Art Carden takes a Coasian law and economics approach and tells people who complain about crying babies on a plane to just deal.
Of course, he’s more subtle than that, couching it in all social sciency language,
[T]he bundle of rights you purchase with a plane ticket includes the reasonable expectation that there will be a crying baby or two on the plane.
As one of his readers explains, “Your tickets are cheap because crying babies fly too.”
Which isn’t quite true, in that your tickets might not be cheap especially coast-to-coast or internationally at the last minute. But in the limit this seems more right than it does wrong.
Carden reframes the question not as ‘babies are a disturbance’ but as each side staking out a possibly valid position.
There wouldn’t be a conflict about rights were it not for the non-baby passengers who are there to hear the noise. That the baby is the source of the problem isn’t obvious.
Pet Airways was a concept that never really got off the ground, so the market didn’t offer an all pet solution. And while there are unaccompanies minors on planes, there are no “unaccompanied minor-only” planes. The two sets mutually co-exist on most airlines.
The airline internalizes the externalities through the price of the ticket, coming to an optimal solution which apparently means most of the time allowing screaming babies if the babies are wont to scream during the flight.
The airline–the owner of the space temporarily inhabited by the passengers–presumably capitalizes the likelihood of amenities and disamenities into the price of the ticket.
Malaysia Airlines has banned babies from first class. There may be a market for offering baby free zones, the way that Amtrak has a quiet car. But it’s not obvious that there’s money to be made there. Airlines have gotten pretty good about monetizing extra legroom, checked bags, and other optional services. Yet most aren’t charging a premium for no crying babies. Some people might pay such a premium, but most likely it seems there aren’t enough.
He notes the solutions that passengers annoyed by screaming kids can employ — headphones, ear plugs, paying attention to inflight entertainment (once it exists on the plane, I suspect that having to install inflight entertainment as an anti-crying measure might flip the analysis somewhat and an airline might choose to just ban babies if not for the negative PR they’d suffer as a result).
I don’t buy his offsetting positives, though, that kids are cute too. Crying babies are tough — for the parents with those children trying to quiet them down and for passengers trying to sleep on long haul overnight flights especially.
Interestingly, while Malaysia has offered baby-free first class cabins, and while it’s true that babies are less likely to be in first class (it’s costlier, so larger families mean greater costs to get there, plus first class is populated largely by business traveler upgrades), there’s hardly a guarantee of such.
So while you can reduce the likelihood of sitting near crying babies by getting into the first class cabin, if you’ve paid the fare for such a ticket you’re likely to be even angrier than I was when I flew Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong to Chicago and two parents sent their two year old screaming through the aisles back and forth between seats 1A and 2A while I was trying to sleep.
Finally, while Carden ends on a note I agree with — that parents have an obligation to come prepared, to do their best to occupy their children and keep them calm (children may scream anyway, but it’s often parents checking out that’s the problem not the kids) — I’m not sure how well that fits into the analysis because this obligation is hardly enforceable, and there’s no compensation available to passengers when a parent fails to exercise that responsibility. Doesn’t that, in effect, mean it isn’t a real responsibility at all?
Do you agree that economics tells us that babies crying on planes is an efficient outcome?