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Fishy Logic in Malaysian Airlines First Class Baby Ban

Malaysian Airlines has announced that it is banning babies from First Class on some of its flights. However, there appears to be a lot of back pedaling in the explanations of the reasons behind this move.

A couple of days ago, AOL Business News wrote:
First-class passengers aboard some Malaysia Airlines flights won't have to worry about being woken up by a crying baby anymore.

The airline has banned infants in first class of its Boeing 747-400 jets, and has plans to do the same in their new Airbus A380 superjumbo jets, the Australian Business Traveller reported.

Initially, news reports were saying that the baby ban was due to crying babies disrupting passengers who had paid a very high price for their first class ticket. These reports apparently came from a June 20 tweet from the CEO of Malaysian Airlines, Tengku Azmil:

Also hv many complaints from 1st class pax dat dey spend money on 1st class & can't sleep due to crying infantsHowever, Malaysian Airlines later back pedaled and said this wasn't the real reason for the ban. The Australian Business Traveller quoted a media statement that was issued by Malaysian Airlines explaining the ban:
Bassinet facilities were originally available in the First, Business and Economy class zones of the 747’s. In 2003, Malaysia Airlines embarked on a revamp of First and Business class cabin of the B747s. The First class seat configuration was reduced from 18 to 12 for passengers to enjoy increased cabin space and extended legroom.

Each new seat came with an electrically operated ottoman that doubles as a visitor seat and could convert to a lie-flat bed with the main seat. As a result of this seat revamp and the introduction of the ottoman, there was no facility for positioning bassinets in the First Class of the B747s.

The further explained that infants were still welcome in Economy and Business Class (if anything, it would seem like "business class" would be the appropriate section to ban babies from, if you were going to do so at all).

Where is the Logic?

At this point, I was very confused. No babies in first class, because there are no bassinets there?

  • First, as far as I know, most airlines only have a few bassinets available (usually the bulkhead seats). However, parents with infants are generally welcome to book seats without bassinets and just hold their babies on their laps. This is what we did on most flights with our babies.

  • Second, the bassinets are only good for very small newborns. By the age of six months, both of my babies were too heavy for them. On the dozens of flights that we took with our babies under two years old, we simply held them. We only used the bassinet on one flight, for a period of 15 minutes while we ate our meals. They slept better (and disturbed fewer people), when they were in a ring sling on my chest than when they were in a bassinet anyway.

  • Third, safety advocates say that the safest place for a baby on the flight is in its car seat in its own seat on the plane. While plane tickets are very expensive (especially in first class) and many people do opt to have a lap baby, there are others who always purchase a seat for their baby.

Overall, based on those three factors, I would say that the percentage of babies that actually use the bassinets on airplanes is quite small. Therefore, not having the bassinets in First Class would not be a real reason to ban babies from first class.If it was, wouldn't they also have to ban babies from any seat that does not have a bassinet in other parts of the plane? Is a bassinet mandatory equipment for babies on Malaysian Airlines?

In case you are thinking that this can't really be true, check out the update in the post on Have Baby, Will Travel, in which the Malaysian Airlines CEO is quoted as saying: “We do not take infants in 1st Class whether on their own seat or on the lap." So this isn't just about the bassinets.

Are Babies Really the Most Annoying Passengers?

I know that a lot of babies do cry on take-off and landing due to the pressure on their ears. That is generally a very short component of the flight. Some babies do cry at other points in the flight, but they certainly do not have a monopoly on annoying noise. In fact, the loudspeaker on the planes that has to remind you about Duty Free Service when you are trying to sleep is probably the most annoying sound to me, followed closely by the people who laugh out loud at the movie while wearing headphones and not realizing how loud they are. Beyond noise, there are the people who put their seats back (even when it isn't night time) leaving me with no space to move, the people who use both arm rests, the people who bring and eat their own disgusting smelling snacks, the people who hover in the aisle right next to your seat, and so on.

Personally, I found it very easy to travel with my babies. As soon as they made a peep, I would nurse them or give them a pacifier. They were generally quite easy to keep happy and quiet. Toddlers, on the other hand, were a handful. They would squawk, cry, scream, kick the seat in front of them, push on the seat in front of them, constantly ask to walk up and down the aisle, and so on. Transatlantic overnight flights with my toddlers were fine because they slept, but coming back home when we were confined for 7 hours and they were awake, was a horror.

However, the Malaysian Airlines CEO has no problem with toddlers in First Class:

Older than 2 yrs old is ok

Are you as confused as I am?

Why are babies really being banned by Malaysian Airlines? Their explanation about the bassinets makes no sense at all. My guess is it is just to pander to the illogical sensitivities of some very rich passengers in an attempt to capture their business. For their sake, I hope that the babies in the first row of the section right behind First Class end up being the noisiest babies imaginable.

Want to read more on this topic? Check out Kristina Chew's great piece on Care2: Airline Bans Babies in 1st Class: In Search of Cry-Free Skies

Photo credit: Scott and Elaine van der Chijs on flickr
« No Cry It Out: 3 Years Later | Main | Another ignorant bus driver... »

Reader Comments (28)

I just travelled across the ocean alone with two small children, and I'm not sure I agree with you that other airplane annoyances are worse than a screaming child. On this trip my one year old was overtired and had just hurt his mouth, and screamed nonstop, refusing food, the breast, or pacifier, for long portions of the flight. Then, once he cheered up, he toddled down the aisles (not always under my closest supervision, since I also had to attend to my older son, especially when he spilled apple juice all over...), grabbing at people and their stuff. Everyone was quite nice to me since they saw I was doing my best, but I'm sure we ruined lots of people's plane flight.
I do agree that over two years old isn't the best distinction - my younger son could very well be even worse behaved next year!
But, to get to my point, I don't see the harm in banning children from first class or from another section of the airplane, provided that families traveling with children can still get tickets to fly when and where they want. As a mother of small children, I don't plan on not travelling, but I feel terrible about bothering others, and would love if the hard-core children haters were sitting far away from me.

June 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChanna

Is there a soundproof barrier between steerage and first class that I am not aware of? Because I'm pretty sure that a crying baby doesn't know that it shouldn't cry loud enough for the gentry to hear him. But let's be sure to put them in their place.

There's no reason for this. It's absurd.

June 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEmily WK

I actually spoke to someone at Transport Canada a few years back and it turns out bassinets are extremely dangerous for babies under 2 and many airlines are actively trying to discourage their use. Problem is that IATA makes the laws regarding airline travel and countries agree to follow them when flying internationally. So no one country or airlines can deviate from them completely without facing legal issues from the others.

And according to IATA, babies under age 2 are not legal persons, and are never "counted" in death and injury rates on any flight, whether you buy them a seat or not. Turbulence is often fatal and it's never ever recorded as a flight related injury. And airlines can't be sued because no one really died. It was just a non legal non person, right?

It's a complete mess, and I'm betting someone in their legal department decided that it was easier to ban them there and eventually in every section than risk anyone digging up stats and discovering how many babies die on airplanes because we don't make car seats or airline seats mandatory and completely safe and discounted for kids under 2.

Toddlers cry as well, and need car seats, so it's not noise. It's IATA's legal line in the sand at age 2.

Someday the public will finally learn about all the deaths and injuries and the danger, for now, people think it's safe because it's hidden. Makes me wonder what Singapore Airlines had happen?

June 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAurelia

If I can afford to pay first class (and am traveling with my child under two), why is my money not as good as the next guy in first class? Seems ridiculous to me.

June 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRenee

But why would their ban just apply to first class then? They aren't even letting parents buy a seat for their babies in first class and put them in there.

I understand what you are saying about safety issues, but I don't see that playing into this illogical decision.

June 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I heard a rumor a while ago about some American carriers that are possibly going to have baby and/or kid-free flights. Not sure, but the Huffington Post had something back in Feb about Adults-Only flights for some International carriers. I know that's different, but I still thought you might be interested. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/02/adultsonly-flights-can-ai_n_817335.html

I agree with you that toddlers are harder than infants. I've flown on at least 30 round trips (60ish flights) with my 23 month old toddler, and he was a dream until last week. When he was 10 weeks old someone bought us two first class seats for me to fly alone with him. The other passengers were nervous and one asked me if I would be able to control the baby. He was drinking alcohol and so I said, "Probably better than you can control that alcohol." I was right, the baby nursed and slept, the drunk guy was rowdy.

June 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

It's really just another instance of children being seen a second-class citizens.

Look, flying is mass transit. Yes, jet fuel is expensive, as are paying the wages of the people required to operate the flight, and keep it "clean" inside. But when it comes down to it, it's a way to get from here to there, and it costs a bit more than a bus ticket. That's it. Sometimes you have a good flight, sometimes not. Sometimes people are loud, sometimes not. Sometimes the flight is bumpy, sometimes not.

There are obnoxious, loud, drunk passengers, or passengers who don't understand that when you put a book in front of your nose you're TRYING to say, "please stop talking to me". There are children who cry or whine. There are adults who argue. There are people who stand in the aisle right next to your seat, waiting for the bathroom, even when the flight attendants have clearly & repeatedly asked passengers not to wait in the aisles. There are people who take up more than their one purchased seat with their bodies or their items. There are people who refuse to turn out their reading light when every other person on the flight including you right next to them are trying to sleep. Where's the oblivious-to-other-humans-around-them passenger ban?

To ban one class of passenger simply due to their age & potential for disruption isn't acceptable. Have they also banned mentally handicapped people or those suffering from afflictions which would cause uncontrollable outbursts from first class? I don't think so.

FWIW, we've flown with our children many times & nearly always buy a seat for each of them. On some flights they have been quiet, on some, there are moments when they have not been so. But I will tell you that I, as well as I assume EVERY OTHER parent who has ever flown with children, have put in one heck of a lot of preparation and work into ensuring our kids' & the surrounding passengers have a pleasant flight. More preparation and thought, I'd bet, than any first-class passenger puts into their flight. And far more than people would think to put into taking a bus. There's no banning babies from buses, right?

Oh wait, that's right... your last post. :-/

June 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkelly @kellynaturally

I agree that a young infant is easier to go places with and get to stop crying (or never start) with nursing or other caregiver cuddles. It is after they get to 2 and up that they can be real bothersome in tight spaces for long periods (FLIGHTS!) Ugg, now the fancy people who want first class can hang out with the drunk and rowdy people alone.

June 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNaomi

Because people who can afford to fly first class can afford to hire a lawyer and sue.

Look, I don't know for sure, but the only age they picked was age 2, which makes no sense in terms of age, noise, or bother. It only makes sense liabiity wise.

And they are changing the other seat configs on the rest of the planes. Which means they do plan on banning babies or carseats for all flight classes.

It just reeks lawyering up to me.

June 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAurelia

This really irks me, and not because of the children, but because of the parents. When I had children, I realized that I was accepting a fair bit of inconvenience into my life. But when my ability to navigate the world is compromised because my children are not welcome in settings that I need to enter in my daily life, it's discriminatory. While it's true that I don't need to take a first class flight on Malaysian Airlines in my daily life (or likely, ever) I see it as another step in the direction of deciding that children (and the adults who have them) are not people with rights to exist in the world.

July 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

I don't feel too upset by the idea of a ban on babies in the first class section of the plane, I think when the author talks about "are babies the most annoying passengers," she tends to refer to the economy seats, which I know from experience on Malaysian airlines are really really cramped!! I know that getting stuck next to someone sick etc is really annoying but I don't think on a first class seating you would have these problems because of the space, in which case the noise of a crying child is probably the worst thing. I don't know, I think it would be good if on a plane everyone could help out a little bit, there's nothing communal about raising children unfortunately, children sometimes stop crying very easily once a stranger begins to play with them, which probably means they are looking for something new and interesting to stimulate their minds, which is usually lacking on a plane.

I could understand not wanting the hassle having paid for the privileges of first class, my main worry would be if they banned babies on economy seats. Some hassles about flying just have to be accepted.

July 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCandice

Sounds like money talking to me. Children over two have to have a separate seat purchased for them so of course they are welcome. Babies on laps don't bring any extra money for the airline. It's ridiculous to think that a crying baby (and I agree that babies are generally easy on planes, it's the toddlers who are a challenge) in business or economy can't be heard in 1st class. If their true concern was noise disturbance they should provide noise cancelling headphones for the 1st class passengers.

July 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

But why is that privilege being denied to babies (and their parents)? Why is it automatically assumed that a baby will cry in 1st class, but not assumed that a passenger will get drunk & rowdy in 1st class?

Yes yes yes.

I flew with my 7month old and when we landed and I was given praise for how well he did, I regret that I didn't say "The next time a baby is crying on a flight, please consider that that parent is doing NOTHING LESS than what you saw me doing - they're just unlucky."

July 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEmily WK

You're right- I have never EVER been on a flight where a baby bugged me (other than my own!). They sometimes cry a little here or there, but it's short lived because the parent is RIGHT there to attend to everything.

And your question- who is the most annoying passenger? I'll answer that with a (hopefully short) anecdotal. Two weeks ago I flew back to Minnesota from California with my 4 year old. Our connection was in Phoenix, which means a short 45 minute flight then a long 4 1/2 hour flight. So my gut, as we were waiting, told me to upgrade to first class (which I would normally NEVER do) and it turns out that, as usual, my gut was on it. We had a 45 minute delay before even getting on the plane, then a 3 hour delay on the plane (we were right in the front row, which was nice because I knew exactly what was going on at all times- the flight attendants called the delay because of a malfunction in their communication thingies, it was definitely for our safety). My four year old daughter, who was tired and stressed out from a marathon trip visiting every single person we know in Southern California over 3 days, was an angel. She drank her first class drink, colored in her notebook, asked me a few obnoxious questions... but she not only sat still in her seat, but did so happily. But after about the first hour and a half the middle aged passengers started to throw tantrums, approaching the flight attendants and letting them know that this was "unacceptable." I'm pretty sure they were hoping for free tickets. So who do you think is the most annoying passenger? I know what I think- middle aged entitled people.

July 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrandis @ Stir Crazy

I agree that this is kind of a ridiculous rule. And is a clear example of agism and discrimination agains babies!
I've flown A LOT (like every 6 or 8 weeks) with my one-year-old girl between Asia and North America and Europe. Just the two of us. In my expereince, my child is much happier flying in executive class (and so is her mama!) In coach, she cries, and fusses, and kicks and squirms and wants to walk up and down the aisles all day and night. And there is no way in hell that she'd go in the bassinet. The executive class pods as described in this post allow her to lie down fully, snuggle up to me in a familiar position and actually sleep. Plus the extra leg room lets her play while sitting down, and the privacy allows her to nurse without the superfun distraction of people to wave at and play peekaboo with. Wider aisles let us wander without disturbing anyone.
For me the bottom line is coach = Screamy McScreamer Pants. Executive Class = happy, rested baby.

That being said, I do think that if you're flying with kids and heading to Asia, it's better to fly on an Asian carrier than a North American one as the flight attendants and passangers tend to be more patient with children and far more accepting of the need to get up and stretch.

July 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commentererica @ expatriababy

I feel like the "crying baby" is the ultimate in urban myths. I never noticed before I had kids of my own whether or not there was a baby on a flight. In the three years since I've had kids, there has only been one flight where a small baby just cried and cried and cried (international flight - and I have to say that baby was not breastfed, which I have often found as the ultimate soother for a small baby - didn't always work for my older babies on flights). Otherwise, there are so many times when people are like "Man, I didn't even know there was a baby here!" because the baby just slept. As Annie notes, my babies do great going to Europe and have a much harder time coming back. So on a recent return with my then 5 month old, yes he cried intermittantly because he had been awakened at 3:30 in the morning for a long long day of travel and was overtired. So what is up with the endless complaining about having one's flight "ruined" by small children? As we've all noted there are so. many. annoyances on flights - the #1 being people - usually middle aged men - who get drunk. Are they going to stop serving alcohol? I doubt it!

I always buy seats for my babies, partially because it's safer and partially because I'm so much more relaxed and happy when they are safely strapped in. It is nightmarish to hold a crawling/walking baby on your lap for 6+ hrs.

But wandering back on topic, I bet 5 million dollars that it's about the high paying customers and their sense of entitlement.

A sidenote about lap babies - lap babies certainly aren't as profitable for airlines as seated customers, but *many* airlines charge fees for lap babies. On one Air France flight a couple of years ago (before I learned my lap baby lesson), I paid over $300 for the privilege of holding my baby on my lap for 7 hours. (Air France is one of the most child unfriendly airlines I've ever flown, FWIW. Lufthansa the best.)

As for bassinets and safety - doesn't it depend on the kind of bassinet? Many of them come with zippers so you can kind of zip the baby in, which at least theoretically should provide some protection in case of unexpected turbulence. (I've seen others that were literally a cardboard box on a platform.) What I find more interesting in the division between US and non US carriers over whether or not lapbelts are safe.

OH, and if you're ever traveling with a lap baby, ask them at the front desk if the flight is full or not. Usually if the flight is not that full, they will allow you to bring the carseat on board and take a seat for the baby. Every airline I've ever flown - except Air France! - has been super friendly and accomodating with this.

July 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErin

Aurelia, do you have some documentation for the claim that "turbulence is often fatal?" I've never heard that before and would be interested in data to back that up.

July 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

[...] decision on twitter by saying they lose revenue due to complaints but the damage had been done.  Annie from PHDinParenting made the best point when she asked if babies are really the most annoying [...]

This is pretty much the first thing I thought. Whoa, that flimsy curtain in the aisles must be a lot more soundproof than it looks.

Kind of love the fact that the first tweet suggests that those in "coach" or "economy" simply don't pay enough to earn the luxury of sleep. Deliciously privileged.

July 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterhypatia

"the only age they picked was age 2, which makes no sense in terms of age, noise, or bother. It only makes sense liabiity wise."

The age makes sense as from 2 up children can pay for a seat and thus they cannot be banned in the same way that noone else can be banned from buying a seat.

July 5, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjane

Don't rich people have babies too, and even travel with them sometimes? Think they'll be OK with being excluded from first class because they are parents? Sadly, money talks, and I could see them changing this stupid rule for oh, say, some celebrity with an infant...

July 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

Wow, what a load of rubbish. IATA is an organization of airlines. They don't pass laws. And if they did, why would an association of airlines make a rule that airlines don't want? They also don't define what is or isn't a legal person. Turbulence is not often fatal. Airlines can be sued if an infant dies from their negligence, but not over turbulence which isn't under their control. And no one needs to be rich or have money to sue anyone, lawyers take a cut of the award, not to mention plenty of people with money fly coach and those who don't occassionally fly first.

Overall, this entire post is full of bull.

July 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPK

I just got back from my first vacation with my 4month old. He cried once during the four plane trips we took - it lasted under two minutes and was because the airport crew had left the plane out on the tarmac all day and didn't think to turn the a/c on before passengers started to board.

This is just silly - for all the reasons you've mentioned.

July 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrPopularSentiment

We paid $20 so that we could bring our additional ~16lbs on board. It's ridiculous!

July 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrPopularSentiment

I think the bassinet reason is just silly!
This must have been due to some complaints from very "influential" passengers that got the airline management to issue that statement.
I once was travelling on Business class and there were a few young adults talking and laughing loudly for about half the flight time...can the airline ban them as well in future? I think not...cause they are full fare paying customers!

Kelly, Malaysia Airlines' first class is not a jetstar flight from Bali to Darwin, people dont usually get drunk and 'rowdy' at the pointy end. There is no rush to down as many drink as possible between take off and landing. As a flight attendant working for a chinese airline, its hard to deal with passengers who are being made uncomfortable by a babies screas in economy.. in a much smaller cabin in front of the engines, having people who have paid sometimes up to 6 times what an economy seat is worth, to have a baby disrupt what should be an exclusive and comfortable environment is not ok. Banning them from first class is the smartest business decision this airline has made.

April 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCameronCorby

Dont hate them because you 'aint' them.

April 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCameronCorby

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