Is It Ever OK for Children to Fly Business Class?

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Most fliers prefer a kid-free business class cabin. Can you blame them?

Travelers who fly business class have higher standards when they fly the friendly skies in a premium cabin–as they should. After all, a premium cabin comes at a much higher cost—either in airline miles or in cash. When you’re forking over more of your hard-earned money (or miles) to avoid the crowded seats and depressing atmosphere back in economy, you should expect a roomier seat, better food, superior amenities, and more bang for your buck.

With this information in mind, it’s no wonder many who fly first class or business class prefer a kid-free cabin. They’ve paid a premium to sit up front, and they don’t want another person’s unruly spawn to ruin their moment.

And, can you blame them? We’ve all heard the horror stories of kids racing up and down the aisles, children kicking seat backs as if it were their part-time job, and babies screaming for hours on end. When you’re paying big money, you shouldn’t have to deal with any shenanigans, right?

Yes and no. You shouldn’t have to deal with rude people or loud noises, but you probably will. If you want to travel and choose who you travel with, you should charter a private plane. End of story.

Really, the onus should be on parents to determine whether their child is ready to fly business class without annoying everyone in the immediate area. Regardless of age, some kids are ready, and some aren’t even close. Here’s how to tell:

Your Child Can Use the Toilet and Wash Their Hands Without Help

If your kid needs help using the bathroom and washing their hands, please don’t fly business or first class. Passengers in your premium cabin don’t want to endure both you and your child walking up and down the aisles, nor do they want to deal with any bathroom “accidents” that occur.

Diaper changing is also frowned on in planes in general, but especially in premium cabins. If you absolutely have to fly business class with a baby, choose an airline that offers bassinets that make diaper changing and baby care less disruptive to passengers nearby.

Your Kid Dines Independently

Can your child open their own silverware packet and feed themselves without making a huge mess? Or, do you need to cut up their food and play the airplane game to get food into their mouths? Will more of the chocolate brownie they get for dessert end up in their mouth or on the floor? These are all good questions to ask yourself before you splurge for the entire family to sit in the pricey seats.

If your child needs a lot of assistance during meals, you may be better off sitting next to them in economy. Not only will this help you avoid annoying everyone in the premium cabins, but you will be closer together and may be able to help without getting up.

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Movies and Books Can Keep Them Happily Entertained

Business class may not be a problem for kids if they are easily able to entertain themselves for hours. If your business or first class cabin offers an entertainment device preloaded with stuff to watch and your child knows the routine, it’s possible nobody will even notice they’re there.

If your child never gets through an entire movie, is overly fidgety, or needs to get up and walk around, on the other hand, it’s not fair to other flyers to have them in a premium cabin. Does your child throw their Kindle down and start crying at the drop of a hat? If so, head to the back of the plane.

They Have a Proven Track Record of Good Behavior

Is your child typically quiet and well-mannered? If so, they are probably fine flying in business class no matter their age. Young children fly business all the time without any hiccups, but it’s normally only when kids are already well-behaved or at least willing to be on their best behavior when the situation warrants it.

If your child is prone to breakdowns, frequently fussy, or an all-around nightmare, please don’t burden other passengers with their behavior. You may be more comfortable dealing with your problem child in business class, but you will make everyone in your immediate area miserable in the process.

This rule obviously precludes babies from flying business class, as it should. After all, babies may cry for hours without any warning. In late 2018, flight attendants on a United flight even asked a woman to move to economy class after her baby wouldn’t stop crying. The woman reported that attendants told her United rules said babies in premium cabins couldn’t cry for more than five minutes. She also said the entire experience left her feeling humiliated.

United has since denied the “five-minute rule,” stating that families are welcome on any of their flights in any cabin. Still, actions sometimes speak louder than words. While flying a premium cabin with a baby may not be against any rules, some consider it rude.

Look at it this way. Many in your cabin likely chose their premium seat based on comfort, and if they have a lie-flat seat, they are probably angling to get some shut-eye. How many people will lose out on sleep they paid for if your baby cries the entire flight?

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Your Child Has Travel Experience

Finally, business class is best for children and teenagers who have some travel experience under their belts. If you’re unsure how your child will react when the giant metal tube they’re flying in hurls itself beyond the clouds, for example, it’s better to experiment with a short flight in economy first. It’s possible they’ll be terrified or completely indifferent to the experience, but you’ll have to fly to find out.

It also helps to know whether your child behaves as well on a plane as they do at home. Does time in the air put them to sleep, or does it make them hyper and rowdy? Do they sit quietly on the plane and entertain themselves? Or, do they ask 1,352 questions and drive everyone around them insane? These are details you should find out before you spend a lot of money for a premium cabin experience you may not even get to enjoy.

The Bottom Line

In a 2017 piece for The Boston Globe, contributor Christopher Muther reported that George and Amal Clooney gifted noise-canceling headphones to other premium cabin passengers when they flew with their six-month-old twins on a flight to London. This was an incredibly polite gesture, but Muther thought it “reinforced a dangerous trend.” Parents shouldn’t have to apologize for their children acting like children–even if they’re crying, Muther argued. Instead, adults should have more empathy.

This just goes to show that opinions vary widely on this subject. While some frequent flyers believe children and babies don’t belong in premium cabins, some don’t mind either way. Others wish children would just stay home altogether.

In reality, however, kids need to travel just like anyone else. It’s up to parents to decide when kids are ready to fly business without ruining it for everyone else.