Adults-only section on an airplane?

Photo credit: Daniel Frese

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Conde Nast Traveler reports that Corendon Airlines will launch an adults-only section on flights from Amsterdam to Curacao, for travelers age 16 and up. The purpose is to provide a quieter airplane cabin, because many flyers are bothered by noisy children and crying babies.

Before COVID I was flying more than I am now, but I’ve started to travel again. I don’t like crying babies, who usually cry during landing and takeoff due to painful pressure changes in their ears, or bored toddlers screaming, “home!” But perhaps unlike many travelers, I like seeing families travel. When the child sitting in front of me peeks over the seatback, I smile and play peek-a-boo or make funny faces at them. I am usually able to quiet fussy babies, and have even flashed my grandpa credentials (a picture of me with our grandkids) and taken fussy babies from a frustrated parent to quiet them down. 

My aircraft cabin noise complaint is just the general level of cabin noise. Most aircraft cabins are too noisy, or painfully noisy for me due to my hyperacusis — a sensitivity to noise that doesn’t bother others and can be perceived as painful. I use the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health smartphone sound meter app to measure cabin noise levels, which are usually too high to allow one to converse easily. The illustration above is one of my own aircraft cabin noise measurements. Cabin noise varies widely depending on the phase of the flight — taxiing, climbing or cruising at altitude — and also on whether one is sitting in front of the wing or behind it. But most aircraft cabins are too noisy. I wear my noise-canceling headphones to protect my ears and make the flight more comfortable.

A rare exception is the Airbus A-380, one of the quietest planes inside and out. The A-380 is so quiet inside, with cabin noise sound pressure levels in the 60-70 A-weighted* decibel range, that pilots on Emirates Airlines A-380s have trouble sleeping on breaks because they can hear random noise, like flushing toilets, that is masked by engine noise on most other planes.

The quiet A-380 cabin shows that aircraft designers can design quieter planes and aircraft manufacturers can make them. Quieter aircraft cabins will increase passenger comfort and protect their hearing. The A-380 also makes less noise for those on the ground. A quieter world, inside and outside airplane cabins, will be a better and healthier world for all.

*A-weighting adjusts sound measurements for the frequencies heard in human speech. Adjustment for the lower frequencies made by mechanical equipment, including by aircraft engines and air rushing past the airplane, is done by C-weighting. There can be a 30 decibel difference between A-weighting and C-weighting.

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