Home Air Travel Should more airlines ban babies from first class – or business class?

Should more airlines ban babies from first class – or business class?

by Shelly Rivoli

It was a smooth take-off for the 10+ hour flight on which my family had been split into two separate rows by the airline. The baby and I sat in our window seat on the bulkhead row, where a bassinet could later be mounted, while an eastern European couple returning from their honeymoon occupied the two seats beside us. Things were already a little awkward on our row as I nursed to keep the baby comfortable during the rapid change in altitude, but we gave each other polite smiles, looked in opposite directions, and pretended we were all somewhere else for a little while.

Then the baby threw up.

There are reasons I recommend parents bring a change of clothes for themselves as well as for their infants and young children when undertaking long flights, and this moment—and the second round that began later that flight—top the list. Thankfully, the flight attendants were very supportive and helpful, and although the flight was completely booked—in coach that is, the horrified honeymooners were reseated in business class.

As a result, the barfing baby and I gained the two freshly vacated seats for the duration of our overseas flight in addition to our own less-than-fresh one, and I couldn’t help but think how well it worked out for everyone. Other than having to wear lavatory-rinsed, wet clothing for the rest of the flight.

Of course, the biggest concern gripping travelers with fear as they see babies boarding their flights is not this type of encounter; it’s whether or not they will have to listen to that child cry on the airplane. A lot. Maybe even the whole time. And some people, understandably, would be willing to pay a premium to ensure they are not subjected to the high-decibel overtures of an infant with uncooperative ears. 

Naturally, there are also a multitude of other offenses these tiny travelers may commit while airborne. If you’ve spent any amount of time in their presence, particularly during or shortly after meals, I’m sure you catch my drift (and perhaps a little of the banana puree). 

So do babies really belong in first class on long-haul flights? And should they have the right to a 10% ticket fare to sit on the lap of the person who may be sitting next to you in first class—for the duration of a trans-Pacific flight? I think it’s a good and valid question. Malaysia Airlines has decided the answer is, “Not on our overseas flights.”
Some may argue this is some kind of infant discrimination, though I’m not sure how many travelers with infants would pay a first class fares to fly overseas in seats where they can’t use a bassinet (or “skycot”), which has been the case with the first class seats on Malaysia Airlines’ 747s since 2003. Their business class and economy seats, which can be equipped with infant bassinets, are still very much open for business with babies.

Frankly, I’m surprised we haven’t seen more minimum age restrictions imposed by airlines offering exclusive classes of service and special amenities for business travelers. Though it seems to me priority to baby-free travel would fall to the section labeled “business class,” rather than “first.” Regardless, when consumers have a choice between airlines they should choose wisely, especially those traveling with a baby or young child—and those who would prefer to travel without. 

As explain in Travels with Baby, some airlines will offer bulkhead bassinets (or even toddler seats) for international flights, and go so far as to provide free diapers, baby food or formula, and even a baby toy. A few of these will still even offer to warm a bottle for you with a smile. Yes, even in coach. So why would you pay the same price or close to it to fly with an airline that offers none of that—and will happily charge you to fly in its first or business class with your baby?

Everyone offering harsh criticism of Malaysia Airlines this week should take note that not only do they offer virtually all of the above to travelers with infants, but they have also demonstrated an appreciation of their family travelers by continuing to offer family preboarding (even before first- and business-class travelers, unlike many other airlines), and have created children’s play areas and private baby care and lactation facilities in many airports that they serve. 

Now, on the off chance that any other airlines are looking for ideas on how to improve the customer experience for those traveling with or without babies, I hope they’ll consider my suggestions in: “Five Ways Airlines Can Make Happier Travelers of us All.” And remember, there are also numerous tips to help you keep that baby, toddler, and preschooler quiet and content on that next flight in Take-Along Travels with Baby, so do keep it handy. And in case you’ll be flying without an infant of your own in first class on any other airline, you may want bring a copy as well. We know how you value your sleep.

How about you?
Do you think it’s fair to ban babies from first class? Have you flown in first class with your baby? Would you do it again? Do you think they should be offered reduced-fare seats or lap child rates for riding with the upper crust? Is it fair to companies paying business class fares for their executives to arrive refreshed and well rested—for a screaming baby to make that impossible? You know, as always, I want to hear from you. 

Related posts and pages:

Five ways airlines can make happier travelers of us all
What ever happened to family preboarding?
Tips for long-haul and overseas flights with a baby
The real reason babies and toddlers need ID for domestic flights 
Cost-saving tips for families packing checked baggage
See more on air travel in FAQs and Popular Topics

Safe journeys,

Shelly Rivoli
Author of Travels with Baby and the new Take-Along Travels with Baby
travelswithbaby.com    Travels with Baby on Facebook

All content of this blog (c) Shelly Rivoli

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Emma August 20, 2014 - 9:37 pm

This is a stupid idea mainly because that first class cabin is on the same stinking plane as the coach cabin with the screaming baby. Case in point, the trip to London where we were seated in First and a baby in the back of the plane was having a bad day. He was audible the entire time in our “curtained off” cabin.

Another point I’d like to make is that most parents who travel with baby travel together and first class seats tend to come in pairs of two vs three, four or five as they do in coach. Furthermore, in long haul international flights the seats are little cocoons so you’re even more insulated from the baby. This means that the odds of me being sat next to a screaming/climbing baby in first is almost nill, even if they are in the same cabin/right behind me. So as a non-parent (I know it’s weird I’m on here as a non-parent but I was looking for a shower gift) I don’t see much difference between the baby screaming in the cabin behind me than in the row behind me. They are gonna keep my up either way, at least in the first class seat I have some hope that laying next to their mom in a fully reclined bed/seat they will sleep vs fuss.

One last thing, when did kids become a nuisance which needed to be kept away from all public places save for special kid only zones? If I am not mistaken we were all kids once right? Plus, if we never expose kids to “adult” spaces, how the heck can we expect them to grow into adults who behave appropriately? I was taken to fancy restaurants as a kid all the time, know what that did? It taught me to put my napkin on my lap, keep my elbows off the table, eat with the proper fork and sit still for more than 5 seconds. We don’t need more kid spaces, we need more kids in real spaces, this rule doesn’t help.

Shelly Rivoli August 27, 2014 - 8:34 pm

Thanks so much for your comments, Emma! Especially coming from a non-parent here, I appreciate these (and your visit!). I have to say one thing that has guided me *a lot* as a parent so far has been the experience I was lucky enough to have as a kid, where I was involved in a lot of “grown up” situations where I knew I was lucky to be there and needed to be an aware & respectful participant–what some people would call “grown up behavior,” but I have seen so many adults exhibit less than grown up behavior since, I would not call it that. It’s always been very important to me for my kids to get to enjoy being kids but to also be respectful people in the world AND be welcome where we’ve roamed. In my travels as a parent, it’s been shocking to realize how little compassion my own American culture has for its smallest citizens, while even the childless in other cultures celebrate their smallest with reverence and joy–and compete for their chances to make them smile and laugh–especially if fussy. We get cold stares and outright complaints if a child fusses in an airplane or restaurant. But there’s also that matter of taking responsibility for one’s own happiness. For the love of god, if you want a quiet restful flight as an adult traveling solo? Pack along your earplugs. Enjoy eating your meal with two hands. And watch whatever movie you like. The future of humanity–and your social security checks–rests in the hands of those juggling the baby on row 24. Don’t glare, just dim your reading light. 😉

Shelly Rivoli June 30, 2011 - 2:24 pm

E – agreed that more room for moms with babies is a good thing, and fewer passengers making noise in the cabin could certainly help a baby sleep! (Just don't sit too close to the guy with too many complimentary beverages though–or the nagging cough!) 😉 Those flying in coach with an older baby may do better on long-haul flights paying the extra (hopefully only 50% of the adult fare) to purchase an extra seat for their baby rather than hope they'll sleep contentdedly in a strange bassinet mounted to a noisy bulkhead row.

emily e June 30, 2011 - 1:05 pm

argh! this makes me so mad. I can understand that people don't like flying with a crying baby, especially if they paid for first class. (though who actually pays for first class anymore?). But just because it's a baby, doesn't mean it'll cry the whole time. Or even at all.
When my daughter was a baby, we flew a lot. My husband was elite, so a few times we got upgraded. Never when we were in first class did she cry for more than 30 seconds the whole flight. We were far less annoying that the guy who has too many complimentary beverages. On time, at the end of the flight, a fellow first class passenger told me that he was worried when he saw a baby in first class but that my daughter was the best behaved baby he had ever seen on a flight and was welcome to fly first class with him anytime. All the other passengers nodded in a agreement.

Plus, mom's carrying baby's need that extra seat space far more than any of the other passengers. 😉

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