Here’s what it’s really like flying business class with little kids
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If you are heading on a family trip, deciding whether business class is worth it takes on a whole other layer as you weigh whether business class is worth it with kids.
Will the whole plane turn on you with evil stares as you board? Or will it be the best flight of your family’s lives?
Usually, business class tickets come with better seats, more space, better food, more attentive service, lounge access, included drinks and more. But how that translates into traveling with kids can be different than the experience for adults.
Business class was originally created in the 1970s. As the name implies, it was geared primarily toward business travelers (often on expense accounts) heading to and from work and meetings at places where they needed to hit the ground rested and running. But in the decades since, the world of travel has changed a lot. Business class is now filled with all sorts of travelers, not just those in suits heading to close a deal.
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For the most part, kids can benefit from the comforts of a lie-flat business class at least as much as everyone else.
I’ve flown in business class with my kids at a variety of ages across a number of airlines. While I haven’t always been able to rest, I’ve never, ever regretted it.
If you have the miles, upgrades certificates or cash to make it happen, here’s what it’s really like to fly in business class with young kids.
Flying itself is amazing, but even a preschooler knows what a normal airplane seat is like: small and cramped.
But flying in a “seat that turns into a bed” is exciting — even to a toddler.
Whether you tell them in advance or wait until boarding to break the good news, everyone gets excited about being in a good seat up front.
Of course, in the “good seats,” your kids may get a little extra spoiled by the flight attendants. On our most recent United Polaris flight, my 6-year-old was even invited up to the cockpit during boarding, largely because she was easy to spot hanging out with Grandma in the first row.
The fun starts before you board
When flying international business class, the pampering process before the flight actually boards with included lounge access, access to shorter check-in lines and potentially even fast-tracked security, depending on your location.
If you aren’t sure what lounge you may have access to, you can do a little advance googling with your airline and departure location or ask the agent at check-in at the airport.
It may be easier for your family to eat a meal in the lounge than on the plane, especially if it is a lounge that offers a selection of hot foods.
Dedicated kid-specific spaces seem to be on the decline in most lounges, but occasionally lounges have a family-specific area. Even without a specific spot, it can still be fun for the kiddos to get to pick and choose from whatever drinks, snacks or hot items they want.
Related: United Polaris lounges are reopening
You’re (all) more likely to get sleep
Our family always has lofty onboard plans on overnight business-class flights. We wear comfy clothes, watch a movie, eat and then plan to sleep. Or, if the departure time is late enough, our plan might be to eat in the lounge and go to sleep as soon as possible on the plane.
But we all know the best-laid plans can hit turbulence. Whether yours works will vary based on your kid’s age, temperament and luck.
When our youngest daughter was 4 years old on a 2019 overnight flight coming home from Bora Bora (BOB) on Air Tahiti Nui, the adrenaline of getting to pick out a movie from all the IFE selections, the cool seat and some extra goodies from the flight attendants (not a guarantee, but common with kids upfront on international airlines) delayed her sleep — a lot.
And on a recent overnight flight from Houston to London in United Polaris, our now 6-year-old also had a bit of a hard time settling in, partly due to feeling a little nervous being “alone” as our seats didn’t feel particularly close to each other due to the configuration, even though they were adjacent.
But, even with some small mishaps in getting rest, your kids and you are still far more likely to get some solid hours of sleep when laying flat with a pillow and a blanket than when sitting upright all night, especially once they get out of the preschool years.
Kids are usually welcome upfront
With business-class seats, your family is probably going to board very early in the process — and most of the passengers around you will not be traveling with kids. In other words, you’re probably going to be noticed.
Given the periodic online fury over families who fly up front, you might be worried that you’ll be on the receiving end of a dirty look or two.
I’m not saying that has never happened, but I will say the odds are high it won’t happen to you. As long as you are doing your best to meet your kids’ needs, the most likely outcome is that your family will fit in just as well as everyone else.
In 12 years of flying with kids, I’ve never actually noticed any true negativity from fellow passengers, regardless of our seat assignments.
Now for the bad news
Yeah, there’s some bad news even in the good seats.
I mean, you could get lucky and do all those things, but my experience flying business class with truly little kids hasn’t gone that way.
The comforts of business class are indisputably better than economy, but the effort it takes to keep your kid happy (and quiet) is as high as ever when they are small. While your kid is happily watching “Frozen” and munching on the meal, you might get a few minutes to yourself. (Remember to request the kids’ meals days in advance of flight, if necessary, though they still have not returned on some airlines.)
Then, when it comes time to sleep, prepare yourself accordingly. Your chill time may be over.
The honest truth is that your dreams of lie-flat rest might not be very restful with babies, toddlers or even young children along for the journey. My oldest daughter sleeps very well in her comfy seat and has for several years, but little kids are just a different story more often than not.
For the wee ones, being in their own space without you physically with them (unless you’re in a seat like this), can be scary when their eyelids would normally start to feel heavy.
Don’t put on your noise-canceling headphones and expect to snooze soundly until morning. Instead, keep one ear open for your little one so you can assist them at the first sign of unrest.
That’s because, unlike in economy, you may not immediately notice they’re awake if you aren’t paying attention. My younger daughter got antsy several times on that 2019 overnight flight from Bora Bora. In fact, it’s happened on all our overnight flights. It does get better as they get older. Our most recent overnight to London was mostly uneventful once she got settled. Still, as a parent, you should be prepared to sacrifice your own sleep for the sake of everyone else’s peace and quiet.
So what do you do in the middle of the night with a kid who can’t sleep?
Middle-of-the-ocean cartoon-binging isn’t all that bad a solution. Eventually, they fall asleep, and you can put the seat back into sleep mode … at least for a bit.
Just be ready to do what you need to do to keep your kiddo quiet, which might very well mean you aren’t actually lying flat the whole time after all.
It’s better than the economy
Business class with little kids isn’t always going to be as relaxing as you hoped, and your dreams of everyone sleeping the night away in footie pajamas in the sky may not work out. In fact, business class actually has unique challenges, because you aren’t always as physically close to your kids as in economy and the stakes, expectations and expense are higher.
On the plus side, your family typically has more restrooms, more support from flight attendants and certainly more square feet and amenities to work with than in the back.
When the flight’s over, you get one final parting perk by being among the first off the plane. On an international flight, that puts you ahead of upwards of a few hundred people in the line for customs and immigration. Now that’s a benefit.
How to book business class for your family
Business class for a family is an achievable points-and-miles goal.
There are actually flight awards bookable for four (or more) in business class. You probably need flexibility and a little luck to get what you want, but it can happen for a reasonable number of miles, especially if you keep up with transfer bonuses, award-chart sweet spots and award availability.
Our recent trip to London and back was booked with four seats in United’s Polaris business class, all at the saver award level. In fact, three of the four seats were booked using ANA miles transferred from Amex Membership Rewards for 88,000 points each, which is significantly fewer miles than United would have wanted if we had book directly with the airline using United miles.
At times, you can book Iberia business class to Europe for just over 25,000 Avios each way, and the Delta One Suite can sometimes be had across the Pond for around 50,000 Virgin Atlantic miles. I’m not saying it’s easy to line up business class awards for a family on a reasonable number of miles, but it can be done.
Related: Best credit cards for families
Park your dreams of a truly relaxing 12 hours in the sky at the boarding gate if you bring little kids into business class.
Flying in business class with little kids is a fair amount of work and not all that much rest while they are still tiny, but it’s certainly a much better gig at the pointy end of the plane. You’re going to have more space and likely better service than in Row 41, but you’re still going to have to actively parent for much of the journey while your kids are still young. It can be tough for little ones to settle right to sleep in unfamiliar places.
Know, however, that as your kids get older, the experience does get more relaxing (for you) with each passing mile.
Featured image by author.
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