This Airline Has an Adults-Only Zone on Select Flights. Should Others Do the Same?
European low-cost carrier Corendon Airline recently announced that it is reserving the front rows on select flights for passengers 16 and up. Does relegating young kids to the back of the plane stand to improve the inflight experience for others?
When European low-cost Corendon Airlines announced on August 23 that it would reserve the front rows of its Amsterdam-Curação flights for passengers 16-years-old or older, the news resurfaced the age-old debate about how to balance the needs of traveling families with those who are flying without kids.
Corendon’s fleet consists of Boeing 737-800s which have 33 rows with 3 seats on each side of the aisle. The adults-only section is made up of 9 larger premium seats and 93 standard seats in the first 17 rows of the plane. Passengers over 16-years-old can pay an additional fee of €45 (US$48 based on current conversion rates) per flight to be seated in this section in economy, and an additional €100 (US$107, based on current conversion rates) per flight for a premium seat.
Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst at the Atmosphere Research Group, sees this “as a revenue opportunity, a way to generate incremental income. But I wonder if there will be backlash from the public.”
According to Atilay Uslu, founder of Corendon, allocating half a plane to adults only “can have a positive effect on parents traveling with small children. They can enjoy the flight without worrying if their children make more noise.”
Not all parents agree.
When the news was shared in a discussion forum on Bébé Voyage, a global network and resource for traveling families, parents’ reactions ran the gamut. Some felt that drunk or otherwise unruly adults onboard pose more of a problem (without having the understandable excuse of being children). Others agreed with the spirit of Corendon’s new policy but offered ways to refine it, while a few applauded it wholeheartedly.
Assuming that Corendon’s aim is to create “a shielded environment that contributes to a calm and relaxed flight,” as the company stated in its press release, other questions arise.
“It’s not like people won’t hear crying babies from the front ... not sure what the benefit really is,” says Sarah Maltzman Shah, director of operations for the Jewish Fertility Foundation and mother of a 6-year-old from Washington, D.C.
“This is useless on most domestic flights because they’re so small, the whole plane will hear the baby,” concurs Brittany Alexandra Barnes, a school librarian currently at home with her 1- and 3-year-old children in Atlanta. “I’ve been on some very large planes, like Emirates, where you board and deplane into different zones at the same time. This would make sense for a plane [of that size].”
Ivana Ivanovic, a marketing consultant and writer based in Oakland, California, and a mother to a 4-year-old, points out that “acknowledging the existence of children and dealing with their noises, cries, and pranks on an occasional flight should be a joy—like it is in many countries—and not [be seen as] a punishment.”
Monica Bartl, mother of two and currently working for an agency of the European Commission in Vienna, Austria, offered some suggestions for how to make the new policy more attractive for traveling families. “I would support this if—and only if—it would be coupled with special amenities for families in their reserved area, like a larger bathroom for changing diapers, a seat with more legroom for nursing, airplane walls decorated to appeal to children, backseats with stickers, etcetera,” she says.
Trains and planes with dedicated adults-only and family seating
Such special family-friendly amenities are exactly what France’s high speed trains, the TGV, offer. On weekends, holidays, and school breaks, the SNCF (France’s national rail network, which operates the TGV) dedicates certain train cars to families with fun window stickers and easy access to large toilets with changing tables. On the intercity trains on the Paris-Limoges-Toulouse line, they even have a Kids Space car with playmats, pillows, seats sized for 1- to 4-year-olds, bottle warmers, and stroller storage.
During school holidays, the SNCF offers the diametric opposite of what Corendon has proposed. Its Junior & Cie service is for unaccompanied minors from 4- to 14-years-old, and consists of a dedicated car with camp counselors, board games, arts and crafts, and more. The service is available on more than 130 routes.
When it comes to air travel, the move by Corendon isn’t the first attempt by an airline to separate adult travelers from families. According to Sharon Kurheg, writer at the travel blog Your Mileage May Vary, several other airlines have child-free sections on at least some of their flights. Two Asian airlines already offer sections accessible only to passengers 12-years and older. Scoot Airlines is a Singapore-based low-cost carrier with silent zones on their 787 Dreamliners. And AirAsiaX, a low-cost airline based in Malaysia, also has the same policy on its long haul flights. Additionally, Indian low-cost airline IndiGo has had “Quiet Zones” since 2016 where children under 12 are prohibited from sitting.
Kurheg notes that Japan Airlines takes a unique approach by identifying where babies and toddlers ages 8-days to 2-years-old are sitting on the carrier’s seat selection map.
In an August 29 USA Today story, an American Airlines spokesperson noted that generally the last couple rows on their planes are reserved for families to be able to sit together. This seems to suggest that some airlines already have a somewhat unofficial policy of grouping at least some families who are traveling with children at the back of the plane. This comes as U.S. airlines have undertaken a larger commitment to seat families together, free of charge. In February, United Airlines announced improvements to its online seat engine which would give passengers traveling with children under 12-years-old more adjacent seating options in Basic Economy.
But Harteveldt doesn’t think the adults-only zones would work with U.S.-based airlines. “If U.S. airlines tried this, there would be a discrimination lawsuit that would come up really fast. Airlines are licensed by their governments to provide transportation to the public.” He offers other ways to approach the challenge of meeting the needs of those traveling without and those with children. For example, airlines could “designate off-peak flights as family flights. They could have special fares, special catering, more kid-focused content, more kids toys and kits, etcetera. That would be a much nicer way to approach this.”
Another area in which the airlines could improve the experience for traveling families is the pre-boarding experience. “Thinking bigger than the flight itself to what are the most common causes for fussy children in an airplane and supporting parents to address some of those areas would also help,” notes Bartl. “I have not yet seen an airline family corner in the waiting area. Not saying this will solve all problems. You will still have some babies crying and some anxious children but you may catch 30 to 40 percent of the others. This contributes to a calmer flight for everyone.”