As a budget traveler, most of the time I am stuck in coach/economy class. During certain flights, depending on time of day or origin and destination, coach class can sound like a nursery of discontent children, usually perpetuating restlessness throughout the rest of the cabin. On the few occasions that I’ve been upgraded to first class, I barely noticed any noise, and when I did hear a child crying, it seemed to be a world away. That translucent veil that gets Velcro’d shut between premium and economy fares makes a huge difference, even if mostly psychological.
Lately, many operators of transportation services have been testing “quiet cars” or “quiet cabins” on their trips. I first heard of this new trial in the fall of last year, with the New York City’s Metro-North train, which brings commuters back and forth between southwestern Connecticut and New York City, with some suburbs in between. As the busiest commuter railroad in the country, by monthly ridership, this pilot program was watched closely to see if it was a viable option. The MTA’s Metro-North Railroad launched their “Quiet CALMmute” program, which designates an entire car on certain peak trains as a quiet car, which means cell phones, normal conversations, and sounds on electronic devices are not allowed. According to the MTA’s website, “To spread and reinforce the message about Metro-North’s “Quiet CALMmute” cars, conductors will hand out on an “as needed basis” specially designed “Shhhhhh” cards that explain the rules of etiquette in English and Spanish.” Most riders with children, which are rare at the peak hours of commuting, are encouraged by other passengers to sit in a different car.
This program has seemingly begun to attract the attention of the airline industry, when Malaysia Airlines announced that it would test out a similar program of its own. On its A380 service between Kuala Lumpur and London starting July 1, 2012, the company will designate the entire upper cabin on what is currently the world’s largest plane to be kid-free, or free of children under the age of 12. The upper deck on this behemoth of an airplane is where the premium classes are located, and the rear of the upper cabin holds some additional economy fares. The lower level of the plane is now designated as “child-friendly,” because most of the rest of the economy class is down there. Malaysia Airlines had already tested a similar program a year ago, when they banned infants from some of its 747 routes.
In this sensitive political climate, when every controversial policy or rule like this seems to pit one class of people against another, it is easy to forecast problems with a system such as this one. However, as a frequent flier, I know that I would be happier to fly in a kid-free zone; I have nothing against the little guys, but I always welcome my flights as opportunities to catch up on work or sleep, especially on longer-haul flights. It makes complete sense (at least to me) that a plane with two levels designate one as child-free. Malaysia Airlines has stated that they would certainly allow families with children in the upper deck in case of a full lower cabin.