Flying the unfriendly skies for families

Until the skies become more welcoming to families, most parents will have to do what they’ve always done which is just get through it

Emily Jardine
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The end of the holiday season means the end of one of the most stressful times for travel. The Economist projects that over 42 million Americans fly over the three weeks that encompass Christmas and the New Year. Dubai airport alone saw over 300,000 flyers in a single day moving through Terminal 3 on the weekend of December 15th - 15th, their busiest weekend.

And there is more to come. According to Emirates Airlines, “Emirates expects a busy start to 2017, as travellers return from the holiday season. Close to 250,000 passengers are expected to pass through Emirates’ Concourses and Terminal 3 in the first three days of the year, according to the latest booking figures. The busiest day for the airline is expected to be on Monday 2 January where a record of over 87,000 passengers will pass through Terminal 3.”


Children aren’t welcome

And even though airports and airlines are built to maximize the flow of passengers, changes in regulations in the airline industry have meant that as travel becomes more enjoyable for the elite passengers of business and first, those in economy, and especially families, find travel akin to moving through Dante’s Inferno.

In October of this year, IndiGo Airlines, an Indian budget carrier, announced that it was instituting what they called a “Quiet Zone” which bans children under the age of 12 from certain sections of the plane. The reason, as the airline elucidated in a statement is that “keeping in mind the comfort and convenience of all passengers’ row numbers one to four and 11 to 14 are generally kept as a Quiet Zone on IndiGo flights. These zones have been created for business travellers who prefer to use the quiet time to do their work.”

This is on the heels of additional airlines in the region banning children from sections of the plane or the plane completely. In February 2016, Malaysian airline Air Asia launched similar “quiet zones,” last year Malaysian Airlines banned infants from its first-class cabins on Airbus A380s and Boeing 747s, and in 2013, Scoot Airlines, the budget arm of Singapore Airlines instituted a similar section in their planes which travellers could upgrade to, where children under 12 are banned.

Costing more for families to fly

What this means is not only is there less room on planes for children and families to fly, the overall space of travel is becoming negative and unwelcoming to children and those who travel with children. But it’s not just the antagonism directed at families, it’s literally becoming more expensive for families to fly.

Emirates, in October of this year, launched an additional fee for advanced seat selection on certain ticket classes. This means that for families who are on separate tickets who wish to reserve seats to ensure that they sit together, they need to pay an additional charge between 50 AED and 150 AED. There is a discount for children of 50 percent but the fee itself still stands.

And although one could argue that families could just wait until check-in opens up to reserve seats together, the reality is that there is the likelihood that small children will not be seated next to parents, which is something that all travelers have seen as flight attendants haggle with passengers to move seats so that a five-year-old doesn’t have to cross the Atlantic 15 seats away from her mom.

Even if that reality seems far fetched, the stress of travelling for parents is illness-inducing. Not only is flying already stressful because of the hostility parents can face onboard when their children act like children, but some parents have even started bribing other passengers with goody bags or other sweet treats in an attempt to diffuse the obvious rancor they face while flying. As Lindsay Powers Eichmann explains to Self Magazine, “I mean, it's reality, kids cry. Parents are doing the best they can and don't need to be judged by random strangers.”

Moms bear the brunt

All of this anti-child sentiment affects moms the most. As women are more likely to travel with children, the stress and hostility of family flying can add to an already arduous experience. The British travel site, in a 2015 poll, found that the brunt of family holiday travel stress falls on mom. 33 percent of women find holiday planning to be the most stressful with an additional 33 percent finding “the journey time, including transfers and flights, to be a cause of anxiety,” as Katie Amey writes for The Daily Mail Online.

As Dee Rogers, a Dubai-based mom who travels frequently back to Canada with her two kids explains, “Flying with children these days is definitely difficult as it feels that the second you step on a plane with kids, you can already feel other travelers’ resentment. Put on top of that the constant moving around from place to place is extremely stressful for both child and parent, with no down time. However, on the flip side, once the kids are older, the movies are a fantastic escape which allows everyone to have some peace and quiet.”

Until the skies become more welcoming to families, most parents will have to do what they’ve always done which is just get through it. But airlines can help make flying more positive for families too by limiting the amount of anti-family policies that they roll out in order to keep the climate of flying a more positive place for everyone.

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