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

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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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