Why I would pay more money for child-free flights

Of course, I want to help save the planet, but I’m also trying to save my peace of mind

By Michael Jabri-Pickett/Editor-in-chief

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Published: Mon 27 Nov 2023, 4:35 PM

Last updated: Tue 28 Nov 2023, 10:30 AM

A few days after Emirates airline spoke about the cost of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and who (airline or passenger or a combination of the two) would pay so the air travel industry can do its part to help the environment, I’m still thinking about how to make my long-distance flights less stressful.

Adel Al Redha, chief operating officer of Emirates, was quoted in Khaleej Times last week saying there is still much to do when it comes to figuring out how to cover the cost of the fuel. “The current prices of producing SAF are really high, and airlines will not be able to sustain such high prices or passengers.”

In the UAE, we are just a few days away from a long weekend and airlines have increased fares knowing residents will look to travel for a quick getaway.

KT reported over the weekend that the cost of some short-haul flights has already jumped close to 300 per cent. “A one-way ticket from the UAE to Armenia and Georgia starts at Dh529 during the holidays, according to a search on various travel websites. The usual airfares to these destinations are just Dh120 to Dh160.”

In the UAE, 90 per cent of us are from somewhere else, which means we travel on a regular basis.

Nearly three decades ago, when our twins were born, my wife and I were working in Japan. Our first flight as a family of four (Tokyo-Chicago-Toronto) was when the kids were about three months old. Since we were new parents stuck in a confined, tubular space with strangers, we knew we had a responsibility as caregivers as well as a duty to our fellow passengers.

On a 12-hour flight, it does not take a village to raise a child, it takes one parent to do his or her job. I know that this requires a herculean effort on the part of parents, but if you can’t do the job then perhaps travelling with children is not for you. (Truth be told, I’m not too bothered if a parent can’t stop a child from yelling and crying, but I do get upset when the parent makes zero effort to placate the youngster.)

My wife and I took great pains to make sure our children were our responsibility. Whenever we travelled, we made every effort to board flights fully prepared to keep our kids entertained and quiet for the duration of the trip.

A friend this month was travelling for the first time alone with his two-year-old son. He was genuinely nervous about how he would keep him quiet. He brought along some of his favourite snacks and was fully prepared to allow his son to watch as much TV as was necessary so he was entertained and the flight would be easy for him and peaceful for his fellow passengers.

Another friend said that when on a plane, all rules go out the window because you need to do all you can to ensure a quiet, drama-free flight.

In April 2023, newsweek.com reported that Redfield and Wilton Strategies conducted a survey and “asked 1,500 American adults if there should be child-free areas on public transit”.

A total of 59 per cent “of those surveyed agreed that a child-free zone on planes and trains would be a positive thing, while 27 per cent disagreed and 14 per cent were unsure”.

In the demographic that is most likely to travel with young children, that being the 25-34 age group, 69 per cent supported the idea.

This month, Turkish-owned airline Corendon became the first European airline to offer a child-free zone. The airline, which began operations in 2005, calls such areas on their flights Only Adult zones. Passengers must be at least 16 years old to sit in this zone, which is separated from the rest of the plane by walls and curtains; and cost an extra €45 one way.

In an article published on September 19, 2023, euronews.com quoted Corendon founder Atilay Uslu, who said the zone aims to “accommodate travellers looking for extra peace during their flight”.

Putting a positive spin on a story that could be problematic with a portion of customers, Uslu said the service also offers benefits to parents travelling with young children. “They can enjoy the fight without worrying if their children make a little noise.”

Two Asian airlines — ScootinSilence and Air Asia X — also offer child-free zones on some of their routes.

Mental health advocates tell us you cannot put a price on peace of mind. If there is money to be made, I wonder how long before more airlines announce — even on a trial basis — child-free flights. For this, I would pay good money.

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