Babies in first class: Which side of the aisle are you on?

For some travellers, nothing can kill that premium-cabin buzz quicker than an infant next to them. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK – Ms Nurhachi Che, a 37-year-old IT consultant from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, was looking forward to two hours of uninterrupted work on her first-class flight from Philadelphia to Kentucky in February.

Prepped to conquer all her work tasks, she carefully unpacked her laptop, her AirPods and her noise-cancelling headphones. And then a mother and her baby plopped into the first-class seat next to hers, and she was pretty sure her undisturbed flight was doomed.

Even after putting in her earbuds and then noise-cancelling headphones over them, Ms Che was unable to block out the sound of the baby’s cries. When, an hour before landing, the baby and her mother finally fell asleep, the infant started slipping into Ms Che’s lap.

“I am not heartless and would never wish harm on a child, but it’s not my job to watch a sleeping baby,” said Ms Che, who does not have a child by choice. “Needless to say, between the screaming and then babysitting for the final hour, I got almost no work done, and ended up working late into the night to catch up after a long day of travel.”

For many travellers, luxury and babies do not mix. For those who prefer to mix with grown-ups while they are trying to unwind, there are adult-only pools and kid-free cruises. And yet, when passengers are paying thousands, there is no guarantee of a relaxing, adult experience.

There are two opposing forces at play here. On the other end of the spectrum, parents who take their children to first class in an effort to be more comfortable and feel pampered have to withstand the glares of their fellow passengers and hope for the best.

All the major airlines allow infants, there is no age restriction – to fly in first class when accompanied by an adult.

The challenge for airlines lies in striking a balance between these two competing interests, and striving to ensure a peaceful environment for all passengers.

Ms Michelle McGovern, a lawyer in Brooklyn, said she totally understood the joy of a baby-free flight, especially in first class, but when she and her lap infant were upgraded on their flight from New York to Paris, she was not going to turn the offer down.

“I entered the plane with Gabe in my arms, took that beautiful left turn to first class, and was terrified that he’d misbehave,” Ms McGovern said of her then one-year-old, who did not sleep a wink throughout the flight. “It’s that essential question: Does first class buy you the right to avoid hoi polloi and their kids, or do you need to fly private for that?”

Passengers have overwhelmingly voiced their support for kid-free first-class sections.

Seventy-four per cent of business travellers in Britain said that children were the biggest annoyance of flying, according to a survey by the Business Travel Show Europe, part of corporate travel company Business Travel News Europe.

And a 2010 survey by booking app Skyscanner found that 60 per cent of people wanted airlines to offer a kid-free section.

No such luck – for now, at least. However, the fact that babies are typically unwanted in the front of the plane has made some parents think twice before booking that first-class ticket.

Ms Sarah Joseph, a co-founder of parenting website Parental Queries, flew from St Louis to Dubai with her nine-month-old son and found the ordeal overwhelming.

She had booked a first-class ticket because she was looking for a more comfortable experience, but after her baby started to cry, she became embarrassed and apologised to her fellow passengers.

Mr Jakob Miller, a retired doctor on Staten Island, recently took a trip to Europe with his wife and experienced a similar situation, though he was on the opposing team.

“At first, we tried to ignore the noise and focus on our own conversation, but as the hours went by, the baby’s cries became louder and more frequent,” he said.

Although the mother tried to calm her baby, nothing worked – which is why he believes that babies should be banned from first class on planes.

“First class is a premium space where passengers pay extra for added comfort and relaxation. The presence of babies, with their potential crying and fussing, would disrupt the peaceful atmosphere and ruin the experience for other passengers,” said Mr Miller.

Despite the many outspoken anti-baby voices, Mr Scott Keyes, who is the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights and two kids aged four and one, believes the overall sentiment towards babies is changing, offering more empathy towards families travelling with young children.

“Of all the people in society who could use a bit of extra rest and relaxation, it’s parents of young kids,” he said.

That is not to say that families with babies should ignore etiquette if they choose to fly first class, however.

Before booking a first-class ticket, parents must make an informed decision as to whether they think their child will be a disruption, said Ms Elaine Swann, founder of the Swann School of Protocol, an etiquette school in Carlsbad, California.

This means being conscious of the length of the flight, the time of day that they are flying and the age of the child.

If it seems like the child will be a disruption to others, parents should select another section of the plane, said Ms Swann.

“This is where we need to think about how our choices and our behaviour can impact others’ well-being.” NYTIMES

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