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Do We Need Kids-Free Seating on U.S. Airlines?

Love ’em or hate ’em, most travelers would agree that kids on a plane can make for a stressful flight experience.

They scream. They cry. They kick the seatbacks. They do what kids normally do. Which, in the tight confines of a commercial jet, can be downright torturous to those around them.

Reactions to such behavior break down into two general categories, variations of “Get over it,” or “Get me outta here!”

Malaysia Airlines was among the first airlines to grapple with the issue, banning children from its first-class cabins in 2011, and adding a kid-free zone in coach the following year. In 2013, another Malaysian airline, Air Asia X, began offering child-free seating in the first seven rows of its economy cabins. And that same year, Singapore-based Scoot began marketing ScootinSilence, a surchargeable upgrade to several rows which were off limits to children younger than 12.

But after that flurry of activity by a handful of Southeast Asian carriers, nothing. Whatever momentum the impetus to offer kids-free flying had seemed to have fizzled and died.

This month, however, India’s largest airline, IndiGo, put the issue back into the spotlight with the introduction of a Quiet Zone in its premium-seating section. Quiet in this case means no one under 12 years old allowed.

According to the airline, “Keeping in mind the comfort and convenience of all passengers, row numbers one to four and 11 to 14 are generally kept as a Quiet Zone on IndiGo flights. These zones have been created for business travellers who prefer to use the quiet time to do their work.”

As it has in the past, the new seating policy sets marketing imperatives and customer sensitivities against the presumed right of families to sit anywhere. It’s an emotional, highly charged issue, with no obvious compromise solution. And with planes routinely flying 85 percent full, it’s a problem that won’t disappear on its own.

Reader Reality Check

Are kids on planes a problem? If so, what’s the solution?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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