The topic of whether or not babies should be allowed in first class is once again being widely discussed online, so I wanted to share my take on this. While I’m a new dad, my opinion on this hasn’t changed in years – yes, babies are (and should be) allowed in first class.
The argument against allowing babies in first class
The New York Times ran a story in its travel section this week, entitled “Babies in First Class: Which Side of the Aisle Are You On?” The story interviews some travelers (like the one below), and the argument against babies in first class essentially comes down to people claiming that they pay extra for “relaxation” in first class:
“First class is a premium space where passengers pay extra for added comfort and relaxation. The presence of a baby, with their potential crying and fussing, would disrupt the peaceful atmosphere and ruin the experience for other passengers.”
This topic was even discussed on CNBC’s Squawk Box, with Andrew Ross Sorkin taking a strong stance that babies shouldn’t be allowed in first class. His argument is similar to all the arguments we see in favor of banning babies in first class — people pay so much extra money to sit in first class, and for that amount of money they should be able to expect relaxation.
Why babies should be allowed in first class
Let me start by acknowledging the obvious — virtually no one likes sitting next to or near someone else’s baby on an airplane. I mean, it would be kind of weird if you did. That applies no matter which cabin you’re in. Furthermore, most responsible parents dread the thought of their baby disturbing others on flights, and do everything they can to avoid it.
With that in mind, let me address a few points…
Babies are allowed in first class
While it’s clear that some people don’t want babies to be allowed in first class, the current reality is that babies of all ages are allowed in first class on virtually all airlines and in virtually all cabins. So it’s fine to “want” things to be different, but that’s just the reality. I’d also like Emirates to fly the A380 to Miami and un-devalue the Skywards frequent flyer program, but that’s unlikely to happen.
Airlines do not promise “relaxation” in first class
The fundamental argument that people make in favor of banning babies in first class is that airlines are promising “relaxation” in first class. That generally isn’t accurate. When you book a premium seat, you’re paying for more space, lounge access, priority services, and elevated food & drinks.
For example, look at the webpages describing the premium products of the “big three” US carriers, including American Flagship Business, Delta One, and United Polaris. Nowhere does it set any expectations about other passengers creating a relaxing environment.
Now, if we’d like to create new rules about etiquette in first class vs. in the rest of the plane, I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to that. I’ve seen lots of adults in first class acting like children, so maybe we can ban them?
But I think people are missing the distinction between paying a premium for a bit more space on a commercial aircraft, and flying privately. If you actually want to control the environment around you, then private flying is for you.
Parents with babies also pay to sit in first class
People like to argue that babies should be banned from first class because people in first class paid so much money to sit there. I think a reality check is in order here:
- Parents who choose to sit in first class are also paying for that privilege in the same way
- While international first class is expensive, domestic first class is often marginally more expensive than economy; you’re paying for some extra space, often at a reasonable premium, and nothing more
- Parents with babies have lots of legitimate reasons that they too may want to sit in first class — it can be easier to keep your baby well behaved if you have a bit more space, and some parents might be concerned about their babies getting sick, and odds of that are minimized if you’re not as close to fellow travelers
On your standard domestic flight, there is not much separation between first class and economy. Heck, there’s often not even a divider between cabins anymore. Sound travels, so realistically if you’re seated in first class and there’s a crying baby in front of economy, you’ll hear it.
So is there really a difference if a baby is in the last row of first class or the first row of economy?
Irresponsible parents are frustrating everywhere
Obviously people have all kinds of different parenting styles. I’m always impressed when I see parents who plan for their flights, recognizing the challenges that they may face. Of course a baby might scream a little bit, as many factors can affect that. However, we all hope that parents at least try to control their baby and minimize disruption to others.
Conversely, you see some parents – and they can be in first class or economy – who seem completely uninterested in taking care of their children. People are understandably frustrated by this, regardless of where they’re seated.
Would I travel with our baby in first class?
Like I said, the above is my perspective on how things should be. While I’m a new parent, I’ve held the same beliefs on this for a very long time. That being said, to what extent would I feel comfortable traveling with our son in premium cabins?
In domestic first class, I’d have no qualms traveling with a baby. I don’t see domestic first class as being some ultra-exclusive experience. Rather I see it as paying a bit extra for more space.
That being said, I could see it being equally comfortable to just buy three seats in economy (rather than traveling with a baby as a lap infant in first class), because that way there would be somewhere to place a car seat. My decision would be based on what’s better in a particular situation based on price, how full a flight is, etc.
What about international flights in first & business class? Well, while I absolutely think babies should be allowed in these premium cabins, I’m not sure to what extent I’d feel comfortable traveling with a baby. Why? Because I don’t want to get side-eye the whole flight from premium travelers who think they paid for “relaxation” and a baby-free environment with their ticket, even though that doesn’t reflect reality.
I’d absolutely do everything in my power to disturb others as little as possible, but it’s almost inevitable that a baby will cry at least somewhat during a flight. So on some level I suppose the anti-baby peer pressure does work, even if there are no rule changes.
Babies are allowed in first class, and babies should be allowed in first class. When you book a premium seat, you’re paying for more space and extra amenities. You’re not paying for your fellow passengers to be vetted, to make sure that they can “play the part” (if so, lots of adults should be banned as well).
Understandably no one wants to sit next to someone else’s baby on a plane, but unfortunately that’s just the reality of commercial aviation. If you want full control over the people seated near you, getting a private jet is your only option.
Where do you stand on the babies in first class debate?