I spent most of the past week in Medellin, Colombia. This trip gave me two topics on which to blog. Firstly, Medellin must surely be the most underrated city in the world. Secondly, is there a legitimate revenue stream for airlines in offering seating away from infants and children?
I’ll spend more time on the second topic, as if you want to read a travel blog they are plently of better places than here to find one. For many people outside of Colombia the ghost of Pablo Escobar still hangs over Medellin, but once you are there you realize that it has been well and truly exorcized, and an incredible transformation has taken place since his death in 1993. Parque Lleras is the place to be at night, with open air restaurants covering many blocks – I cannot speak highly enough of the character and atmosphere in this part of Medellin. The Dann Carlton hotel nearby is a very convenient place to stay, less than 5 minutes walk through a park to Parque Lleras. If you still think of Colombia as a violent and unsafe place, then from the small sample I have seen, I’d have to say your view is probably 15 years out of date. The classic line of the trip has to be from the girl in her early twenties sitting next to me on the flight back to Madrid. This being her first trip to Europe, she said she had been warned by many people that the streets were not safe as there were a lot of gypsies and pickpockets and that it was important to hide your money. Hearing a Colombian say this about Europe really sums up the new Colombia perfectly.
Is there a market for airlines offering child free seating zones as a new source of ancillary revenue? What got me thinking this was the flight to Colombia; sitting in a twelve seat business class cabin and having no fewer than four infants in the same cabin! I felt like I was spending almost ten hours in an upmarket daycare centre. One study showed 79% of Britons thought the idea of child free zones on a plane had merit, including 71% of the respondents who were actually parents themselves! But for some reason WestJet got very defensive when it was rumoured they were considering trying this as a new source of ancillary revenue.
The easy response is to accuse an airline of being anti-family if they implement this, but I believe that when someone is paying a premium price for a ticket, they intend to work during the flight and/or they need to arrive fresh to immediately commence meetings with clients, then having a zone on the plane conducive to this is not anti-family at all. It is about as anti-family as a company not wanting children to spend the whole day at work with their parents. And a lot of business travellers do see the aircraft as an extention of their office, especially if they are travelling frequently for work. So if any airlines are already doing this, or are planning on doing this, you’ll get a big thumbs up from this blog. But be very well prepared for the onslaught of uninformed criticism you will receive and be sure to have senior level commitment to stand your ground once the media blowtorch is applied - backing down on new fees can be a career limiting move, something Dennis Cary at United reportedly discovered the hard way.