I remember a time before I had children. It wasn’t all that long ago. I’d board a plane, realise I was sitting next or near to a small child and inwardly groan. Babies crying at the top of their lungs and toddlers kicking the back of the seat or peeking through the headrest, staring you out – all made for an uncomfortable experience.
Then I had my own children and was confronted with the reality that those parents had been navigating. A constant knot in my stomach, never knowing what my loud and rambunctious child was going to do next. A sigh of relief when the person she’s hassling says they have children themselves and they don’t mind her chatting to them in gibberish.
The worst was when I was flying solo with my then two-year-old daughter on my lap in a middle seat, in the middle aisle, next to a pregnant woman. My child had fallen asleep after an hour of mayhem at the back of the plane, where she was running wild (while I chatted to equally haggard parents who had also brought their little ones to the back in desperation), only for her to wake up red-faced and start projectile vomiting all over me. At this point we were a little less than an hour away from Manchester Airport, where I was headed to see my parents, and the regurgitation didn’t stop until we’d reached home, about a 90-minute drive from the airport.
I had carried her, two bags and the pram as she continued to throw up over my fresh Emirates pyjamas they’d kindly given me on board, as I passed quickly through customs (thank you, family lane!), grabbed our luggage at baggage control, then emerged into a heaving airport frazzled and covered in sick.
As I left the plane, I turned to the woman next to me, warning her never to travel without a companion again. She, being nice, but with fear in her eyes, said the experience had been educational.
The 10 or so other plane journeys I’ve taken with my daughter have not been as dramatic, but they certainly weren’t plain sailing. She’s highly energetic, until she gets overtired and screams for a while before crashing out. I can categorically say if you’re a passenger who does not like sitting near kids on a plane, and happen to sit near my child, you won’t be happy.
That’s why I believe child-free zones are the answer.
Corendon, a Turkey-owned airline, is the latest to introduce them, becoming the first in Europe to do so. Before them, Malaysia’s AirAsia X and Singapore’s low-cost carrier Scoot made similar moves, although Corendon has an age limit of 16-plus in its so-called Adult Zone, while the other two set it at 12.
Sure, some people have derided the decision, saying it’s exclusionary and only exacerbates what they perceive as growing anti-child sentiment. That may be true, but, to me, the mother of the unruly, sitting in a child-friendly zone, away from the judgmental eyes of onboard kid-haters, sounds far less stressful.
I don’t have to worry that the people around me will complain, since ideally the ones who truly hate it will have paid that extra fee (Corendon is charging $48 for one way) to sit away from us. If they haven’t, then more fool them. They’re at the front, too, so also come with the perk of you being able to disembark first.
While other international airlines such as Dutch carrier KLM and Britain’s Tui Airways reportedly have no plans to introduce such zones, one study proved they might be missing a trick. A survey conducted on behalf of Newsweek by Redfield and Wilton Strategies found that out of 1,500 American adults, 59 per cent agreed child-free zones on planes and trains would be a positive thing, while only 27 per cent disagreed and 14 per cent were unsure.
The reality is, we parents don’t like disturbing our fellow passengers, but we don’t have much choice. Children have minds of their own and, if yours is anything like mine, then if you get in the way of that, the unruliness only escalates. So, instead, we try to stay calm (at least outwardly), while they get their energy out, hoping against hope they’ll soon fall asleep for the rest of the flight.
So, if you’re someone who likes the sound of a child-free zone, then please book it, lest you get caught in the crossfire of upchuck.