It's no secret that frequent fliers and crying babies are a volatile mix. One low-cost airline, AirAsia, is trying to keep these incompatible groups of passengers apart by offering an adults-only "Quiet Zone" on long-haul flights. Is this a sensible way to keep everyone happy, or a form of anti-baby discrimination that unfairly makes life harder for already frazzled parents? A closer look at the no-baby policy:
How will this program work?
AirAsia, which is based in Malaysia with additional hubs in Thailand and Indonesia, will set aside the first seven rows of its economy class as a "Quiet Zone." Only passengers age 12 or older will be allowed to sit there. There will be no extra charge, although passengers wishing to reserve a spot in rows where tiny tots are verboten will have to pay the regular fee the airline charges to reserve for seats with more legroom. The program takes effect in February 2013, but passengers already can start booking seats on those flights. The airline does warn that it reserves the right to make exceptions and put little ones in the special sections if "necessary for operational, safety or security reasons."
Is this a first?
Not entirely. AirAsia's regional rival Malaysia Airlines already bans infants from first-class seats in its Boeing 747s and Airbus A380s. It also won't allow anyone under 12 on the top deck of its A380s. And the section of AirAsia's planes being designated as a Quiet Zone is separated from the rest of coach with lavatories and bulkheads, so it's already viewed by many adult travelers as a slightly more private, premium zone.
Will this really work for travelers craving silence?
The airline is confident it's a win-win, as it will provide a new option for passengers looking for "some peace and quiet for a more pleasant journey." Travel experts aren't so sure. For one thing, AirAsia might be promising something it can't deliver, says George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, just as they couldn't always deliver clean air with non-smoking sections. "Even if you were just one row away from the smoking section, you still got the smoke," he says, "and you'll still hear the screams... if a child has strong lungs." Besides, it only works if everyone in the Quiet Zone stays silent, says Amy Graff at SFGate.com. "An adult chomping obnoxiously on potato chips can be just as annoying as a fussy baby."
Any chance we'll see Quiet Zones on U.S. flights?
Don't bet on it, say travel experts. Even if they go over well on AirAsia flights, kids-free zones would likely provoke a backlash from parents, says Brett Snyder, who writes The Cranky Flier blog. "It's already hard enough for families to find seating together," he says. "I think you would see some family groups up in arms and would probably see lawsuits... it would be ugly."