Should children be banned from first class travel?

A woman was recently asked to move her crying baby from first class to the back of the plane. But was the airline justified in their request? . Classen/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Air travel has become almost dehumanizing in the last decade, with passengers corralled into interminable line-ups, forced to remove their shoes, and pressured into either guzzling a litre of water on the spot or throwing it into a bin — both of which come with regretful repercussions. Add to that a fussy infant, and it’s easily the stuff of nightmares.

But for one New York mother, the nightmare continued on the aircraft, too. Arielle Noa Charnas, author of fashion blog Something Navy, was travelling on a Delta Air Lines flight to Los Angeles in late December with her nine-month-old daughter, Ruby. Fully aware that her baby might have trouble settling down on the flight, she and her husband purposely booked first class tickets “so that we’d have the extra space and could lay down with her,” she wrote in an Instagram post. 

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But when her daughter didn’t immediately stop crying, a flight attendant asked them to move to the back of the plane because she was getting complaints from other first class passengers.

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Charnas told Us Weekly that she refused to move to the back, and after walking up and down the aisle, and rocking her, Ruby fell asleep during takeoff.

Her post has garnered more than 23,000 likes and over 2,000 comments, ranging from shock and outrage over Delta’s actions to vitriol for Charnas’s decision to fly with a baby.

When Delta caught wind of the incident, the company offered to refund the family their tickets and gave them an additional $300 each, which the blogger says they will donate to UNICEF.

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“When elite passengers are spending upwards of $30,000 per seat for first class long-haul flights, [noisy children are] one of the most popular complaints registered to airlines and to flight attendants who are equally frustrated but powerless to do anything,” writes Jim Dobson, a Forbes contributor who specializes in luxury experiences.

This has led a number of airlines to put restrictions in place for travelling with minors.

In 2011, Malaysia Airlines announced that the company would no longer issue bassinets to first class travellers, essentially making it impossible to travel in the elite cabin with an infant.

Former CEO Tengku Azmil followed up the announcement by tweeting:

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More recently, low cost Indian carrier IndiGo implemented “Quiet Zones,” sections of the airplane where children under 12 are not allowed to be seated, and forbids children from flying in seats that offer extra legroom. AirAsia X and Singapore Airlines’ budget carrier Scoot followed suite with their own kid-free zones. And Richard Branson has discussed the possibility of creating a kids’ class on future Virgin Atlantic flights that would comprise separate cabins for children equipped with nannies to look after them.

Last spring, in an effort to destigmatize the flying-with-children cliché, JetBlue spearheaded a one-time campaign around Mother’s Day to encourage fellow passengers to give travelling parents a break.

The campaign, called FlyBabies, offered every traveller on flight 213 from New York to Long Beach a 25 per cent discount on a future JetBlue ticket every time a baby cried. The six-hour flight produced enough cries from on-board babies to earn every passenger a free ticket.

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“For Mother’s Day, we wanted to acknowledge how moms (indeed all parents and caregivers) often feel stressed while travelling with children,” Elizabeth Windram, JetBlue director of brand management and advertising, said in a statement. “We hoped to shed light on how hard it can be to fly with a baby and show how a little caring, even a simple smile, can really help improve the situation for everyone.”

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And then there’s the fact that, regardless of how much money you’ve spent on a seat, an airplane is still public domain.

“I understand that people buy first class tickets expecting more comfort than coach,” blogger Road Warriorette said to Global News. “But an airplane is still shared space, and if it’s not a crying baby it could be the loud talkers behind you or the drunk guy across the row. Whether I need headphones to block out noises or an eye mask to block out too much light, I am the only one in charge of my own comfort.”

Until that comfort is disturbed by little beings who aren’t receiving an adequate amount of instruction, others argue.

“There’s a big difference between crying/discomfort and just bad behaviour,” said Keri Anderson, editor of Heels First Travel blog. “I think all passengers, but particularly those in a premium cabin, have the right to expect that no one will be running up and down the aisle the whole flight, kicking or crawling on their seat, or screaming happily at the top of their lungs. In those cases the airlines are completely justified in asking parents to move or deplane.”

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