Fliers eager to sit as far away as possible from crying babies and boisterous kids on planes are getting a new option to do just that in one part of the world.
AirAsia, a low-cost airline in Southeast Asia with hubs in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, has begun advertising a “Quiet Zone” that will be offered on its long haul flights starting this February.
The carrier will reserve the first seven economy class rows “exclusively for guests age 12 and above,” the company says on its website. There’s no extra cost for passengers to book in this section, except the regular fee charged for certain seats with more legroom.
Since bulkheads and lavatories separate the section from the rest of coach, and the premium cabin is generally filled with adults, travelers in this zone will likely not sit near babies or young children.
“Because we know that sometimes all you need is some peace and quiet for a more pleasant journey with us,” AirAsia says on its website.
But the service comes with an asterisk: The airline may allow passengers younger than 12 to sit in the Quiet Zone when “necessary for operational, safety or security reasons.”
How would a “quiet zone” fly in the United States? Travel experts said that while there may be demand for such a service, it’s unlikely to show up on domestic airlines.
AirAsia’s plan is not a practical solution to the problem since travelers in the special section can’t be guaranteed a quiet flight, said George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com
“Logistically, it’s a nightmare for an airline to allocate certain seats for certain people,” Hobica said. “The last time they had to do this was back when there were smoking and non-smoking sections. Even if you were just one row away from the smoking section, you still got the smoke and you’ll still hear the screams … if a child has strong lungs.”
In addition, most planes that fly domestically in the U.S. have just a single, continuous economy cabin, so it wouldn’t be practical to offer a child-free section on those flights, said Henry Harteveldt, co-founder of the Atmosphere Research Group.
Then, there’s the likely backlash from parents.
“It’s already hard enough for families to find seating together so this would take another chunk out where they have fewer seats to choose from,” said Brett Snyder, who writes The Cranky Flier blog.
“I think you would see some family groups up in arms and would probably see lawsuits … it would be ugly.”
As a frequent flier and the father of an 8-month old boy, Snyder knows both sides of the issue well. Last week, he and his wife flew from Hawaii to California with their infant son after a vacation and could not get the baby to stop being fussy. Snyder was so worried about bothering the passengers sitting near the family that he offered to buy them drinks. But he said most people were sympathetic — consistent with his observation that passengers get most angry when parents don’t even attempt to quiet their screaming child.
“As long as the parent is trying to do something and soothe him and rock (the baby), then I think generally there’s a fair bit of tolerance,” Snyder said. “Don’t ignore your kid. It’s amazing to me that people do that.”
AirAsia is the second carrier in Southeast Asia to create a no-child zone on its flights. In April, Malaysia Airlines announced it would restrict families with children from sitting in the upper deck of its Airbus A380-800 flying the Kuala Lumpur–London route.
Snyder and Hobica noted that’s a very different situation from AirAsia’s plan since the A380’s upper deck offers true physical separation from the rest of the plane.
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