Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Child-Free Zones Aboard Airplanes? Child-Free Flights? Plus, 12 Helpful Tips on Traveling With Children

For many years, frequent fliers have debated about what to do with babies who cry during flights — as well as whether or not babies should be allowed to be seated in the premium class cabin on an airplane.

There are usually two sides to this debate: people who defend the parents who travel with babies; and those who are adamant that babies do not belong on airplanes — period.

Despite being a mother herself, add Kelly-Rose Bradford to the latter side of this debate, as she publicly called for child-free zones on airplanes recently during an appearance on a talk show televised in the United Kingdom: “We’ve got business class, we’ve got first class – why can’t we have a family-only section?”

This is not new. Back on December 11, 2010, passengers pushed for child-free flights because the second biggest fear of flying is apparently sitting next to a screaming, kicking, uncontrollable child.

Then in 2011, a controversial baby ban in the first class cabin on flights operated by Malaysia Airlines was apparently going to be imposed when the airline took delivery of its Airbus A380 aircraft in June of 2012; but Malaysia Airlines had since abandoned that proposed policy.

Even more confusing was that the ban — originally thought to affect all babies — was then thought to only affect those “lap children” who did not have their own seat.

“Deal With It”

In an article originally posted in May 2008 about being a passenger on an airplane near a crying baby during a flight, Steven Frischling of Flying With Fish simply said: “Deal with it.”

I would not go so far as to simply say “deal with it”, but I do believe that some compassion is in order. Unfortunately, the days where members of extended families lived within minutes of each other are long gone. Using my extended family as an example, there was a time where most of those family members lived in the New York City area. Due to a number of causes and reasons which occurred over the years, I eventually had family members in all four corners of the United States, including the Seattle, San Diego, Fort Lauderdale and New York areas, as well as Washington, D.C. and other areas — and where I am based is located nowhere near any of these locations.

Assuming that this is the norm, should a baby not be allowed to travel to see other family members, such as grandparents, aunts or uncles? If there is a family reunion located too far away from the home of the baby, should the baby not be able to attend simply because the baby would not be allowed to fly as an airline passenger? What if a grandparent of a baby has been given a dire prognosis from medical professionals where he or she is not expected to live much longer and wants to see the baby one last time but cannot travel?

The cries of a screaming baby irritate me just as much as the next person. However, not allowing babies on flights simply because they are babies smacks of a form of discrimination. Families should be allowed and encouraged to gather to spend as much time with each other as possible. It is not the fault of the baby if members of the family live so far apart from each other, whatever may be the reasons…

…so is the answer a zone or special section aboard the airplane reserved for passengers with babies and young children? I do not think so. I remember the days when airlines still allowed smoking sections aboard their aircraft, and I was the unfortunate person who was usually assigned a seat immediately in front of that section, inhaling enough smoke to last me a lifetime and then some. Similarly, what would be the difference of a passenger sitting in that section or within a few rows near it, as that passenger will still be subject to the screaming and crying? Besides, an airline would most likely not consider the expense necessary to properly implement such a concept.

Although there are ways to distance yourself from the annoyance of a screaming baby — such as noise-cancelling headphones, as recommended by Frischling — I am not going to go buy a pair simply for that reason. As I have noted previously numerous times — in this article, for example — I prefer to pack as light as possible and take as few items as possible; so purchasing noise-cancelling headphones is currently out of the question for me. Besides, I would rather use the money on something else.

The Stress of Crying Babies

When a baby starts crying, my eyes tend to roll and a deep sigh is emitted from my mouth, as I am not exactly the most patient person in the world. However, I do understand that the discomfort a baby may experience can be painful primarily due to the sudden changes in air pressure. Being confined to a small space in a strange environment for hours does not exactly help the situation either. I also understand that no parent wants to purposely see their new child suffer. Parents will usually do what they can to comfort their baby, and they are usually conscious about the effect the crying and screaming has on fellow passengers. Many parents can usually calm their baby within 15 minutes or so. That is certainly reasonable, in my opinion.

Traveling with a baby can be stressful enough — especially when it comes to scheduling and all of the extra items needed with which to transport, such as a car seat, bottles and diapers. Despite the discomfort of a crying baby, there is no need for fellow passengers to unnecessarily stress the parents further with anti-baby rhetoric. Nothing gets solved as a result.

My gripe, however, is the parent who is too lazy to do anything about the crying, screaming baby. That is inconsiderate to fellow passengers as well as to the baby. If a parent is not willing to do whatever is possible to ensure that the baby is as comfortable as possible and has as little effect as possible on fellow passengers, then the parent should either consider alternate modes of transporting the baby — or not travel at all with the baby. In my opinion, it is unfair to have a baby crying and screaming throughout a flight — unfair to both the baby and fellow passengers.

By the way, my stance in medicating a baby is to not do so unless absolutely necessary. Drugs should always be a solution of last resort, in my opinion.

Possible Discrimination Against Babies and Young Children?

In my experience as a frequent traveler for many years — more often than not — babies generally behave well on flights. In fact, I have been known to do a double-take at the end of a flight upon seeing a baby for the first time and think to myself, “There was a baby aboard this aircraft?!?”

Consider this occurrence on which I first reported back on Wednesday, September 4, 2013 of when the wife of FlyerTalk member WBrinegar was reportedly seated with their daughter — who was 22 months of age at the time — in the first class cabin of flight 1149 from Washington, D.C. to Houston operated by United Airlines when a male passenger arrived at his seat located next to them. The man supposedly created a scene aboard the airplane and complained about wanting a discount because he was forced to sit next to a child in the first class cabin. Combined with his “audible sighs and grumbles”, the wife of WBrinegar was uncomfortable enough that she went through the trouble of packing all of their belongings and voluntarily switching seats so as not to sit next to this unhappy gentleman. Is this an obvious case of discrimination — against a person for merely being a child, in this situation — or was the man justified in his behavior?

It is dangerous to presuppose how a person will behave during a flight. I personally would rather sit next to a well-behaved child than a jerk of an adult.

5 Tips on Traveling by Airplane With a Baby or Young Child

Let’s face it: there is no definitive solution to this issue. Rather, common sense should dictate whether or not a baby should travel as an airline passenger. Every baby is different: some will cry throughout a flight, while others will be quiet and content. Circumstances also play a role as to when a baby will start crying, such as a change in air pressure more sudden and greater than usual, or being seated in an area of the airplane noisier than usual which could prevent the baby from taking a nap. I would suggest the following list of tips — certainly not exhaustive by any means — to parents who are considering traveling by airplane with a baby:

  1. Visit your pediatrician to determine the health of the baby during a routine check-up. Let your pediatrician know with as much detail as possible that you are considering taking your baby on a flight before booking your airline tickets to ensure that potential problems are mitigated as much as possible.
  2. Book with the airline as soon as possible to attempt to secure the best seats possible on an aircraft. A window seat affords more privacy and exposure to fewer people than a middle seat or an aisle seat. Try to stay away from seats near an engine or a lavatory, where smells or noise could potentially disturb the baby.
  3. If feasible, take your baby on a short flight to determine whether or not your baby will be able to tolerate a longer flight — as well as whether or not the baby will be manageable by you.
  4. Bring items with which your baby is familiar to keep your baby comfortable and content, such as a favorite toy or stuffed animal. While it is difficult to do, transforming a strange environment into something more familiar can work wonders in keeping your baby from being unhappy.
  5. Upon boarding the aircraft, flight attendants are usually more than happy to attend to the needs of your baby and keeping your baby happy. If you are unsure about anything, ask questions. Let them know about anything they need to for your baby, such as warming a bottle of formula.


In addition, passengers should exercise more patience and tolerance about the plight of a baby. Even if flights had no babies aboard aircraft, there are always other potential disturbances that can occur aboard a flight. After all, life is not perfect — no matter the location or situation.

Diaper Changes Aboard Airplanes

Another sore subject for frequent fliers is parents who change the diapers — or nappies, depending on where you are located — of their babies and toddlers in what may be considered inappropriate areas, as I first covered in this article back on Friday, May 17, 2013. A parent openly changing the diaper of a baby in an aisle seat of the business class cabin aboard an airplane is one of countless examples of what some people may consider to be inappropriate behavior. The practice is considered disgusting and classless by some people; while others seem to have no problem or issue with it.

The changing of a fully-soiled diaper can be considered even more disgusting when the mother of an infant does not cover the seat on which she changed that diaper — especially when she does not wash her hands afterwards just as the meal service had commenced…

…and it can be quite unpleasant to fellow passengers seated in the immediate vicinity when the diaper change is performed greater than once during the flight — regardless of which cabin aboard the airplane it occurred — and especially when it is done aboard a small regional jet aircraft. Would you hold the taped-up soiled diaper while the mother struggled to clean up her child if you were asked? How would you like to eat your snack or meal that was sitting on a tray table — even if it was in protective packaging — when you know that it was used as a table for changing the diaper of an infant?

Perhaps the flight attendant should be responsible for the proper disposal of a diaper, as it could get lodged in the toilet of the lavatory; and unclogging that toilet has been known to cause the delay of a flight as a result.

There are those who say that those adorable babies and toddlers simply “do what they do” and cannot yet control themselves the way older children and adults — well, most adults, anyway — can; while others argue that if that is the case, then leave your babies and toddlers at home, as they have a right to enjoy travel without having to be subjected to the sight and odor of freshly discharged fecal matter.

Some might argue that the odors emanating from aircraft lavatories can be far more pungent than what a baby can produce — but then again, should that not be the appropriate place where a baby or a toddler should have his or her diaper changed?

Parents might either believe that they are being as discreet as possible when changing the diaper of their child at the seat on an airplane — or perhaps they may not believe that they are being noticed or seen, similar to that inexplicable phenomenon of a person picking his or her nose while in a car waiting for the traffic light to change. Maybe there is a plausible reason as to why the parent is unable or unwilling to take his or her child to the lavatory to change that odoriferous diaper — such as being required to stay in your seat while the Fasten Seat Belt sign is illuminated, perhaps. If so, I would like to hear those reasons to present all sides of this issue fairly. Please post them in the Comments area below.

7 Tips for Changing Diapers While Traveling

In a broader sense, this appears to be all about a matter of responsibility, awareness and respect for fellow passengers. While there are circumstances and situations which may necessitate a parent to travel with a baby or toddler — and while there are certain things a parent cannot control with regard to his or her baby or toddler — there are actions which parents can take to ensure that any disruption which their may child is mitigated or eliminated. In this case, that could include the following suggestions:

  1. Use an appropriate place to change that diaper. Unlike years ago, many lavatories and rest rooms are now equipped with tables for the specific purpose of changing the diaper of the little one. Use it.
  2. Ensure you have an adequate amount of the proper supplies. This includes diapers; a soft cushion such as a small blanket, pillow or pad; baby powder and other items which may help reduce the offensive odor while simultaneously ensure the comfort of the baby or toddler; cleaning supplies; plastic bags — preferably ones which can be sealed — in which used diapers may be placed for disposal purposes; and any distractions which could help reduce any impediment of the enjoyment of fellow travelers and diners, such as a pacifier or a favorite toy.
  3. Change the diaper of your child before you board an airplane. This may be difficult to achieve successfully, but it is possible.
  4. Choose a flight with the least amount of impact on fellow passengers. In addition to this being difficult to predict — as well as other factors such as the cost of a flight — this can be difficult to achieve but also possible to accomplish successfully. For example, if you can book a reservation on a flight when you believe that the baby or toddler will most likely sleep during the entire flight, this could minimize the need to change a diaper during a flight — or, at least, the amount of times a diaper has to be changed during a flight.
  5. Have a small offering to your fellow passengers, just in case. If for some extreme reason you are unable to minimize the disruption of the travel experience of your fellow passengers, at least offer them a little something for their trouble — a drink coupon or a chocolate bar, for example — to acknowledge that you are indeed aware of them and the possible effect on their travel experiences. This action may not excuse you from changing that diaper in an inappropriate area in the minds of the passengers — but at least perform a gesture of good will of some type so that you do not appear to be completely ignorant of the fellow passengers. Dan Miller of Points With a Crew might disagree with this tip, as suggested by this article.
  6. Ensure that the used diaper is properly disposed. Use the aforementioned plastic bags in which to place used diapers just in case you cannot immediately dispose of them properly — and close the plastic bags to reduce the odor of the diaper from affecting fellow passengers. Ditch the plastic bag containing the used diaper in a proper receptacle — and if that diaper contains solid fecal matter, first dump that fecal matter in the toilet and flush it before disposing of the used diaper in a proper receptacle.
  7. Wash your hands after changing diapers. For obvious reasons, this should go without saying — right?!? Regardless, you should wash your hands regularly for a better chance to stay healthy.


The bottom line — I was going to say no pun intended but I changed my mind like a parent changes a diaper — is that the days of family members living within a short drive of each other seem to be gone; and the Internet has increased the accessibility of travel and destinations for families. Grandparents, for example, who live far away and cannot travel due to health reasons should still have the opportunity in interact with their grandchildren in person — and parents traveling with babies and toddlers help that opportunity become a reality. However, it is the responsibility of the parents to ensure that they do not contribute to the deterioration of the travel experience of their fellow passengers, as well as the dining experience for their fellow diners — and completely attempt to ensure that the experience of changing the diaper of a child as inconspicuously as possible can go a long way in keeping the travel and dining experience as positive as possible for all.

What are your thoughts? Does it really matter whether or not the passenger seated next to you is a baby, an infant or a toddler? If the child is indeed a problem, is it the fault of the parents? Should children be banned from the premium class cabin; only permitted in a special section aboard the aircraft; or banned from certain flights altogether? Do you have any tips or recommendations to parents wanting to travel as airline passengers with a baby? What are your experiences with parents who change the diapers of their children in what you believe are inappropriate areas? Are you a parent who has either advice or experiences to impart about changing the diaper of your child? How can this debate be resolved?

Please post your thoughts in the Comments section below. Thank you.

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

  1. I always find these topics HILARIOUS. You want to choose who can or can’t sit with you?
    Buy or at least rent a private plane. Until then, suck it up buttercup and put on your headphones for a few hours in a metal tube with random strangers.

  2. 3 yrs ago, on a 7 hour international flight, i was seated with a guy in the middle and a mother with an infant baby. The baby cried several times and loud and not for one moment did I feel they should be thrown off or asked to go somewhere else. That is because I have a brain and heart. Every human being has the right to travel if they can afford on any seats and baby is no exception. I dealt with it with compassion and udnerstanding.

    Now when I flew with my than 15 months old on 15 and 9 hour flights bakc and forth, not once did he cry. he would sleep on his car seat and when he wakes up, we fed him , played with him and it was so easy !

    1. @jim,

      Wait until that angelic 15 month old is 3. Or you have another kid, they are all different. My niece had a 1st baby who is an angel, always. Naturally she felt smugly satisfied about her great parenting. Then she had #2 and HOO BOY, that kid put him in a car seat and he can scream and throw fits for hours. They’ve tried everything, and he’s bad enough on roadtrips they drive at night, and certainly wouldn’t take him on a plane. Parenting isn’t the whole of the equation people think it is.

      My son who is now 7, is 98% good on planes. Except one time I recall about 18-20 months age he was exhausted but fighting it, then finally fell asleep. Then FA gets on the cabin PA full volume *blaring* out some trivial bull and it’s scary to be woken up by someone shouting, naturally he’s crying. The plane is descending slowly and his ears hurt, he must have wailed for 40 minutes nothing I did would stop him, until finally we landed and he cheered right up. As a parent you feel really small in those moments, especially when the people in front CLAP because God that ordeal is over. However those people didn’t see him the other dozens of times he flew and got compliments they judged him (and me) by one bad day. I try to console myself that I’ll never see those jerks again so what do I care? But we do, and I think that’s what many judgemental non-parent passengers don’t get.

  3. Those who really can’t stand babies and kids in flights, they should book the entire first, biz or coach seats for him or herself, otherwise shut up and let others live their lives

  4. I think that airlines should provide 2 or 3 flights a week to popular destinations which are adult only flights. The high-pitched squeals that small children are capable of emitting almost always give me a migraine. In most situations, I can get away. Not so in an aircraft. I have paid my money just like the baby-people. How would they like it if I screamed for an hour as we flew over the Atlantic?

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