John Kinnear parses the praise and cries of discrimination on Quiet Zones in economy class sections
Last September, Asia’s largest budget carrier, Air Asia, announced that, beginning this week, they will be offering a “quiet zone” on flights to China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Australia and Nepal. By quiet zone they mean a sectioned off area of the plane with “minimal noise and disturbances, soft ambient lighting” and of course – no kids (12 and under).
This has caused quite a stir among some of my parent friends. One friend was even offended enough to compare the kid-free section to Rosa Parks being relegated to the back of the bus at the beginning of the civil rights movement of the 1950′ and 60′s’s. I stepped in and said that I didn’t think it was a very fair comparison and a LONG conversation ensued. In the end, we agreed to disagree and she agreed that she wouldn’t be flying on AirAsia in the near future. I don’t think that they are going to have trouble filling her and her kid’s seat.
I actually think the “Quiet Zones” are a good idea with some very practical reasons. I have had wonderful experiences with airlines trying to make families comfortable. Pilot pins, extra soda/pretzels/cookies, kids’ magazines, incredibly kind and caring flight staff. Still, airlines have a vested interest in the satisfaction of all their customers – even the ones without kids. I fully understand that there are some people who would prefer not to sit by me and my kids. I’m ok with that and I am OK with AirAsia’s “Quiet Zone”. I’ll explain why by answering some of the comments and questions I’ve seen bouncing around in my parenting spheres.
“This is ageism and should not be tolerated. If you’re going to have a “quiet section” you should just not let noisy people sit there – regardless of age.”
So let me get this one straight: Let everyone, including kids, sit in the quiet section and when they start to be noisy, they have to move. The logistics alone on this are staggering. What constitutes noisy? Who decides? Who tells the noisy people they have to move? What if the rest of the plane is full?
More often than not, kids are louder than adults. That doesn’t make me an ageist. That makes me a realist. Sure, I know plenty of kids who will happily bury their heads in an iPhone for a few hours of Angry Birds, but I know many more adults who can stare directly forward with no stimulation at all without breaking into a half an hour of high volume renditions of “The Wheels on the Bus.” Why not let those adults have seven aisles?
“My kid is quiet on planes. Why should I be forced to sit in a section with other, unruly children?”
That is fantastic, and I commend you. Fly enough with your kid, and at least one time they won’t be perfect. One time my nephew cried from Salt Lake City to Portland for two straight hours. Every other flight has been a cakewalk. When you have tens of thousands of people flying with kids every year, you are going to see a lot of kids’ “one time”. Maybe you and your incredibly well behaved kid could sit in the section with kids to set a good example!
Let’s be realistic. “The child-free area is sectioned off from the rest of the plane by toilets and bulkheads, the theory being you won’t be able to hear the kids who are toward the back of the plane,” CNN reported. The plane isn’t going to be divided into Masterpiece Theater and Lord of the Flies. The 90% of the plane that does allow kids is not going to be overrun by the lost boys. If anything the sleeping adults in the “quiet zone” free up the flight staff to get my kid an extra ginger-ale when her ears start popping. Win/win!
“People should just invest in noise cancelling headphones or an iPod.”
The people on that flight have already paid hundreds of dollars to be on the flight. That is a silly suggestion.
“This isn’t needed because responsible parents should have kids with manners who know how to behave themselves.”
Responsible parents don’t have kids with manners. Responsible parents have kids to whom they are teaching manners. There is a learning curve. Sometimes that takes some on-site training.
When I take my kids to a restaurant or a movie and they start misbehaving I do my best to calm the situation and teach them how to behave in public. When that doesn’t work and I can tell we’re a distraction to others enjoyment of their dinner/movie, I remove my child from the situation.
Leaving a plane is a little more difficult. Not impossible—but really difficult.
I prefer not to take my kids on planes at all, but sometimes it is needed. The times it is necessary don’t necessarily fall in the most convenient portion of a child’s manners training program. For instance, If my three-month-old baby is crying because rapid changes in air pressure make his head feel like it is going to explode, I can’t tell him that he’s being rude. You know what would be nice? A section of the airplane filled with like-minded adults who know they might be sitting by kids. Wait! It’s the entire plane except for one partitioned section of seven rows? Huzzah!!
“How is this any different than Rosa Parks and the Jim Crow Laws of the South?”
I’m going to just set aside the fact that this isn’t happening in the US. I’m also going to ignore the fact that this is a company policy and not a law you can be arrested and thrown in jail for breaking. I don’t want to speak for a whole race of people either – so I can’t catergorically say that comparing the civil rights struggle of black Americans in the 1960′s to tiny screaming humans that poop their pants and scream a lot may be seen as offensive in some circles. The comparison between the two is about as unproductive as passive-aggressively saying that I’m not going to make specific arguments and then making said arguments in the same sentence. You know what? I’m just going to leave this one alone.
Look. Sometimes it is hard to see the forest for the trees. Aside from bars and strip clubs, I can take my kids pretty much anywhere I want. The world is literally their playground. Planes are a special beast. They are a nightmare scenario. You and hundreds of other people are trapped on a multi-ton machine, hurtling hundreds of miles per hour 30,000 feet above the earth. If seven rows of people would prefer to experience that scenario without my infant screaming, or my toddler kicking the back of their seat, then I am OK with that. I would rather worry about my kid than worry about bugging them. And, if for some weird reason, I have to travel alone on business from India to Nepal, I’ll be flying AirAsia.
—editor’s note: Passengers can opt for the “Quiet Zone” for an additional cost of anywhere between $11-$35, a standard fee for picking specific seats in economy class, according to CNN. If there’s a buck to be made, American carriers will find it.
—Photo by xersti/Flickr