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My Thoughts on Children in First Class

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There are few topics as controversial in the world of air travel as children on airplanes — especially in premium cabins. Yesterday, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele wrote a Comprehensive Guide for Flying with an Infant, and I was a little blown away by the vitriolic response. I even had readers beseeching me to fire Jason, claiming that we don’t need more stinkin’ kids on planes. Seriously?


Let me start by addressing the notion that children misbehaving on planes is some sort of epidemic. I fly several hundred thousand miles each year, usually in the front of the cabin, and I’ve only encountered an unruly child a handful of times. As for unruly adults — loud, drunk, putting their feet on the bulkhead, arguing with flight attendants, trying to bring on carry-on bags that are way beyond the limit, etc. — I encounter them much more often.

Maybe it’s because I have a soul or realize that we were all children once, but I love kids and I remember learning to love aviation at a young age. I can’t imagine wanting to take that away from a child simply because I want a quieter cabin. Why have so many of us become so cranky — isn’t travel supposed to make us more well-rounded, understanding people?

Furthermore, who is to say that adults have more of a “right” to travel than kids? With sky-high divorce rates and the global nature of business, children inevitably need to travel. Frankly, their reasons for flying might be more urgent than your own. I know many families who have adopted from overseas and flown back in business class, and more power to them! While you might not be thrilled to see that baby in the premium cabin on your way home from a vacation in the Maldives, it doesn’t help anyone for you to judge a situation you know nothing about.

From the comfort of my Etihad First Suite, it was other adults (not kids) who made the trip less pleasant.

I suppose the reaction to yesterday’s post shouldn’t have fazed me, but I was inspired to write this post thanks to what happened last night on my flight from Abu Dhabi to JFK on Etihad. At check-in I noticed only one other seat had been claimed in the first class cabin. Sure enough, upon boarding I saw that it was just me and one other passenger on the other side of the plane. I was happy about the prospect of a nice, quiet 13-hour ride to JFK. However, just before the doors closed, a family of 6 (including two small children under 2, parents and grandparents) entered the cabin. I admit, for a split second I was a little annoyed, but then I remembered a few important details:

  1. I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to fly in my own first class suite with a chef — all for $39 out-of-pocket and 90,000 miles.
  2. The suites close off.
  3. I carry Bose noise-canceling headphones to have control over what I hear.

The father even came over to me and said that if any of the children were a problem, that he was seated in front of me and I should let him know. Classy.

Etihad’s first class amenity kit includes ear plugs, but you can always bring your own.

Our departure time was 3am, so the kids conked out shortly after takeoff, and I watched TV and enjoyed a fabulous dinner (more on that in the full review). However, at two points while the flight attendant was presenting my meal service, the grandfather (who was seated next to me) interrupted her to ask questions, to the point where I had to ask him to wait his turn like anyone else, since the flustered flight attendant couldn’t tell him to mind his manners.

Scoreboard: Kids 1, Adults 0

The second biggest annoyance on the flight was the father, who decided to keep his window shades open during the whole trip. This flight goes north and then west across Iran and follows the sunrise, so even though I had eye shades, it was still jarring to wake up to use the restroom and have an almost fully lit cabin. Meanwhile, the kids continued to sleep peacefully.

Scoreboard: Kids 2, Adults 0

While both of those inconveniences are trivial in the scheme of life, I couldn’t help but notice that they occurred on a day when children flying in premium cabins was a controversy on the blog. I guess it reinforced my opinion that adults behave badly on planes more than kids do.

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