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The GEM Debate: Should Babies Be Banned In First Class?


Oh here’s a hot one for you!
Malaysia Airlines has just banned babies from all of its first class flights 747-400 flights and next plans to do the same on its Airbus A380 Super Jumbo jets (link: c). Apparently, according to the company’s CEO (who partly outlined his case, 140 characters at a time, via Twitter) some of the carrier’s business travelers were having trouble sleeping on their high priced flights because of crying babies.

We’ve talked about this topic before here at Good Enough Mother, but back then the idea of banning babies was just a concept in a poll. But it’s now a reality for Malaysia Airlines – and others are considering following suit!

My take: having traveled with youngsters before, I know how hard it is, on you and on them. But when I travel for business, I typically use that time in the air to work; whether it’s studying last minute changes for a meeting, writing, putting the finishing touches on a presentation, whatever. And it’s incredibly hard to do that with a kid kicking your seat or screaming loud enough to pierce the silence of your nose-canceling headphones.

The other part is completely selfish and bitchy and it takes a big woman to admit this, but dammit, I didn’t get to fly first class until I was well into my adult years. Should these kids really know the finer things in life before they really have a chance to appreciate them? See, I said it was bitchy!

In our previous piece, the poll results were overwhelmingly against babies in first class. But does this open a can of worms for the airlines? How young is too young? And when they fall on hard times again (and in a cyclical economy it’s bound to happen) will airlines relent and take the money to help the overall financial health of their operation? Hmm…

So what do you think? Is it a good idea to ban babies in first class? Have you ever had a bad experience with a child in the air? What, if anything, did you or the flight attendants do? Okay, let ‘er rip!


  1. Kelly

    June 28, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    For the record I cringe when I am boarding any flight in any class and there is a baby on the plane. I feel a bit sorry for the poor little things, as they don’t know how to adjust their ears to the pressure. Those I don’t feel sorry for are the parents who fail to help them whether it be bottle or otherwise to get them to pop their ears. I think more often than not the babies on my recent portfolio of flights have gone to sleep. (Thank you Jebus). The ones who tend to be problems are the one year to 3 year olds who’s parents have not taught how to act in public and fail to discipline. The screeching still makes my ears hurt just recalling the last one.

  2. Kolleen

    June 28, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    Interesting timing. We are going to Hawaii early next year and thinking about flying first class this time. We have a toddler who will be three this November. I wondered if it would be fair to the other first class passengers to have a toddler who is sometimes excellent on flights and psycho on other flights. I guess my answer is I think it should be up to the parents. We are paying just like any other customer. People in first class are no better than people in coach. Plenty of coach passengers travel for business and use the flight time to work. Some people want to sleep, some people want to read, some have kids, some don’t. I think it is fine if an airline wants to make a rule like this though. It would be ideal to have family only flights. Business only flights. Sleep only flights. Etc. Sorry if my post is rambling and jumbly. I wanted to respond, but am doing it quickly on my blackberry.

  3. DawnKA

    June 28, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    I have traveled with my kids in first class on international flights but they were not babies. However, in my travels in the first class area, I have never seen a baby but I don’t know that I would mind a baby being in 1st class.
    A crying baby can be heard from any section of the plane it’s just like the initial smoking and non smoking sections where the smoke eventually drifted into the non smoking section.

  4. america

    June 28, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    I’m torn on this one. My son was a good flyer but I never had the money to fly 1st class, still dont :-)..its on my bucket list though :-)..hahah anyway if you have a brat then yes they need to be banned but if the airlines (esp for the 1st classers) had something to help with the air pressure for babies ears then no they shouldnt ban them. I also feel if the parents have enough to afford 2 1st class tickets then they have enough for three and before you (the airlines) start charging me for SOMETHING DAMN ELES , LET THOSE BABIES FLYYYYYYY

  5. Jen

    June 28, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    I think it’s a terrible idea. I paid just as much for my seat as you did and I have the right to bring my baby on board. He earned his right to the seat when I paid for it. He doesn’t need to be 16 or 18 or whatever age we deem appropriate. He is going to visit his relatives in Asia and I want as comfortable flight as I can have. For me and my whole family. I can’t very well send him back to coach while I stretch out in first.

    I can’t help it that he is crying because the change in pressure hurt his ears, or because he’s hungry or because he’s tired of riding so far. How elitist can people be to send us back to coach and make THOSE people (nose in the air) deal with our kind? If it’s that rough for my fellow travelers, my advice is get a Net Jet.

    Airlines already treat parents like crap – limiting carry ons, not providing food, forcing us to humiliation at the TSA where we have to drink our own breast milk and have our toddler’s patted down for explosive underwear – I’m surprised they’re ostracizing yet another group of travelers.

    What’s next? Banning people who type on their computers the whole way and annoy the crap out of me with their tap, tap, tapping? The guy next to me who snores when he sleeps? The lady across the aisle who won’t close the window shade on an overnight flight?

    Whoa. I’m on a tangent now! Haha. Good topic!

  6. Ron

    June 28, 2011 at 6:56 pm

    I will do anything to avoid sitting on a plane with a kid next to me or behind me. There should be an area of the plane that is for family’s with small kids just not in 1st class!

  7. Rene Syler

    June 28, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    @Jen: I totally get this. But this argument is moot if the airline doesn’t sell your baby a ticket. But I do get what you’re saying. Question for you. Do you understand the business travelers perspective?

  8. Margit

    June 28, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    If you can afford the seat then sit where you want with your baby/child. Funny thing is usually business travelers are not actually paying for their own tickets, yet feel the most entitled. They also get all the benefits of the miles, and many times use them for family vacations where they might even upgrade to first….with their children!!! I am an airline child. I grew up flying all over the world, and was fortunate enough to first class a lot. I’ve sat next to adults and teenagers (in both cabins) who act worse than some children. If an airline wants to make certain flights in popular routes child free in first class that is fine with me as long as they don’t ban children from first class completely. I also think there should be a premium fee for these flights. Wouldn’t it suck to pay for that flight though, and end up sitting next to some guy who takes his shoes off so you get just a hint of bad feet smell and continues to talk to you for the next 5 hours. How about just investing in some Bose noise cancelling headphones? That also helps block out the annoying sound of constant keyboard typing of the almighty business traveler. It’s a crap shoot everytime you get on that plane. Personally, I consider it a success when we touch the ground in one piece.

  9. m.e. johnson

    June 28, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    I think most people who fly first class (now have the money) have been thru the crying baby routine, got irritated with their own babies, so you know they don’t want to hear someone else’s. There’s a lot I could say about unprepared parents but I’m thinking of all the rage I read about. Instead of thinking “everyone should love my child like I do” or whatever, be thinking about what might set off the nutcase across the aisle who looks like such a nice person.

  10. Doyle

    June 28, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    Hell yes ban them from 1st class. Every time I fly coach I pray to the gods and godess that there is not a baby next to me or in the seat behind me. Love kids but at a great distance 😉

  11. Jen

    June 28, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    Rene, I do understand the business traveler’s perspective, but I just don’t think they should have more rights than anyone else who has purchased a ticket and I definitely don’t think babies should be banned from first class. I don’t think the business traveler understands the families who travel with little kids perspective. We have rights too.

  12. Rene Syler

    June 28, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    @Jen: Of course you have rights too. Let me play Devil’s advocate here for a second. You say the business traveler doesn’t understand the families who travel with little kids’ perspective. You’re probably right. But why should they? That’s not their job. They might be just has harried as the families with kids and all they want is a little peace and quiet. And like the family with kids they have rights too. The second point we have to remember is a privately run business can do whatever it damn well pleases as long as it’s legal. We have a right to show them how much it displeases us by not spending our dollars with them. The easiest way around this would be airlines that had certain flights or sections that were adults only. If parents of children didn’t like it, they don’t have to fly them. That way everyone is happy. It’s not a perfect situation but I can’t think of a better one. I understand what you’re saying; I’ve been there and it wasn’t that long ago. But I also see the weary road warrior’s perspective.

  13. Lisa

    June 28, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    Being a business traveler, as well as having recently traveled with my (then) nine month-old granddaughter and my now eight year-old niece when she was a toddler, I’m conflicted about this topic on a few levels and, therefore, unsure how to answer the question:

    With regard to the First Class cabin, I understand both Rene’s and Jen’s perspectives; I will say, however, that I travel in First Class (when I do) for the luxury of the experience -which I do not expect to include crying baby or little walkabout kicking the back of my seat for any portion of the flight.

    More often mine is a coach seat, the questionable comfort of which I endeavor to enjoy as much as same accommodation in First Class; and I admit to saying a silent prayer during the boarding process, that passengers with kiddos will continue walking well past my row.

    No throwing of tomatoes, please.

    I’m as entitled to feel that way, as the traveler behind me is entitled to -clearly- ignore the fact that his or her adorable 3 foot tall companion has been kicking the back of my seat continuously for the past 30 minutes. Beyond glaring at YOU through the space between my seat and the next, what, is my recourse for that aggravation, Mr. or Ms. Adult?

    As relates to traveling with children, I’m reminded of the first time we took my niece on a plane trip when she was nine months old. She was a happy baby and we didn’t anticipate any issues; however, while waiting in the boarding area, my sister said to me:

    “I’m one of ‘them’, now.”
    ” ‘Them’, who?”, I asked.
    “The people I used to give ‘sideways’ looks at airports.”
    “WHO?!?”, I demanded.
    “People traveling with babies.” she replied.

    On her first trip at Easter this year, my nine month-old granddaughter was (for the most part) delightful. With six others traveling -including my niece, there were plenty of us to play baby-pass-around and keep her entertained; the fact that she’s really cute helped a great deal, with the passengers around us! When she got sleepy and was about to crank it up, my daughter and son-in-law enfolded themselves around their little blessing to soothe, comfort…and avoid being “them”.

  14. Katherine

    June 29, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    Won’t babies cry and be fussy anywhere on a plane? So is the logic that since first class passengers paid more they shouldn’t be subjected to it?

    And Family flights would be an excellent idea. I’m surprised they haven’t already done that

  15. Andre Gallaraga

    June 29, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Rene, does the price paid for the baby’s flight figure into this discussion? I don’t think it does — if you wanted to buy another 1st class ticket for the baby, you still can’t.

    There’s a larger issue here: an entire demographic of human beings is denied first class access because their presence offends another demographic. What about a mentally retarded person who makes enough noise to prevent a neighbor from sleeping? Should we ban people using an IQ metric in addition to the age metric?

    What about nationality or skin color? Should Jews be banned from flights because their presence bothers Palestinian travelers so much that they can’t sleep? What about gender — the mere presence of a woman in the next seat prevents a man from sleeping? Ban women?

    This is terrible idea. Malaysia can do what they want, I’m not holding them to western standards. But this better not come to the US.

  16. Andre Gallaraga

    June 29, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Lisa, I’m one of those people too. I scan the people getting on and hope I don’t get the baby beside me. Or the loudmouth salesperson who never shuts up. Or the person with bad body odor. That’s just my preference.

    But I would never ban any of these people by force of airline policy from sitting in my section if *I’m* allowed to sit in my section. That’s downright frightening. Today, babies, tomorrow, handicapped people? Elderly? Anyone I’ve declared will keep me awake? Who knows.

  17. Tiffany

    June 29, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    Wow. I realize that people give me dirty looks when I walk onto the plane with my baby. I’ve been the childless one wishing the baby far, far away from my seat, but to put bans on children? Um, no.

    Here’s what I think… I don’t think that you should be able to do the “lap thing” in first class. That right there is a luxury. However… and this is a big however… if I am willing to pay hundreds (or more) dollars for the luxury of a first class flight *and* I’m willing to pay the same amount for my child so that he/she can accompany me, then it is my right to do so. There is absolutely no reason under the sun why your rights — as a businessman, as a sleepy traveler, as a self-absorbed adult, whatever — should supersede the rights of someone else simply based on age and perceived behavioral outcomes. That’s just like saying that they should ban people over the age of 75 because they are slower, might smell weird, might talk really loud due to loss of hearing, etc. It’s discriminatory.

    I understand that most people want to rest on a flight, but you know what, I do too. I can’t because I have my baby. Yes, that’s my own doing, but I have no sympathy for people who give me dirty looks because my child might potentially ruin their planned beauty rest. As a parent, I know how people at airports react to the mere sight of my child. On the first flight I ever took him on, I could see the anxiety on the face of the 20-something guy next to me, so I quickly reassured him that my son would most likely sleep the whole time (which he did) & the guy relaxed. I’m not oblivious to the fact that my child could be annoying & I do everything I can to keep him happy & calm (even if it means dry nursing him for the entire flight), but I will not tolerate people saying that my child deserves less simply because he is a child.

    With that said, I do agree with Rene that children are generally much too young to enjoy the luxury of first class! It’s unlikely that I’d ever actually fly first class with a child, but the thought of him being discriminated against just rubs me the wrong way.

    Additionally, if there were family friendly & business friendly flights, this new rule would not bother me so much. As long as the number of business friendly flights didn’t significantly outweigh the number of family friendly flights, or as long as families weren’t forced to fly at inopportune times simply because the flight they wanted had openings but was deemed business-only, I wouldn’t have an issue.

    I know that’s a lot, but that’s my take on it.

  18. Jenn

    June 29, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    I TOTALLY agree with Tiffany. I think babies should be allowed in 1st class ONLY if the person buys a ticket for the baby. No babies on parents’ laps in 1st class. If the person buys a ticket for themselves AND a ticket for the baby, then they should be allowed in 1st class. Like any other luxury in life (ex. 5 star hotel, Rolex watch, or Mercedes) you have to pay handsomely for it if you really want it.

  19. PK9

    July 1, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    Jen wrote: ” He earned his right to the seat when I paid for it. ”

    While I understand the sentiment behind this argument, I think it’s somewhat flawed. Firstly, I would definitely agree that if you paid for the seat, you have a right to have that seat used. However, I would hope the airline is not simply making people forfeit $5000+ because it turns out their travel companion was a child. Rather, I would surmise that the airline is prohibiting people from purchasing first class tickets for young children. In such a case, you have actually not paid for the seat, you have simply offered to pay for the seat, but the airline has refused to accept the offer.

    The second weakness is that a paying customer must abide by a certain set of rules intended for the general wellfare of the others who also purchased tickets. For example, even if I were to pay three times the amount for the seat on behalf of someone on the No Fly List, he would not have “earned his right” to the seat. That is because he (ostensibly) poses a risk to the wellbeing of the others on the plane. You would most likely not be allowed to board the plane naked, even if you had paid for your first class seat. Etc, etc. The airline is entirely within its rights to set restrictions for the wellbeing and comfort of its first class patrons. It is no different from an upscale restaurant having a required dress code.

    It is, essentially, an issue of individual liberties only extending to the point where they start infringing on the reasonable liberties of others. I include the word “reasonable” because Andre brought up racial issues. I believe most would believe that it is reasonable for an individual in the highest “luxury” class of a long flight to expect to be free of loud noises from ANYONE. On the other hand, few would argue that one has a right to a Jew-free environment. I emphasize “anyone” because the problem isn’t the children themselves; it’s the fact that they are less capable of understanding and respecting the rights of others.

  20. Rene Syler

    July 1, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    @PK9: excellent points all the way around. Thanks!

  21. Joss

    July 29, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    When my husband is working at home, I do my best to keep our toddler quiet and out of his hair. I would like to offer the same respect to the business class travelers as well, and keep my sometimes rowdy and unpredictable little boy out of their hair too. Some of the people in business class have been placed there by their employers so that they are able to complete work while travelling.

    I think a fantastic idea would be to have a section of the plane that is layed out specifically for families with slightly more leg room and wider seats, maybe 2-3 rows of them at the back of the plane.

  22. Amanda

    August 22, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    I realize I’m late to the party here but I can’t pass by without contributing my 2 cents. I have the unique perspective of being the mother of 2 disabled children. I have a 3 year old daughter with Autism (and, yes, it’s the Autism where you take one look at the poor child and instantly know they are disabled…not Aspergers, not behviorally-challenged….straight-up Autism.) I also have a almost 2 year old daughter with Cerebral Palsy. Braces on legs, contorted in her stroller, CP. I also have 3 perfect angels, aged 6-12. The kind of polite, well-behaved, obediant children we all dream of having. I’m painting a picture for a reason. Wait for it…. So we never took our kids on planes/restaurants/movies/etc… until they could behave. We were/are very congnisant of the fact that poorly behaved children in public, at best, can ruin an expensive meal. I get it. After my first 3 girls, the issue was very black and white. You haven’t taught your kids to behave? Keep them home. I did teach mine so if I so choose, they will join me for the occasional meal and I need not worry about flight behavior because I know it’s acceptable.

    Well I got my well-timed lesson from the universe that knocked me off my high horse. 2 precious, perfect, adorable….disabled children. My 3 year old can’t help that her sensory system is disordered and she has tantrums probably 10-15 times/day…completely unpredictable. The almost 2 year old suffers from muscle spasms that are very painful and random and all she can do is scream. They can’t help their screaming and thrashing and discomfort….That is our life. So are we then resigned to never go anywhere? Never do anything? We haven’t traveled by plane in over 2 years because I’m terrified of getting thrown off a flight. These kids’ disabilities are real but all other people see is the fact that they are being inconvienced by the “poor behavior”. I guess in that sense, I’m lucky to have kids with “obvious” disabilities because because are more likely to throw me pity faces instead of annoyed faces. However, what about the Aspergers kids? The ADD kids? I think that, as a society, we need to be a little less me, me, me and a tad more tolorant of situations that we know nothing about. We assume that a crying child = bad parents. That’s usually not the case.

    I would purchase first class tickets for my kids. I have. I will. My Autistic daughter will be less claustraphobic and less likely to get overwhelmed since the front of the plane is more quiet and she won’t have to sit next to a stranger…something that can set her off in an instant. I will do so to give my CP baby room to strectch and move and so she can sleep comfortably in her already uncomfortable body. My 3 older girls will be the helpful angels I have raised. And I will never, EVER be the one to glare at a woman on a plane with a crying baby. I will be the one to offer to hold him/her so she can get a well-earned break. Now I just have to get up the courage to endure glares from disapproving onlookers and take my family on a trip…in style.

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Combing the aisles at Target in search of the best deal on Cheerios, it hit Rene Syler like the stench of a dirty diaper on a hot summer’s day. Not only is perfection overrated its utterly impossible! Suddenly empowered, she figuratively donned her cape, scooped up another taco kit for dinner and Good Enough Mother was born.

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