Yesterday’s “Crewed Talk” column covered Air Asia X’s announcement of a child-free (mini) cabin. But one short column (or even two!) just isn’t enough to touch on all there is to say, and that’s without even addressing children’s actual behavior in the airplane cabin.
No, if you ask me, in the issue of a child-free cabin, children’s behavior is beside the point. It’s not irrelevant, it’s just that we have to start somewhere. And I say we start with a clear focus at a point that no one should really disagree with: some children are well-behaved, some aren’t; sometimes the parents are to blame, some kids are truly more difficult – and either way, every kid has his meltdown moments. People have all sorts of different ideas about what “appropriate” is for a child. We can talk about that bit another time (or here in the comments, if you like).
With that “baseline” established, there are still a couple of points I wasn’t able to make, or would like to respond to.
• The idea that a Quiet Zone is “intolerant” of families & children in society: I don’t feel “society” (read: as a whole) is at all intolerant to children. My ears are open, so feel free to provide some examples. But I don’t honestly get why some families are offended by a QZ in an enclosed space. We should definitely be tolerant of children, but “tolerant” does not mean “to enthusiastically embrace something, with no exceptions, every moment of every day”. I don’t think that having some small “Adult Spaces” should be offensive. Are the Quiet Zones on trains offensive? Is the Kid’s Table at your Christmas Dinner offensive? To me it’s the same thing. Kids and adults have different needs. It’s a fact. Making a minimal amount of room for both isn’t insulting either group, as I see it.
• There should be “family cabins” instead. I like the idea, but there are a few practical problems. 1) Airlines do this stuff to make money. A QZ requires no extra cost to the airline. A Family Zone would, yet families don’t pay extra for kid stuff, generally speaking. (If anything, the opposite.) It’d be great if the airlines provided toys (etc) for your kids, but if they charged extra, you’d just bring your own to save the fee. (I would!) And charging families extra for anything is a way more controversial move than charging others. 2) A Family Cabin would concentrate the kids into a small restricted area, as any specialized cabin will small (like the QZ is). I doubt families will want that! 3) I love the idea of rows facing each other, like on a train. That would be great for lots of reasons. But a back facing row costs inches – even without reclining it makes dead space between its seat back and the row backing it. So it would be pricy even without other family amenities. I doubt sideways seats are feasible for FAA approval. It just ain’t gonna’ happen, sadly.
• Critique: other kinds of people are disruptive, not just kids. Are we going to separate from, say, overweight or disabled people? I get the point, but it doesn’t hold beyond a debate strategy. There are several reasons why it’s disingenuous to compare kids to disabled people as a whole, so I’m not actually going to spell them out. Obese passengers are a closer parallel to draw, but that’s a problem caused by inconsistent policies on the matter, not fuzzy ideas of how and whether it’s acceptably inconvenient to other passengers. Clear guidelines and choices would broadly resolve any seat-to-size problems. They don’t require a separate cabin, just sometimes a separate seat. And that is already the official policy. It’s just not always enforced. There’s the problem.
Kid disruption is different to any other kind because anyone disturbed by kids is not free to confront the source of disruption directly, regardless of who is “in the wrong”. They must go to the “middle man” – the parent. And the parent gets the final say, even if said parent is a jerk or incompetent. If the person who is disrupted is the jerk, crew would ideally just move that person away – if we have room. Where would we move them to? A place that is hopefully quieter. (I’d think, “Gee, a QZ would be great about now!”)
As mentioned in the column, if an adult is disruptive, the flight attendants can intervene (at least) or the person could be arrested (at worst). Adults can be held responsible for their behavior, kids can’t – as with everything child-related, we have to address problems with them in a unique way. So that’s all I think the QZ is doing, addressing the problem in a unique way. Now – as someone pointed out – if only US airlines would be as brave as the Asian ones.
Update: Some have asked about the charge for the QZ. It is shockingly reasonable, at just $11-36, exactly the same as the charge to pre-select your seat assignment.