Meet your seatmate for the next 12 hours. (Photo: Susanne Alfredsson/Snapwire)
Yes, we can agree to disagree on armrest etiquette for the middle seat passenger. We can even argue respectfully — most of the time — about whether it’s okay to recline your seat on a crowded plane.
But if you want to see otherwise reasonable people lose their minds with righteous anger, just bring up the most divisive issue in air travel: loud or ill-behaved children on planes.
Journalist — and mother of a 12-year-old — Kelly Rose Bradford stirred up a hornet’s nest of parental indignation last week. During an appearance on the U.K. talk show This Morning, she committed what some consider the ultimate act of mommy heresy: She suggested that maybe parents should stop taking their little ones on planes.
Kelly Rose Bradford (who does not, by the way, hate kids: she has one herself) thinks some planes should have child-free zones. (Photo: Kelly Rose Bradford)
“Is it really necessary to take a tiny baby on a long flight?” she asked. “I think there’s an element of selfishness from parents who insist on not changing their lifestyle once they have their children because there are some things that just aren’t practical.“
Bradford went on, suggesting airlines establish "child-free” flights, where kids are verboten — or maybe have separate seating areas for families with kids. “We’ve got business class, we’ve got first class, why can’t we have a family section?“ she told This Morning. "Surely that would be better for everybody? You’ve got miserable, moany people like me who do not want your delightful children wailing in my ear for my flight.”
The result of Bradford’s comments: the parents of those delightful children have now been wailing in her ear. And on her Twitter feed.
“There has been a lot of noise about it,” Bradford tells Yahoo Travel about the reaction to her idea. “Someone invented a #BanKellyRose hashtag on Twitter, which was quite amusing.”
Her comments also sparked another trending topic, #childfreeflights, and some hard-hitting commentary. There were supporters of Bradford’s idea:
And there were opponents, to put it mildly:
Kids and airplanes — a sometimes-volatile combination
It’s easy to see why Bradford’s comments touched a nerve. Recently, we’ve seen multiple headlines of loud or ill-behaved children preceding problems on flights. Back in May, Canadian singer Sarah Blackwood was escorted off her United Airlines flight after her baby wailed during taxiing (the airline claimed Blackwood was bounced from the flight because she wouldn’t properly secure her child).
Last October, a family in St. Louis was escorted off a Frontier Airlines flight by police after their 2-year-old had a tantrum during their flight (the airline reportedly claimed it was the parents who were being difficult). And in December, two women on an Air China flight actually got into a fight, reportedly over a crying baby.
A crying baby led to this mid-air throwdown on Air China. (Photo: Twitter)
While no one is arguing in favor of physical violence, let’s be real: A crying baby on a plane is extremely annoying. It is, in fact, the worst kind of annoying — with an irritation level is directly proportional to your inability to do anything about it. Plus, there are the maddeningly over-permissive parents who let their children kick and roam the plane with impunity.
Related: Do Airlines Hate Kids?
“Selfishness, entitlement, and the idea that the world revolves around them,” is how Bradford describes a lot of her fellow parents. “Lots of modern parents often use their kids as an excuse to be rude and obnoxious themselves."
Add to that cramped quarters, sleeplessness, and maybe the occasional cocktail, and you have a recipe for child-induced freak-outs from grownups. "Other [passengers] have a right to a safe and comfortable experience,” Bradford reasons. “I really do not see why that should be compromised by one person’s inability to soothe or control their child.”
Bradford is far from the first person to suggest such a radical solution. Last year, Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson revealed his airline considered the exact same thing Bradford is advocating: kid-free sections.
“I would love to introduce kids’ class,” Branson told Condé Nast Traveler. “It would be a separate cabin for kids with nannies to look after them.”
Branson suggested, and ultimately had to table, the idea of a child-free section on his airline. (Photo: Getty Images)
Ultimately, though, Branson said the plan was scuttled by perhaps the only authority more powerful than the online mommy lobby: air regulators. “We’ve had an issue with the Civil Aviation Authority,” he said. “They worry in an emergency kids would be running in one direction and their parents would be running in the other. So we haven’t got it through yet.”
But Bradford believes Branson and other airline execs are missing out on a gold mine: a market full of seasoned travelers who gasp with silent fear at the sight of swaddled little ones with pacifiers boarding their plane.
“I am quite sure business travelers and those without kids would be delighted,” Bradford tells Yahoo Travel of her idea. “I am convinced the only people who don’t agree with me are the ones currently in possession of a screaming kids. So new parents, or those with children under 5, give them a couple of years and they’ll all be saying you know what: Kelly Rose Bradford was right.”
Parents speak up
What would parents think of a child-free zone? (Photo iStock)
Maybe Bradford shouldn’t be so sure about that. “It is not feasible to declare child-free flights,” says Dan Miller, founder of the travel site Points With a Crew and father of six children — ages 3 to 15 — with whom he’s taken his fair share of flights. He bristles at Bradford’s suggestion that parents with young kids forgo travel. "Sometimes families just have to travel. You’re really going to suggest that a child can not attend his grandparent’s funeral, or the family moving across country has to drive?”
While Miller also has zero tolerance for parents who make no effort to control their kids, he draws the line when it comes to what he sees as excessive kid bashing among fliers. “It’s interesting that kids seem like the last group of ‘punching bags’ — a group of people that it’s okay to discriminate against,” he says. “Everywhere I look, tolerance of people who are different than you is preached, and generally that’s a good thing! Oh… except if it’s children. Then, it’s totally fine to talk about how annoying they are and how they shouldn’t be allowed anywhere.”
What do airlines and flight attendants think of the idea?
Would flight attendants be cool with kid-only sections or kid-free flights? (Photo: iStock)
We wanted to know what airlines think of this idea of child-free flights, but apparently they’re not touching this one with a 10-foot Binky. Of all the airlines Yahoo Travel sought for comment on the matter, only one — United— responded. And the airline didn’t directly address the issue of child-free flights and sections.
“United aims to offer a safe and enjoyable travel experience for all our customers – particularly for families, whose travels often involve special occasions or long-planned vacations,” an airline spokesperson said in an email. “While we balance the needs of all of our customers on board, gate agents, flight attendants and pilots do their best to ensure families are seated together and that kids on board get brief cockpit tours and other treats to the extent we’re able to offer them.”
We then turned to flight attendants — experts on the difficulty of children on planes — for their opinions. It may surprise you, but to many of them, screaming babies just aren’t that big a deal. "Personally, it’s not a problem for me,” ex-flight attendant Keith McAndrew tells Yahoo Travel. “Babies are born to cry. We flight attendants ‘babysit’ the drunk or unruly passengers more.”
Ex-flight attendant Tami Gayikian doesn’t agree with child-free flights, but she is willing to meet Bradford halfway. “Separate areas for parents with children would be welcomed by parents and non-parents as long as the airlines didn’t charge an extra fee for sitting there.” [Note: Of course airlines would charge passengers extra for child-free sections. And they’d charge a separate fee to sit in families-with-children sections, too, we bet.]
The majority of travelers are families. Would any airline really be willing to risk losing those customers? (Photo: iStock)
Many flight attendants are cool to the idea of any special accommodations for kids. “None of those ideas are really feasible,” says flight attendant Sarah Steegar. “One can’t expect families not to be [on planes]."
Sydney Pearl, author of Diary of a Pissed Off Flight Attendant, agrees. "I think child-free flights are absurd,” she says. “The majority of travelers are families, and I think if an airline enacted any type of child-free flight, they not only stand to lose business but I do not think that they could sustain with just business or child-free travelers."
Adds flight attendant Tyler Herrick: "For those seeking a child-free environment, private air travel is always an option!” (Ok, not really.)
Kids on planes: they’re here to stay
It appears that unless Sir Richard Branson or any other visionary airline exec decides to run with Bradford’s idea, no-kid planes or no-kids sections simply won’t fly. Airlines, flight attendants and at least half the fliers don’t seem willing to even entertain the notion.
So the debate of kids and airplanes will probably rage on, provoking more noise from aggrieved parents and anti-crying adults than any baby could muster. And in the pantheon of in-flight annoyances, screaming babies will take their rightful place alongside all the grown-up airplane offenders: middle seat armrest-hoggers, seat recliners, anti-seat recliners, drunks, flight attendant harassers, and the like.
Come to think of it, maybe that’s why babies scream so loud during flights: they’re having their own argument about whether adults belong on planes.