Recently, I came across a link to this article titled "Child-free flight: You'd be plane crazy not to pay for that," posted by someone on Twitter.
The piece published on news.com.au talks about how according to a survey by TripAdvisor UK, almost one third of plane passengers are willing to pay extra to ensure that they are on a child-free flight in order to get away from the noise, tantrums and the seat-kicking that accompanies having children on a plane. In view of this and other complaints, Malaysian Airlines (as mentioned in the post) have banned children from flying in certain sections of some of their planes and completely from others.
As a parent to a four-year-old and a traveler, my first reaction to this was pure, unadulterated anger. A few minutes into it however, I stopped to think. Why I was feeling like that? What was wrong with people wanting to have a noise-free comfortable flight anyway, especially if they were willing to cough out extra dough for that comfort? The airline was only trying to look after its customers, right?
I also envisioned scores of nodding heads and "been there, done that" kind of expressions from flyers, who may have had near-traumatic experiences traveling with children on a plane. Should I not think about that?
Truth is, I did. And I understand: It's not always pleasant.
Yet, something about the whole idea of "banning children from a plane" just does not sound right. It makes me feel a little concerned and slightly discriminated against.
Also, there's another angle to it too. While the grouse and discomfort encountered by non-parent flyers is often spoken about in various circles, very few posts or opinions are ever directed towards the feelings of travelers with kids. What is it that they go through?
It's never easy to travel with a child. Children, especially the younger lot, do not like flights, more so longer ones. I'm talking from personal experience, and surely a lot of other parent travelers can vouch for the same. I usually pick seats in advance and try to ensure that if there is someone else seated next to us, I sit in between them and my daughter.
I try to bring stuff to keep her busy and entertained. I come prepared.
But, in spite of all this, sometimes nothing works and things can get a bit unruly.
The point to note is that at such times, I am actually the one who is the most distressed. As someone who has an out-of-control child, is worried about annoying fellow passengers and causing displeasure, not to mention feeling embarrassed and a little helpless, exasperation is paramount for the parent or guardian concerned.
They didn't get on that flight out of spite for non-parent passengers or to teach them a lesson.
It's bad enough that as someone who travels with a child, I have had to endure uncomfortable and disgruntled expressions from other flyers often. Once, upon realizing that she was sitting next to us, a lady got her seat changed for this very reason -- and even told me so.
This I have accepted and even understood. But now to think that I might be shunted to one section of a plane and be banned from accessing others simply because I have a kid with me is very disturbing.
Malaysian Airlines is doing it. With enough complaints, other airlines might follow suit.
It's important to contemplate: What is the message that's being sent out here? Is it as simple as people looking and willing to pay more for comfort while traveling or does it somewhere point towards a growing intolerant social structure?
Is there an un-natural trend emerging here? Is this in any way suggesting that I might lose the right to travel the way I want to because I made a choice to be a parent?
In the end, only time will tell. For now, all I know is there is one airline I will not be booking my flights on.