Screaming children are the bane of many a single passenger. Now, amid all the grumbles of childless passengers and harassed parents, airlines are offering the warring factions a chance to sit further apart..
Recently, Scoot Airlines, Singapore Air's budget brand, became the latest carrier to unveil child-fee seating zones. The program, called "Scoot in Silence," follows on the heels of AirAsia X -- the long-haul arm of the Asian budget carrier -- launching a "quiet zone" on their flights.
The operations are similar: under-12s are banned from the zones and cordoned off from the remaining passengers via a curtain, galleys and the exit doors (the space that usual separates business class from economy).
Contrary to how it might seem, Azran Osman-Rani, AirAsia X's CEO, maintains the measure is as much for the benefit of families as it childless travelers.
"It's cute how some parents have written back and said, 'This is a brilliant idea,' because they feel less stressed and guilty if their child is restless. Now, if someone's giving them an evil stare, they can just say, 'Well, if you're going to complain, you should have sat in the quiet zone.'"
In general, Air Asia X assigns random seats, unless passengers pay a $15 fee allowing them to choose where to sit. Whether that choice is to perch at the back of the plane grouped with spouses and spawn, or up front, where it's free from minors, the fee is the same.
By introducing quiet zones, Osman-Rani is hoping to drive passengers, be they families or singles, towards paying the fee. So far, it's been successful -- the number of passengers paying to choose a seat has risen "several percentage points".
Helane Becker, an airline analyst with Cowen and Company says she assumed from the start that the trend was financially motivated.
"I kind of viewed it less about cordoning off children, and more as just another way for airlines to charge fees," she says.
Still, some airlines argue the measure is more operational.
Japan Airlines has taken a different if similar track on their Tokyo-Honolulu route, where they have introduce a curtained "women only" section in the last four seats of economy. The idea is to give women privacy to breastfeed and do their makeup.
The seats don't generate any added income, but they do help free-up the bathrooms.
"About 60% of our passengers are women, and the in-flight lavatories are always crowded before landing. This resolves the long line," says Jian Yang, a spokesperson for the airline.
Becker says that to a certain extent, passengers segregate themselves.
"While kids are cute, they can definitely be a distraction, especially if you're trying to get stuff done for work. That's why a lot of businessmen chose to sit in economy plus. Meanwhile, a family of four or five usually wants to sit together, and it's easier for them to do that in the back," she notes.
Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways has taken a different approach. Rather than separate the two groups, they've introduced "The Flying Nanny," an in-flight team of child experts that play with, calm and otherwise distract children from causing a scene.
"We looked at what it's like to enter an aircraft from a child's perspective. Many are small, and it's daunting to board a plane and not know where you're going, or to have to sit there and not be able to walk around," explains Aubrey Tiedt, the vice president of guest services.
Etihad Airways has paired up with Norland College, England's premier childcare institute to train the all-female staff of nannies on child psychology, sociology and child development. The carrier hopes to have 500 trained by the year's end.
The nannies, who are recognizable by their bright orange aprons, can help with feedings and give advice on diaper changing, though their main purpose is to entertain. They come armed with a special kit, full of cardboard, crayons, colored paper and star-shaped stickers and will help kids create anything from sock puppets to paper animals.
"It's about making them feel special, which also makes them feel calm," explains Tiedt.