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Keeping the peace .. where young children are not allowed.

Nigel Morris-Co...

The tendency to create child-free zones is growing. Some people strongly applaud the fact that they have the choice to be in an environment where they are less likely to be disturbed by children but others consider it a restriction on their freedom. But surely there should be one over-riding principle - my place, my rules, says Nigel Morris-Cotterill

It was a dark and dismal early evening in mid 1980s British winter. It was freezing and sleet cut into our faces as we walked the two hundred or so yards from our broken down Volkswagen to the only nearby building, a public house. My wife, used to the heat of Hong Kong, and even after ten years finding it difficult to acclimatise to the cold Essex weather, was shivering despite a coat. She was holding our son, just a few months old, trying to protect him from the wind and icy shards. We walked into the pub where there was a log fire burning at one end and two customers in the bar. The publican told us immediately "you can't bring that baby in here." We said that our car had broken down just along the road and we were just looking for somewhere to keep warm until the RAC (roadside assistance) arrived but he was firm. Children were not allowed in his pub.

We hated that decision but we respected it: it's his place, it's his absolute right to say who can and who cannot enter and remain. He was curmudgeonly and horrible and a miserable human being but that was his right. We left and returned to the car to sit shivering until the RAC arrived which, they did as a priority because of the vulnerability of the baby in such conditions.

IN 2012, Malaysia Airlines announced a policy that children under 12 would not be permitted in the upper deck economy section of its A380 aircraft. There was no similar restriction on the larger lower deck economy cabin. That followed the creation of the policy in the B747 to refuse carriage of infants in First Class as a result of complaints from passengers about crying children undermining the entire purpose of paying for First Class which is luxury and comfort. Mostly, comments on websites, at the time, not only applauded MAS' policy but suggested it be extended to Business Class, too. Some reports at the time said that children under 12 would be banned from the whole upper floor, including Business Class, but that might not be entirely accurate.

MAS was almost immediately followed by other Asian Airlines in creating child-free zones. Scoot (Singapore Airlines not-quite-budget subisdiary), AirAsia X and Thai Airways joined in. Again, internet comments were almost entirely supportive.

Then the backlash started - or rather failed to start despite tabloid efforts to create one. In 2016, the Daily Mirror, a UK newspaper that's rarely more than a few steps away from trying to cause a ruckus, ran an article headlined "Major airline launches child-free zones on flights - and a lot of parents are furious"

The story relates to Indian budget carrier IndiGo which with 40 destinations can be properly described as "major." The ban relates to just 8 rows at the front of the cabin plus emergency exits. The Mirror said its action was " prompting parents’ fears that other carriers may do the same" But the ban covers rows 1 to 4 and 11 to 14, which is remarkably like the silly Monarch policy of old relating to smoking (remember those awful days?) which alternated smoking and no smoking rows along the length of the plane. Such small blocks, intersperse with rows into which children are corralled, is not a good plan. But almost no-one jumped on the Mirror's hastily created bandwagon and despite the attempt by the Mirror to create a fuss, and its having found a couple of people sounding irate, the Mirror's own on-line poll shows that 80% favour child-free areas on planes and almost all the comments support the creation of child-free zones and, even, a complete ban on certain flights.

And then come to the news that Bob Higginson who runs a café in Devon, England, has banned children under 12 and the fuss that the snowlflake generation and their mentors hope to create. It's not the first - last year, a café in Buckhurst Hill, an East London Suburb, banned children under five partly because they were disruptive and partly because they were shipped around in increasingly large personal pushed vehicles which have gone from a small stroller that folded not much larger than an umbrella to something that takes up more space than a table. Again, some media claimed people were "up in arms" but, again, by far the bulk of opinion in comments is supportive. In Brixham, Higginson says simply that his target customer base is older, more mature people who want peace and quiet.

Again, there are far more making comments in support than criticising his decision.

Me? I really do not want children running around or shouting while I'm having a quiet meal which might be my only time to relax, or socialise, that day. That's one of the reasons I avoid McDonalds. I want child-unfriendly policies, I want places where I'm not disturbed by children whose parents fail to recognise that children running around or shouting is unacceptable and do not recognise that the pervasive disruption is, in many ways, no different to smoking in public: like it or not, it gets everywhere. We used to take my son to a park for a run-around before going into a restaurant so that he sat quietly. He travelled on an airliner, from London to Hong Kong for the first time when he was just a few weeks old. He never misbehaved on a plane because we taught him not to. If we could do it, so can everyone else. Children should be managed and trained, not left to become almost feral and I absolutely applaud those who say that, because parents don't do their job, they and their children should be removed from responsible society, even if it's only by telling them to eat somewhere else or to sit in a part of a plane that is designated as a nursery.

I was once sitting behind a couple who refused to let their child sleep on a flight. The child, who was otherwise a model passenger, started to cry, then got louder. The mother said "I don't care how much you scream." "I do," I said. "Shut up." I was subjected to abuse and invective from the father who later apologised. Ironically, that time it wasn't the child that was at fault at all, demonstrating that such bans are not always about the children per se, but about those that are with them.

It's all a question of rights and this is one small fight-back against the idea that there is a right to be irresponsible, a right not to give a shit about anyone else, regardless of the disruption it causes to others and, equally importantly, it's confirming that the owner/occupier of premises has rights over his premises and that those who enter do so because, and only because, he says they can.


Amongst other things, including ultimate ownership of PleaseBeInformed.com, Nigel Morris-Cotterill is author of "ENJOY! The Time Travellers' Guide to Eating Out. Repeatedly"

-- correction: we mistakenly described IndiGo as a UK carrier. In fact it's Indian. Thanks to a reader for pointing that out. --