In Britain, it started on the trains…. slowly but surely, Quiet Cabins crept on board various train services throughout the country and before you knew it, there was someone in your carriage waiting to shout at you for fishing your mobile phone out of your handbag to take a call. The fact that talking is permitted in these Quiet Cabins (and, apparently, angry shouting at other passengers to be quiet by other passengers, who fall foul of the Quiet Zone mandate) makes a laughing-stock of the purpose of these carriages (if you can laugh without getting yelled at, first), but they are an indication of just how tetchy we have become. And how irrational.
It will be lost on no-one that these Quiet Cabins are usually frequented by two types of people – the harried commuter suffering from Travel Rage and the blissfully unaware commuter, contentedly Zen in the scheme of things. It’s a recipe for disaster. And it’s not just the trains which play host to this deadly cocktail of Calm and Crazed Commuter at close quarters. Anyone who has flown on a plane will know only too well that eye rolls and self-righteous roaring soon follow where tetchy travellers abound.
Noise is clearly the defining factor in setting off disgruntled travellers, but perhaps by far one of the most bemoaned sounds on a carriage of any kind, is the shrill shriek of a restless baby. Capable of reaching 105 decibels, a baby’s cry can be louder than a chainsaw or the underground, with its trains and bustle . And, it seems, our thresholds for fidgety children have decreased considerably too. A survey by Go Compare found that seat-kicking and unruly children came top of the list, ahead of drunken passengers, rude cabin crew, and lecherous neighbours as on-board annoyances.
And now, in response to ever-growing consternation at having to travel with rowdy kids, some airlines are taking up the challenge and offering……. Child Free Silent Zones on their planes.
AirAsia X was the first airline to offer this service, which is now being offered by Scoot, Singapore Airlines’ budget offshoot, and Malaysian Airlines. For a fee, you can sit an area which is child-free on the plane, usually located immediately behind the Business Class section of the plane. Scoot charges an extra S$14.95 for 41 economy-class seats directly behind business class with three inches of extra leg room, where children under 12 aren’t allowed. The obvious business acumen behind this scheme speaks for itself, but that’s not what really concerns us.
What really riles us more, is what this shift in attitude towards children says about society as a whole and whether we should we be worried that we seem to be moving farther away from connecting to children and closer to alienating them from our adult lives? And, of course, what this means for children at the end of it all.
Children in the twenty-first century get a really raw deal. Only 13% of kids today will get a bedtime story, because parents say they don’t have enough time to read to their children or that they’re too stressed. And it seems too, that 80,000 children in the UK are suffering from some form of depression. So, where did it all go wrong?
Looking at this latest offering from airlines like Scoot, it very much gives the impression that society appears to be pushing children away at every opportunity. Having flown on planes myself, both with my own son and without children, I noticed that those children who made the most noise were those whose parents were not engaging with them or keeping them occupied. Those parents who played with their children and who offered them snacks and distractions, had quiet, content and happy children, and tetchy travellers were left to mull over their own distractions.
It seems as if the art of parenting has had to take a back seat in the pursuit of other things, but does this really justify the lack of care and attention children receive when their parents are present?
And what of the tetchy travellers themselves? This too seems to be a growing phenomenon and one which offers itself up as a barometer too, for society’s ills. Adults are losing the art of patience, perhaps; an observation with some irony to it, as this is the very thing we seem to accuse our children of, today.
The moral and ethical dilemmas Child Free Zones on planes presents are three-fold. By placing children and families at the back of aeroplanes, there is, as some research suggests, an increased risk of not surviving a plane crash – it is considered to be the least safe place to travel on a plane, though paradoxically some research suggests that it is the safest. Then there’s the implied treatment of children and parents – being given the last pick of seats on a plane, by allowing all other passengers to choose the best seats first. And finally, it sends out a terrible message to children, a message which goes something like, “You are all clearly unable to behave, so we are banishing you to the back of the plane”.
In reality, a screaming baby hitting the 105 decibel mark is going to be heard right up in First Class, and the row just in front of the last row of ‘Family Seats’ will still have to withstand their chair being accidentally kicked from time to time. I am an adult, and I am guilty of doing this myself on occasion. It’s clear that this latest attempt at corralling children is nothing more than a money-making exercise, but at what price to future generations?
The solution then, must lie with both tetchy travellers and harried parents; the former to re-learn to relax a little and the latter to view travel time with their children as a golden opportunity to spend quality time with their kids.
If we don’t reverse the trend in alienating our children, we will see the effects upon them first hand. Increased depression in our little ones is the first sign; let’s not cast them out from their world completely and forget just how precious they are.