There are two airline related topics that will instantly turn people uncivil – seat recline in coach and babies in first class. Every time I read an article (or write a post) about seat recline in coach, the commenters on both sides get extreme, typically threatening one another.
My stance with seat recline in coach has always been that it’s a right (that’s why the recline button is on the seat of the person wanting to recline), though people should be respectful about it. I don’t recline in coach on domestic flights (though admittedly I don’t fly coach domestically a whole lot… other than this week) because I think space is already tight enough for everyone. But still, it’s a right. The person behind you could have purchased a seat with more legroom, much like the passenger of size could have purchased two seats, but chose not to. It’s not my fault they’re tall and the airlines design seats to be so small. But like I said, I just don’t recline out of courtesy.
Babies in first class is a tougher issue, though, and one I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into… until my mileage run last week. I won the baby lottery twice.
There were four infants in first class on my flight from Tampa to Chicago, including ten month old twins. The babies were well behaved aside from about 30 minutes of crying, which is understandable. What drove me absolutely nuts were the parents that were obviously very stressed about traveling with infants and constantly yelling back and forth at each other. It was truly painful to watch, especially since the dad was pretty whipped. “MAKE HIM DRINK THE BOTTLE.” “He doesn’t want to drink, honey.” “THEN FEED HIM CHEERIOS.” “He doesn’t want Cheerios, honey.” Poor guy!
On my return redeye from San Francisco to Miami I also had two babies in first class. Even worse, I had one of the nuttiest seatmates I’ve had in a long time. She was an American living in the Caribbean (“I don’t need the US government knowing what I’m doing”), and she was into black magic and a lot of other “alternative” things, which she extensively tried to educate me on. She said to me “if they just gave me five minutes with the baby I’d have him knocked out for the next five hours.” No way I’d trust this lady with my kid!
Even worse than listening to the baby cry for an hour was listening to the lady next to me bitch and moan nonstop for the entire time. Fortunately I managed to convince the flight attendant to pour her steady, big glasses of red wine, so she was knocked out soon enough.
But in both cases I’d say having the babies in first class certainly took away the benefit that comes with first class, which is being able to arrive relaxed. Of course I had upgraded, but what about the others on the plane that paid for first class (including the nutty lady seated next to me, who was going bonkers)? Even more so, what if my flight had been in international business class on a route that’s all about arriving well rested (like the British Airways New York to London Sleeper Service)?
The main issue is that as much as some like to complain about it, this isn’t really any one party’s fault. The babies? Well, it’s certainly not their fault they cried, I remember doing the same when I was a few months old (okay, maybe I don’t actually remember it, but I’m sure I did). The parents? Well, everyone thinks their kids are the best in the world, so when the baby cries some parents just smile and say “isn’t he cute?” Even the most well behaved infants will cry, no matter how hard parents try to prevent it. But ultimately you can’t control the actions of an infant.
A while back Malaysia Airlines announced they would be banning infants in first class, which is the first airline I know of that has instituted such a policy.
Let me put it this way – if you’re paying $20,000 for a first class ticket, you damn well deserve to arrive well rested. At the same time, if you’re a parent and paying $20,000 to fly in first class with your baby, wouldn’t the airline be crazy to turn down the revenue? Keep in mind that on international flights, the infant fare is 10% of the full fare cost of the ticket, so they’re getting quite a bit of extra revenue for nothing.
I don’t know where I actually stand here, but rather I’m just sharing my thoughts. I doubt we’ll see an airline follow Malaysia’s lead, because nobody will change their spending habits based on an infant in first class since the competition allows it as well! Airlines only have revenue to lose by banning babies, at least in the short run.
I’ll close by saying that if I were a parent and had an infant, I would fly coach (though I’m not suggesting anyone else should feel the same). Much like I think seat recline is a right yet I don’t exercise it, I acknowledge that having an infant in first class would be a right, though I’d feel uncomfortable as a parent. People get a lot more irritated by infants in first or business class than in coach, and I would get stressed out trying to ensure the infant doesn’t cry and that I don’t disturb anyone else’s rest. But then again I tend to worry about everything in life a bit too much.
Where do y’all stand? If you’re a parent, do you feel at all uncomfortable in a premium cabin with an infant cause you don’t want to get yelled at? Business travelers, if an airline banned infants in premium cabins, would you vote with your wallet and be more likely to fly with them?