Will child-free flights go global?
One of the biggest variables when flying is the company that you’re forced to keep. Whether you're in economy or business, aisle or window, there will almost always be someone sitting next to you – and if that person is particularly flirtatious, odoriferous, anxious or loud your experience could be drastically altered
But with recent upgrades allowing noise-conscious passengers to choose a seat away from children, having at least one type of less-than-desirable seatmate could soon be a thing of the past.
Last week, Scoot airlines, the budget subsidiary of Singapore Airlines, announced that seats in child-free areas, dubbed the “ScootinSilence” rows, can now be booked for a small fee. The section is an updated set of restrictions on their premium economy product; in addition to extra leg room and a better seat pitch, you are also liberated from having to sit with children 12 and under.
“Just as there are some people who prefer to travel without checked baggage, or to sleep rather than eat… there are some who would rather travel with adults. We’re simply providing the option to do so,” said Scoot Airlines CEO Campbell Wilson.
In September 2012, AirAsia X launched a similar service in their premium economy cabin, and Malaysian Airlines has a similar policy on the upper-deck economy cabin of its A380 jumbo jet, which it flies on select long-haul routes.
The trend seems to be catching on quickly in Asia, perhaps because culturally the region places a premium on the wealthier business savvy class and is eager to please affluent customers.
“The reality is that the companies, people and culture of Asia are actually a little bit less politically sensitive in certain areas than places like Europe and America,” said Jonathan Galaviz, airline analyst and managing director at Galaviz & Company. “The practicality of Asia is one of the things that makes it unique in the world. Many people enjoy that.”
But could child-free zones spread around the world? Not necessarily.
“I don't think that we'll ever see child-free zones on US carriers, any more than we'll see the return of smoking zones. In the politically correct United States, it would be considered discriminatory to exclude passengers with kids from certain cabin sections,” said George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com. “But in Asia, where it's legal to 'retire' flight attendants when they reach the ripe old age of 35, a different sensibility applies.”
The issue that Western airlines will need to consider is the strong consumer voice, which could create a significant and harmful image problem for the carriers. In Asia, that community is neither as loud nor as vociferous. Disrupting the consumer base and any potential discrimination litigation that would follow may create risks that Western carries aren’t willing to take.