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Survey: Passengers would pay more to sit in kid-free zone

Published September 14, 2013 7:52 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sydney • Andy Curr says her worst ever in-flight experience was brought on her by her own offspring.

Curr, a web designer from Sydney, was traveling from London to Bangkok about three years ago when her second-youngest daughter, then 20 months, "screamed all the way," she said. The wailing got her older children going, too.

"Once one goes off, they all start," said Curr, 41.

Balancing the needs of customers wanting a peaceful trip with those of harried parents has become a major challenge for airlines trying to cater to both groups. Singapore Airlines' budget carrier Scoot unveiled a childfree zone for passengers prepared to pay extra, following AirAsia X and Malaysian Airline System, who also segregate kids.

Seat-kicking and unruly children came ahead of drunken passengers, rude cabin crew, and lecherous neighbors as on-board annoyances in a July survey by British financial services comparison website Gocompare. Respondents said they'd be prepared to add $78.60 to the cost of a return flight if they could sit in child-free zones.

Scoot charges an extra $14.95 for 41 economy-class seats directly behind business class with three inches of extra legroom where children under 12 aren't allowed.

Carriers who've introduced child-free zones say they haven't received significant negative feedback.

"Getting choice means you are satisfying both sets of people," Azran Osman Rani, CEO of AirAsia X.

"Even families with kids are positive because now they are in the other zone and they feel less guilty."

CNN correspondent Richard Quest encouraged followers on his Twitter feed to echo his call to "ban babies in business class," in an Aug. 28 posting.

Malaysian Airline introduced a largely child-free upper deck on its A380 aircraft when it entered service on July 1, 2012. The carrier said it will only seat families in the 70 upper-deck economy seats if there's no more room on the lower level.

"You're all in one tin can, so it's a little bit difficult to keep everyone happy," said Marcus Osborne, a father of three. "If I had the option to sit in an area where there were no kids, I would probably jump at the chance."

Other carriers are trying to be more accommodating. From Oct. 1, Japan Airlines Co. will reserve the four rear-most economy seats on routes between Tokyo and Honolulu for women who want to breastfeed or apply make-up.

Etihad Airways PJSC has hired consultants from Norland College, a British child-care training center, to teach child psychology and sociology to about 500 cabin crew personnel designated as "flying nannies" on the Middle-East carrier's long-haul flights, a free service available in all classes.

The orange-aproned nannies seek to make traveling easier for parents by serving children's meals early in the flight and offering infant activities ranging from magic tricks to origami and sock puppets.