Racheal Lee
Aug 27, 2013

Child-free zones on airline flights require careful marketing

SINGAPORE - In the region's fiercely competitive airline industry, "kid-free" (or "family-friendly") zones on flights are a recent value-added offering carriers are using to one-up each other. But the concept has the potential to backfire if the messaging is not handled sensitively.

Child-free zones on airline flights require careful marketing

Scoot is the latest airline to begin offering kid-free/family-friendly seating. The new option, ‘ScootinSilence’, bans kids under the age of 12 in a section of the economy cabin.

While the option can be seen as an effort to differentiate and drive preference with key audience segments, it has a flip side, as one can easily argue that it goes against the trend of being customer-centric and actually discriminates against families. Yet others argue that it means a dedicated area for families and enables airlines to provide them with more focused service.

Sarah Reiter, COO at FutureBrand APAC, believes such "noise-free strategies" add up to less, not more.

“Airlines need to be less about segmenting ‘out’ and disenfranchising customer groups and rather offer added-value into their offer and product,” she said. “It is shortsighted and definitely not a good brand move, as it begins to judge and discriminate based on age assumptions equating to noise. The current approach is bad for airlines; they should rather turn it into a positive than negative.”

AirAsia X and Malaysia Airlines are also among the airlines that announced similar initiatives. Early this year, AirAsia X banned children under 12 from the first seven rows of economy class on flights to China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Australia and Nepal—branding the section as its ‘Quiet Zone’.

Malaysia Airlines, meanwhile, has offered a child-free upper-level economy deck on its first Airbus A380, which flies Kuala Lumpur-London, since the flight began in July last year. Earlier in 2011, it banned kids in first class on its 747s.

With brands offering similar service, fighting for the same pie and with passengers willing to pay a small premium for the service, a winning strategy in this game comes down to the tone of the communication.

While Scoot wants to portray itself as a cheeky, alternative player in the category, Graham Hitchmough, ASEAN director at The Brand Union Singapore, said the language used is unnecessarily demeaning to family travellers and has the potential to alienate them.

He noted that AirAsia X’s communication of its comparable zones focuses more on the positive benefits of a calmer, ambient environment, rather than vilifying family groups, who in most cases are just doing their best to get to their destination in as peaceful and drama-free fashion as possible.

On its website, Scoot’s messaging for the feature emphasises the need for "peace and quiet" and goes on to describe the "exclusivity and privacy that you'll enjoy in the ScootinSilence cabin as under 12's will be someplace else.…"

“Had Scoot communicated the announcement of ScootinSilence in a more positive and conciliatory manner and maybe balanced it with some associated benefits to young families, who are now more likely to be grouped together in transit, they could have had the win-win of demonstrating their service commitment to all of their customers rather than just a few who value flying in silence above all else,” Hitchmough said.

Simon Bell, executive director of strategy for the Southeast Asia & Pacific regions at Landor Associates, noted that Scoot's move will help to differentiate it in the market and is likely to attract more people than it deters.

He went on to say that this initiative is not necessarily targeting travellers who want silence, but rather speaking directly to the traveller who is looking for more than just an economy seat.

“Understanding their audience is key, and Scoot clearly feels that its consumers desire a step up from economy class without the formalities of business-class travel,” he said.

Such a divide might not necessarily be harmful to the airline's brand, Bell said; it would also depend on how Scoot positions the newly segmented areas on board.

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