United BusinessFirst TransAtlantic Flight With a Kid

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We recently flew in United BusinessFirst (business class) from Houston to London, and then took a British Airways flight from London to Paris that we booked separately.  Here is a summary of those flights, as well as some information on flying on a TransAtlantic flight with a younger child.

Houston – London United BusinessFirst in Two Cabin 767-300

There is no way to get to Paris from Houston on a Star Alliance Airline without having a connection, so when booking I simply looked to get as close to Paris as I could on a flight with confirmable upgrade space (using a United Global Premier Upgrade that I got as a 1k elite).  You can read more about the planning process for these flights in this post.  In this case that meant that I booked a flight to London, and then separately booked a flight on British Airways from London Heathrow to Paris.

We were able to leverage a free “Same Day Change” ($75 for those without elite status) on United to leave on the last departure of the evening from Houston to London.  This meant we departed at 8:50PM and arrived in London around lunch time the next day.  My hope in booking this (in addition to having a full normal day at home) was that since it was roughly my four year old’s bedtime, that she would go to sleep on the plane shortly after take-off.  We spoke extensively about sleeping on the plane before the flight, so she knew that was the plan and has a pretty good track record of sleeping on planes when it is bedtime.  We ate dinner in the airport before boarding, and I dressed her in comfortable clothes that we called her pajamas for the evening.  We were both really excited to be starting our big adventure to Paris together as we boarded!

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Our we’re going to Paris faces!

We selected two seats together that were next to the window, and I put her in the seat against the window so that I would know if she got up as she would have to climb over me.  I decided that was the safest location for her to be while I was asleep in terms of her not getting out without me knowing it, and no one getting to her without me (hopefully) noticing.

The seat selections were good, but since there is a barrier between the two seats she was pretty upset that she couldn’t see me as she went to sleep.  I held my hand over the barrier so she could feel it, but she would have much preferred to crawl into my seat and sleep there…there just wasn’t anywhere near enough room for the two of us to sleep in one seat.

The flight attendants delivered the pre-departure beverages, and as always we opted for ginger ale and (watered down) cranberry-apple juice.  This may not be the champagne or mixed drinks pre-departure beverage that many enjoy on adult trips across the pond, but it was perfect for us.  Or technically it was almost perfect as it was missing the two small straws that seem to work best for C on the airplane.

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After boarding was complete she settled in and watched one cartoon from the IFE selection.  They had options like Frozen, Cars, Dog With a Blog, Smurfs (the new one, not the one we had in the 80’s), and a few other kid centered shows and cartoons.  I knew the lights would be on in the cabin for a while during meal service, so I told her she could watch one show before she needed to go to bed.  I hoped she would fall asleep during the show, but that with that big grin on her face that clearly didn’t happen!

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The only part of the meal service we participated in was the ice cream sundae.  I’m sure that sugar didn’t help with going to sleep, but it sure was fun and hey it’s vacation!  I don’t think she ate more than two or three bites of it, but getting served ice cream in the sky will always make us smile!

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Even though we didn’t eat the meal, I did snap some photos of the menu in case anyone is curious as to what was served.  Even with this 9PM departure, meal service still went on for about two hours.  The economy cabin was dark way before the business cabin was finally done with meal service.  I really wished that on the last flight out they would do an “executive style” express service for everyone.  I can’t imagine why anyone would want to be awake eating until past 11PM local time when the point of business class is likely to get sleep before landing in Europe.

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To maximize sleep, we also asked for them to not wake us for breakfast (though of course the noise and light will likely wake you up anyway).

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As the dinner service drug on, we tried an eye mask to see if maybe that would help C fall asleep.  It didn’t work, but it was worth a shot as the cabin lights were just too bright for her to wind down.

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Shortly after the lights were eventually turned out, I did get her to fall asleep while holding her hand over the divider between the seats.  She slept soundly from that point until about 30 minutes before landing when I woke her up so she could use the lav before landing.  I would estimate that meant she was able to sleep without interruption for about 6.5 hours.  That clearly is shorter by far than the average amount of sleep she gets each night, but it was a peaceful 6.5 hours, and it was enough for her to make it through the next day.  I would guess I slept for about 6 hours, which also isn’t terrible considering how short the flight is.

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She wasn’t thrilled when I woke her up a little before landing, but she was excited to have made it across the ocean.  I wanted her to be able to use the restroom on-board before landing as I wasn’t sure how long it would take for us to get to one she could use at Heathrow.

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Awake already? Can’t we just keep flying!

Overall the United flight from Houston to London was solid.  The flight attendants were nice, which really helps when you are going solo with a young kid (on the way back we weren’t quite as lucky with one particular flight attendant).  The BusinessFirst seats are plenty comfortable for sleeping for us, and the only thing I wished was different was the length of the meal service on the late departures.  In a perfect world, I think departing around 6:30PM might be the ideal departure time for us as meal service would be ending at about the time that she should normally go to sleep anyway.

To get C’s take on the seats, check out the very short clip below.

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Getting Through Heathrow and Flying British Airways from London – Paris:

Once we landed (a bit late) at Heathrow we had to catch a bus to get to the terminal that our British Airways flight was operating out of.  Finding the bus wasn’t very hard thanks to good signage, but waiting the almost 15 minutes for the bus with a tired kid wasn’t the easiest thing ever.  In general, getting through Heathrow with her went okay in the end, but was a little tough since I was traveling alone and she had to pull her own bag much of the time despite being half asleep.

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When we had to clear security for the BA flight I regretted tremendously that we were in coach as the lines were quite long and slow moving.  Had we spent 2x the Avios of a coach flight we could have been in business, which wouldn’t matter much for the short flight, but would have made getting through security at Heathrow much quicker.  When traveling solo with a kid things like premium cabin travel aren’t interesting to me because we are more “pampered”, they are interesting to me because they make travel much easier. Having OneWorld elite status would have also helped, but we don’t have that either, so we just stuck it out in the long lines.

Ultimately we got to the gate for our BA flight just a few minutes before boarding, and the gate agent offered for us to board early (probably based on how pathetic we looked at the moment).  She also informed that my carry-on bag was likely too large and needed to be checked.  She did this at no charge, but warned that I may not be as lucky with a different gate agent next time.  I have since purchased a smaller carry-on bag as I got a bit tired of the “carry-on roulette”.

We got settled on the very short British Airways flight to Paris and were even served drinks and snacks despite the very short flight time and being in coach.  Just like on my last intra-Europe British Airways flight, I was very impressed by the service, and I hope to fly them across the pond soon.  Very fortunately my tired four year old passed shortly after take-off.  Seeing her in that contorted position made me so glad that she didn’t have to sleep like that all night flying over the Atlantic.  Sure I could have found a way to make her a bit more comfortable, but even for kids, sleeping in coach seats isn’t as comfortable as sleeping in a lie-flat seat.  That said, don’t feel bad if you don’t have enough miles for your kids to fly overnight in lie-flat seats, but if you can make it happen, it is worth it even for the little ones.

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Upon landing in Paris we had no issues or lines getting through passport control, and the longest delay was just waiting for our bags to come out.  Luckily there was a “balance beam” and other kids her age to play with while we waited the 20 minutes or so for the bags to come out.  They do have complimentary baggage carts that were quite helpful to load the bags and the kid on once they did finally come out.

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Makeshift play area waiting for the bags

We decided to use Uber to get into town, and within about 2 minutes of requesting a ride on my iPhone the driver was there in a nice Mercedes.  The ride was about 70 Euros, which was the same price as our cab ride back to the airport later that week.  Keep in mind if you have any referral credits for getting your friends or family to sign up for Uber, they won’t work in Paris.  I am guessing they only work in places where your currency is the same as the one being charged.

There are certainly cheaper ways to get into Paris than Uber, but when traveling alone with a four year old, I’m pretty sure there isn’t anything easier.  Keep in mind lots of unofficial cabs will try to get you into their cars, so be clear that you already have plans.  One unofficial cab driver followed my mom and aunt around the airport in Paris for a while trying to get them in his car.  After almost an hours drive in traffic we arrived to our hotel, The Park Hyatt Paris Vendome.  We had made it across the ocean together without any major issues and were ready to start our time in Paris!

Comments

  1. Sounds fun. Did you use your US carrier for your cell, or did you have a SIM card. I use a SIM when I am in the UK, which I keep with me.

    • Sam, I’m quite terrible when it comes to SIM cards. I think a local SIM is absolutely the way to go for many, but I’m lazy I guess and just purchase a bundle of minutes/data before I go via my US phone. Seems to work pretty well for me, and it is a good route if you travel internationally only a little and don’t need tons of minutes/data, but it is more expensive.

  2. The amount of miles charged for a Business seat in not 3X it’s 2X the amount of economy

    Within the USA it’s different as US airlines designate their front cabin as first class on domestic flights even on a 2 class configuration it’s 3X the miles

    • Dov, you are totally right. I was stuck in the US mentality since I am so rarely looking to use BA Avios on BA flights! I’ll update the post and it is even more worth it to have a short cut through the lines at 2x!

  3. Just curious – what was your old carry-on, and what did you get to replace it? Was it the 20inch B&R, or was that one too big?

    • Travis, my “old” carry-on was the Briggs and Riley 20 inch Explandable Upright Wide-Body Carry-On that I wrote about here http://boardingarea.com/milesquest/2011/11/29/guest-post-briggs-riley-luggage-20-expandable-carry-on-bag/.
      I loved the bag and thought I would use it for many years to come, but the hardware for the handle was outside the bag, and ultimately wouldn’t allow it to ever fit in a sizer. It might have barely fit without that, but it would never fit with it. It fit in the bins of mainline aircraft just fine as long as I didn’t over-stuff it, and I didn’t have any real issues with the size domestically until the United Baggage Police started cracking down recently. However, I just can’t deal with carry-on baggage drama, so I got an early Mother’s Day present and got the Rimowa Salsa Deluxe Cabin Multiwheel IATA that I know from reports fits in the United sizers, and should be fine as a carry-on with most European airlines as well.

  4. Love the cute photos and video of Little C in-flight. I’m taking my daughter who is a few months older on her first TPAC in 2 1/2 weeks. Hope we are just as successful with sleeping! We are stuck in economy, but I’m hoping we can make it work.

    (On another subject, we use the Bubble Bum booster a lot for travel. Totally worth it.)

  5. We’ve had good luck with the Bubble Bum and also have a Harmony folding travel booster for places that require a high back booster.

    • Glad to hear so many of you have good luck with the BubbleBum! Mom @ 3 is Plenty, she got some good time on the RER to Disneyland Paris the next day. 😉

  6. Will you be writing on how the little one did with the time change? My husband and I have been hoping to take our two girls with us to Spain for our 15 anniversary (Spain is where we went on our honeymoon) but we’re worried about jetlag and how they’ll handle that. We took the girls to Panama this past year and it was amazing but, obviously, the time change was no issue.

  7. How bad was the jet lag once you were in Paris for the rest of the days. What time of the day was worst. I am trying to figure out how to separate day time activities from morning and evening in terms of jet lag. I will be with three grumpy teenagers in August in Paris.

    • I plan to absolutely devote a post to the jet lag issue both coming and going. To give a preview though, it was quite manageable with a couple simple strategies.

  8. I would kill for 6 solid hours of sleep transatlantic. In fact, I am doing a positioning flight to SFO from DEN so I can get on a 14-hour SFO->ZRH overnight just so I can get a decent amount of sleep. Well, also Swiss business class courtesy of last year’s Barclay/Lufthansa credit card bonus… 🙂

  9. Also, I just watched the “how do you like your bed” clip. Much as my friends’ little kids, she’s clearly got quite the personality!

    • Rob, she has no problem telling you what she thinks…good, bad, or ugly. Thankfully this was in the good category. 😉

  10. Thanks for the post. My daughter is a little older and we have our first semi-long flight to Hawaii in a couple of months. I appreciate all the tips and insights to traveling with little ones.

  11. Just curious but why did you connect in London and continue your journey (into Paris) on BA and not a Star Alliance carrier, such as Lufthansa? Was that not a flight option? Your status on UAL (gold) would have been a benefit for you as well as the simplified terminal connection time.

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