Dads in first, mom and kids in coach

During my Manila trip last November I got upgraded to business class at the last moment, literally as I was walking onto the plane. biz classI was hugely relieved of course; it would have been very difficult to go straight to work after landing if I had spent the night in coach. I was in the middle seat, between another lady traveling for work and a man traveling with his family.

I knew the man was traveling with his family because when I got to my seat he was visiting with his wife and baby. I assumed they were sitting across the aisle and was about to offer to switch spots with them when he said, “Okay honey, see you when we land!” The wife took the baby and went back to coach while the husband got comfortable in his business class seat. Then last week on my trip to New York I witnessed something similar. I was in first, sitting behind a man whose wife and two kids went back to coach.

I’m trying to understand the rationale behind this. With the second man, the kids were older and it was a three hour flight. Plus with the seating configuration he would have ended up in a different row anyway. Something about it really rubs me the wrong way though. Even if he needed to work during that flight (and I don’t know if he did) if you’re bringing your family on a business trip don’t you have some sort of obligation to be a parent? And if they are all on vacation IMO there is no excuse. However, again, since the kids were older and the flight not too long it’s not terrible.

The one that really, really gets me is the trip from Dallas to Tokyo. That is a 14 hour flight, and that guy left his wife in coach, alone, with a baby. A baby! I can’t even imagine how hard that must have been for her. Even if, say, his company paid for his business class seat and he paid cash for his wife’s coach seat, I think the right thing to do is have them buy a coach seat instead and all sit together. I would never, ever sit in business class for 14 hours while my family sat in coach. I think it’s ridiculous to expect my spouse to care for an infant on an overseas flight on his own, while I get to sit in comfort. If there is no way to sit in coach together, the best option is to switch halfway through so each parent gets a break. That’s not what happened though—in fact that gentleman never went back to coach to visit his family.

Typically I try really hard not to judge others’ parenting, but frankly I was appalled.

Readers, what do you think? Is it perfectly fine for one parent to sit in first or business while the other wrangles the kids in coach?


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  1. That happened to me once LAX-OGG. I was in the back with my family (wife and teenagers). A guy came from first class and wanted to switch his first class seat with me so that he can sit with his wife and kid. I had no problem. Bring it on since that was my first ever in first class. My daughter still teases me. She says when I was leaving, I never even looked back at them. She cant let go that I had milk with cookies.

  2. Back in 2000 I travelled on C (on company business) from CPT to BRU with Sabena and they were running a promotion with a free Y ticket for every C ticket bought. So my wife travelled with me and sat in Y since I was heading into meetings the next morning and she could sleep late and wander around as a tourist. No issues and it worked out fine.

  3. You really shouldn’t judge others without knowing all the facts and even then it’s dangerous. There could be good reason for this. For example say I have a business meeting in Tokyo so I board the plane in Chicago. Because my employer needs me to be at my best when I get there they pay for a business or first class product (which is common with many corporations on long haul flights). Now take that same scene and add the fact that I wanted my wife and child to go see Japan with me after my super important meeting. I can only afford coach for them so we end up with this somewhat common situation. I’m not saying that’s what happened but it would make sense. Now I agree that the parent would normally have gone back to coach at least to visit a few times though. I know if my wife had a business trip to some far off place and I had a chance to go along in coach with a baby I would do it. I would also want her to sleep and rest for that meeting. I could even be a job interview.

  4. @DaninMCI You bring up valid points, and I could see my husband saying those exact things. The thing is, on a 14 hour flight there is plenty of time to rest and then to switch. If you’re talking seven hours to London, possibly a different scenario. But in this flight there is no way I would have left my husband in coach for 14 hours with the baby. In that situation I would have switched at some point, once I got my rest. Or gone back and brought the baby up to biz so my husband could have a break.

  5. I agree with DaninMCI…No one really knows why the dad had his business class seat or the situation behind this family’s decision for seating assignments. I don’t buy the fact that the dad should just give the seat to his wife and child because she is watching the child. Moms are not entitled to a upgrade just because they are a mom and have a baby…same goes for upgrades for a dad with a child. Maybe he offered and she refused and that’s just it, no one knows so I would reserve judgment.

  6. I recently redeemed miles for family of 4 DFW-SLC for a ski vacation. With the way AA was pricing them, it was cheaper to get 2 in first and 2 in coach than to get 4 in coach. So obviously I chose 2 & 2, but I wouldn’t dare have sent my wife back to coach. That would be rather selfish.

    But I do agree with DaninMCI and others that it’s hard to know w/out understanding their unique situation, and I can see a case where I would fly business for work and have the rest of family travel in coach. Now I would probably trade off occasionally or at least offer that to my wife, but I could also see her rejecting the notion and being fine with it. To each his own.

  7. I would not be so quick to judge without knowing their situation. Our family has been separated in different classes on a few international flights. I urged my husband to take the business class seat and he wanted me or our daughter to. Now we decide in advance who will sit in first/business if all of us can’t be seated up front.

  8. I further the notion that it’s not our place to judge. I can think of many plausible reasons for the seperation.

    In addition, airlines tend to frown upon using a premium cabin seat as a revolving door for traveling companions sitting in a lower cabin. I once sat on a 12+ hour flight where 4 different family members “took turns” in the seat next to me. Each came up, gorged their faces and got rather sauced, then went back to their assigned seat in economy. Made it uncomfortable for everyone in the immediate area.

  9. I agree it sucks that they were in different cabins, but the one thing I have an issue with is that you say they should switch. As far as I know this is not blanket rule allowed. Think of the implications. Hubs and I could book one F ticket and just keep switching off for all the good services. Not going to fly. pardon the pun. You might encounter an understanding flight attendant or two that would bend rules, but most would just give you the sideeye for booking two different cabins.

  10. @Heather and @Don you guys raise a good point that I didn’t think of. If the flight attendant wasn’t okay with changing places with my husband then I would go get our baby and keep him in biz class with me for a while. I know there are those who think kids don’t belong in biz, but that is a whole different conversation 🙂

  11. I have to agree with @DaninMCI. My Dad occasionally brought us along on a business trip. My mother used to remind us kids that this wasn’t the same as vacation. The focus of the business trip was business, and other things were secondary. By your own admission, you were glad for a first class seat. The Dad probably needed it for the same reason. The Mom and Dad may have talked about the seating ahead of time and together agreed that this was the best solution. They land, he goes to work, she goes to the hotel to rest.

  12. I’ve noticed that your blog posts are always related to one sided situations. You didn’t actually talk to the couple and ask why they decided to split the seating in 2 cabins yet you formed your own opinion already.

    What would you say if the dad sat in coach and ended up losing his job for blowing a meeting or project. Every family has their reasons and if you are not involved and know all the details, its a slippery road.

    Its very similar to folks who make rude comments like ‘this line is for first class’ to people who they don’t think should be in first class.

  13. I didn’t think of the fare paid for the infant – but it is usually 10% of either coach, business or first. So you really can’t expect that the airline to allow the infant to be passed up to the front unless that was the fare paid.

  14. @SFORunner, well yeah. If I see a situation, I’m going to give my take on it. I wouldn’t be comfortable asking a random stranger about the inner workings of their family, so I can’t represent their feelings. At the same time, I ask for reader input so that I can get other opinions. A lot of situations are cut and dried, but a lot aren’t. I love the discussions that come out of these posts and am always interested in hearing what others’ thoughts are.

  15. I’d actually make the argument if the company is paying for him to take the trip in J to get extra rest, then his family hopping along shouldn’t deprive him of the seat his company paid for. There’s likely a business justifiable reason they paid for it (most likely so that he can go straight to a meeting or to “do work” immediately). While on a 14 hr flight there’s no excuse not to go watch the kid(s) for a bit, he should still get the seat for the bulk of the flight. Family vacations would be a different story of course.

  16. I bet if a father and kids were in coach and the mother was in 1st there would be no issue. We don’t know the particulars and regardless of the scenario, if happened and it didn’t seem to bother the family. I have taken an upgrade while my wife sits in coach. I was ridiculed by the flight attendants and some passengers. Shame on them! Women want equal rights, so deal with the plus and the minus.

  17. I almost could not believe what you just related, this is ridiculous.
    I am TAM Fidelidade Black and often get upgraded to Business.
    A few months ago I was coming back from Brazil with my wife and got upgraded to Business.
    I just gave her my seat, went back to coach and took her seat.
    A man should always be a gentleman and I mean always !!!

  18. There are situations when one should NOT swap Airline seats. I have dietary restrictions and always order Special meals in advance. In case my seat changes after boarding; Some Flight Attendants still forget until I remind them to get my Special Meal. Imagine if my Special Meal had been eaten by someone else sitting in my Original seat – I would have nothing to eat during the Flight.

  19. Back in the days of better employee perks and more permanent employment, our family was entitled to an annual trans-Pacific trip through Dad’s work. We usually scheduled our summer trip to coincide with Dad’s business trip. As a company exec, Dad flew business class or better, and our family perk was a free trip back in coach.

    In your blog entry today, it is as though you judgmentally trashed my Dad, his work, and all my summer travels as a kid.

    Granted, we were teens and tweens and not babies, so we could take care of ourselves. I almost wished Mom would join Dad in business class so we could be more free.

  20. The guy is a first class dick (pun intended), and the wife is subservient to him. The end.

  21. You observed a family executing a decision you would not make, yet both husband and wife involved seemed content with the situation.

    Without knowing the circumstances, you seem quick to judge the family as you stated you were “appalled”. No one was being hurt — baby wasn’t endangered — no one violated protocol by rotating cabins midflight — they just made a value judgment you cannot fathom making under any circumstance.

    Certainly asking your readers for input is a good way to broaden your view of the world rather than asking strangers about the inner workings of their family.

  22. Good discussion! Thank you everyone for your input. After reading several replies, I think I’ve narrowed down why it bothered me so much. As a traveling mother with a stay at home husband I strive every day to never take my husband for granted and to be as much of a co-parent as I possibly can. If we were on a flight for 14 hours, I would never leave him alone with our baby when I am perfectly capable of assisting. On a 14 hour flight it is very possible to be rested and still have time to take the baby for a bit so the other parent can get a break. Traveling with older children or teenagers is a far different scenario from traveling with a baby, IMO. As anyone who has ever traveled with an infant knows, it is almost constant care and maintenance. I think I would have had a much different feeling about it if he had gone back there even once, but he didn’t.

  23. I had to laugh when I read this. I’m not sure you are trying very hard…

    It’s kind of like when someone says “no offense, but”

  24. Hilarious to me that you guys get so worked up over this. Some marriages are partnerships not pedestal/subject.

    We used to book 1 parent on a separate ticket so they’d have reasonable odds of getting upgraded, and the other parent with child #1. Then whoever’s “turn” it was to take the upgrade would go up front, and the other parent would remain in coach. Of course if I’d been up at night 6 times to feed the baby, she’d let me go to FC to rest.

    Things are a little more complex with 2nd kid.

    Some babies are actually pretty easy on planes, our 2nd one is. Perhaps it is compensation for the hellish rides our colicky first baby gave us. Pretty much no trouble with her, she just turned two so she gets her own seat with a CARES harness. The CARES nicely mimics the 5-point car seat harness and cues her it’s time to stay sitting down.

    Last segment we flew, both adults got upgrades, kids didn’t. It was her turn, so she sat in front and the toddler took my seat next to her in FC.


  25. I cannot believe all the commenters telling you not to judge, when that man clearly behaved badly! I’m okay with him sitting in business class, but leaving his wife with a baby for 14 hours?? There is no excuse for that.

  26. I am 5’1″, my husband is 6’2. I have absolutely no problem with him taking the upgrade so he can sit comfortably. When our children were little, this often meant that I had little kids on international flights with me and he did not. We recocognized that was not fair, and so I got a (long) time without kids doing something where they would be difficult to take later.

    As long as everyone is comfortable, what is the problem? Different couples make different decisions.

  27. Eh, it’s hard to judge. If he travels a lot for work, he probably got upgraded. Or his family was accompanying him on a business trip and he needed to be fresh and rested, flying on his company’s dime. And honestly, his fellow business class passengers probably wouldn’t have been too happy about a baby being passed around the cabin during the flight when they are trying to rest and work, so this family did the right thing. In my experience, airlines won’t let you move between cabins once you’re in flight – nor will they let you turn down an automatic upgrade.

  28. Every family is different and you should not judge. If the wife/husband have no problem with this then you shouldn’t either. When we travel as a family, sometime we both get upgraded and sometime it is better to split reservations because there is only one of us that get upgraded. I usually volunteer so my husband get the first class ticket because it’s more comfortable for him. He’s 6 feet 165 lbs and I’m 5′ and 98lbs so economy plus seats is just fine for me. As for the kids, sometime they sit with me and sometime with my kids. Plus, when my children were little, the airline gave a 50% discount on seats for children under 2. I don’t know if it’s the same anymore but that was a great value and we always bought a seat for them.

  29. From a passenger point of view, if I’m paying for a business class ticket, I would not appreciate a bawling toddler beside me. If I have to rush for work/important meeting after I land, having a crying kid within earshot is not going well either.
    Maybe the couple was hoping to get a free upgrade or maybe they simply couldn’t afford a biz class. And indeed if the guy has to work after landing while the mum gets to rest in hotel, what’s wrong with this arrangement?
    If the wife was sitting in biz and the husband with kid is in coach, you wouldn’t have made such a fuss. Biased and judgemental – that’s all I have to say.

  30. I stumbled upon this thread as a friend of mine told me her husband had booked her and her 9 year old son in economy on a connecting flight when he flew himself earlier direct in business. I was horrified. He is a multi millionaire and happily allowed himself the comfort when she had to connect and carry all of his requests to bring for Christmas as well.

    There is no excuse for this one. A 14 hour flight without checking on her, his child and giving her a break even just for an hour is what we would all want our partner to do, regardless of male or female.

    @ Kevin B – women have fought for equal pay for the same job. They have fought for being seen as competent as men are in the world of business. They have fought against not getting promotions over the more junior less experienced man because, well because he is a man. This subject is not about equal rights, it’s about treating your partner with fairness and respect.

    @ Fabio – I applaud you for your instincts. Women can have equal rights in the world without the loss of chivalry.

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