Richard Quest: We pay business premiums to get a good night's sleep

Babies in business class

It may start off as a gurgle. It may begin with a full-throttle wail. It is often a plaintive cry for food or attention. It doesn't matter how it began, the ending is always the same – an entire business class cabin awoken because a baby is on board that part of the plane.

Allowing babies and young children to travel in business class has always struck me as an odd policy. The airline sells you a very expensive seat that turns into a bed; it promises you a delightful ride across oceans and continents, and then promptly sells an adjacent seat to someone who more than likely will keep everyone awake.

Of course, the baby can't help it. But the question for airlines is whether they should allow young children to travel in business class in the first place. Just because parents can afford to put the child there, does it mean they should be allowed to?

I have no problem with children in first class – that is just a product of money and if you are rich and daft enough to pay for little Johnny or Esmerelda to have a first-class bed you have more money than sense, so go ahead. Other rich people won't thank you, but you can fight it out among yourselves.

Business class, on the other hand, is a product created, designed and executed for the business traveller. BA describes Club World as creating an environment that enables you to "arrive refreshed and ready for the day ahead". It says nothing about being woken at 3am by screaming because they sold a seat behind you to a toddler.

Earlier this month, Malaysia Airlines announced a new policy to create children-free zones upstairs (even in economy) on their A380s. Children will be seated upstairs only when the lower deck is full. Not surprisingly, the policy has courted controversy, but many frequent flyers have applauded it.

I know some adults can be even more objectionable than tots. I have sat next to people who are noisy, smelly, vulgar, snoring – the lot. But they are the exception, whereas a baby in business class is invariably going to wail at some point. They always do. I realise children may keep economy passengers awake too, and that that is unfortunate, but the premium paid by business-class passengers is for the right to a good night's sleep.

Perhaps the most interesting voice in the debate is that of parents. It is infuriating how many parents will recoil at children in business class when they are travelling for work, then happily fill up the seats with their offspring using frequent-flyer points on holiday. However, when put to the test, a straw poll in the CNN bureau revealed that rather than being forced to endure the frosty glances and tut-tuts of fellow passengers in business class, most would rather lump it in economy. After all, they're not going to get any sleep wherever they sit.

In a world full of terrible things, I can, of course, keep this in perspective. It's just that travel is such a part of my working life, and I spend so many hours in aluminium tubes, paying through the nose for a seat that turns into a bed that, frankly, I want what I paid for. And that is a good night's sleep. No babies in business class may be just the ticket.

 

Richard Quest is CNN's international business correspondent and presents Quest Means Business. Follow him on Twitter @richardquest

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