Privacy Concern: Should Airlines Highlight Where Children Are Sitting?

Let’s face it, being stuck next to a crying baby on a flight is not fun for anybody. To tackle this, Japan Airlines has a feature to highlight where infants and toddlers (up to two years old) are seated, so passengers can strategically avoid those areas. But does this raise privacy and security concerns? Should airlines really highlight where the smallest of kids are sitting? Let’s explore further.

Japan Airlines has offered the child seat map on its flights since 2019 and the feature has caught the attention of many this week again. Photo: Airbus

The case for

Japan Airlines first rolled out the baby seat map feature sometime before 2019. The system is simple; once a child aged two or under is assigned a seat on the aircraft, all other passengers will be able to see a small baby emoji on the seat map to mark the seat. This only applies to direct bookings with JAL, not third-party or award tickets, reducing the scope somewhat.

At first glance, the feature is great, both for parents and travelers. Once the baby icon is chosen, the seats near to the child are likely to be the last allotted, since most travelers will avoid it, and airlines will be mindful too. This gives parents more space and flexibility. Meanwhile, passengers can avoid loud crying for their long-haul flights and travel in comfort.

JAL Seat Map
The map has been celebrated online as a great way to doge infants on long flights. Here’s a picture of how kids are seen while selecting seats. Photo: Japan Airlines

As mentioned earlier, the feature is not new. Indeed, it was rolled out before 2019 but flew rather under the radar. Two years later and the story is once again in the news, but is it really the right thing to highlight children on the seat map?

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.

The case against

A HuffPost piece highlights how parents have long been forced to apologize for their young ones onboard, met with glares instead of support from fellow passengers. The seat map could only exacerbate the problem, with some glad they are far away, but those nearby children only more annoyed that they could have dodged the area, hardly helping in supporting the (certainly) exhausted parents.

Moreover, the idea raises privacy concerns. Should every person on an aircraft be able to see exactly where young children are seated? Does this raise safety concerns? While children are seated with one or more parents and family, should pre-flight viewing be allowed?

Crying Baby Getty Images
Crying babies on planes is considered a major disruption by passengers universally, but is it right to highlight them? Photo: Getty Images

As one Twitter user put it in 2019, there are many more disruptive traits on a flight too, saying,

They are babies as we all once were. We need to learn tolerance or will soon start needing a map of seat locations for mouth breathers, droolers, farters, drunks, and perhaps a lot more things in life. What ever happened to life’s surprises?”

Overall, the feature from JAL is a mixed bag. While travelers certainly appreciate it, it does have its drawbacks and does little to make traveling with babies easier.

What do you think about the baby seat map feature? Does it help travelers or add an extra burden on parents? Let us know in the comments!