Airlines Segregating Tots in ‘Baby Ghettos’ (to Some Other Passengers’ Delight)

What’s worse than getting stuck in the dreaded middle seat of a plane? Having to endure a crying baby in the midst of an already unpleasant flying experience

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Hans Neleman / Riser / Getty Images

Recently, many airlines have begun to seat passengers with children in tow at the back of the plane, creating a sort of “baby ghetto.” Families are also being split up, with Dad in the front of the plane and Junior 10 rows back.

Customers are divided over these new policies, with some viewing it as a welcome relief, while others are crying discrimination.

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To be fair, parents traveling with young children already have their hands full as they try to mollify little Jenny or Johnny for the duration of a flight. Should we punish them further by lumping them all in the back?  But for other passengers who have shelled out significant sums of money to be poked and prodded by the TSA and crammed into ever shrinking seats, having a screaming child alongside can often feel like the seventh circle of hell.

Since many flights today are fully booked and even overbooked, there is less seating flexibility. Business travelers who pay the full fare, as well as elite frequent flyers, are obviously the airlines’ top priority. Whereas it used to be a choice option for a family to sit in the first bulkhead row of a plane (which offers a bit more space), penny-pinching airlines are now charging passengers for these “premium” seats.

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Family parties who are split up have to either plead with others to switch seats, risk getting into a confrontation with the airline crew or pay extra to ensure that they stay together.

Technically, airlines are not under any obligation to seat families together. But seating kids apart from their parents creates a naturally uncomfortable situation: As much as you may not want to sit next to a toddler, do you really want to sit next to a toddler who is on his own?

But problems abound however you dice the situation.  Reserving a seat assignment ahead of time is optimal — unless the airline won’t let you, and many no longer do without collecting an additional fee.  Even an expensive upgrade to first class may not be the answer, as passengers who have paid for added comfort and luxury often do not take kindly to the intrusion of little ones.

Would a fully conceived child-free zone on an airplane be a feasible solution?  The Economist proposed this idea over a decade ago by labeling children on planes as “noise pollution” and suggesting that seats immediately in front of this zone be heavily discounted.  Perhaps it would have support: a survey earlier this year found that three-quarters of business travelers deemed children the most irritating thing about flying.

Until then, parents will have to suffer as much or more than the rest of us. Increasingly, airlines have started to charge a fee for seating a child on your lap during international flights.  More people carrying on luggage means less space on board for strollers and diaper bags. And many airlines no longer prioritize boarding for families with children.

It’s enough to make parents traveling with kids break down in tears as well.

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