Few issues get travellers more worked up than the debate over how airlines should handle children.
Some think the chance of sitting near a noisy child is part of the risk one bears when buying an airline ticket, but others think airlines need to take action and separate children from adults by creating child-only or child-free seating sections.
There's demand for child-free seating in the US
A 2017 survey from the air travel site Airfwarewatchdog found that a little over half of respondents believe families with children aged 10 and under should have to sit in a designated section apart from other passengers, and the idea of separating children and adults has gained traction on Reddit, where threads with titles like “Would you pay extra for a child-free flight? YESSSS!!!” and “It's time airlines introduced child-free zones” indicate the demand for child-free seating.
Some international airlines, including Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia, Scoot Airlines, and IndiGo have introduced “kid-free” zones where customers can purchase seats without the risk of sitting next to a noisy child.
So why haven't any US airlines followed them?
Child-free seating would be a PR nightmare
Because doing so would spark outrage, according to Airfarewatchdog content editor Tracy Stewart.
“It's probably hard for parents to be super objective for this stuff. Whenever this comes up, people get so upset about it,” Stewart told Business Insider. “It would be great if an American carrier would give it a shot, but I would be surprised if anyone takes it on.”
Stewart said that once parents become acclimated to living with young children, it can be difficult to recognise how disruptive their children can be to those around them.
“If you're a parent and you live with that kind of behaviour, you're probably pretty resigned to kicking and screaming. If some stranger calls out your kid for misbehaving on a plane, those situations escalate so quickly,” Stewart said.
Airlines don't need more controversy
Those tensions would make it difficult for a US airline to even test child-free seating without creating controversy. Given the crisis airlines have faced around their rules for allowing emotional support animals on flights - policies that affect a small percentage of passengers - it's not difficult to imagine the PR nightmare that would follow child-free seating policies, even if the current system causes as much stress for parents as those sitting around them.
A 2012 Reddit post highlighted two parents of young children who offered ear plugs to the other passengers on their flight via notes included in bags of candy. While the gesture was largely praised, purchasing earplugs and arranging goodie bags every time you fly would be time-consuming and only add to the difficulty of raising a child. Creating separate seating for children would reduce the stress some parents feel when sitting next to passengers travelling without children.
Still, it's unlikely that child-free seating will be introduced on a US airline anytime soon. The status quo isn't perfect, but it's easier to keep a controversial system than to adopt a new one.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies