Creating child-free inflight zones offers a tempting proposition for many travellers. If hotels can do it, why can’t airlines?
In the November 2023 edition, I wrote wishfully about the need for a new approach to the processing of ‘hand baggage only’ passengers at congested airports. The point I was making was that, as well as passengers, both airlines and airports could benefit operationally and financially by segregating the ‘I can squeeze everything I need into a bulging wheelie bag and rucksack’ packhorse, from the ‘I’ll check my bags’ gazelle.
This month, having gained a reputation for writing what everyone else is thinking, I wish to propose a new and more controversial form of segregation: the inflight separation of adults from adults with children.
Turkish-Dutch carrier, Corendon Airlines, has already had such an idea and is piloting the concept of Only Adult Zones on flights from Amsterdam to the Caribbean island of Curacao. Passengers over the age of 16 can enjoy this child-free zone of 93 seats at the front of the plane for a charge that ranges from €45 to €100. The theory is passengers can fly in “extra peace” as Corendon founder, Atilay Uslu, puts it. If I’m travelling for business, I can concentrate on work and maybe even get some sleep while parents further back in the aircraft can rest assured that they are not disturbing their fellow passengers. Surely it’s a win win?
For those travelling with little ones, the idea has proved more controversial and has sparked anger in some quarters, although adults-only hotels have been around for years. But I would have thought that for those of us travelling on business, the attraction of this concept is obvious.
Divide and conquer
Air travel is a stressful experience, not least for small children. The change in air pressure alone can cause pain and distress to very young children… and the accompanying screams cause distress to those nearby. I recently had to witness the hysterical and incessant screams of a small girl on a flight from London to Malaga. It was only a short-haul flight but a very uncomfortable experience for everyone – the poor girl, her distressed parents who spent the whole flight apologising, and those of us in surrounding seats.
There are other times when I have very little sympathy for the children and their entitled parents. I’ve had many a flight ruined by a child kicking the back of my seat or blasting CBeebies from their iPad at me – with not so much as a peep from the adult in charge. For the childless traveller, the benefits of an adults-only area may well justify the payment of a surcharge.
You’ll be glad to hear that I seldom actually complain. But ask me if I would pay extra to be guaranteed a seat away from such intrusion, the answer would be a wholehearted ‘yes’. (One might ask why we should have to pay extra to escape such behaviour… but I fear that’s a topic for another rant!)
Another obvious benefit is to the airline. In a world of the unbundled inflight experience, airlines are constantly searching for new product add-ons, known in the trade as ‘ancillaries’, for which it can charge. Having drawn the line at charging passengers for the use of toilets, opportunities for new revenue streams require creativity.
This little gem of a charge has no real extra cost to the airline, aside from a small risk of empty seats if there are not enough takers. But I personally doubt many passengers would turn down a free ‘upgrade’ into the quiet zone.
Let’s not get too excited. The concept may only have a limited application. Arguably a quiet zone would work better on a widebody aircraft where bulkheads can block out sound. A mere curtain on a narrowbody aircraft isn’t necessarily going to do the trick.
Plus, the majority of noise from children on flights is nothing to complain about anyway, it’s just kids being kids. And as we all know, an adults-only zone is no guarantee of peace and quiet, unless you also exclude stag and hen parties…
I recently visited a family resort hotel in the Caribbean. During the day we sought refuge at its adults-only sister hotel next door in search of some calm, only to find that the screams of kids dive-bombing into the pool were replaced by shouts coming from a party of middle-aged perma-drinkers downing cocktails in the pool from dawn ‘til dusk. Sometimes you just can’t win!
Richard Tams is an airline consultant and executive coach