What it’s really like flying business class with little kids
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It’s a debate more bitterly fought than Boeing versus Airbus, who gets the middle armrest and whether there’s such a thing as good airplane food.
There are those who believe babies and kids can ruin the whole point of flying business class by being loud and disruptive. Then there are those who think kids aren’t any worse on average than other (drinking? snoring?) business-class passengers. From that point of view, kids are as welcome, or unwelcome, as anyone else.
As for me, well, I don’t personally want to fly long distances with a young ‘un who’s at that oh-so-fun stage of growing up that’s pretty much guaranteed to be disruptive on a flight no matter where you’re sitting. So I delayed and canceled a few bigger trips that were penciled in when my two daughters were in especially wiggly or tearful phases of life.
But for the most part, kids can benefit from the comforts of a lie-flat business class at least as much as everyone else.
If you have the miles, upgrades or cash to make that happen, then here’s what it is really like to fly in business class with a young kid.
Even a toddler or preschooler knows what a normal airplane seat is like: small and cramped. Whether you tell them in advance or wait until boarding to break the good news that they will be in a seat that “turns into a bed,” everyone gets excited about a seat up front.
Our family always has lofty onboard plans on overnight business-class flights. We wear comfy clothes, watch a movie, eat and then go night-night.
At least that’s the plan. And it works for a while, like on overnight flight like we recently had 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 extra goodies from the flight attendants (not a guarantee, but common with kids up front on international airlines), will often delay sleep for at least a bit.
What dirty looks?
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 kiddos. In other words, you’re going to be noticed. Given the 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 doesn’t happen, but I will say the odds are high it won’t happen to you as long as everything goes mostly OK. Most fellow passengers aren’t actually awful. As long as you’re doing your best (even if things go a bit wrong), you’ll probably be fine — or at least too busy with your kids to notice if someone throws a side-eye your way. In 10 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. Those thoughts of sipping Champagne, sleeping tight all night in your lie-flat seat and binge-watching shows that make you cry at 36,000 feet? Fuhgeddaboudit.
I mean, you could get lucky and do all those things, but my experience flying business class with 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. While your kid is happily watching “Frozen” and munching on the meal, you might get a few minutes to yourself. (By the way, remember to request the kids’ meals days in advance of flight, if necessary.) And 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 children along for the journey. Sure, my 9-year-old now sleeps very well in her comfy seat, but little kids are a different story.
For the wee ones, being in their own space without you physically with them (unless you’re in a seat like this), is scary when their eyelids normally start to feel heavy.
Don’t put on your noise-canceling headphones and expect to snooze soundly until morning. Instead, you’ll be keeping one ear open for your little one to assist them at the first sign of unrest. 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 overnight flight from Bora Bora. In fact, it’s happened on all our overnight flights. (It gets better as they get older.) The takeaway? As a parent, you should expect 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 still better than 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 as physically close to your kids as in economy and the stakes and 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’s an achievable points-and-miles goal. There are actually flight awards bookable for four (or more) in business class. Now, you probably need flexibility and a little luck to get what you want, but it can happen — and for a reasonable number of miles, especially if you keep up with transfer bonuses, award-chart sweet spots and TPG Points Lab alerts.
For example, if you decided to skip town right after the holidays in favor of Germany, you could book business-class seats on a Lufthansa nonstop flight from Washington Dulles (IAD) to Munich (MUC) for 63,000 LifeMiles and $5.60. There’s availability for four on Dec. 28 if you’re looking. Though there’s no active LifeMiles transfer bonus at the moment, one for 25% just ended, which means that 63k LifeMiles was the same as just over 50,000 Citi ThankYou points each way.
At times, you can book Iberia business class to Europe for just over 25,000 Avios each way, the Delta One Suite can be had across the Pond for around 39,000 Virgin Atlantic miles (transferred from Amex with a current transfer bonus), and so on. I’m not saying it’s easy to line up business class for a family on miles, but it can be done.
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Park your dreams of a relaxing 12 hours in the sky at the boarding gate if you bring little kids into business class. You’re going to have more space and likely better service than in Row 41, but you’re still going to actively parent for much of the journey, since little ones don’t always settle right into unfamiliar places. Flying in business class with kids is a fair amount of work and not all that much rest, but it’s certainly a much better gig at the pointy end of the plane.
For the most part, the the crew and passengers in business class welcome kids (as long as they aren’t going full bananas), and even with a few bumps along the way, you’re unlikely to regret a single mile or dollar spent to make your family as comfortable as possible.
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