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Before we had kids, my husband and I traveled a lot, mostly for work, and no place on the globe was too far-flung. We had our travel strategy down pat and could travel for a month, around the world, with just carry-on bags. We were pretty streamlined, organized travelers.
And then we had kids.
Gone are our carry-on only days. Now, we travel with big, checked suitcases, stuffed to the gills with our clothes and their clothes, diapers and wipes, games and books, snacks and toys. It’s stressful but worth it. At least for us. Traveling with our kids means shared experiences. The kids can visit aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents who live across the country and beyond. We can show them new things, expand their minds, broaden their perspectives. But to do that, we have to fly.
Kids on a plane
We’ve been extremely fortunate traveling with our kids. Our son started traveling frequently at such a young age that being on an airplane became second nature to him so he never really acted out and has always been extremely well-behaved. He loves being on an airplane. Once our daughter came along, she took her cues from her big brother and has nailed every flight she’s taken. But we all know that kids on planes can be … less than ideal for surrounding passengers. As a mom, I get it. A screaming kid on an airplane kills the vibe for everyone.
But you know who hates a screaming kid on an airplane more than you do? The parents. Trust me when I say that we don’t want to disturb our seatmates, we’re stressed to the max and we are often sweating right through the nice-smelling deodorant we put on that morning.
Before going on, I think it’s worth noting how important it is to travel prepared when you’ve got little ones with you. Personally, my kids aren’t allowed to use their iPads at home but when we get on a plane, it’s an iPad free-for-all. I can guarantee you at least two hours of comatose silence from them. Plus, I am armed with snacks and inexpensive things I know can entertain them for the remainder of the flight. Check out these 14 products I use to keep my kids quiet on an airplane.
Being prepared does go both ways, though. If you are worried about being disturbed by noisy kids, pack earplugs and noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds so you can listen to music or watch something. Don’t want to be seated near a kid? Then don’t book a bulkhead seat, since families often reserve them and try to get an exit row since kids can’t sit there. RELATED: How to Get the Exit Row For Free
But back to the screaming, sniffling, seat-kicking kids. I’ve seen the topic of kid-free flights come up with increasing frequency lately, mostly initiated by travel-weary passengers who have endured the untold trauma of a noisy, sleepless flight, courtesy of a crying baby. Just read some of the comments on this article. Here’s a quick sampling:
I get it. Kid-free flights sound like a great idea for those traveling without kids. And even for those of us with kids; we’d feel less stressed if everyone around us was a parent dealing with a similar situation. (I once boarded a flight with my one-year-old son and the woman across the aisle glared at me for the entire flight, almost daring him to cry or make a sound. He slept peacefully for almost the entire flight, then quietly watched an episode of Paw Patrol but her open hostility was upsetting and wholly unnecessary. At least give him a chance!)
According to Alternative Airlines, a global flight search and booking site, there are currently no commercial airlines offering kid-free flights, despite growing traveler demand, although they do share a list of a small number of Asian airlines that offer child-free zones on board.
According to Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group, a marketing research company that specializes in travel-related topics, the idea of kid-free flights is a tough one for airlines that he says is laden with risk and challenges.
“Airlines are considered public carriers and may be legally required to provide the traveling public with equal access to accommodations,” Harteveldt says. “There’s a real risk of a negative PR backlash from families and the risk of being labeled “anti-family” on social media and by the press. There is also a risk that the airline that does this would be sued for discrimination.”
There are other things to consider as well, beyond the PR implications of such a move. There are logistics to consider and of course, perhaps most important of all for airlines, revenue.
“The revenue benefits are unclear. If an airline were to offer kid-free flights, would it generate enough revenue from passengers who want that to offset the loss of revenue from families? Leisure travelers, including families, now comprise a larger portion of passengers than they did before Covid because there are fewer business people traveling,” says Harteveldt. “There is also the risk of lost customer loyalty from travelers who are also the parent of a baby or young kids. No airline wants a traveler to think only some of their business matters to their preferred airline.”
I’ve also heard people pondering the possibility of kid-free zones on airplane, if not full-on kid-free flights. Either way, it seems that managing either of these scenarios could devolve into a logistical nightmare, the minute something doesn’t go according to schedule, which, as we all know, happens all the time.
“Kid-free or adult-only zones on single-aisle planes isn’t a practical concept, since there are no soundproof dividers within the cabin,” says Harteveldt. “It may be more practical on a wide body, twin-aisle jet, since families could be offered seats within a specific cabin.” But once again, though, there are challenges, he explains. “Is it worth the effort to offer this if there are only a few families with younger kids traveling on a flight? What if an adult who doesn’t want to sit near kids finds the only available seats on the flight are in the “family” section? And, if the flight is delayed or cancelled, how does the airline accommodate the passengers who booked in the “family zone” and those who didn’t?”
Bottom line, as much as consumers may wish they could fly without the threat of ear-piercing wailing or endless seat-thumping courtesy of little feet behind them, the airlines have many more things to consider and in the end, it doesn’t seem like kid-free flights are really a viable option.
Harteveldt says that airlines have a tool they can use, if they want, to reduce the number of kids on flights, and that is revenue management. “An airline could likely limit the number of kids or families on a flight by limiting the number of discounted seats it sells on a given flight,” he says. “However, with business travel still in recovery mode, and with business people expected to travel less often, airlines have to be careful how they price every seat on every flight. Airlines are still striving to recover from the massive financial losses they logged during 2020 and 2021. An airline CEO values his bottom line and return to shareholders far more than he does a passenger’s ability to sleep on a redeye.”
So, while kid-free flights don’t seem like they’re going to happen anytime soon, the best we can all do is be patient, kind and understanding of our fellow passengers and maybe even try to help each other out. And let’s not forget, while kids always seem to get a bad rap, the FAA stats concerning the number of incidents involving unruly adult passengers on airplanes has skyrocketed over the past couple of years so kids aren’t the only ones who need to behave themselves when they fly.
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Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.