a child-free area,” she tells POPSUGAR. “Yes, it’s lovely for families to be together, and weirdly, I mind children less when on a holiday,” Miller adds, “but when I am traveling for business and need to focus, space apart would be appreciated.”

“Babies cry. That’s what they do.”

Others believe child-free zones just aren’t practical. “The challenge of children on flights is as contentious as leaning your seat back or pressing the flight attendant call button,” trends expert and keynote speaker Daniel Levine tells POPSUGAR.

Levine says that “nobody loves sitting next to crying babies” but acknowledges the fact that “babies cry. That’s what they do.”

He suggests planning ahead and anticipating the potential of a crying baby instead of placing restrictions like child-free zones. “I think the best you can do is take matters into your own hands and follow some tips and techniques to minimize your chance of screaming in your ear,” he suggests.

This includes choosing your seat wisely. “In the front of the plane, babies in bassinets are usually seated in the bulkhead rows. In economy class, families are usually seated to the rear,” he says. “And in all classes, experienced flyers like myself plug their ears or travel with a good pair of noise-canceling headphones.”

“It’s hardly possible to reach 100 percent satisfaction for both sides.”

“We all know that kids on planes cannot be ideal seatmates for some of the surrounding passengers. As a dad, I totally get it,” Justin Albertynas, CEO of travel and hotel comparison site RatePunk, tells POPSUGAR. “When a kid cries or throws a tantrum on a flight, it can really bring down the mood for everyone. Especially for us parents.”

But Albertynas warns that child-free zones won’t solve the problem. “If a child cries, screams, or wails, sitting a few rows from the child won’t help since there are no soundproof dividers within the single-aisle cabin,” he notes. “Also, if a child is active, he may want to walk, or in the worst-case scenario, he may run. So, it won’t work.” He acknowledges that larger jets could offer “special seats within a specific cabin,” but that will add in a lot of complications, too.

“What if a passenger wants a specific seat but available ones are only in the family with children section, or all seats are sold out, and only the seat next to the children section is free?” he asks. “It’s hardly possible to reach 100 percent satisfaction for both sides.”

Albertynas suggests being practical about how you book your seats if you want to avoid the potential of being near crying babies or kids. “If you don’t want to be seated close to kids, secure an exit-row seat and avoid booking bulkhead seats as they are often reserved by families with children,” he notes.

Ultimately, Albertynas believes that we should “do our best to be patient, kind, and understanding of our fellow passengers” and pack your noise-canceling headphones.

The Bottom Line?

Ultimately, only time will tell if planes actually adopt child-free zones. Until then, it’s important to keep in mind the tips above and know that many caregivers are doing their part to limit the extra noise their kids make during a flight. Plus, traveling with kids is challenging enough without the weight of other people’s issues on their shoulders, says Alli Cavasino, cofounder and CEO of JoyLet. “Children are still developing and learning how to navigate the world around them.” And at young ages, air travel can be overwhelming at times. “This requires empathy and compassion from the adults around them,” Cavasino says.

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