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Should Parents Fly First Class, Leave Kids In Economy?

I recently wrote about whether it’s okay to fly in first class, and leave your spouse in economy. I shared my take, and I’ve read the responses of OMAAT readers with great interest.

In this post I wanted to address a topic that’s in the same general sphere, but different — is it okay to fly in first class and leave your kids in economy? I think this is a bit more nuanced, and there’s also not a correct answer.

I’ll share my take, and then I’m curious to hear what OMAAT readers think. Let me say upfront that while I’d always want to travel with my kid (since I’d like to spend time with him, regardless of where we’re seated), I don’t judge those who feel differently.

When you shouldn’t fly in a separate cabin from your kids

If you are going to travel in first or business class and leave your children in economy, the most important thing is that they’re old enough to take care of themselves. You have to be realistic here — that doesn’t just mean that they’re potty trained and can follow instructions. If your child is going to bug their (stranger) seat mate for the entire flight, then they’re probably not old enough to fly alone.

For example, on a flight some time ago, I saw a fairly young kid (maybe eight years old) in economy, while her parents were in first class. While she was old enough to sit alone, it was kind of awkward, as she talked to and played with her adult seat mate for most of the flight. While the adult was a good sport, I can’t imagine that’s how they hoped to spend their flight.

There’s no consistent reasonable age cutoff for that, in my opinion, as it very much depends on the kid. I’d generally think that a kid in their teens or older can be pretty self sufficient, while younger than that it’s more iffy.

Make sure your kid is old enough to entertain themselves

I don’t think it’s wrong to fly in a separate cabin from your kids

Assuming your kids are old enough to take care of themselves, I don’t think there are any ethical issues to leaving your kids in economy, while you fly in first or business class. That ultimately comes down to a parenting choice, and I think the logic is fine.

There are potentially a few ways that people seem to justify this, all of which are valid enough:

  • “I worked hard, so I deserve to sit here”
  • “You should be happy you’re coming along at all, and if you work hard some day, you can buy this for yourself too” (or get good at the miles & points game)
  • “I don’t want my kids to get spoiled, so I don’t want them flying in first or business class”

While I don’t think I need to explain this, I think there’s an important distinction between this, and flying in a premium cabin while leaving your spouse in economy. A relationship should be a partnership of equals, regardless of who is paying for or “earned” a particular privilege. It’s a little different when you have kids.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t treat them well, but I think there are certain things that people would splurge on for themselves, but not for their kids. For example, I don’t think your 16-year-old would expect that because you drive a certain car, they’re entitled to have you buy the same car for them.

I get why some parents leave their kids in economy

As a new parent, this is something I’m thinking about

I’m a fairly new parent, and have a one-year-old. So while I still have some time to figure this out, suffice it to say that I’m already thinking about the best way to handle this in the future.

Personally I value spending time with my son whenever I can, and I could never see myself flying in a different cabin than him. If I couldn’t get him into a premium cabin for whatever reason, then I’d rather just sit with him in economy.

What I’m trying to figure out, though, is the best way to find balance over time. Thanks to miles & points, I’m able to travel in premium cabins a vast majority of the time:

  • Of course I’d love to travel with him in premium cabins on long haul flights when he’s older, as I’m sure he’d love it
  • At the same time, I don’t want him to expect that’s how he’ll always be able to travel, or take that for granted; as they say, a luxury once sampled becomes a necessity

So I’m curious how other parents navigate that over time. All the time I see adorable, well behaved little kids in premium cabins, who don’t necessarily seem jaded.

My initial instinct is that the trick is to just mix things up over time, so that flying in a premium cabin is never an expectation. Maybe I’ll do more of a split between economy and business class, and heck, maybe this is the push I needed to review more premium economy products eventually, since it seems like a good middle ground.

Maybe premium economy is the new happy middle ground?

Bottom line

It’s not uncommon to see parents flying in first and business class, and then seating their kids in economy. Assuming the kids are old enough to take care of themselves, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. It’s a perfectly valid perspective.

Personally I think I’d always want to fly with my kid, and I’ll probably find myself in economy a lot more as a result. That’s both a function of cost, and also because I don’t want him to become totally accustomed to premium cabins, and expect that this is always how he’ll fly.

Where do you stand on the topic of splitting parents & kids between cabins?


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