Screaming Kids on Planes: Two Ideas

PHOTO: Babies under the age of two who are allowed to fly for free if seated on a parents lap.Getty Images
Babies under the age of two who are allowed to fly for free if seated on a parent's lap.

Gary Taylor says, "I think just about everyone loves a baby," and claims most people are quite understanding when it comes to fussy infants on planes. Before you say, "What planet is he on?" you should know that Taylor just retired as a flight attendant with Delta after 36 years on the job.

Some people want to ban kiddies altogether. As one commenter said after a previous column of mine about traveling with children, "Airplanes are already flying cattle cars, add a screaming baby or misbehaving toddler and that should be listed as torture per the Geneva Convention."

Parents sounded-off, too. "Perhaps that guy who drank way too much booze should be thrown off the plane? What about those people that don't wear deodorant?" Actually, both those things can and do get people thrown off a plane.

Now, let me pose two questions about kids: Would you anti-screamers pay for a little peace and quiet? And would you parents pay for a safer ride?

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First, we'll tackle the silence issue. A Malaysia-based discount airline that goes by the futuristic name of AirAsiaX is banishing children under the age of 12 from a section of the plane that is now being dubbed "the quiet zone." This eight row-long economy class space also features softer ambient lighting to add to the serenity.

Is there a fee for this? Silly question! But for just a hair under 12 bucks you'll be in a kid-free paradise. The airline hastens to add, in classic advertising-speak, that it is not banning children, oh no, it is merely "enhancing the array of product offerings on board to suit its guests' individual needs and preferences." Got that?

Meanwhile, another Asian carrier, Malaysia Airlines - does ban children outright. At least from the upper deck cabins on its A380 planes (and it's been doing this for a few years now). In effect, you pay for that privilege too, by forking over the big bucks for first class or all those miles for an upgrade. The carrier's CEO has stated they were getting a lot of complaints from elite travelers about crying babies, though as a parent myself, I have to wonder: are there that many families that can afford to fly first class?

Meanwhile, here's hoping Canada's WestJet makes another April Fool's video as good as last year's; their fake ad called "Kargo Kids" featured a very special seating section for children - in with the checked-baggage, in the cargo compartment.

But let's get serious. Let's talk child safety, especially for little ones - babies under the age of two who are allowed to fly for free if seated on a parent's lap. Here's what the Federal Aviation Administration's website says about that: "Did you know the safest place for your little one during turbulence or an emergency is…not on your lap?" They strongly urge parents to use a government-approved child restraint system - think of a car seat for planes - with the child in his or her own seat instead of someone's lap.

Sounds good, except the FAA has not made this a rule. They could order airlines and passengers to do this, but they haven't. What's even stranger is, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), another federal agency but one that's independent from the Dept. of Transportation (unlike the FAA), is currently pushing its Child and Youth Transportation Safety Initiative which would require "separate seats and restraints for all airplane occupants, and requiring children younger than 2 to be restrained by an appropriate child restraint system during air travel." However, the NTSB has no authority to make this law; they simply investigate accidents, see the results and - come up with initiatives like this one.

As more than one flight attendant has noted, if adults have to be belted in securely during rare but violent bursts of turbulence, why not kids? But maybe a better question is will parents pay full price for another plane seat if they don't have to? A final question: If parents did have to pay for lap-children, would some choose to drive instead of fly, which is statistically far more dangerous? I'll leave this one to the safety experts - and to you and your own common sense.

Meanwhile, there are a couple of things that can be done about screaming babies on planes. One mother I know follows Ogden Nash school of thought (as in "Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker") which means whenever her little one acts up, she buys nearby passengers a round of drinks.

Former flight attendant Taylor says when he saw passengers giving the fish-eye to tots-in-tantrum, he just started passing out headphones and that's always worked for me. If you ever see an oblivious, smiling man in the midst of a decibel-shattering scream-fest, that'll be me with the Bose headphones securely clamped on my dome.

The opinions expressed by Rick Seaney are his alone and not those of ABC News.