Page last updated at 23:01 GMT, Thursday, 5 August 2010 00:01 UK

Why flying with children can spoil a dream trip

By Fiona Foster

Woman and baby next to a business woman on a plane
Screaming children in a confined space - the stuff of travellers' nightmares

As any parent will tell you, flying with children is no picnic for anybody involved. Lively youngsters in a cramped, enclosed space for hours at a time is a recipe for mini-meltdown and a less than peaceful flight for those around them.

This is something Qantas airlines knows only too well, after recently settling out of court with a 67-year-old American passenger who claimed that a scream from a little boy across the aisle on a flight from Alice Springs to Darwin made her ears bleed and caused her to go deaf.

Her lawyer argued the airline crew had been negligent in not preventing the incident.

Good business sense

Of course there are hundreds of thousands of well-behaved children taking to the skies every year but there are also endless stories about flights spoiled by unruly youngsters.

And there is no doubt that a journey of a few hours can seem like days on end if you are unlucky enough to be seated near a junior passenger who is not being kept under control.

Hanna O'Sullivan, Gulf Air Sky Nanny.
Often children who are misbehaving are just bored, and they need someone to give them a distraction
Hanna O'Sullivan, Sky Nanny

That was certainly the case for Miles Smith who says his seven hour flight from Dubai was ruined by three screaming children.

"I know this is public transport and I am not a child hater but the crew neither spoke to the parents nor did anything to try to shut the kids up. I still have a headache."

It is an issue some airlines, like Lufthansa, have tackled by adopting a child-friendly approach with a mascot, gifts and a children's lounge, which they believe makes good business sense and benefits everyone on board.

"When our flight attendants see that a child is not calm it's their first priority to help out and see what's going on," says Aage Duenhaupt, director for Lufthansa's corporate communications in Europe.

Gulf Air has gone a step further. In 2003 it introduced crew members specially trained to keep children entertained.

Seven years on they can now be found on all long-haul flights.

"We can assist the parents with the children, try and defuse the situation, and create a distraction which might help settle a child down," says Hanna O'Sullivan, a Gulf Air Sky Nanny.

"Sometimes we can remove the child from the situation, take them for a little walk around the aircraft. Often children who are misbehaving are just bored, and they need someone, like a Sky Nanny, to give them a distraction," she adds.

Frequent complaint

But just suppose you do not have a team of trained nannies on board.

No matter where you sit in the plane or how much you paid for your ticket you are not guaranteed immunity from other people's noisy and/or naughty offspring.

For those in business class it has become a real bugbear.

"It's right up there with top annoyances for travellers," says Tom Otley, editor of Business Traveller magazine.

"Whenever this topic comes up we have the most forum posts on our website, and we had so many letters both for and against travelling with babies in business class that we had to stop the debate because there wasn't room for any more letters," he says.

mother and daughter on a plane
If parents have selected their seats they may not appreciate being moved

"I think that the situation is that many parents, once they've paid for a business class ticket wash their hands of their children on board and expect staff to look after them - almost like it's a playpen," he adds.

So if it is such a hot topic, any chance that business class could be made child-free zones?

"There's absolutely no sign of any airlines considering banning children, and as many people have pointed out, the parents have paid just as much for their children to fly in business class as the adults who are complaining about them," Mr Otley says.

Child-free zones

But what can be done to keep everyone happy? There have been suggestions that there should be family-only sections in planes where everyone with young children could sit.

One survey found that 85% of the 10,000 people questioned thought this was a good idea. Many of them were parents.

So why hasn't it happened yet?

"At Lufthansa we have no plans to separate cabins. Children are an integral part of life, on board as well. Of course, if we see that there is too much noise in one section and people are feeling unhappy, then we will try to reseat them in other areas of the plane, if possible," says Mr Duenhaupt.

Mr Otley agrees that it is a difficult to envisage family-only sections.

"Many of the self-booking tools now allow you to select your seats, and if you as a family have selected your seats together and are then moved to the back of the cabin with all the other families, that's not customer choice, it's being imposed on you by the airline - and that wouldn't be popular," he says.

Pack earplugs

For some travellers even child-free sections would not go far enough. Just as there are adult-only hotels and holiday resorts they would like to see totally child-free flights on offer on busy routes. But again, do not hold your breath.

"It would be difficult to have child-free flights or alternatively flights that have a lot of children on. Pricing does play a part in that - there are some flights that are less expensive because they're less convenient for business travellers, and during the summer there are better deals which are more likely to attract families," Mr Otley says.

And Lufthansa's Aage Duenhaupt agrees: "I just don't think it's a valid option from a business perspective as we would end up losing bookings from families."

So it seems that for now it is just a matter of crossing your fingers, remembering your earplugs and reminding yourself that you too were once a child.

On the other hand you could always try this line sent in by Fast Track viewer Graeme Morgan in Australia.

"On an overnight flight from Sydney to Honolulu a young child was causing chaos by running around.

"After about 30 minutes a stewardess approached the child and was overheard saying - go ask your Mummy if you can go outside and play.

"The child returned to her parents and asked them the question. No more was heard from the child for the rest of the flight."


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SEE ALSO
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