The Korea Herald


[Pressure points] Babies crying on flights. Should we blame parents?

By Song Seung-hyun

Published : Jan. 9, 2024 - 16:10

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Air travel has become a common affair for many -- not just for grown-ups, but also for tiny tots.

Yet, as more families travel with young children, the number of those who feel irritated by the presence of little ones on flights seems to have risen in recent years.

In August 2022, a 46-year-old man on an Air Busan flight, enraged by a crying baby, hurled insults and threats at the child's parents. When the flight landed, he was arrested on charges of violating aviation security laws.

Crying babies on flights are the subject of global debate.

Turkish-owned Corendon Airlines has recently started testing an adult-only zone on one of its flights, becoming the first European airline to do so and sparking a heated online debate. In Asia, two budget airlines have been operating child-free zones for a few years now.

Should parents bring babies on flights? If a baby cries or behaves badly on the flight, are the parents to blame?

The sound of a baby crying or screaming is unpleasant, of course, but an airplane is not a theater, said Park Hyung-nam, a father of a 10-year-old boy. “Like subways, airplanes are a form of public transportation. If there happens to be a crying baby on board, so be it. That’s just part of living in a community,” he stressed.

"People often find babies cute only when they are smiling or sleeping. But when they cry, scream or whine, they view them as inappropriate for public spaces and criticize parents for taking them out,” he added.

“Crying is a baby's job. The point is, are you putting effort into comforting them?” wrote a user of Blind, an app for anonymous employees to discuss all manner of topics, in response to a post by a concerned mother of a baby seeking advice for a planned flight with the infant.

Choi Seo-yeon, mother to a 14-month-old, said preparing measures to distract a child on overseas adventures has become common sense among young parents. Choi recently put her plans to take her baby to Vietnam for vacation in the summer of 2024 on hold.

“I don’t have any traveling plans at the moment. But if I were to go on (a trip), I would prepare sticker books, snacks and pacifiers," she said.

"Pacifiers, in particular, are known to help alleviate babies' earaches, which often occur during takeoff and landing," Choi added.

Korean Air, South Korea's largest airline, takes a supportive approach to parents traveling with babies.

On international flights, babies under 24 months pay 10 percent of an adult fare and, upon request, can receive powdered milk.

"If passengers want to bring their baby, they can simply make a reservation; there are no restrictions," said a Korean Air official.

Babies shouldn't be on long-haul flights unless it's necessary, due to the potential inconvenience they may cause to other passengers, critics say.

“Bringing a baby into a shared, confined space, while fully aware of the potential for inconvenience, is a self-indulgent act,” a Blind user wrote in response to the concerned mom’s post.

The prevailing criticism on the app targeted parents for their perceived selfishness and unrealistic expectations in exposing their young children to a broader world, with some posing the argument that kids won’t remember any such travel experiences when they grow up.

“Why must you bring babies along on overseas trips? They cry and can’t even express their needs with words. Isn’t it just for your satisfaction?” a user wrote.

On another online forum, a Naver user replied: “If there is a ‘child-free seat,’ I am willing to pay extra.”

Cho Min-hae, a mother of two herself, advocates for waiting until babies reach an age of at least 24 months before taking them on airplanes.

"My older child now communicates her demands clearly, but I don't think I can control the younger one," she said.

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"Pressure points" delves into the seemingly trivial, yet surprisingly contentious topics that ignite debate in our everyday lives. -- Ed.