Airline Lets Flyers Pick Seats Far From Babies, Sparking Controversy

Some are thrilled to escape the cries, while others see it as discrimination against families with young kids.
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profile picture of Ashley Edwards Walker
Contributing Writer
September 30, 2019
mom on airplane sitting with her baby
Image: Paul Hanaoka

A Japanese airline recently unveiled a new booking tool that will allow passengers to see where children 2 years and younger are sitting, so they can ostensibly choose a seat far, far away.

With the online booking tool, which Japan Airlines (JAL) launched last week, a child icon will appear on seats that have been reserved for passengers who are traveling with children between the ages of 8 days and 2 years old. While those who book directly through the airline’s website will easily be able to tell where infants are sitting, tickets purchased using rewards or through third parties will not have access to the baby-identifying seat map.

Unsurprisingly, the announcement inspired a lot of chatter. On one side, many of the carrier’s customers were thrilled by the prospect of being able to avoid sitting next to a crying infant during a flight. (Although, depending on the child’s lung capacity, it’s possible you’ll hear those cries no matter where you sit. Those sounds can really carry!)

“Thank you, @JAL_Official_jp for warning me about where babies plan to scream and yell during a 13-hour trip,” one Twitter user wrote shortly after the announcement was made. “This really ought to be mandatory across the board.”

Others agreed that having the ability to ensure their own comfort while traveling was a huge selling feature.

“Great initiative,” another person tweeted. “Makes me want to fly @JAL_Official_jp for sure. Nothing worse than trapped near screaming babies. Sure families have right to fly like rest of us, but maybe have a cabin just for them. That’s only fair.”

“I have never been on a plane that didn’t have a screaming baby,” yet another commenter wrote. “I’ve flown quite a lot. I say I have tolerated enough.”

But others feel the move to flag where infants might be sitting is equal to discrimination against families who are traveling with young children.

“They are babies, as we all once were,” one person piped up. “We need to learn tolerance or will soon start needing a map of seat locations for mouth-breathers, droolers, farters, drunks, and perhaps a lot more things in life. What ever happened to life’s surprises?”

“How very [sad face],” another said. “We were all babies once. Crying babies is all part of life. A little tolerance and respect would not go amiss. I also find venture capitalists offensive JAL. Can you mark them out so I don’t have to sit next to them please?”

“You don’t honestly think parents can control whether a baby cries do you?” someone else tweeted. “Newsflash: we can’t. Babies cries for a reason or no reason at all. All we can do as parents is try to comfort them—sometimes it works, others it doesn’t.”

This isn’t the first time the “babies on planes” debate has made the news. Last year, a woman’s tweet went viral after she shared her experience on United Airlines. At the time, a flight attendant approached her and said it was “absolutely unacceptable” for her baby to cry on the plane and implied that the carrier had a rule that babies could only cry for five minutes. In the end, the flight captain did ask the attendant to apologize to the family, though they were left with a bad taste in their mouth about the whole ordeal.

If you have an upcoming trip planned, read our tips for making flying with a baby as easy as possible.

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