Few travel issues evoke more controversy than the matter of children in premium cabins, especially in international first class.
I’m not here to debate that, directly. Instead, I want to help guide parents who are considering whether to bring their children into first class. In short, I’ll just borrow the line of Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump:
I’m not going to argue you can “guarantee” an easy flight. Every parent understands why. Sometimes even the most well-behaved children will have bad flights.
And so you can look at it in two ways: avoid any risk of drama and fly uncomfortably in economy or take the chance and hope for a blissful flight up front. I will always will go with the latter choice. With the right tools, the chances for disaster are limited.
Why first class? The ability to spread out can make all the difference in the world when traveling with an infant. I’m not telling you to let your baby or toddler roam free in the first class cabin, but the larger seat or suite allows for a lot more space for the child to utilize.
With one 14-month-old child, I’d say I’m still new at the game of fatherhood. But my son has been to Europe three times already and traveled in premium cabins on all six transatlantic crossings.
Our last flight was in SWISS First Class, which I outlined a bit here. The beauty of our suite, with a closing door, was its allowance for the baby to keep himself entertained in a confined space with room to wiggle…that’s worth a lot of money on a 12hr flight.
But isn’t it rude to take a baby into an expensive premium cabin? There is always some trepidation when flying that the baby will not be well-behaved. I still get that. But that should not be your concern. I’m not arguing that we should only think about ourselves and not those around us. But I am saying that reasonable people can appreciate why you would bring a baby up front–so that s/he creates less of a disturbance. Your goals are actually aligned.
My Tips for Traveling with a Child in First Class
My tips are actually the same as flying economy class or business class…it’s the room in first class that makes all the difference. Even if the baby is still sleeping in a bassinet, s/he won’t be sleeping the entire flight. Here are five things that have helped me traveling with my son–
1. Leave as Close to the Infant’s Bedtime as Possible
This is most important, especially if your baby is on a schedule. My son goes to sleep each day between 7-7:30p. Thus, that becomes my ideal time to depart on a longhaul flight. It has worked like a charm with all three flights from Los Angeles to Europe.
Flying back to the States is difficult since all nonstop flights to Los Angeles depart in the morning or afternoon. But choosing a 1pm departure over a 9am departure can make a huge difference.
2. Don’t Keep the Infant Hungry
If your baby is hungry, s/he will be irritable. Always keep a supply of snacks on hand. Unlike the sleep schedule, don’t be afraid to break the meal schedule on a plane.
3. Darken the Cabin
In economy class, you are often at the mercy of those around you, but I cannot recall a first class flight where the shades have not been closed during the bulk of the flight. Tricking the baby into thinking it is nap time or nighttime is much easier in a darkened cabin.
4. Keep the Infant Occupied
My son likes his picture book, toy boat, and toy turtle. Bring along your child’s favorite toys. What he really likes is pressing all buttons and playing with my mobile phone, but I don’t allow that…even on a plane. If your baby is too young for that, your best bet is to get up and take a walk around the cabin. Often that is a great thing for even older toddlers.
5. If the Infant Cries, Don’t Panic
If the baby senses your panic, s/he will likely cry harder or longer. Stay calm and soothe the child gently if s/he cries. Even if you are getting the evil eye from the grouchy old man behind you, just focus on calming. Bring a pacifier along.
How to Book First Class
Two words: miles and points. The beauty of credit card points and frequent flyer miles is how they allow you to experience aspirational premium cabins for a huge discount off retail. I’m not going to go into the nuances here, but if you are new to the points and miles game, the potential is huge.
My tips are fairly self-evident for parents and perhaps even for parents-to-be. But I hope I have conveyed that you should not be daunted by first class travel with your child. It’s a rewarding way to fly that has tremendous benefits. Put aside the worry and instead focus on how a child who is comfortable and has room to spread out it is lovelier not just for you, but everyone on the aircraft.